Bangladesh Liberation war saw the clash of two of the best armies in Asia. Like any modern battle, airpower proved to be a decisive factor in this theatre. Even Mukti Bahini had their air force built to fight the invading forces. However, it was the Indian strategy of maintaining air supremacy that led to the eventual demise of Pakistani air attacks and defense overall. By the start of the 1971 war, Pakistani forces operated at least 20 Sabre jets in East Pakistan. The Sabres were a proven aircraft, having fought on the American side in the 1950-53 Korean War. On the other hand, Indians operated Folland Gnats, Canberra bombers, and Mig-21s, alongside some French-built aircraft. Pakistani pilots were also experienced, having fought in the Arab-Israeli wars in the 1960s on behalf of the Arab forces.
As evident in the Gulf war of 1991 and Arab-Israeli wars of 1956 and 196, the air force proved to be the vital component of winning any conventional war. Before the Indian assistance, Pakistani jets regularly attacked and bombed Mukti Bahini positions and civilian infrastructures to soften Bengali resistance. Troops were transported from West Pakistan regularly to assist the invaders.
Indian air force at first didn’t want to involve directly, except flying reconnaissance missions and one incident of Dogfight over Boyra salient. However, by August it was decided that a Bangladeshi air force will be formed to assist the war goals. A DC-3 Dakota, A DHC-3 Otter, and an Alouette 3 helicopter were donated by the Indians. Codenamed as ‘kilo Flight’, nine Bangladeshi pilots and 15 technicians were stationed in Dimapur airfield, Nagaland. The Bangladeshi air force, under Indian training and supervision, proved to be a potent one against the Pakistanis. Their old aircraft were fitted with rockets, bombs, and machine guns. Bangladeshi pilots, under Indian guidance and intelligence, carried out at least 40 combat sorties, alongside many non-combat ones during the war. The first operation was launched on the 3rd of December, hours after the Pakistani forces initiated ‘Operation Chengis Khan’ against India. The helicopter and DHC-3 Otter were used to carry operations against Chittagong and Narayanganj fuel depots alongside many in Sylhet, Narshindi, and other areas. Most of the flights commenced from a makeshift airstrip in Tripura.
Though initially Indian officials only thought of ground support, the commencement of full-scale war after the 3rd of December saw a change in the role of the air force. Indian jets carried out numerous strike and air superiority missions concentrating on Dhaka and other major cities. Tejgaon, Kurmitola, Jashore, and other major airports, ammunition, and fuel depots were bombed. While the Pakistani jets didn’t sit idle, the Indians were gaining upper hand quickly. Indian aircraft carriers INS Vikrant also participated in the war, attacking Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar airports and harbors with her Sea Hawk bombers. This was the first time an aircraft carrier was used in South Asia. Some major operations carried out by the Indians were the Tangail airdrop, Meghna Heli Bridge, attack on the governor house of East Pakistan, and Bhairab to name a few. Eventually, East Pakistan’s airports became inoperable due to repeated bombings. Pakistanis also lost all but one of their Sabres and Helicopter thanks to the efficiency of Indian Mig and Gnat pilots. A total of 17 Indian Aircraft was lost during the war while the Pakistani tally remained at 23. More than 1300 sorties were flown by Indian pilots, many of whom lost lives to the enemy in their struggle to help Bangladeshis win the war.