Air defence (AD) Artillery made its advent in India in 1939 in the wake of the threat of Japanese invasion when a small number of Indian troops were initially trained to use 3-inch anti-aircraft (AA)  guns.  On 14 September 1940, 1 Indian AA Technical Training Battery was raised at Colaba, Bombay. It also included nucleus of the first AA unit of Indian Artillery – the ‘R’ (Royal) heavy AA (HAA) Regiment. By the end of 1944, AA artillery (AAA) had a total of 33 AD units making India Command the second most densely protected area- second only to Great Britain1 , although this number came down drastically by 1946-7. At the time of partition in 1947, in the division of assets between the Indian and Pakistani Armies, India’s share was two light AA (LAA) Regiments while Pakistan got one HAA and one LAA Regiment each.

Even as the first India-Pakistan war over Kashmir was raging, India raised three more AA Regiments in April 1948, taking the total number of AA Regiments to five. None of these units however participated in India’s first war after independence since the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) kept away. As an aside, even  the Indian Air force (IAF) was used for logistical support only. The real test of AAA came during the India-Pakistan War of 1965. This war also saw the first real combat employment of the two Air Forces.


1965 India Pakistan War

The 22 day war was a culmination of skirmishes which had started in the Rann of Kutch in April 1965. After the failure of Operation Gibraltar, Pakistan launched Operation Grand Slam on September 1, 1965. IAF was called in on the first day as Chhamb- Jaurian was threatened by the Pakistani Army (PA). IAF responded within an hour of being called in, launching 28 sorties in aid of  the Indian Army (IA) but lost a Vampire aircraft on the very first mission itself to Pakistani AAA in addition to three more being lost to PAF. It was not until September 3, 1965 that IAF succeeded in shooting down a PAF F-86 Sabre, incidentally the same day Indian AAA also got its first kill as Havildar C Perumal of 27 AD Regiment shot down a Sabre while defending Tawi Bridge.

While the role of the two Air Forces in the ’65 war has been celebrated and written about, the contribution of AAA units on either side has  been largely ignored even though they were quite effective in thwarting the enemy’s air actions.

IAF lost 69 aircraft during this war, of which 35 were lost on the ground to PAF air raids. What is of interest is that of the 34 lost in the air, 15 aircraft were lost to PAF in air combat and 10 were shot down by Pakistani AAA. In addition to this, at least two IAF aircraft were lost when they crashed on their way back to base after being hit by Pak AAA.  In all, 35 percent of  IAF losses in the air were due to  Pakistani AAA.

Indian AAA did one better as it claimed 25 of the total 43 PAF losses in the ’65 war as against 17 shot down by IAF in the air. One PAF F-86 was lost on the ground  due to an Indian air raid at Sargodha on September 7. Indian AAA thus accounted for 58 percent of total PAF losses during the War.


The 1971 War

Just six years later, India and Pakistan again went to war which culminated in the creation of Bangladesh. While the major land battles were fought in the Eastern theatre, it was the Western theatre that saw greater employment of air power with 4,000 sorties being carried out by IAF here, as against 1,978 in the East. Unsurprisingly, the attrition rate in the West was also higher. IAF had a   total of 64 combat related losses  – 53 in the West and 11 in the East. Of these, 20 aircraft were lost in air to air combat and 44 to Pakistani AAA. Not only were 68 percent combat related losses due to  Pakistani AAA but as per one account 92 percent of all strike aircraft suffered hits/ were damaged by ground fire8.

PAF’s attrition rate was higher,  losing as it did 75 aircraft, while carrying out 2870 sorties in all . PAF losses were more due to IAF actions (19 aircraft in all) than Indian AAA fire (15 aircraft in all), but this is not particularly surprising given the fact that most PAF sorties  were carried out over its own territory, resulting in reduced exposure to Indian AAA. Even so, almost 44 percent of PAF losses in the air were due to AAA. The losses of both IAF and PAF are summarized below

Summary of Air Losses 1971

Air to Air Combat 20 19
Anti Aircraft Artillery/ Ground Fire 44 15
Destroyed on Ground 2 28 + 13* *Destroyed by PAF at Dhaka
Total 68 75


Kargil War 1999

The limited war between India and Pakistan in 1999 saw only  IAF participating in the conflict with PAF keeping away from combat, probably wary of IAF Mig-29s armed with contemporary air to air missiles. Operation Safed Sagar, as the air operations in the Kargil area were called, was the first time that air power was employed in an high-altitude environment of this nature.  IAF suffered some losses during the early days of the operation, all from Pakistani ground-based AD. On 21 May 1999, a Canberra on a photo reconnaissance mission was targeted with a Pakistani shoulder-fired  FIM-92 Stinger surface to air missile (SAM), damaging one engine. Actual Indian air operations started on 26 May, 1999 and on the next day itself, IAF lost a Mig-27L and Mig 21 each, the first to an engine flame-out and the second to a Stinger. On 28 May, while undertaking an integrated fighter and helicopter attack on Tololing, IAF lost another aircraft – this time a Mi-17 helicopter, again to Stingers. Following the loss, use of helicopters in an attack role was discontinued. IAF fighter operations were also modified, keeping in mind the presence of Stingers with the Pakistani intruders.  Even during this limited war with a purportedly different set of rules, enemy AD had subtly influenced and changed the rules of employment of air power.

While the role of Air Forces is much discussed and glorified,  the influence of ground-based AD in the conduct of air warfare is largely ignored. A brief look at the role played by  ground-based AD during  past wars in the Subcontinent should however be enough to convince militaries, that AD can only be ignored at their own peril.



1 . Jagan Mohan PVS and Chopra, Samir, The India-Pakistan Air War of 1965, Manohar Books, Delhi pp 68-69

  1. Gazette Notification: 131 Pres/65, 10.5.65
  2. Chakravorty BC History of The Indo-Pak War 1965, History Division, Ministry of Defence, Government of India, New Delhi 1992 pp 269-270
  3. The War of December 1971: Indian Air Force
  4. AK Tiwary Attrition in Air Warfare, Lancer Publishers, New Delhi, 2000 pp 85-86 and Jagan Mohan and Samir Chopra Eagles over Bangladesh Harper Collins Publishers, 2013 pp 384-387. PAF also iterates that 48% of IAF losses were caused by ground fire compared to 30% air to air combat losses.
  5. Tiwary AK Indian Air Forces in Wars, Lancer Publications, New Delhi, pp 215-6
  6. Tiwary Attrition in Air Warfare, Lancer Publishers, New Delhi, 2000 pp 85-86 and The Western Air Situation
  7. Tiwary AK Indian Air Forces in Wars, Lancer Publications, New Delhi, pp 215-6



Colonel Mandeep Singh(Retd) joined the Indian Army in December 1982 and was commissioned into Air Defence Artillery.  He commanded an Air Defence Group during Operation Parakaram and also commanded his Regiment along the Line of Actual Control with China.  Besides Regimental service, he has experience in several Staff appointments. He has written extensively on various in-service subjects and contributed to technical journals.

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