Increasing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean will soon have to put up with some mean company from the skies.
Two weeks ago the navy received orders to implement a tectonic shift. The most lethal fighters flying the Indian colours as on date, navy’s MiG29K/KUB, will for the first time in over four years of their service, ‘look east’. Preparations have begun to deploy and permanently base a full squadron (consisting 17 aircraft) of these fighters to strengthen the security of India’s energy-rich and trade-wise vital, eastern seaboard. Next year onwards, these jets will make the naval airbase INS Dega, in Vishakapatnam, their home. Earlier this month, an initial sanction of Rs.450 crore was accorded for building related technical support and infrastructure facilities here.
Barring training and detachment duties, these fighters, till date, have remained at their home base INS Hansa in Goa when not embarked on aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya.
Basing the MiG29K/KUB in Vishakapatnam will not just provide a fillip to the immediate maritime security scenario but also bring closer the island territories in Andaman and Nicobar in addition to creating a ready window into the increasingly volatile south-east Asian waters. These multirole jets are designed to function without requiring an overhaul. They can fly over 1200 miles in a single sortie, which brings parts of north eastern states too under their reach, if the situation so demands. Their ability tank up mid-air only means that there will be no limit to their reach in areas where India is increasingly looking at joint exploration of offshore sites with friendly nations as also further up inland.
In the long term scenario, this move has been made also keeping in mind the arrival of the indigenously made aircraft carrier ‘Vikrant’, work on which is going on at the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), Kochi. The ‘Vikrant’, which is being designed to carry a mix of MiG29K/KUBs and the naval version of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, is expected to commence her trials by the end of 2016 and will be the first aircraft carrier to operate under the Eastern Naval Command (ENC).
Unlike the Western Naval Command (WNC), which has its ships and aerial assets spread out across the coastline, the ENC enjoys the fruits of co-location of its dockyard and aerial assets at Vishakapatnam. “With the expansion of INS Dega, there will be an inherent ease making our training and operations more effective,” said a senior naval officer.
Conceived more than five years ago, the plan envisages a massive expansion of the airbase, in terms of size as well as capabilities. In the final scenario, from the present size of 1100 acres, the INS Dega will be spread out to over 1500 acres.
The volume of naval aviation that the airbase is slated to handle will bring it almost at par with the largest naval airbase INS Hansa. The workload will include accommodating the full squadron of MiG29K/KUBs as well as the Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) Hawks, nine of which are already operational and eight more will arrive by June 2016, along with their required infrastructure and support set up. INS Dega will also field a large chunk of aircraft which form a part of future acquisitions like Multi Role Helicopter (MRH), 56 Naval Utility Helicopters, Naval Multi Role Helicopters (NMRH) as well as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
At present, the INS Dega houses ship-based helicopters like the Kamov28 Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) and UH3H when the ships are in harbour, apart from the single-engine Chetak. In the fixed-wing category, it houses the trainer Hawk and Dornier, used for medium range reconnaissance and parachute training.
A parallel taxi track at the INS Dega is also in the offing which will cut down the runway occupancy time since the base shares space with a civil terminal where international airlines have already begun operating. “The construction will be such that we will, if required, use the track as a secondary runway for our fighters to land,” said a senior naval officer.
It is pertinent to the note that the Indian Air Force (IAF) had only last year, commissioned and operationalised its base at Thanjavur in the Southern Air Command which will house its premier warplane, the Sukhoi30MKI. In conjunction, these moves are bound to provide teeth to formations in the peninsular region as also enhance offshore security.
With the Singapore-based Silk Air commencing international civil flights to Vishakapatnam 2012, the navy, which owns and operates the civil terminal, converted the airport into a round-the-clock functional airport from January of this year.
MiG29K/KUB: A Profile
Fourth generation plus, air dominance fighter designed and manufactured by United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) in RussiaFirst ever flight took place in January 2007Indian Navy was the first in the world to induct this aircraft in February 2010, even before Russian NavyIndia has contracted for a total 46 MiG29K/KUB aircraftMaximum speed achieved is 1370MPHService ceiling is above 57400 feetFuel capacity for a single seater MiG29K is 4800kgSmokeless engineMulti mode radar for range, air patrol, air to ground attack and weather informationReduced signature in radar rangeEight external hard points for enhanced weapons loadCan accommodate weapons of Russian-origin as well as those from the west.