Even as the western and eastern fronts with Pakistan and China are bolstered with additional Sukhoi-30MKI squadrons, India has also kick-started plans to base its most lethal "air dominance'' fighter in south India to keep a "strategic eye'' over Indian Ocean.
Defence minister A K Antony will inaugurate the new airbase at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu on May 27, which will eventually house a Sukhoi squadron (16 to 18 jets) after the requisite "tech-flight hangers, avionic bays, labs, fuel dumps and other infrastructure'' comes up over the next few years.
"Till then, IAF will keep sending regular fighter and transport aircraft detachments to Thanjavur since the runway and other facilities are in place there now. Long-range fighters (Sukhois have a cruising speed range of 3,200-km) operating from Thanjavur will be able to dominate the crucial Andaman and Nicobar archipelago as well as the Bay of Bengal,'' said a source.
India has so far inducted over 170 of the 272 Sukhoi-30MKIs contracted from Russia in deals worth Rs 55,717 crore ($12.4 billion). Pune and Bareilly already have two Sukhoi squadrons each, while Tezpur, Chabua, Halwara and Jodhpur have a squadron each.
Another squadron is coming up at Sirsa, with Tezpur, Chabua, Jodhpur and Halwara slated to get their second squadrons thereafter. "Thanjavur will get the last Sukhoi squadron by 2018,'' he said.
The Sukhoi squadrons at Tezpur, Chabua and Bareilly are part of the larger "dissuasive deterrence'' being put in place against China. With eight operational airbases in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), China can rapidly deploy 21 fighter squadrons against India. China, incidentally, has even taken to conducting major exercises with its J-10, Sukhoi-27UBK and Sukhoi-30MKK fighters in the high-altitude Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in recent times.
The Sukhoi squadrons in Halwara, Sirsa and Jodhpur are meant to counter any misadventure by Pakistan, which is rapidly bolstering its air combat capabilities with American F-16s as well as Chinese JF-17 'Thunder' and F-7 fighters.
IAF would like more fighter squadrons since it is down to just 34 at present, with ageing MiG jets being progressively retired. "Airpower plays the pivotal role in shaping modern battles," an officer said.
To achieve the aim of operating 44 to 45 squadrons over the coming decade, IAF is banking upon the early inking of the $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project to acquire 126 French Rafale fighters.
The first 18 jets under the MMRCA project will come in "fly-away condition'' from 2017 onwards, with the rest 108 fighters being manufactured under licence by Hindustan Aeronautics. After being derailed for some months due to differences between HAL and French aviation major Dassault, the complex final negotiations in the MMRCA project are back on track now.
Times of india