The Flying Bullets, 18 Squadron, resurrected: Why Air Forces need to number plate Squadrons?

Published: May 27, 2020 12:09 PM

Number 18 Squadron with their motto of “Teevra aur Nirbhaya”, “Swift and Fearless” when translated to English, is the only IAF unit to be awarded the highest military award for bravery.

flying bullets, 18 squadron, indigenous Light Combat Aircraft, MiG 27 ML, Sulur Air Force baseEvery unit when raised gathers a fair amount of traditions and history as time goes past.

By Wing Commander Amit Ranjan Giri

As the IAF chief resurrected the “Flying Bullets”, 18 Squadron, from its state of number plating, he metaphorically raised the proverbial Phoenix from the ashes. Re-equipped with the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft the only “Param Veer Chakra” unit of the IAF gets a new lease of life, to rise and defend the Indian skies one more time. The Squadron operated the MiG 27 ML aircraft prior to its number plating on 31 Mar 2016.

The process of number plating involves reducing the Unit to just its number on paper, posting out all personnel, and redistributing its assets or phasing out of its assets. The unit henceforth exists only notionally, till resurrected again with a different set of manpower, assets, role and at times location, the full circle of the process being completed today for “The Flying Bullets” at Sulur Air Force base.

In the military it’s often said “men die hard and traditions and history die harder”. Every unit when raised gathers a fair amount of traditions and history as time goes past. These are guarded with utmost zeal by the members of the unit who, by the way, would have changed over the years, but have been passed down with these essences of martial life by their predecessors. Once the need to wind down a unit is felt, due to reasons varying from the obsolescence of equipment and role to downsizing the force, just simply closing shop would mean a great loss of these recordings of glorious events in military history. The process of number plating comes in handy here. A meticulous record of its trophies, their past, the albums, the diaries, the books, the silverware, the colours & battle honours and pretty much everything which defined the essence of the unit is listed out and locked up at a safe place to be opened when a future resurrection takes place, thus preserving the very soul of the unit seamlessly over time. In case of 18 Squadron the process of number plating was done by the last commanding officer, Group Captain KJ Singh and the process of resurrection was affect ed by the new commanding officer Group Captain Manish Tolani. This was necessitated with the phasing out of the legacy MiG 27 ML from the IAF in 2016 – the upgraded MiG 27 was phased out later in 2019. Tolani’s squadron now re-equipped with the LCA holds the responsibility of all that was recorded and left by KJ Singh. The administrative activities towards resurrection started on 01 Apr this year and ceremoniously operationalised today with the CAS handing over the new Tejas fighters to the Squadron.

Number 18 Squadron with their motto of “Teevra aur Nirbhaya”, “Swift and Fearless” when translated to English, is the only IAF unit to be awarded the highest military award for bravery. Raised on 15 Apr 1965, Flying Officer Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon earned the PVC in the 1971 Indo Pak war. The Squadron war diary beautifully records the events of the day wherein despite heavy bombing over Srinagar airfield, Sekhon took off to face the raiding Pak Sabres. It also describes how despite the pall of gloom, after Sekhon fell fighting the last Sabre, the squadron picks itself up, brushes the dust and continues the war effort, very next day onwards.

Amongst a variety of events running to multiple volumes of the squadron diaries, one would find mention of visits, inspections, detachments at other bases, rolls of honour, celebrations, accidents, deaths, humour in uniform, achievements both individual as well as combined and just about everything that happened in the squadron during its journey through time. The albums maintain the photographic evidence as does the trophies and silverware, the tangibles.

Today onwards starts a new chapter in these recordings which would be carried forward by the present lot of personnel, till number plated again.

(The author is IAF veteran. He was the Flight Commander of the Flying Bullets — 2010 -2012. Views expressed are personal.)

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