Most of the modern airpowers around the world maintain a secretive envelope of their operational and technical abilities. From classifying the deep-down information related to any recent combat mission to keeping a secretive stock of armament, it is a common procedure to surprise the world with their broad range of roles and capabilities which are revealed only when things go south.
A fine example can be secret projects designed, developed, tested and even operationalized without gaining media spotlight. Some sort of attractive elements are also missed by media reports and only the experts and enthusiasts are able to point it out, sometimes within moments or sometimes even years. We have a similar case of missing an attractive element the Indian Air Force showcased 13 years ago.
While going through our everyday surfing of social media, we spotted a very interesting picture published by one of the public Instagram accounts, Arjun. The image features Mirage 2000 multirole fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force in a standard air refuelling exercise with an Il-78MKI tanker. Though at first glance it may appear very normal, we noticed an unusual loadout on one of the jets in the foreground that is something rare and never seen before on open public forums: a pair of drop tanks wrapped in tiger stripes livery.
Firstly, a lot of speculations were made on this particular sighting, as we hoped to find it associated with some special exercise or promotional event. As IAF No.1 “The Tigers” squadron is an honorary member of NATO Tigers Association, an international airpower wing that promotes the existence of fighter squadrons around the world with a “Tiger” on their official crest, it was possible that the drop tanks were coloured to mark any event associated with the alliance. Air Forces from Germany, Britain, etc., are known for using special paint scheme jets for the same purpose. However, we still decided to delve deeper into this by messaging the owner, serving IAF personnel, veterans and geeks as well who are closely associated with the organization. After some hours of research, we finally managed to find the authentic background related to this unique encounter and it may not sound as impressive as we were expecting.
The Mirage 2000H carrying these “unique” 1700 litre fuel tanks does belong to No.1 “The Tigers” squadron and the job to cover the tanks in the unique paint scheme was done to mark the 75-year anniversary of the squadron held in 2008. Very few media houses in the country reported on the event back then and hence, it was really problematic to find the answer in one go. Bad news that we found along with our search that only one pair of such tanks were produced and it is uncertain whether they still serve in original state or not for the reason that it’s been a long time and none of the public images are available. The recently unveiled images are also many years old and not as recent as for one to conclude these are still in service.
It was still very interesting to know how the Indian Air Force, an organization that is still not as active as the western air forces in terms of promoting their systems on large scale, decided to wrap some unique paint job. Though it is understandable for the reason that it is the oldest squadron in the organization, and served even before the independence of the nation in 1947. It was born in April, 1933 with a fleet of only four Westland Wapiti biplanes. In its 75 years, the squadron has operated more than 10 types of combat aircraft and currently equipped with state-of-the-art Dassault Mirage 2000H/I “Vajra” jets acquired in 1986.
A lot of successful achievements have been recorded under its operational history, and there is no doubt that the Tigers are always looked upon as one of the toughest fighter squadrons in the subcontinent. In its most recent operational sorties, the Sqn aircraft intercepted Pakistan Air Force strike package on February 27, 2019. With IAF looking to continue with the platform for more years, the squadron is looking to continue its legacy and serve to its limits.