For the first time, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is deploying its most potent Sukhoi-30MKI fighters in Kashmir. Reflecting its new assertiveness, the IAF wants to whet its war-waging prowess in a troubled sector where India has to defend itself from Pakistan and China.
A senior air force officer told HT: “The IAF may have to operate from anywhere depending on perceived threats. Su-30MKIs are temporarily being deployed at the Srinagar airbase. Fighter pilots will be able to practice combat missions in a different flying environment.” Inducted into the IAF in 2001, the twin-engine, twin-seater air dominance fighter can simultaneously be operated as an interceptor and bomber to deliver a tailored response to enemy threats.
The introduction of Su-30MKIs — which can carry eight tonnes of armament including nuclear bombs — in Srinagar comes at a time when Pakistan’s air force is acquiring new F-16s from the US and JF-17 ‘Thunder’ jets from China. The IAF’s combat fleet consists of some 60 Su-30MKI aircraft housed at Lohegaon near Pune and Bareilly.
The six Su-30MKI fighters based at Srinagar (home to MiG-21 Bison fighters) will carry out “pervasive missions” in the coming days not only over Kashmir skies but also cover the Ladakh sector, including the rugged mountains of Kargil.
Air Marshal PK Barbora, who heads the operationally critical Western Air Command, told HT: “Flexibility is the key to airpower and differentiates a leading-edge air force. The Su-30MKI deployment in Kashmir will enable combat pilots to adapt to changing circumstances and environments in a responsive manner.”
During the 1999 Kargil conflict, the air force’s striking power had a profound influence on the outcome of operations. The IAF is on course to base two squadrons (some 40 aircraft) of Sukhois, which have a cruising speed of 3,200 km, at Tezpur to counterbalance a Chinese threat on the eastern front. The air force has contracted some 230 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters from Russia in orders totaling over US $ 8.5-billion. The Ladakh sector has come to occupy lofty status in the IAF’s calculus as was evident when it reactivated the 2.1-km airstrip at Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) in northeastern Ladakh after 43 years.