Facilitating IAF Capabilities for HADR Operations in the IOR

Sub Title : Measures which will enable the force to conduct such operations with even greater efficiency

Issues Details : Vol 15 Issue 1 Mar – Apr 2021

Author : Wg Cdr RK Yadav 

Page No. : 40

Category : Military Technology

: March 27, 2021

IAF has carried out Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief ( HADR) in the IOR on many an occasion in the past with great success. The article  delineates problems associated with such operations  and recommends  certain measures which will  enable the force to conduct such operations with even greater efficiency, when required in the future

The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is prone to disasters and it may be called the “World’s Hazard Belt”. Natural disasters under the group of Climatological (cyclones and droughts), Geological and Tectonic (earthquakes and tsunamis) and Hydrological (floods and tidal surges) origins are very common and  a recurring phenomenon in the region. According to the UN ESCAP, around 50% of natural disasters occurring in this region are climatogenic and seismogenic in nature.

Former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh declared that India was a ‘net security provider’ in the Indian Ocean and is committed in its efforts to improve the maritime environment. However, walking the talk and putting words into action requires political will, operational readiness, and improved capabilities.

IAF Most Suited for Quick Response

The accessibility of conducting a swift response through the air makes the IAF best suited to address certain critical situations. For example, in case of a natural disaster in any Indian Ocean Region (IOR) nation, rescue teams of Indian Army or National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) can be dispatched quickly by IAF’s heavy-lift aircraft along with the required relief material. These aircraft can also evacuate people who are in urgent need of medical attention.

The successful evacuation of 111,711 Indian citizens from Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan in 1990 by 488 flights over a period of 59 days by Air India and IAF has been a world record. Similar missions were carried out from Lebanon in 2006 (Operation Sukoon) and in Libya in 2011. The IAF also participated in ‘Operation Rahat’ when civil war broke out in Yemen in 2015. The IAF deployed three C-17 aircraft to ferry back Indian nationals from Djibouti to Kochi and Mumbai. As many as 11 evacuation trips were undertaken that facilitated safe evacuation of 2,096 Indian nationals. All this was executed in an active war zone.

Need to Co Ordinate with Naval Forces for Long Term Reconstruction Phase

India’s vision for the Indian Ocean is encapsulated by the concept of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region). SAGAR has various distinct and inter-related elements – such as deepening economic and security cooperation in the littorals, enhancing capacities to safeguard land and maritime territories, working towards sustainable regional development, Blue Economy, and promoting collective action to deal with non-traditional threats like natural disasters, piracy, terrorism etc.

IAF and Indian Navy will need to work in coordination with each other to ensure quick relief by air and later use Naval ships for the next phase. The Sendai motto of “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction can be achieved when Air Force and the Navy lend their dedicated support for operations.

Developing an effective response mechanism to address humanitarian crisis and natural disasters is one of the most visible elements in India’s evolving Indian Ocean Region strategy. Without distinguishing between natural or man-made disasters, the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy both have time and again demonstrated that India cares for and stands by its IOR partners in times of need and has incorporated HADR operations as one of the foremost elements in its vision.

International HADR Norms and India’s HADR Doctrine

The 1994 Oslo guidelines on “The Use of Foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief” state that “humanitarian assistance must be provided with the core principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality and must also fully respect the sovereignty of states.” Western and Asian countries differ in their approaches to providing aid during HADR operations. For Western nations, providing or receiving relief in the aftermath of a humanitarian crisis does not pose a threat to their national sovereignty, as they are economically strong, to begin with. Asian countries are more cautious and protective about their sovereignty and may be reluctant in engaging in such HADR operations where there is a possibility of violation of their own or another country’s sovereignty.

It is important to study how the United Nations’ Sendai Framework may be effective in institutionalising collaborative HADR arrangement in the IOR both at the micro and macro levels. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015–30 propagates an institutional approach to disaster mitigation and includes these goals:

  • Reducing global disaster mortality,
  • Lowering the number of disaster victims,
  • Minimising the loss of property and damage to infrastructure,
  • Increasing the number of nations with disaster management strategies by enhancing international cooperation,
  • Increasing the availability of early warning systems, and
  • Improving disaster risk information.

Based on the same framework countries in the IOR can plan for disaster risk reduction (DRR):

  • Understanding disaster risks;
  • Strengthening disaster risk governance for effective management;
  • Investing in DRR and
  • Facilitating better disaster preparedness for effective response.

Humanitarian Operations (HUMOPS) are covered in Ch IV Sec 6 of IAF’s Operations Doctrine as per which IAF is expected to respond to humanitarian aid within and abroad in the event of disasters. Humanitarian intervention may be necessary in a foreign country to control violence and promote peace on behalf of govt of the country. Although, using the military for such operations is in contravention to the sovereignty aspect as mentioned in Oslo guidelines but most of the times the place of occurrence is remote and inhospitable and onset is quick and unexpected. In such critical scenario IAF’s ability to use its Air Mobility expertise to provide support for relief operations has been proven time and again.

Governing Principles for Using IAF for Foreign Missions

One must not forget that the primary role of the Indian defence forces is to safeguard the nation’s sovereignty from external threats, but when called upon, they are equally proficient in performing HADR operations.

  • IAF should not be used very frequently for non-security issues. Use should be timely & strategic.
  • Military deployment for HADR ops should not compromise geo-strategic interests of India.
  • Intervention should only be in a situation where country will not be drawn into a conventional/long drawn out conflict.
  • Intervention must reduce casualty rate from violence, disease and starvation.
  • Missions must be clearly defined and achievable.
  • Military power should not be used as a first resort, but earlier the better.
  • It should be employed when it enjoys significant advantage over other agencies.

IAF Overseas HADR Capabilities

The role of the IAF has been distinctive in all kinds of operations because of its efficiency to respond fast along with its inherent characteristics of range, mobility and flexibility. Other than countless rescue missions within the country, many nations have benefitted from the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) and Civilian evacuation from combat zone mission capabilities of the IAF. Capabilities of IAF aircraft are given in the table below.

Type of Ac      Payload                No of Stretchers               No of Pax            Range

C-17                 75 T                      36+102 Sitting                      185         2800 NM with 75 T

C-130               19 T                     97+5 Sitting                          128         2200 NM with 18T

IL-76               43 T                    72+38 Sitting                        225         2200 NM with 43T

AN-32              5 T                       24+3 Sitting                          48           750 NM with 5T


Execution Procedure for Foreign HADR Missions

Go ahead is given by the National Crisis Management Committee which identifies the lead service depending on the nature of the calamity and location of the affected area. Foreign HADR missions are sponsored by MEA and based on the political situation they decide whether military operations are required or civilian aircraft can be used. In some scenarios like Yemen Crisis only military operations are possible. Such missions can be Unilateral, Multinational or UN supported Missions. Decision on the size and quantity of aid is very difficult. There is a very thin line between sufficient aid and over commitment. The international community keeps a close watch on such missions and at times too much involvement is seen as threat to sovereignty of the affected nation. Indian ambassadors have got a big role in these processes and they need to coordinate inter agency issues.

Problems Faced in Executing Foreign Humanitarian Assistance Missions

The HADR missions are carried out in uncertain and at times hostile environment. These involve different types of authorities as well as different set of problems for all the operators. Although all the problems can’t be foreseen or listed but the major issues which have been faced by HADR operators are:

  • Involves Complex Assessment. The assessment of political, cultural, economic and military factors is critical for the success of the mission and is therefore complex.
  • Threat Assessment. The natural threat of the ongoing disaster is not the only threat that is faced by the operators. The local population as well as the International scenario at that time may pose additional threats.
  • Evaluating role of the organisation. Every participating organisation has to be clear about their roles and responsibilities.
  • Identifying the Underlying Causes of the Crisis. The suitable time of launch and type of rescue operations depend on understanding of the underlying causes of the crisis. Earthquake relief will be different from Tsunami relief.
  • Identify Ideal Force Structure (combat support forces). Sometimes the force required may not be available with one country and other countries need to lend their support too. However sometimes too many countries launch simultaneous missions and end up in a mess due to limited landing and parking space available at the affected zone.
  • Command and Control. These operations include multiple agencies and multiple clearances from the countries in which the aid is being transported. The situation is generally uncertain and these procedures may take long.
  • Political Instability. Crisis situations are accompanied by political turmoil and the situation can become volatile anytime. This is not an ideal scenario for HADR operations.


  • Formation of Joint Task Force. A joint HADR task force of IOR nations should be formed with Defence Memorandums of Understanding with friendly neighbours.
  • Joint HADR Exercices. There are gaps in the procedures due to lack of coordination due to which the capabilities of IAF are not utilized to their maximum potential. Joint HADR exercises will help in developing smooth procedures and will help in validating existing concepts. These further will enhance the IAF’s reach, footprint and success rates. These exercises should include reaching distant islands of IOR countries (which are disaster prone) by air and landing at different runways there with simulated relief material or/and rescue teams. A joint survey of the topography of vulnerable areas also should take place along with joint drills with the domestic organisations involved in disaster relief. This will increase the ease in communication and execution while reducing wastage of the most critical factor – time.
  • Leasing Air Ambulances to Friendly Countries. IAF aircraft in air ambulance configuration can be given on lease on mutual agreement basis to friendly countries. Initial training can also be undertaken by IAF.
  • Controlling the Foreign HADR Missions from National Security Council. The Foreign HADR missions are tough to plan and execute because of involvement of MoD, MHA and MEA. One Air Marshal rank officer should be deputed to NSCS to look after these inter-ministerial issues and he should directly report to NSA on such issues for swift decision making.
  • Joint Search and Rescue Drills. IAF conducts Search and Rescue drills in collaboration with Airport Authority of India (AAI) and Indian Coast Guard (ICG) annually. Similar practice drills involving International stakeholders will be useful in contingencies such as medical emergencies in the high seas as well as hijacked ships or to assist a capsized vessel’s crew.
  • Posting IAF and IN Officers on Deputation to IOR Countries. MEA should post IAF officers on deputation to the IOR countries as ‘Special Envoys for Humanitarian Assistance’ to have a better liaison and to ensure smooth conduct of overseas engagements of the IAF. The immediate rescue needs to be coordinated by IAF and the further reconstruction phase can be in coordination with the Naval forces of the participating nations.
  • Signing of Logistics Exchange Agreements. Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) which was signed between India and USA has made operations between the two country’s forces easier. Such agreements may be signed between the participating nations in IOR region so that the HADR operations can be carried out swiftly and with relative ease.
  • Share Best Practices Among Members. IOR nations should share the operational doctrines with each other for better understanding and to standardize procedures for evacuation. This could also help in evolving a common legal framework. IOR countries must negotiate and maintain a serviceable framework within the closed group of friendly foreign nations.