NEW DELHI :
The Indian Air Force (IAF) on Monday inducted the first six of 18 Russian Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jets at Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur Air Force Station, bolstering India’s offensive capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region against China.
Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat and Chief of Air Staff R.K.S. Bhadauria were present at the raising of the new squadron whose fighter jets are equipped with the air variant of the BrahMos cruise missile, an India-Russia joint venture product with a range of 290km. The Sukhois can fly 1,500km without having to refuel mid-air.
“The raising of a new squadron at Thanjavur is to strengthen India’s offensive capabilities in the Indian Ocean against the backdrop of China increasing its presence," said Manmohan Bahadur, a former Air Vice Marshal. “Capabilities take a long time to build up and this is a start."
CDS Rawat in his remarks, however, did not mention China by name.“Oceans are meant for freedom of navigation. And therefore, wherever you find any country which has interest in a particular area, it will attempt to come to that area to dominate the area more so for the freedom of navigation," PTI quoted him as saying.
“Therefore, I don’t think we should look at it particularly from that perspective (a pointer to perceived threat from China)," he said.
The defence ministry said the Sukhois will “provide protection to our island territories and sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The IOR is increasingly gaining importance and the presence of a fighter squadron will provide security cover to all our strategic and vital assets in the region."
The development comes as China increases its presence in waters seen as India’s backyard. The Indian Navy has reported an increased presence of Chinese ships and submarines in the IOR in recent years. In 2017, the Chinese established a naval presence in Djibouti.
Taken together with the port it has built in Pakistan’s Gwadar region, another in Hambantota in Sri Lanka and a proposed third off the Bay of Bengal on the Myanmar coast, analysts have pointed to a definite mark-up in China’s profile in the Indian Ocean Region.
The consultative committee meeting for external affairs on Saturday discussed China and India’s neighbourhood.
According to IAF chief Bhadauria, the “SU-30MKI with the BrahMos is the strongest maritime combination that we have, in terms of weapon capability."
“Thanjavur is the ideal location because of access to both the east and west sides and the Indian Ocean Region. It will bring huge capability in support of Navy," Bhadauria was quoted as saying by news reports.
The Indian Navy already has the Boeing built P-8I long-range, multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft in the area that is armed with Harpoon anti-ship missiles and is capable of conducting anti-submarine warfare.