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'Bharat Shakti': Pokhran witness to trinity of India's 'aatmanirbharta', belief, self-pride, says PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhajanlal Sharma, Chief of Defence Staff General Anil Chauhan, Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Pande, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R. Hari Kumar and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari during the Exercise Bharat Shakti, in Pokhran, Rajasthan, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Photo: PTI.

POKHRAN (PTI): Homegrown aircraft roared in the air while indigenously built battle tanks and artillery guns spewed fire dominating the arid terrain of Pokhran during a mega exercise on Tuesday, but perhaps the loudest roar was of an 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' marching ahead on the path of self-reliance in defence.

As awestruck spectators watched the 'Bharat Shakti' exercise in Rajasthan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Pokhran has become witness to the trinity of India's 'aatmanirbharta', belief and self-pride.

Roars of LCA Tejas and ALH Mk-IV filled the air while Main Battle Tank Arjun, K-9 Vajra, and T-90 Bhishma tanks, and Dhanush and Sharang artillery gun systems ruled the firing ranges on the ground. Pinaka rocket system in action drew huge cheers from the crowd.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Chief of Defence Staff Gen Anil Chauhan, Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar, IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari and Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande and Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhajan Lal Sharma also attended the nearly 50-minute tri-services firepower and manoeuvre exercise, a first-of-its-kind on such a scale.

The spectators also included several foreign service attaches from different countries, local civilians and defence personnel and some lawmakers of the region.

The exercise showcased India's military prowess and integrated multi-domain operations of the three services and the "shock and awe" impact that the armed forces seek to achieve in an operational situation with manoeuvre and fighting capabilities.

However, a Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) of the Indian Air Force crashed near a residential colony in Jaisalmer while returning from the exercise in the first accident involving the indigenously-built single-engine jet since it began flying in 2001. There was no casualty.

The pilot ejected safely and a court of inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident, the IAF said in a brief statement.

The crash took place around 100 km from the Pokhran desert where the exercise 'Bharat Shakti' witnessed by Modi and top military brass was underway.

LCH Prachand, mobile anti-drone system, BMP-II and its variants, a swarm of drones also wowed the audience with their precision striking capabilities during the exercise.

In his address on the occasion, Modi said, "The roar of aircraft mid-air, and valour displayed on ground during Bharat Shakti exercise is the call of a 'new India' (naye Bharat ka aavhan hai)".

He recalled that it was at Pokhran that India's nuclear test was conducted in the past.

"This is Pokhran, which witnessed India's nuclear power, and today here we are also seeing the strength of 'Swadeshikaran se Sashaktikaran' (from indigenisation to empowerment).

"Today, this celebration of Bharat Shakti is taking place in Rajasthan, the land of bravery, but its echo is being heard not only in India but in the whole world," he said.

The prime minister also visited the area where a static display of equipment and platforms was kept near the site of the live demonstration.

A tethered drone system and robotic mule system, among other cutting-edge platforms, were also displayed in the exhibition area.

The prime minister highlighted India's "twin messages of peace and power through his avatar as a 'Shantidoot' during his visit to Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmedabad in the morning and thereafter his transformation as a 'Shaktidoot' in Pokhran", a senior official said.

Besides firepower and ammunition, logistic capabilities for transporting equipment and evacuation of injured and casualties using the latest technologies were also demonstrated as a Chetak helicopter performed the manoeuvre drawing applause from the crowd.

Gen Pande, in his brief address, said, "For capable armed forces to be 'atmanirbhar', it is not only limited to equipment or platforms, but it is also important for self-sufficiency in a war and its preparations, other resources and critical technology".

This first-of-its-kind exercise on such a scale is "not tailored towards any direction (northern or western border) or any adversaries", sources in the defence establishment said.

"In a clear indication of India's readiness to confront and overcome contemporary and future challenges with home-grown solutions, 'Bharat Shakti' highlights resilience, innovation and strength of India's domestic defence capabilities on the global stage," the Prime Minister's Office had said on Sunday.

Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Katie L Thomen, assistant army attache at the US Embassy in New Delhi also attended the exercise.

"I thought it was great, it shows where the defence industry has come in India in the last few years, and it is a good thing. I think India is one of the most important relationships for the US in the Indo-Pacific region, which is one of the most influential regions in the world," she told PTI after the end of the exercise.

The exercise at Pokhran also showcased systems and platforms integrated with artificial intelligence (AI).

Maal Singh (48), a local resident of Pokhran attended the event dressed in a traditional Rajasthani costume.

"I earlier served in an infantry unit of the Army but took voluntary retirement. In our times, we had to get so many military assets imported. But today I saw so many Indian aircraft and platforms on display. It was a great experience," he told PTI.

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