Thanjavur becomes first IAF station in south India to have Sukhoi-30 MKI contingent; move aimed at keeping eye on IOR

FP Staff

The Indian Air Force deployed the 222 Squadron, comprising six Sukhoi-30 specially modified fighter jets, each carrying the 2.5 tonne air-launched supersonic BrahMos cruise missile, in Tamil Nadu's Thanjavur on Monday.

The squadron, also known as Tigersharks, has been deployed amid China's growing presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Thanjavur is the first base in south India for high-profile jets

While Sukhoi-30 squadrons are deployed across nine Air Force Stations in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Assam and Maharashtra, among other states, deployment in Thanjavur comes keep in view the use of Karachi as a naval facility by China and the setting up of its first overseas military base by Beijing in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa in August 2017. Additionally, in December last year, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh said a Chinese naval ship was driven away from India's Exclusive Economic Zone in the Andaman sea recently, asserting that such activities will be dealt with sternly.

A defence release said that with the operationalisation of the squadron, the air defence capablilites of the IAF, particularly in the Southern Air Command area will be strengthened. "This will also provide protection to our island territories and sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean Region. The IOR is increasingly gaining importance and the presence of a fighter squadron will provide security cover to all our strategic and vital assets in the region," the release said, according to PTI.

The decision to deploy the squadron was made keeping in mind Thanjavur's strategic location and Sukhoi-30's maritime strike capability, according to Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria. "By virtue of the fact that Thanjavur is strategically very well located in the southern peninsula, from here it can dominate the seas, provide very close and integrated support to Indian Navy. It can also provide support to the land forces," ANI quoted Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat as saying.

About the Su-30 MKI, BrahMos missile?

The Su-30 MKI is an all-weather multi-role fighter aircraft capable of undertaking varied air defence, ground attack and maritime missions. They have the capability to strike at targets from sea and land with pinpoint accuracy at day and night.

Brahmos gives the Sukhois a combat radius of almost 1,500 km without mid-air refuelling. India first launched the BrahMos from a specially modified Su-30 warplane against a target in the Bay of Bengal in 2017, followed by a second launch in 2019.

While India has inducted about 260 of the 272 Sukhoi Su-30 MKIs it ordered, about 40 of them are being reconfigured to fit the BrahMos missile. Work is already on to increase the range of the BrahMos missile to over 500 km, with India joining the 34-nation Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in June 2016, The Print reported.

The Air Chief said that the integration of BrahMos Missiles with the SU-30MKI fighter has been done "fully indigenously". "The integration of the air-launched version of the BrahMos missile with the SU-30MKI fighter has been done fully indigenously by BrahMos Aerospace, HAL and the Air Force," he said.

What are the Tigersharks?

Tigersharks are the 12th squadron of the fourth-generation 'air dominance' Sukhois, but the first one to be based in south India after the first 11 were deployed in the western and eastern fronts in Halwara, Pune, Jodhpur, Sirsa, Bareilly, Tezpur and Chabua, aimed at quelling threats from Pakistan and China.

The squadron that was inducted was raised at Ambala in 1969. In July 1971, the Squadron moved to Air Force Station Halwara and took part in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. The squadron was recognised for its heroic efforts during the war and won one Mahavir Chakra, three Vir Chakras and three Vayu Sena medals. In December 1985, it became the first squadron in the Indian Air Force equipped with Mig-27 Aircraft. The squadron was number-plated in 2011.

The Tigersharks squadron will eventually have 18 fighters, around six of which will be equipped with BrahMos.

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