Engineers among ‘Men in Blue’
INTRODUCTION TO INDIAN AIR FORCE
“Post Pulwama, the Indian Air Force launched a mission to destroy a terrorist camp well inside Pakistan. A war, a battle is made of many such missions and the missions that succeed, provide the edge and turning points to win a battle and a war. Air Force missions primarily exploit the air space to eliminate or make the enemy’s military resources ineffective. Using fighter planes to deliver bombs, rockets, missiles etc. to destroy or extensively damage the enemy’s vital points/Areas, Para dropping commandos for a land mission, heliborne operations for troop insertion and evacuation in strategic and tactical situations as well as rescue operations are some of the missions undertaken by all Air Forces including the Indian Air Force.”
In all such situations the enemy is as alert and vigilant, ready and prepared to foil all our missions. The missions will therefore have many constraints under which they have to be executed. The missions thus are planned to the smallest details with accuracy levels where ToT i.e. Time over Target is planned to the very Minute & Second and gravy i.e fuel levels to the last ounce. The skill levels required to plan and execute such missions under such demanding constraints and accuracy levels is enormous. A fighter pilot or a helicopter pilot or a transport aircraft pilot therefore has to develop and acquire skill sets to execute such missions. The courage, the dare, the ability to perform and execute such developed skill sets in an open, dark, unconfirmed and uncertain environment in a small Time Window does not have many parallels. Especially when everything changes in milliseconds because of the high speed at which you are flying to execute your plan. A pilot’s skill sets complemented by his aptitude to execute these ni ñ skill sets in demanding and uncertain conditions is “The Performance” of the mission and is the primary decisive factor in the successful outcome of a mission.
A typical Mission Scenario: Intro to Professionals in the IAF
Let us take this primary decisive factor and look at it in a little more detail. The pilot undertaking a mission has to execute a detailed plan sitting in a machine which is fitted with planned munitions. The mission could, however, not achieve its desired objective if the flying machine failed to perform or the munitions failed to explode as they were designed to do so. At the same time, the pilot flying almost at the speed of sound has a visibility that is limited to his visual range. He would be almost blind to the bigger picture that is unfolding in the sky beyond his visual range. He therefore needs the support of “Other Eyes” in the sky, which can see beyond his visibility range and skill sets that can quickly analyse, understand and interpret this bigger picture in the sky. Just like the Professionals who ensure that the flying machine performs without fail with their Engineering and Technological skill sets, these professionals who are the” Other Eye” in the sky, guide and control these flying war resources to achieve the mission objectives. These professionals are the Fighter Controllers and the Air Traffic Controllers of the Indian Air Force. A successful mission of the Indian Air Force is thus a joint effort of the “Man in the Machine” and the “Men Behind the Machine”.
Organisation: Working and Management levels in the IAF
Similar to all organisations, The Indian Air Force also has working hands with skill sets which are efficient and have the capability to deliver under extremely demanding conditions. They are the shop floor guys or the boiler room guys as you would be calling them. In the Indian Air Force, they are the “Men on the Tarmac”. Not just the technical men but even those men who perform clerical duties or data acquisition duties are the ‘Men on the ground’, the ‘Men in the Tarmac’. This is the most valuable “Resource” of the organisation and like all other resources of the organisation, has to be managed optimally. The IAF, like all other Organisations has Managers. These Managers grow in the IAF from “ Managing Resources” to “ Managing Managers” and then move on to “ Managing Concepts” that manage Managers and Resources” Just like the Engineers, the Air Traffic Controller/ Fighter Controllers, Logisticians who are the managers of the Resources on ground, the pilot is also a manager of his “ flying work station” that has very finely calibrated resources of Time, Fuel, Ammunitions and the capability of the flying machine itself.
All these “Men in Blue” grow in the organisation to different Work and Management levels. So, when you meet a squadron leader or a Flying Officer or a Sergeant or even an Air Marshal, he may not necessarily be a pilot but could belong to any of the branches of IAF i.e. the Flying branch, the Engineering or Technical branch of the Non-Technical branch. These ranks indicate the working level or the Management level of the Men in Blue.
In the IAF, the ‘Men on the Tarmac’ of men in the ground are called ‘Airmen’ and the managers are called ‘Officers’. A legacy acquired from the Imperial Masters of the Pre-Independence Era. Notwithstanding this Legacy, if you open a Website of the IAF to find Job opportunities/ Vocation/ Calling the website will give you information in the category of “Airmen” and “Officers”. The website will also give you information on qualifications required and methodology/process for joining the IAF. If you are keen or you come across others who are keen to join the IAF you can guide them to the website “careerindianairforce.cdac.in”. In this article, I have attempted to introduce you to various kinds of professionals that make a Successful Mission happen. So when you visit this website you will find the different qualifications required for becoming different professionals under different branches i.e. Flying branch, Ground Duty (Technical) branch and Ground Duty (Non-Technical branch). Do visit the website careerindianairforce.cdac.in to acquaint yourselves to the opportunities in the IAF.
Validation: My breif story
I am an engineer and graduated from BIT Mesra, Ranchi in the year 1983.I thought that a glimpse of my life in the IAF would be a good way to show you what an engineer does in the IAF. To begin with, apart from the mission worthiness of the aircraft, the management of munitions stores including their prep, handling and mounting is done by Engineering professionals of the IAF. The SAM batteries (Surface to Air Missile) although being a combative element of the IAF as they engage any enemy aircraft that may enter our Air space. The missiles are also munitions and are handled by Engineering professional. A missile battery in the IAF thus has a big share of engineering professionals who also engage in direct combat. My first assignment in the IAF was in one such battery. The ‘battery’ is a complex aggregate as it has ‘Radars’ to search the skies, ‘processors’ to process the Target aircraft seen on the radar so that the Target can be tracked in real time and a missile can be launched and guided to destroy the enemy aircraft. The circuitry involved is immense and for better management and higher expertise levels, specialisations is broken down to a number of super specialised groups. My specialisation was in the search and tracking guidance Radar’s front end and I therefore did not have the comfort of an air-conditioned and sheltered cabin. Again, as my battery was a mobile battery, I had to fold my equipment every time we moved and install it when we reached the Op (operation) site. Not an easy task as the assembled structure would reach a height of more than twenty feet and had to be broken down and stowed in its traveling position. In 1986-87 during Brasstacks, we moved our SAM battery to the Rajasthan border and deployed. The ops(operations) site was outside the airfield and and we were at such Readiness levels that operating from the base was not feasible. We thus pitched up our tents in the open and with our Battery generators running would wait for the hooter to go whenever a threat was expected. We switched on our equipment and were ready to launch the missile in minutes. Machines are machines and they may get snagged at times. During our deployment there were a few such snags, which we removed after tirelessly working on the equipment. The snags can sometimes be very tricky and it could be due to a very simple reason but to locate the cause can take hours. One occasion that I recall is when we switched on the battery and the guidance radar started rotating very slowly in one direction and continued to rotate in this speed and would not respond to any of our inputs to control it. With just this symptom, to identify and locate the faulty component, becomes very painful. Cables, cable connectors, amplidynes, feedback system components, all were painstakingly traced until we reached one small switch whose contacts we found were pitted. Working with the pressure that an enemy attack could happen any time and our equipment would not be available, drove us and we kept going ‘join-stop’ until we resolved it. These are some memories that we will cherish for long.
After my initial stint in the missiles, I moved on to transport aircraft and worked on the Dornier and Avro aeroplanes. The pressure of working on airborne platforms is again a different ball game. The safety and its continued fault free performance of the flying machines is embedded by design on your adhering strictly to the platform’s periodic inspections. The aircraft can be broken down into areas and zones. The zones which house components that have low fatigue life are inspected more often and the ones with longer fatigue life get inspected at longer intervals. Access to the components which are to be inspected more frequently are easier so that they can be inspected without much delay. Like I said earlier, machines are machines and can fail or get snagged but since they are airborne it becomes a different ball game. There are so many lives that are now in stake. A snag may not be catastrophically threatening but when it happens it does send jitters. One snag that I remember which happened on a Dornier aircraft, when after getting airborne the pilot retracts the undercarriage and three green lights confirm to the pilot that the undercarriage is fully retracted. And all the time in this transit period a red light flashes and an audio warning is sounding, indicating to the pilot that the undercarriage retraction is underway. This flashing light and audio warning stops the moment the undercarriage is in retracted and locked position. In this case the flashing light and audio warning continued even after the undercarriage was retracted. The pilot made the decision that the undercarriage may not be locked in up position and so he lowered the undercarriage which he got as a confirmation of the undercarriage down and locked in the indication system. He then informed ATC turned around and landed. All this time the flashing light and audio warning was on until the pilot muted it. I can imagine the state in which the partners may have been during this period and how relieved they were after landing. On ground, we jacked up the aircraft and carried out extraction and retraction of the undercarriage. We found that undercarriage was positively getting retracted and the up-lock positively locking the undercarriage. The indication of flashing light and audio warning was also going off correctly. We repeated the extraction and retraction of the undercarriage 10 times but the snag would not repeat. Then on the 11 th time the snag repeated i.e. the flashing light and audio stayed on. We said let us do it again and see, this 12th time it did not repeat and the next time also. We were stuck with an intermittent snag. This undercarriage warning system works with the operation of different micro switches in series. Weight micro switches which operate only once the aircraft is lifted up and is not sitting on its weight, micro switches for the undercarriage up-lock and down-lock operation and the undercarriage lever in the selected position. With the undercarriage operating without fault we homed on to the indication system and started checking each micro switch for positive operation. We found all the micro switches operating correctly. Except one micro switch that is the Nose undercarriage up lock micro switch which was operating correctly when checked independently but when it was fitted on the aircraft the lever which was fitted on the nose undercarriage did not positively push the micro switch lever when the undercarriage reached its up and locked position. The fitment of this lever on the nose undercarriage was with serrated faces allowing for adjustments to ensure positive uplocking of the nose undercarriage. So, we adjusted the lever by 2 to 3 serrations, carried out extraction retraction multiple times to see if the snag was rectified and cleared the aircraft. Sometimes simple things can play a merry hell into your system. I have had a fair share of these and now when I look back it feels great.
I was very fortunate that I was given a staff appointment in Air HQ where I had the opportunity to do Fleet management of a number of transport aircraft fleet which involved Formulations of engineering policies and management of all techno logistical issues. I also was lucky that procurement of new transport aircraft including the Air Force One got initiated during my staff assignment. Apart from the intricacies of procurement of an aircraft, I even had the opportunity to formulate the “Maintenance Philosophy” of one of the new aircraft that we procured. The scope of career growth that IAF provides is huge. Learning to manage resources in that scale, learning to conceptualize your work and develop your own concepts is a very exciting experience. It is professionally very satisfying and fulfilling. I am indeed grateful to the Indian Air Force for all this.
Call to the tribals to join the Armed Forces and in particular the IAF
In the Armed Forces, there is no job reservation, there is no quota for ST/SC/ OBC. If you have two feet, two hands and a sound head on your shoulder, you have all the qualities and the attributes to join the Armed Forces in general and the Indian Air Force in particular. You do not need reservation because you are as good as a Punjabi, Haryanavi, Bengali, Maharashtrian, a Tamil or a Malyali, if not better. In the Bihar Regiment of the Indian Army you will find tribals and are those tribals any less than soldiers from other states of the country? We Tribals have a naturally athletic build i.e. a very sound body and a sound body is a result of a sound mind and a sound head. A body will not be sound if you do not have a sound mind. And that is why I say to you that you don’t need this reservation. If you have become an engineer, you are as good as any other Engineer. If some people have put it in your head over a period of time that you are not as good, then remove this mind block. Believe me you will see the truth. We do not have many Tribal officers in the Armed Forces because many perhaps did not venture into this area for whatever reason. It is time now that more of us tribals, join the Armed Forces as a career. It is a very good life to live both professionally and as a good human being.
My experience and my time in the IAF are many but limitations of this article and more than that the fear of boring you to death compels me to bring this article to a close. In the end I would like to say that the Indian Air Force is a living organisation which is constantly growing and evolving. The organisation gives you space and motivation not only to do your best as an engineer but even go beyond the call of normal Duty. I hope this narrative of my experience will help you see yourself in the Indian Air Force.