As the Indian Air Force (IAF) is gearing up to phase out the Soviet-made MiG-21s, the agile and lethal Sukhoi Su-30MKIs are all set to become the force’s backbone. A total of 17 squadrons are to be deployed along India’s borders with Pakistan and China, and also in the south to cover up the country’s southern flank up to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The aim of deploying these ‘air dominance’ fighter jets at these western bases are aimed at countering the US-made F-16s and Chinese-made JF-17 Thunder jets that Pakistan is procuring. While in east the objective is to balance the massive development carried out by China in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
“Plans are in the offing to base these war birds at Bhuj (Gujarat), Sirsa (Haryana), Kalaikunda (West Bengal), Hashimara (in West Bengal) and Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu,” officials said. The strategic importance of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has compelled the IAF to bolster its capability in the region. Plans are in the offing to have a fighter jets in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, from where the Sukhois have operated in the past. The new Sukhoi bases in Bhuj and Sirsa will conduct strategic surveillance and reconnaissance in the western region. The Sukhois are already based at Bhatinda and Halwara in Punjab, and Jodhpur air base in Rajasthan. On the eastern side in Kalaikunda and Hashimara, the fighter jets will complement the Tejpur and Chabua fighter bases.
Armed with Israeli reconnaissance pods, these fighter jets have the capability to look into the Chinese territory for good 300 km. At present, the IAF has Su-30MKIs frontline fighter jets—that can be altered to drop a nuclear bomb—are based at Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh), in Tezpur (Assam), Halwara (Punjab), Lohegaon (Pune) and Jodhpur. The Sukhois were inducted into the IAF at Lohegaon air base in 2002. Thereafter, they were deployed at Bareilly, followed by Tejpur, Chabua, Jodhpur, Bhatinda and Halwara.
“The Sukhoi fighter squadron at Bhuj and Sirsa shall be deployed by the end of this year. Kalaikunda and Hashimara will be ready by mid next year. Thanjavur is aimed to be operational by 2015,” officials added.
The IAF has contracted for 230 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets from Russia. Of these, 140 will be manufactured under licence at the public sector major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in India. With the IAF requiring minimum squadron strength in the face of the phasing out of MiG-21s and MiG-27s, the HAL has been asked to complete its present order by 2013-2014.
Presently, the last of the pilots’ batch is getting trained on MiG-21s Type 77—the oldest of the MiG-21s that were the force’s mainstay in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. The pilots are scheduled to finish its syllabus by January 2014, paving the way for the war planes’ retirement. The two squadrons of Type-96 MiG-21s will revert back to operational role from training and will continue to serve the force till 2015. The four squadrons of MiG-27s will be retired in a phased manner by 2016-2017.
- Sunday Standard