IAF bases first BrahMos-armed Su-30s in south
The fighters are equipped with the air-launched version of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, a 2.5-tonne missile that flies at nearly three times the speed of sound.Updated: Jan 20, 2020 16:37 IST
The country on Monday upgraded its capabilities to keep a watch on the strategically-important Indian Ocean Region and deliver an offensive option swiftly, if necessary, with the air force basing its front-line Sukhoi-30 fighters in southern India for the first time.
With China’s footprint in the Indian Ocean growing at a rapid pace, the Indian Air Force raised a new squadron of Su-30 MKI fighter jets at the Thanjavur air force station in Tamil Nadu. Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria and Defence Research and Development Organisation chief G Satheesh Reddy attended the ceremony.
The fighters are equipped with the air-launched version of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, a 2.5-tonne missile that flies at nearly three times the speed of sound. The BrahMos missile, an Indo-Russian joint venture, has a range of 290 km.
The missile --- the fastest cruise missile in the world --- would provide the air force the capability to strike sea and land targets from stand-off ranges with pinpoint accuracy in all weather conditions.
The No. 222 squadron, nicknamed Tigersharks, has been raised with six fighter planes and is expected to have its full complement of 18 jets by the year-end. It’s the air force’s second fighter squadron in south India after the No. 45 ‘Flying Daggers’ squadron at Sulur, which is also in Tamil Nadu. The No. 45 squadron is equipped with India’s first LCA Tejas Mk.1 fighters.
The IAF operates Su-30s from bases scattered across the country including Adampur, Halwara, Sirsa, Bareilly, Pune, Tezpur and Chabua.
Experts said the deployment of Su-30s in Thanjavur was a significant step towards safeguarding the country’s interests in the Indian Ocean region where Chinese warships are frequently sighted and tracked by the Indian Navy.
“While the Indian Navy is keeping a close watch on the Indian Ocean region with its P-8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft, the requirement of having an air-delivered kinetic offensive option at quick notice could no longer be neglected. A permanent availability of air power in the Indian Ocean, which was lacking, has now been made up to some extent with the basing of the Sukhois at Thanjavur,” said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
He said the deep-strike capabilities of the aircraft, especially with the air-to-surface BrahMos supersonic missile, would enhance the country’s much-needed deterrent stance in the region.
The IAF has contracted 272 Su-30 fighter planes out of which around 260 have been delivered and the remaining 12 are expected to join the air force fleet by the year-end.
The first 50 jets came in a flyaway condition from Russia and the remaining have been built under licence by the state-owned aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The IAF inducted its first Su-30 fighter at the Lohegaon air base in Pune in June 1997.
The safety record of the fighters has been blemished by 12 crashes since the planes were inducted. The IAF is placing an order for a few more jets to make up for the losses.
The IAF’s Su-30 fleet was plagued by engine troubles a few years ago when a string of failures was reported. The fleet’s poor serviceability has also been questioned in the past. Serviceability refers to the number of planes in the fleet that are mission-ready at any given time.
“BrahMos-armed Su-30 fighter jets will be a game changer for future air operations,” BrahMos Aerospace CEO Sudhir Mishra told Hindustan Time on Monday.
India launched the BrahMos from a specially-modified Su-30 warplane for the first time against a target in the Bay of Bengal in November 2017, followed by a second launch against a land target in May 2019. Last December, the IAF announced that it had successfully fired the BrahMos missile from a Su-30 for the third time and the integration of the weapon on the fighter was complete. The weapon achieved a direct hit on a sea target off the Odisha coast.
At least two Su-30 squadrons consisting of 18 planes each are likely to be equipped with the missile. The missile’s land and naval variants – 500kg heavier than the air launched version – are already in service. BrahMos is now capable of being launched from land, sea and air, completing the tactical cruise missile triad for India.
India is developing an extended range BrahMos missile that can hit targets at a range of 450 km by tweaking the configuration of the existing weapon. Increasing the missile’s range became possible after India’s induction into the Missile Technology Control Regime in June 2016.
Compared to an optimum strength of 42-plus units required to fight a two-front war with Pakistan and China, the count of the IAF’s fighter squadrons currently stands at around 30.