22 Squadron Air Force, then called as the ‘Hell’s Angels’ was raised on 15 Oct 1966 at Air Force Station Bareilly as the eighth Gnat Squadron of the IAF. In December 1969, the Squadron moved to Kalaikunda where it was tasked for Air Defence Role during the 1971 war. Here, the Squadron drew first blood for IAF by shooting down three intruding F-86 Sabre jets in a single four aircraft mission on 22 Nov 71. Thus the ‘Hell’s Angels’ found a special niche in the history of Indian aerial combat when they proved their mettle as the most successful and destructive fighter Squadron of the IAF in the 1971 War. For its daring performance, the Squadron was re-christened as the ‘Sabre Slayers’. All three pilots who shot down the F-86 Sabres; Flt Lt MA Ganapathy, Flt Lt RA Massey and Fg Offr D Lazarus, were awarded Vir Chakras.
The Squadron was awarded Battle Honours during the Indo Pak conflict of 1971 for “Air Offensive for Liberation of Bangladesh”. In April 1986, the Squadron received its official crest and was renamed as ‘SWIFTS’, the Squadron motto being “COURAGE TRIUMPHS”. In February 1990, the Squadron converted to the MiG-27 ML aircraft at Hasimara. The Squadron was deployed for Op Vijay in 1999 and for Op Parakram in 2001-02. On 08 August 2001, ‘SWIFTS’ became the first fighter Squadron to land at Lengpui airfield in Mizoram.
The Squadron was relocated to Kalaikunda in the year 2012, but moved back to Hasimara in August 2014. In the recent years, the Squadron has won various air to ground gunnery competition trophies and has participated in various international exercises with foreign Air Forces thus remaining at the forefront of professional excellence. The number of honours and awards which have been bestowed on the unit and its personnel bear a testimony to this fact. The Squadron continued to render yeoman service to the nation in the best traditions of the Indian Air Force.
The Hon’ble President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, awarded the prestigious President’s Standard to No 18 Squadron and No 22 Squadron 28 November 2015 at a grand and befitting ceremonial parade at Air Force Station Hasimara. The President’s Standard is awarded to operational Units based on their past record and achievements during peace as well as hostilities. The Commanding Officer of No 18 Squadron, Group Captain KJ Singh and the Commanding Officer of No 22 Squadron Group Captain Sandeep Singh received the Standards. The Parade was commanded by Group Captain KJ Singh, CO 18 Sqn.
The Swift fall in the category of types of birds of prey, which rely on high speed for interception in the open. Swifts have slim wings like a modern fighter aircraft, designed for high speed and maneuverability. A Swift is a long winged, insectivorous bird, stalking and attacking its prey for food with speed, surprise and agility. The largest species of the bird have wing span of 2 feet, a top flying speed of 160 KMPH and can fly a total of 600 miles a day even when feeding its Swift-let. The Swift is extremely fast and has a keen sense of sight, which enables it to spot and intercept its prey from great distance with extreme accuracy.
A fighter aircraft like the AJEET, operating in the skies, is in perfect harmony with the Swift. The AJEET has the same ability to cruise, maneuver, and surprise the enemy with speed and ferocity in attack. As the symbol of 22 Squadron, AF operating AJEET aircraft, the Swift is just appropriate.
During Operations in December 1971, after three intruding Sabre were shot down by the Squadron Pilots, the Squadron earned its name as "SABRE SLAYERS". On 20 December 1985, the President of India awarded the present crest of the named 'SWIFT'. Swift is a small bird, found in the sub-Himalayan tropical forests, famous for its speed, agility and offensive nature. The suitable motto for the swifts, therefore, was decided as 'COURAGE TRIUMPHS'.
22 Squadron, AF, known as the 'SWIFTS' was formed on 15 October 1966 at AF Station Bareilly under Central Air Command. The unit was then equipped with the Gnat Mk-I aircraft. In March 1982, the Squadron was re-equipped with Ajeet Mk-I aircraft. During that period, the Squadron was assigned Ground Attack and Air Defence roles. With the re-equipment of the unit with the HAL built MiG-27 ML aircraft in April 1990, the Squadron was tasked solely with a Ground Attack role.
After its initial formation at AF Station Bareilly, the unit moved to Kalaikunda under Eastern Air Command in September 1968. Since then, the unit has moved in EAC at different bases and has been located at AF Station Hasimara since 5 February 1990.
When hostilities broke out in 1971, during the Indo-Pakistan conflict, the Squadron was only five years old. It was then operating from 5 Wing, AF. The Squadron operated from Dum Dum from 22 September to 26 September 1971 to familiarise with the area. During hostilities, the Squadron operated from Dum Dum from 3 December to 26 December 1971. It was the first Gnat Squadron in the Eastern sector to go into the battle with PAF. It did so with such devastating effects that the PAF treated the diminutive Gnat with respect and caution thereafter. During the operations, the task allotted to the Squadron was five folds:
- Air Defence Operations: 22 Squadron, AF operated a dett from 23 September 1971 onward at DumDum airport. This was in anticipation of hostilities brewing up in East Pakistan. On 22 November 1971, unidentified aircraft were picked-up by our radar violating India Air spaces near Jessore. Four Gnats of 22 Squadron, AF were scrambled on a ground controlled interception, contact was made with 3 American built F-86 Sabres of the PAF, in the ensuing engagement all the three enemy intruders were shotdown.
- Ground Attack: The first air to ground strike by 22 Squadron, AF as launched at 1200 hrs on 6 December 1971, the target allotted was Brisal airfield, south of Dacca. Four Gnats carried out a successful mission destroying all the hangers and causing extensive damage to bunkers around the airfield. Thereafter the Squadron carried out numerous attacks on Ishurdi airfield on December 5-8, 1971 and Jessore on 8 December 1971. It was responsible for the destruction of the Army Brigade HQs at Khulna on 7 December 1971.
- Close Air Support: The Pakistani Army had dug-in in concrete defences around Jessore. This was stalling the advance of our troops on the Jessore and subjecting them to heavy shelling. 22 Squadron, AF was called upon for air support. Various defences around Jessore were destroyed in pinpoint attacks. As a result, the ground forces had little difficulty in over running the few remaining defences.
- Bomber/Transport Escort: The Squadron played a vital role in escorting bombers deep into enemy territory to carry out attacks on enemy lines of communication. The enemy took no chances with the Gnat escorts and the strikes went through unhampered by enemy fighters. Hunter aircraft and Canberra bombers could thus cause extensive damage to enemy strongholds and railway yards. The final assault by the paratroopers in transport aircraft on 11 December 1971 was also given fighter escort by Gnats of 22 Squadron AF, thus ensuring unhindered para dropping operations.
- Anti-Shipping Operations: The retreating enemy made an attempt to escape by sea. Small ships, motor launches and barges were being utilised to carry out fleeting PakistaniOfficials. To prevent their escape, the squadron carried out attacks on Khulna on 7, 10 and 12 December 1971, on Banisol on 6, 8 and 9 December 1971 and on Godanand on 15 December 71.
December 28, 2017 witnessed the last MiG-27 ML aircraft roar over Hasimara Air Force base as the Indian Air Force bid adieu to this legacy fleet in a function to mark the last flying. NATO code named FLOGGER and named BAHADUR in India; the aircraft boasts being the single most powerful engine in the world and has the peculiarity of variable geometry wing which means, the pilot while flying can change the wing sweep angle as per the mission requirements so as to achieve optimum flying characteristics.This swing wing fighter bomber of Russian origin was inducted into the IAF in the late 1980's. Being a dedicated ground attack aircraft,it was one of the main strike aircraft of the Indian Air Force. With its sophisticated avionics and weapon computers, it was capable of delivering a variety of loads in different modes of attack with immense precision. Being a very stable weapon platform with good forward visibility and all around view, it could drop bombs, rockets, precision munitions guided by TV/laser and also fire Air to Air Missiles for self defence thus making it a lethal and a potent weapon platform.
Being a formidable strike aircraft, MiG-27 ML has had an impeccable track record in its more than three decades of glorious service to the nation. Time and again she has proved her worth in various operations including Kargil and earned rich accolades in numerous international exercises held in India. The pilots who proudly call themselves SWING WINGERS have always vouched the aircraft's precise weapon delivery and rapid acceleration. Though the last MLs retire, they are not the last swing wing aircraft in service as few of them got a midlife avionics upgrade and continue to serve the nation. They are called MiG-27 UPG and are presently based in Jodhpur.
22 Squadron, known as SWIFTS is the last Squadron of the Indian Air Force flying the MiG-27 MLs. The Squadron has a rich history and is known for undertaking the famous Boyra Day Operations in the Gnat aircraft, marking the beginning of 1971 war. One of the youngest fighter Squadron, it converted onto the MLs in February 1990. The lethal MiG-27 aircraft, with its range, speed and ferocity in attack has always been in perfect harmony with the SWIFTS who on a very emotional note said good bye to the mighty BAHADURS with full military honours. Recently the Squadron celebrated its Golden Jubilee where in rich tributes were paid to the aircraft's magnificent service to the nation. The Squadron is presently being commanded By Group Captain S L Mahajan who after a stint in Sukhoi-30 MKI, is back again in the Bahadur cockpit, proudly leading the last MLs. As the roar of the MLs still echo in their ears, the pilots are slated to move to other squadrons/appointments and the squadron gets number plated awaiting new induction.
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