Bengaluru: The Indian Air Force (IAF) is likely to make Air Force Station (AFS) Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu as the base for the just-resurrected 222 Squadron with Sukhoi-30 MKIs (Su-30 MKI).
This will be the second frontline fighter squadron of IAF to be based in South India, with the most potent platform capable of long reach and multi-role capabilities.
The AFS Sulur near Combatore is home to No 45 Squadron Flying Daggers, operating the Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas.
Military sources confirmed to Onmanorama that the new Sukhoi squadron will be formally inducted into the IAF during the second week of January. The move gives a major fillip to IAF’s missions in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The IAF had announced the resurrection of the 222 Sqn - The Tigersharks – on January 1, 2020 with the Sukhois. The squadron was originally raised on September 15, 1969 with Su-7 and later with the MiG-27 ground attack aircraft.
In 2011, The Tigersharks were number-plated. (In IAF parlance, a squadron getting number-plated means it is frozen without any assets. It could be rechristened later with a different asset.)
AFS Thanjavur was dedicated to the nation on May 27, 2013 with the primary aim of strengthening the air defence capabilities under Southern Air Command (SAC), headquartered in Thiruvananthapuram.
The station was mandated to protect various strategic and economic assets in the southern peninsula and sea lines of communication in the IOR.
The airbase was originally built by the by the Royal Air Force in 1940 and it boasts of a history operating the Hudson, Wellington 1C, Hurricane and Thunderbolt aircraft.
IAF sources say these erstwhile platforms were active in fighter operations, anti-shipping, anti-submarine patrol and transport operations.
Post dedication of AFS Thanjavur by then defence minister A K Antony in 2013, IAF’s plans to position a full-fledged Sukhoi squadron took a beating following the non-availability of the frontline strikers in desired numbers.
IAF gradually upgraded the air base to house a fighter squadron and the SAC monitored the progress on regular basis. The base was often activated during major IAF exercises.
In the last six years, the Sukhois operated on and off from AFS Thanjavur to keep the base active and during operations in the IOR.
The base is said to have played a key role when IAF test-fired the BrahMos air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) from Su-30 MKI on May 22, 2019. It was the successful second test-firing of the BrahMos ALCM from a Sukhoi. During the trial, the BrahMos achieved a direct hit on the target, thus proving its high accuracy hit-rate.
With the Sukhois now getting positioned at AFS Thanjavur along with BrahMos ACLM, the IAF gets more air power to strike from large stand-off ranges on any target at sea or on land with pinpoint accuracy by day or night and in all weather conditions.
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)