IAF’s daring rescue of 121 Indians from war-torn Sudan using night vision goggles. In a daring operation, an Indian Air Force C-130J heavy-lift aircraft rescued 121 people from a small airstrip at Wadi Seidna, about 40 kilometers north of Sudan’s capital city of Khartoum.
On the night of April 27-28 of 2023 a C130J aircraft of the Indian Air Force rescued 121 people from a small airstrip north of Khartoum (Sudan) from a place called ‘Wadi Sayyidna’. This place is a degraded surface with no night landing facility, navigational aids to approach it or to carry out a landing. It does have a refuelling facility either. It is nothing but an open ground in the middle of nowhere along the river Nile, as shown on the map below. All these people who were rescued were taken to Jeddah and from there they were or will be brought to India, by Indian Air Force’s C-17 aircraft and in the Indian Navy ships.
Situated on the western coast of the Red Sea north of Eritrea, Sudan is the third largest country by area not only in Africa but also the third largest as far as the Arab League is concerned (before South Sudan broke away).
This country has been inhabited throughout known human existence. The history of Sudan dates as far back as 8000 BC. Though sparsely populated, in the 14th and 15th centuries Arab nomads inhabited this land and the ‘Funj sultanate’ was formed.
Sudan was declared an independent state on 1st of January 1956. Post independence, it established a democratic parliamentary system and became a thriving community. South Sudan, which was composed mostly of Christians broke away from Sudan in 2011.
India and Sudan enjoyed a great diplomatic relationship. Indian soldiers fought in Sudan during the East African campaign. In fact, in the National Defense Academy (West Point equivalent of India, only much larger), there is an administrative block called Sudan block which was established in honour of the sacrifices of Indian soldiers during his East African Campaign. It was aptly inaugurated by the ambassador of Sudan to India Mr. Rahmatullah Abdullah on 30th May 1959.
Sudan Block NDA © Wikimedia Commons
Wadi Sayyidna is located 40 Kms north of Khartoum. At the time of these daring operations, this place was relatively clear of the warring factions. The 121 Indians were stranded in Khartoum, waiting to be evacuated. They were taken to this particular location, on the evening of 27th April. This operation of moving people from Khartoum in itself was very daring, to say the least. As they drove through areas where active fighting was still going on.
The Khartoum airport was unsuitable for an evacuation operation because the fighting was still on to gain control of Khartoum. Had they waited to evacuate these 121 Indians till the morning? It would have resulted in two things:
(a) The rescuing aircraft would have come under heavy anti-aircraft fire,
(b) These 121 Indians would have been run over by the inimical elements and probably would have resulted in casualties/hostage situation.
Therefore, Wadi Sayyidna was chosen to be the area where these 121 Indians were to be rescued and taken to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Wadi Sayyidna, as covered before, did not have any facility for it to be called a runway where aircraft operations can take place. It was a dilapidated strip that had been damaged and did not have any lighting, airport security, water, or navigational aids for it to be used, let alone be used as an airstrip at night.
The other challenge in front of the Indian Armed Forces contingent led by Colonel GS Grewal (Defence Attaché) was transporting these 121 Indians to this airstrip through the war torn region unharmed so that they can fly out of Sudan to Jeddah safely. For this reconnaissance by Rd was carried out well in advance and a route was chosen through which these 121 Indians would be taken to Wadi Sayyidna.
The presence of one pregnant woman also added complexity to this entire operation as she required medical attention during transportation until she boarded the C130J of the Indian Air Force. The medical officer on the ground accompanied the entourage of 121 people to ensure that all their medical needs are taken care of during this transit and as a contingency if any of them get injured if at all they are fired upon while this transit is happening to Wadi Sayyidna.
Responsibility of ensuring that the strip continues to be safe for landing, boarding and take off of this C130J of IAF also fell squarely upon the shoulder of Colonel GS Grewal and his team.
Between Jeddah and the port of Sudan lies the Red Sea. Inland from the port of Sudan is where along the river Nile an ancient city of Khartoum exists. C130J of the Indian Air Force however could not use the Khartoum runway because of the presence of any inimical elements therefore Wadi Sayyidna was chosen.
The airstrip was secured by the Col GS Grewal and his team and the orbiting C130 landed on this unprepared airstrip at night without lights and kept their engine running while the team loaded these 121 souls on board. In this daring operation, these 121 people were evacuated right across the Red Sea to Jeddah for onward dispatch to India.
This operation reminded me of Moses splitting the Red Sea to save his people from Egypt. Probably, the KC3811 aeroplane has been used for cutting out these evacuations as per the open source information available as shown below.
Tactical Landing using Night Vision Devices. The night vision device used for evacuating these stranded Indians is specially designed for C130Js. Unlike the common Night Vision Devices (NVD) used by the army which only covers one eye, this NVD covers both eyes. However, the challenge is that it is monochrome with a green tinge and does not have enough depth perception, therefore, the distances are measured using the onboard navigational equipment feed tapped from Inertial Reference systems overlayed on the head-up display.
Pilots also use something called ‘relative size comparison method’ to assess the distance. Carrying out landing using only a night vision device isn’t easy and it requires a lot of skill and practice which IAF pilots regularly carry out to keep this art honed for situations like these.
Navigational Aids. The C130J has exceptional navigation systems on board in which it has multiple inertial reference systems aided by ring laser gyros and continuously updated with global navigation satellite systems like the GPS, GLONASS, NAVIC, WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) systems like the SBAS (Space Based Augmentation System) & GBAS (Ground Based Augmentation System). This onboard navigation system gives sub-metric level accuracy in maintaining a desired flight path and creating points on the ground that could even be fictitious points in the middle of nowhere. Therefore, dependence on systems like VOR, DME and ILS is practically nil for C130Js.
Creation of Synthetic Runway using Enhanced Flight Vision System (EFVS). C130Js is armed with a technology called ‘Enhanced Flight Vision System’ (EFVS) which can create a synthetic virtual runway on top of an existing field. This enables the pilot to carry out an approach and landing on this virtual runway from far until they pick it up on their night vision devices which perfectly borders the existing runway. It also shows the virtual touchdown point which also is synthetically created. It also creates a virtual leading in light and extended runway centreline lights which on the ground, on an unprepared surface does not exist. This assists pilots to align themselves with the strip.
The power of this EFVS coupled with the energy management display from the engine computer and the flight management guidance system is shown on the head-up display. The whole thing is tuned to accommodate the night vision devices. Visually how it looks through the NVDs can be seen below.
Image credit www.mobilityengineeringtech.com
A lot of snide remarks and criticism were raised by some elements within India. Some even doubted the capability of current India in its ability to do what it has done in evacuating Indians from war-torn regions. Indian Air Force and Indian armed forces, time and again proved them wrong by not letting any Indian behind.
Operation Kaveri is one such example of India’s capability that has shown a tremendous boost in the last five to seven years in its ability to carry out such operations in an extremely professional manner. There’s a famous adage “No news is good news”, an uneventful, exceptional execution of evacuating these 121 people in the middle of the night shows how professional the Indian armed forces are and how vibrant the Indian external affairs ministry is. Thanks to so many unsung heroes who rose to the occasion in making this operation a resounding success.