Indian Air Force: Structure, Commands and Ranks

Indian Air Force is youngest among the three armed forces in the country. It was formally established in 1932 as Royal Indian Air Force. In 1950, the prefix Royal was dropped. First major expansion plan was undertaken in 1953-1960 when new jet fighters called Toofani were inducted in the force. In the Indo-China war, Indian Air Force did not get a chance to test its mettle and its employment was limited to logistics support and casualty evacuation only. Indian Air Force was for the first time comprehensively deployed in the Indo-Pak war of 1971 on both Eastern and Western Fronts. This resulted in total command of IAF over Pakistan Air Force in East, while substantial edge in west.


Chief of the Air Staff with the rank of Air Chief Marshal is the Commander of the Indian Air Force. He is assisted by six officers: a Vice Chief of the Air Staff, a Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, the Air Officer in Charge of Administration, the Air Officer in Charge of Personnel, the Air Officer in Charge of Maintenance, and the Inspector General of Flight Safety.

In January 2002, the government conferred the rank of Marshal of the Air Force on Arjan Singh making him the first and only Five-star officer with the Indian Air Force and ceremonial chief of the air force.


The Indian Air Force is divided into five operational and two functional commands. Each Command is headed by an Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief with the rank of Air Marshal. The purpose of an operational command is to conduct military operations using aircraft within its area of responsibility, whereas the responsibility of functional commands is to maintain combat readiness. Aside from the Training Command at Bangalore, the centre for primary flight training is located at the Air Force Academy in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, followed by operational training at various other schools. Advanced officer training for command positions is also conducted at the Defence Services Staff College; specialised advanced flight training schools are located at Bidar, Karnataka, and Hakimpet, Andhra Pradesh (also the location for helicopter training). Technical schools are found at a number of other locations.

Operational Commands
  • Central Air Command (CAC), Headquartered at Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh
  • Eastern Air Command (EAC), Headquartered at Shillong, Meghalaya
  • Southern Air Command (SAC), Headquartered at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
  • South Western Air Command (SWAC), Headquartered at Gandhinagar, Gujarat
  • Western Air Command (WAC), Headquartered at Subroto Park, New Delhi
Functional Commands
  • Training Command (TC), Headquartered at Bangalore, Karnataka
  • Maintenance Command (MC), Headquartered at Nagpur, Maharashtra
Training Centre for Officers
  • Air Force Administrative College – Coimbatore
  • Air Force Training Academy – Hakimpet, Hyderabad
  • Air Force Technical Training Centre – Bangalore and Chennai
  • Air Force Non-technical Training Centre – Belgaon


The IAF operates over sixty air bases, with more being built or planned. Western Air Command is the largest Air Command. It operates sixteen air bases from Punjab to Uttar Pradesh. Eastern Air Command operates fifteen Air bases in Eastern and North-eastern India. Central Air Command operates seven air bases in Madhya Pradesh and surrounding states of central India. Southern Air Command, a strategically important air command, in line with India’s latest doctrine of protecting the vital shipping routes. It operates nine Air bases in Southern India and two in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. South Western Air Command is the front line of defence against Pakistan; this important Command operates twelve air bases in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. India also operates the Farkhor Air Base in Tajikistan.


A Wing is a formation intermediate between a Command and a Squadron. It generally consists of two or three IAF Squadrons and Helicopter Units, along with Forward Base Support Units (FBSU). FBSUs do not have or host any Squadrons or Helicopter units but act as transit airbases for routine operations. In times of war, they can become full-fledged air bases playing host to various squadrons. In all, about 47 Wings and 19 FBSUs make up the IAF.


Squadrons are the field units and formations attached to static locations. Thus, a Flying Squadron is a sub-unit of an air force station which carries out the primary task of the IAF. All fighter squadrons are headed by a Commanding Officer with the rank of Wing Commander. Some Transport squadrons and Helicopter Units are headed by a Commanding Officer with the rank of Group Captain.

Garud Commando Force

In September 2004, the IAF established its own special operation unit called the Garud Commando Force, consisting of approximately 1500 personnel.

Integrated Space Cell

An Integrated Space Cell, which will be jointly operated by all the three services of the Indian armed forces, the civilian Department of Space and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been set up to utilize more effectively the country’s space-based assets for military purposes and to look into threats to these assets. This command will leverage space technology including satellites. Unlike an aerospace command, where the air force controls most of its activities, the Integrated Space Cell envisages cooperation and coordination between the three services as well as civilian agencies dealing with space. One such centre is based at Bhopal.

India currently has 11 remote sensing satellites in orbit. Though most are not meant to be dedicated military satellites, some have a special resolution of 1 meter or below which can be also used for military applications. Noteworthy satellites include the Technology Experiment Satellite (TES) which has a panchromatic camera (PAN) with a resolution of meter, the RISAT-2 which is capable of imaging in all-weather conditions and has a resolution of one meter, the CARTOSAT-2, CARTOSAT-2A (a dedicated military satellite) and CARTOSAT-2B which carries a panchromatic camera which has a resolution of 80 centimeters (black and white only).

Display Teams

Surya Kiran is an aerobatics demonstration team of the Indian Air Force. The Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) was formed in 1996 and are successors to the Thunderbolts.

Sarang is the Helicopter Display Team of the Indian Air Force.

Rank Structure

The rank structure of the Indian Air Force is based on that of the Royal Air Force. The highest rank attainable in the IAF is Marshal of the Indian Air Force, conferred by the President of India after exceptional service during wartime. MIAF Arjan Singh is the only officer to have achieved this rank. The head of the Indian Air Force is the Chief of the Air Staff, who holds the rank of Air Chief Marshal.

Commissioned Officers
  • Marshal of the Indian Air Force
  • Air Chief Marshal (the rank held by Chief of Air Staff)
  • Air Marshal
  • Air Vice Marshal
  • Air Commodore
  • Group Captain
  • Wing Commander
  • Squadron Leader
  • Flight Lieutenant
  • Flying Officer
Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs)
  • Master Warrant Officer
  • Warrant Officer
  • Junior Warrant Officer
Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs)
  • Sergeant
Other Personnel
  • Corporal
  • Leading Aircraftsman
  • Aircraftsman

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