The Indian Navy is poised to play a greater role with the fragile security environment in the neighbourhood requiring it to maintain a high state of preparedness to deal with any developing situation, a top military commander said on Thursday.
"The effectiveness of heli-borne surveillance and deterrence during our anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden is an ongoing example of this capability," Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta said at the commissioning of the first full-fledged Helicopter Naval Air Station INS Shikra here.
"INS Shikra has an important role to play towards enhancing the operational effectiveness of the naval fleet and also in augmenting local naval defence," he said.
According to Mehta, as India's maritime outlook and naval responsibilities expand in keeping with the country's regional and global aspirations, "the Indian Navy is poised to play an even greater role in maintaining peace and stability in the area of our interest."
He said the Indian Navy is undergoing a period of technological transformation and a large number of aviation assets, including helicopters, will be inducted in the coming decade.
"In the very near future, we will commission two more air squadrons at Visakhapatnam, and another naval air station at Ramnad (in Tamil Nadu). Plans are also afoot to establish new air stations and enclaves at other locations as well," Mehta pointed out.
INS Shikra has its genesis in a small Helicopter Maintenance Unit that was set up in 1964. A grass helipad was built in 1972 and the unit functioned as a helicopter base for the Chetak light choppers.
The base will provide maintenance and flying support to a diverse range of helicopters operating from naval ships based at Mumbai. Among the helicopters operating from here are Sea Kings, Kamov 28s, Kamov 31s and Chetaks. The station also provides Air Traffic Control services to all civil and military helicopters operating in south Mumbai.
The location of INS Shikra close to other naval facilities here makes it ideally suited to support ship-borne helicopters of the Western Fleet as also their maintenance and training requirements, the official said.
"In addition, the proximity of the air station to Mumbai High and the Saurashtra region on the west coast makes it the preferred site to provide effective air support for protection and security of the national assets at short notice," he added.
"The commissioning of INS Shikra will provide a shot in the arm to the growth of naval aviation. The commissioning is symbolic of the recognition of the important role played by naval helicopters in the maritime capability of our nation," the official said.
The unit's hour of glory, as it were, came during the Nov 26-29 Mumbai terror attacks when it served as the base for the operations conducted by the National Security Guard to neutralise the 10 attackers that India says came from Pakistan via the sea route.