Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu): India today opened a new air base here in Tamil Nadu and deployed the first Sukhoi combat jet squadron in South India at the new fighter aircraft station.
The new base of the Indian Air Force will focus on defending the peninsular India and for maritime operations against the increasing Chinese warship and submarine forays into the Indian Ocean Region, particularly too close to the Indian territory in the recent years.
The Su-30MKI jets, manufactured at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited‘s Nasik facility in Maharashtra, will be armed with the India-Russia BrahMos air-launched supersonic missile, boosting the kill capability of the Indian combat jets against enemy platforms.
India’s first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat did the honours in the presence of Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal R. K. S. Bhadauria and DRDO Chairman and Defence Research and Defence Secretary Dr G. Satheesh Reddy.
The Sukhoi jets will be operated by the newly raised ‘Tiger Sharks‘ squadron and the air base will, at present, operate around six of these aircraft. By the end of 2020, the air base will be home to a full complement of 18-aircraft Sukhoi combat squadron, according people with knowledge of the plans.
The Su-30MKI, with a combat radius of almost 1,500 km without mid-air refuelling and combined with the 290-km range BrahMos missile, will be the best possible platform-weapon package India could deploy at this point in time.
Tiger Sharks will also be the 12th squadron of the fourth generation ‘air dominance’ Sukhoi aircraft, but the first one to be based in peninsular India. The previous 11 squadrons were deployed by the IAF in air bases focusing on the western and eastern fronts such as Pune, Halwara, Jodhpur, Sirsa, Bareilly, Tezpur and Chabua, to take care of the air space over Pakistan and China borders.
In December, Indian Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh said at his annual press conference that the force had driven away a Chinese oceanic research vessel, Shi Yan-1, after it was found acting in a suspicious manner near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an all-important strategically located land mass of India near Malacca Straits. He also noted that at least eight Chinese warships are present in the Indian Ocean Region at any given time.
The IAF has in the last two decades inducted around 260 of the 272 Sukhoi jets for which it has signed deals with Russia for license producing it at the HAL facility in India. India is in talks with Russia and HAL for upgrading the Sukhoi jets with advanced avionics, radars and weapons.
Since joining the 34-nation Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in June 2016, India and Russia are in the process of increasing the range of the BrahMos missiles from the previously capped range of 290 km to 450-500 km.