New Delhi: Indian Navy is celebrating the diamond jubilee of its aviation wing on May 11 with the commissioning of its first shipboard Mig-29K combat jet squadron in Goa. The aircraft will be deployed on the carrier INS Vikramaditya, currrently undergoing sea trials in Russia and which is expected to be inducted later this year.
Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the spearhead Western Command and Inddia's seniormost naval aviator, told India Strategic (www.indiastrategic.in) defence magazine that the occasion is a proud moment for the naval personnel because of the rich history on the one hand and, on the other, the impending transformation into a formidable force in the coming years.
In April, the defence ministry had approved the Navy's Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) for 2012-27, he disclosed, pointing out that the key is to ensure a 24x7 ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) capability in the Indian Ocean as well as a deterrent presence with at least one carrier task force each on India's western and eastern seaboards.
The ISR capability means an integrated network of ships, aircraft, submarines, UAVs, helicopters, satellites and ground facilities. The process has been on for some time and in the coming years, it should be implemented in a structured step-by-step but multi-pronged approach.
As the senior most naval aviator, Vice Admiral Sinha has the sole and unique distinction of being honoured as the Indian Navy's Grey Eagle.
Meanwhile, Rear Admiral D.M. Sudan, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (ACNS) Air, said that the navy had received some 20 of the 45 Mig-29K aircraft ordered from Russia. They would form INAS 303 Black Panthers Squadron.
Till then, these jets are based at INS Hansa, set up as a Naval Air Station on June 18, 1964.
Defence Minister AK Antony, Indian Navy chief Admiral D.K. Joshi and top officers of the three armed forces and the defence ministry would be present on the occasion.
The navy will raise a second squadron of Mig-29Ks for the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-1) being built at Kochi. It is likely to inducted in about four years.
There are plans to acquire two more indigenous aircraft carriers in the coming years. However, their size, their type of aircraft, their launch systems - steam or electromagnetic catapults - are still under study. Notably, all aircraft carriers built so far use steam-powered catapults but in the US - where most of their building capability is located - the US Navy has now gone in for the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) built by General Atomics, starting with the new generation CVN-21 Gerald Ford Class of carriers.
India's carriers, including INS Vikramaditya, use ski-jumps.
According to Rear Admiral Sudan, the navy is set to receive the first of its eight Boeing P8-I maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft within weeks while in the coming years, the number of aircraft (all types) should double to more than 400.
The navy, in fact, has plans for about 500 aircraft and helicopters of various types.
The Navy is looking at a minimum of 100 combat aircraft while those of the P8-I type should range from 20 to 24. Twelve of these are already in the pipeline.
The P8-I is designated by the Indian Navy as an LRMR (Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance) aircraft. Its diet version, withuot the ASW capability is also being acquired as MRMR (Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance) aircraft.
The Navy's Fleet Air Arm was created with the induction of Sealand amphibians and the commissioning of the first air station, INS Garuda at Cochin on May 11, 1953.
Rear Admiral Sudan said that the Navy was also in the process of strengthening its helicopter strength for ship-based integral flights and that "induction of Multi Role Helicopters (MRH) as replacements for the Seaking 42As and to embark new ships is planned."
So are the replacements for Alouette III/Chetak helicopters "in the near future".
Future inductions, he said, "would see our current naval aircraft inventory increase substantially" and "transformed into a potent multi-dimensional networked force as a decisive instrument of maritime power".