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Indian Naval Aviation - Part 1
By B Harry
Mar 30, 2004, 04:07

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Almost always limited by the lack of proper decision making and allocation of priorities on the Indian Government's part and the uncertainty of the same about it's role, the Indian Navy has nevertheless, always striven to maintain a credible, professional and independent Air arm to provide for increasing strategic and tactical demands of the subcontinent. The origins may be traced back to as early as 1948, when a newly set up Directorate of Naval Aviation under the command of Capt.H.C Ranalds of the Royal Navy, put forth ambitious and highly optimistic expansion plans envisaged an inventory of 300 aircraft, 54 of them being elemental to a two-carrier strike group and the Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 as the primary shore based strike fighter. After realistic abatement in 1950, expansion plans were revised to initiate the acquisition of a small carrier and shore based ASW and strike force. Following the approval for the creation of a Fleet Air Arm by the Defence Minister's committee, on 24 October 1950, a Royal Navy (RN) team was deputed to New Delhi, to help create the necessary infrastructure. The Navy had already deputed up to 13 volunteers to the UK in March 1949 and following flight training at Donibristle, three of them moving on to ASW conversion at Losseimouth with two others proceeding to operational conversion on fighters. The very first aircraft to be acquired by the Indian Navy was the Shorts Sealand Mk.1L amphibian, ten examples of the type to equip a Fleet Requirement Unit (FRU) at INS Garuda, in Cochin. The Navy then proceeded to execute it's plans through the purchase of an aircraft carrier, INS 'Vikrant' (ex-HMS Hercules), followed by a total of 74 Hawker Seahawk Mk.6/Mk.100/Mk.101 fighters, 12 Breguet Alize' ASW aircraft and numerous other types. After the liberation of Goa in 1961, the Navy took over the ex-Portuguese airfield at Dabolim and rechristened it as the the new INS Hansa (formerly a lodger unit of an IAF airbase at Sulur in the state of Tamil Nadu), on 2 September 1964. The magnificent base soon became the hub of all naval aviation and hosts six squadrons which include disembarked carrier aircraft. Goa is also home to the headquarters of Indian Naval Aviation, established in 1986 and headed by a Flag Officer Naval Aviation (FONA). The Aircrew Categorization and Standardization board (AIRCATS) which also conducts annual Flight Safety Inspection of all naval air squadrons, was also established at Goa in 1983.

Combat proven in the 1971 Indo-Pak war and boasting of invaluable contributions ever since, the Naval Air Arm has since forced the Indian government to reevaluate it's stance and hence accrued additional roles, resources and funds to satisfy it's growing importance. In comparison to the IAF, the range of aircraft types operated by the Indian Navy seem to have similar degree of diversity even if they cannot compare in terms of absolute strength in numbers. Each aircraft type, despite being built to more limited specifications, is operated in numerous roles including combat, most having been accoutered with state of the art equipment for the purpose. For the heavy logistics and transport role however, the Indian Navy has no aircraft of it's own and depends on the IAF. The second aircraft carrier, INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes) was purchased in 1986, while the INS Vikrant was retired in 1997. The current Indian Naval Air Arm consists of 5000-10000 personnel and more than 170 aircraft equipping over 13 squadrons at six major Naval Air Stations (NAS) and a single aircraft carrier. With the inking of the deal with Russia that provides for the refit and acquisition of the carrier Gorshkov and MiG-29K, the initiated construction of the indigenous 37,500 ton aircraft carrier and joint development of the Naval LCA, the Indian Navy is all set for it's next major expansion.  

(Note : Some Images are expansible)

INAS 312 "Albatross / The Mighty Props"

Since independence, long range Maritime Patrol (MP) had been the sole responsibility of the Indian Air Force (IAF) which followed a British model and manual of joint operations. In 1961, the IAF effected the transfer of 7 Lockheed L1049G Super Constellation aircraft from the national carrier Air-India which had replaced the type with the Boeing-707, and proceeded to convert at least five units of the type to MPA configuration equipped with the ASV-21 radar. In 1966, the Indian Navy (IN) put forth a proposal to transfer the command and control of all MP aircraft and the associated responsibilities from the Air Force to the Navy, quoting inadequate coverage of the maritime zones and underutilization of the assets during the 1965 War with Pakistan, cost effectiveness and superior coordination and cooperation through the use of naval personnel who were already familiar with the regions of expected operation. The Airforce was quick to reject the proposal , citing the importance of already existent maintenance facilities (although major maintenance was carried out by Air India, at Bombay), airfield arrangements and experience, despite the fact that they had generated an overall MP effort of just 10 hours per day during May and September 1965, against the Navy's requirement of 80 hours per day in the Arabian Sea alone, even when working in conjunction with other naval aircraft operating from Santa Cruz. After some discussions, the Government of India (GoI) decided to let the IAF continue with the Super Connies and reopen the debate if and when newer MP Aircraft (MPA) were acquired at a later stage. Thereafter, both the IAF and the IN began to search for a suitable dedicated MP/ASW aircraft for the purpose and the first option to be considered was the Breguet Atlantique-1. In October 1968, a French Aeronavale Atlantique, flying in formation with IN Alizes, gave a demonstration at INS Hansa in Dabolim, Goa. This was followed by a thorough evaluation by a joint IAF-IN team plus ASW trials against the submarine Kalvari. Although the aircraft was found to conform to all requirements, the decision on who would operate these aircraft, had still not been made and no new aircraft were acquired at this point. 

 During the 1971 War with Pakistan, the lack of sufficient airborne ASW assets among other reasons, led the deployment of two obsolete Blackwood class Frigates against a modern Daphne class submarine of the Pakistani Navy, leading to the loss of the one of the former. Although the IAF did fly some useful maritime reconnaissance and Search And Rescue missions with the L1049G, the Navy was dissatisfied overall. The IN thus pressed forth their immediate requirement of a new MP/RASW aircraft and the need for it to perform constant coordinated action with other ASW and Patrol assets which could be made possible only though operation by the Navy itself. This finally led to Government approval for the acquisition of four new MPAs in May 1973 shortly after which the Ilyushin Il-38 'May' MRASW was selected. In June 1975, the Government also reopened the debate on who, the Air Force or the Navy, should get to operate the latter. For the purpose, the Defense Ministry prepared an analytical statement of 20-25 pages which included all the points of view and it was finally concluded that it would be more prudent to let the Navy operate the Il-38s while the Air Force could possibly undertake their maintenance. With the Il-38 scheduled to arrive in mid-1977, the IAF concluded that it would now be best if the Navy took over the Super Connies and wrote the latter in 1976, offering to immediately hand over the aircraft albeit with a provision that the Il-38s should revert to the Air Force if it was found within the first six months that the Navy could not cope with both the flying and maintenance of the Super Connies, keeping in mind that the Navy had no experience in the flying, handling patterns and navigation of a giant 4-engined aircraft of similar type. Thereafter, four naval aviation pilots, four co-pilots, six to eight observers and some maintenance personnel were given a brief flying and technical course by the IAF's No.6 squadron, based at Pune. On completion, all naval crew plus some IAF flying instructors, navigation instructors and maintenance personnel were deputed to INS Hansa at Dabolim (Goa) to form an ad-hoc squadron. In all, the IAF transferred five L1049Gs while retaining two of the same which were freighter configured (with a large cargo door on the port side) for the transport role. 
 After six weeks of preparation, Lt Cdr Bhinde became the first naval pilot to undertake a solo flight, soon to be followed by four other pilots. Despite the lack of manpower at the base due to a large contingent of personnel being deputed to the USSR for training on the Il-38, dissimilar infrastructure and facilities were quickly set up for the L1049G type. On 18 November 1972, the squadron INAS 312 'Albatross' was formally commissioned at INS Hansa. The Super Constellation was finally phased out of naval service in 1983 but the IAF interestingly, kept it's two freighters operational for a little while longer. Air India terminated it's Super Constellation maintenance and overhaul facilities on 31 March 1984 due to a spares shortage and the IAF was soon to retire it's last Super Connie.

The Lockheed L104G Super Constellation was the first Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) to be operated by the Indian Navy and served alongside the Il-38 for a few years until finally being replaced by the Tu-142M. Despite useful endurance, the aircraft and it's minimal sensor fit were however, woefully inadequate to cater to true maritime patrol and ASW requirements. IN-315 (ex-IAF BG 575 and ex-ex Air India VT-DMM) seen here, was lying derelict at INS Hansa, before being restored and transferred to the Navy's Naval Aviation Museum for permanent display. Note the ASV-21 radar housing. (B Harry) (Images expansible)

The requirement for additional and more capable aircraft became apparent when two squadrons of MPAs themselves were not enough to ensure adequate coverage, especially over the Bay of Bengal. In the mid-80s, the USSR offered the Tupolev Tu-142M-Mod4 (NATO: Bear-F) MRASW and the proposal was quickly followed up with an order after the initial attempts to sell a downgraded version of the aircraft were rejected. Between May and August 1987, four sets of 10 crewmembers each began ground training at Riga in the USSR after a mandatory prerequisite Russian language course. The first three Tu-142Ms of the Indian Navy were flown from Simferopol to Dabolim on 30 March 1988, after a 9.5 hr flight covering over 7000 km. Two more Tu-142Ms were flown in on 13 April and on 16 April 1988, INAS 312 was officially reraised and recommissioned with the new aircraft, under the command of Cdr.Pandey. The remaining three Tu-142Ms arrived between August and October of the same year. Reliable reports do indicate a total of 10 aircraft being acquired eventually, although this figure cannot be confirmed beyond doubt. Efforts were already underway to convert the small abandoned IAF airfield on the eastern coast near the town of Arakonnam, around 90 km from the city of Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu, into a fully fledged naval airfield/base, in order house the entire squadron of Tu-142s. For the purpose, the Navy added another 1450 acres of land to the existing 750 acres and extended the runway from 1530 meters to 4500 meters. INS Rajali, the new naval airbase, was officially commissioned on 11 March 1992, under the command of Capt. Vasan, and was also home to the squadron INAS 561, which catered to the training of Chetak helicopter pilots of the SAR Chetak flight (INAS 321). The new base housed a dedicated ATC complex and a special maintenance hangar and base support facility for the Tu-142M among other features.   

Tu-142M "IN-313" comes in to land at INS Rajali at Arakkonam, which features the longest runway in the country (and probably the whole of South Asia) at a total length of 4500 meters. The base is home to all Tu-142s of the IN and also houses a single maintenance facility for the aircraft type. Occasional visitors include Do-228s and IAF Jaguar-IMs on even rarer occasions. Another maintenance facility for the Tu-142 is at INS Hansa in Dabolim, Goa. When the first Tu-142s arrived, they were stationed at Dabolim and thus featured the representative letters "DAB" on the tail, which was eventually changed to "ARK" when the aircraft shifted base. (Indian Navy, via B Harry)  

The roles of the Tu-142M include long range maritime patrol of typically 12/14/16 hours endurance, ASW, ASV, homing in of and coordination of strike packages. The aircraft are operated out of both INS Rajali (East) and INS Hansa (West) for routine long range patrols and are also serviced at both bases. All MPA pilots need to receive basic training followed by multi-engine training at the IAF's Transport Training Wing (TTW) in Yelahanka before converting to their respective aircraft while Observers receive specialist training in ASW and communications. Each Tu-142M carries 10 crewmembers including the Pilot/Commander, Co-Pilot, Flight Engineer (Cheif petty officer), Flight Signaller, Flight Gunner for the tail turret and five Navigators/Observers. The Observers act as the Weapon System and Sensor officers while a senior navigator coordinates the entire ASW phase of the mission.  

An extremely rare picture showing the Sea Eagle AsHM and various other payloads carried, including a heavy anti-submarine torpedo, RGB-55, RGB-25 and RGB-15 sonobuoys, FAB 250 freefall bombs and depth charges. The Indian Navy announced it's intention to integrate the Sea Eagle missile with the Tu-142M in the late 90s and a little while later, also announced the possibility of the air launched Klub ASCM to be integrated. In 1999, Itar-Tas, a Russian news agency, reported the proposal to fit the Zvezda Kh-31A missile as well. The aircraft is also scheduled to receive the Brahmos-A supersonic cruise missile once it becomes available after a few years. Indigenous TDF and ADF (wingtip) antennae developed by NAL have also been installed on the aircraft. The Tu-142M's unmatched endurance of 16 hrs helps to keep large volumes of ocean under close surveillance and the retention of the IFR probe gives them potentially intercontinental strike capability. The acquisition of the aircraft caused large amounts of concern in the region, including objections from Australia. (Indian Navy, via B Harry)

An Indian Tu-142M seen at Sharjah airport in November 1995. It was on its way to Taganrog, Russia, for major maintenance.(Copyright CeeJay) (Image expansible)

 Major upgrade plans for the Tu-142M were announced in the late 90s with mentions of the Leninets Sea Dragon (Morskoi Zmei) sensor suite and the air launched Klub ASCM but developments, if any, soon faded into obscurity for the next few years. It seemed certain that the Sea Dragon upgrade had been chosen until it was revealed in 2003-04 that plans to upgrade the Tu-142M with the same, were scrapped primarily on cost grounds. Apparently, Rosoboronexport had demanded a massive USD $888.9 million for the upgrade of the Tu-142M fleet, against a maximum of USD $555.5 million sanctioned by the IN and also refused to cooperate for a joint upgrade with Israeli participation. Although the original deal to equip the Il-38 with the Sea Dragon suite proceeded as planned, a wholly Israeli sensor suite on the lines of the upgrade package applied to the Dornier/HAL Do-228 of the INAS 310 squadron, was chosen instead for the Tu-142M. By early 2004, the IN had completed refitting a single Tu-142M (IN-315) with the Elta EL/M-2022A-V3 radar which replaced the Leninets Korschun system plus a complete ELINT and COMINT package with nose and fuselage mounted V/UHF antennae and an underfuselage P-band antenna farm. The complete upgraded to be standardized on the type includes all the sensors installed on the upgraded Do-228 plus additional SATCOM, ELINT and EW equipment. It is also expected that the upgraded aircraft would act as the primary command link between India's Nuclear Command Centre and the ATV SSN currently being built indigenously for the Indian Navy. Although the Russian upgrade offer was rejected, the Tu-142Ms will progressively receive the air launched version of the Novotar Klub cruise missile. The aircraft is also one of the intended primary platforms for the Indo-Russian Brahmos-A air launched supersonic multi-mission cruise missile whose development has recently been initiated. Upto four Brahmos-A under each wing, are expected to be the standard payload. Other recent announcements included the intention to overhaul and modernise the Tu-142M's Kuznetsov NK-12MV engines at the Motorostroitel aircraft factory in Samara, Russia. The factory also undertakes the major overhaul of around 15 Indian NK-12MV engines, yearly. In the future, the Tu-142M will receive the Brahmos-A supersonic cruise missile, with 4-6 rounds carried underwing and 2 carried on the fuselage.

INAS 315 "The Winged Stallions"

Following the French Atlantique, the second MPA to be evaluated by the Indian Navy was the BAe Nimrod. A Naval team visited the UK in September 1973 and the Nimrod was also found to be suitable. Acquisition and purchase in foreign exchange, of either the Atlantique or the Nimrod was however threatened and finally ruled out due to the financial situation caused by the oil crisis of October 1973. Eventually, details of the potent Ilyushin Il-38 which entered service with the Soviet AV-MF some years earlier, had become available and the IN pressed for their acquisition, although the former was quite reluctant since each aircraft was essential for their own large scale maritime coverage worldwide. After some persuasion, the contract for the transfer of three ex-AV-MF Il-38s, was signed in February 1975, although the decision to reflect these in the Navy's budget and thus place them under the latter's command and control, came much later. For training, a large contingent of naval aviators, mostly Alize' pilots, none of whom had experience on multi-engine types, left for Riga in September 1977 after completing the preliminary training and Russian language courses at INS Hansa itself. The formal commissioning of the new squadron 'INAS 315', under the command of Cdr. B.K Malik, took place on 1 October 1977, at INS Hansa. Two more Il-38s were eventually acquired and joined the squadron in 1983.    

"IN-301" was spotted for the first time in 1998 at Bykovo Airport, Moscow, wearing the above paintscheme. This scheme would apparently change in a matter of months to the currently worn and standardized turquoise-green. It remains unclear on how long the Il-38s featured the Brown/Brass scheme. Note the BAe Sea Eagle AsHM carried on a fuselage pylon. The Klub supersonic ASCM is also reportedly being progressively integrated. Both Tu-142Ms and Il-38s need to occasionally fly to Russia for major overhaul. Final checks and painting of the upgraded Il-38SDs, prior to delivery, will also take place at Bykovo airport. (Artwork by B Harry)

 The Il-38 type in Indian service has proven to be popular and important, taking the roles of MR, ASW, ASV, SAR and Strike coordination. The aircraft is reputed to have a failure free service life for over 25 years and is a favorite among maintenance crew. The first major modification aiming to give the Il-38, missile capability, was commenced under 'Project Yaduvansh', from April 1990 onwards, with HAL Bangalore as the primary partner. The first successful drop trial of a dummy missile payload was carried out on 22 August 1991. Finally, on 15 May 1994, the first live firing of a Sea Eagle AshM was carried out under 'Operation Crocodile'

Since it's induction, INAS 315 has operated the aircraft from Dabolim, for 10-12 hour endurance sorties over the Arabian sea and by 10 June 1996, had over 25,000 hours of problem-free flying to it's name, 30,000 hours by 2002. INAS-315 was awarded the 'Best Naval Air Squadron' trophy on 16 August 1991 and the CNS trophy for 'Best Frontline Squadron' on 04 August 1992. Other notable acheivements include SAR aid to the ship INS Sandhayak which was crippled by a cyclone in May 1990, SAR aid to INS Andaman, SAR aid to MV Najid II on 20 April 1991, for which Cdr Ranveer Singh received the Nausena Medal and SAR aid to a man overboard from a Japanese training squadron on 18 June 1995. In Jan 1993, an LTTE merchant ship MV Ahat, carrying arms and ammunition was successfully intercepted off the coast of Karikal. The first ever joint exercise with IAF MiG-27MLs was carried out on 01 August 1997 and on 23 July 1998, INAS-315 participated with a bilateral exercise between India and Male. On 12 Oct 1998, the squadron operated from Bhubhaneshwar airfield for the exercise 'SUMMEREX 98'. Despite consistent performance of the ageing Berkut system, the need to upgrade the aircraft was realized and the Indian Navy turned to Leninets for the Sea Dragon upgrade suite.

Tragedy struck on 1 October 2002, during the squadron’s silver jubilee anniversary celebrations; At approximately 9:50 AM, IN-302 and IN-304, which were flying parallel to each other, clashed and suffered a Mid-Air Collision (MAC) above the airport. Both aircraft crashed, killing all 12 crewmembers as well as 3 people on the ground. The event left the country shattered and created a significant gap in maritime surveillance capabilities, thus forcing the Navy to accelerate it's attempts to acquire additional aircraft, a move initiated and announced much earlier. 

Another rare shot showing four Il-38s (IN-301,IN-302, IN-303 and IN-304) together. A fourth Hangar cum maintenance unit between Hangars 2 and 3 (from L-R) was eventually built. The leftmost hangar belongs to the INAS 310 "Cobras" EW/IW squadron which operates the Do-228. Note the "Winged Stallion" squadron emblem applied to the nose of some of the aircraft. The strange paint scheme may appear Blue, Green or even Gray, depending on the lighting conditions. Can you spot the fifth aircraft? (Indian Navy, via B Harry) (Image expansible)

Special pylons attached to the aft fuselage just behind the wing, provide for the carriage of the Sea-Eagle AsHM on the Il-38 MPA. Although the missile itself is large, it's size is miniscule compared to the giant Il-38. Both Il-38s are Tu-142s are popular among maintenance crew even if putting one of these giants in the air requires tremendous effort. Both Tu-142Ms and Il-38s were instrumental in the location, tracking and capture of the LTTE mercenary ship 'Progress Light' in 1988. (Indian Navy, via B Harry)

The Base Commander and crew pose with a Sea Eagle missile on the Il-38. The aircraft carried out drop trials with KAB-500-M62 bombs launched from the same pylons, as a preclude to live Sea Eagle launch tests. HAL Bangalore was a key partner involved in the project.

The Indian Navy finally signed the contract for the upgrade of the five Il-38s, with Rosoboronexport in September 2002. The deal, valued at USD $205 million, will not only add the Leninets Sea Dragon radar with digital mission computer, GOES-324 FLIR/CCD/Laser electro-optics system, a new ESM system, GPS/GLONASS and Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) but will also implement a life extension refit that is expected to keep the aircraft active for 10 to 15 more years. The Man-Machine Interface (MMI) will consist of two operator stations, each equipped with 13" AMLCD displays and a third console for the mission controller, equipped with a larger display. Structural changes include the addition of two hard points / pylons near the wing root. The first Indian Il-38 (IN-305) flew to Russia for the upgrade in March 2002 and was scheduled to be delivered by early 2004. A short while after the loss of two Il-38s to the tragic MAC of October 2002, Russia generously offered two additional Il-38s from ex-AV-MF stocks as attrition replacements "free of charge" (this was actually, implicitly linked to the Gorshkov deal) and the original contract was modified accordingly. Russia herself is pursuing the upgrade for her own Il-38s to Il-38N (Novella) standard.  

An Il-38 flies in formation with two Jaguar-IMs on each side (the second one not visible). The IAF's No.6 squadron which currently operates the Jaguar-IM, previously operated Lockheed Super Constellation aircraft which were eventually passed on to the Navy to form it's first MR squadron "INAS 312" which currently operates the Tu-142M. Besides their primary ASW role, the Il-38s also act as Command Posts used for the homing of strike aircraft. Tu-142Ms also have a similar role. (Indian Navy, via B Harry)

An unupgraded Il-38 (IN-303) seen at Sharjah Airport in November 1995. The same airframe was upgraded and can be seen in this configuration here (Copyright CeeJay)(Image expansible)

 With the inevitable increase in MP demands, the Indian Navy began hunting for a third MPA type in the mid-90s. The Lockheed P-3C Orion, was brought to attention and deemed ideal, although sanctions and export restrictions would prevent their purchase, post 1998 nuclear tests at Pokhran. After the sanctions were lifted in September 2001, negotiations for the P-3C came back into the spotlight and the Navy officially listed out it's requirement for 8 to10 new MPAs. Lockheed Martin, hopeful of bagging a USD $1 billion deal, deputed a team to India in the June 2003, to discuss the details. On 27 May 2004, an American delegation, led by Ed Ross, director for South Asia for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, held talks in New Delhi with Indian defense officials and mentioned the possibility of a deal by the end of the year. Despite the keenness of the involved parties and exports of American Arms worth $200 million to India in the recent years, the US Government has not cleared the sale of the aircraft to India. In addition, the Navy remains skeptical and suspicious of deals with American companies, after the outcomes of the post-1998 sanctions, including the grounding of the entire Sea king fleet due to export restrictions on US sourced spares. Irrespective of the possible purchase of newer aircraft, the Il-38SD will continue to serve with the Indian Navy until 2020.      

All five Il-38s of the IN, including the two attrition replacements (one of which was reportedly already delivered by September 2003) are to be upgraded to Il-38SD standard. The new "Sea Dragon" (Morskoi Zmei) radar is capable of detecting surface warships at over 320 km, aircraft at 90-100 km and a track-while-scan of 32 targets while the gyro stabilized optronics turret is mounted under the nose and provides for secondary surveillance. In contrast, the Elta EL/M-2022A (V)3 radar adopted instead for the Tu-142M, has an advertised surveillance range of over 400 km against large surface warships, and a 100 target track-while-scan capability. The second Il-38 is said to have arrived for the upgrade, which will last 10 months at St.Petersburg, in Dec. 2003 while the first was scheduled to be delivered back by early 2004. The distinctive "radio reconnaissance" antenna tower of the Morskoi Zmei search-targeting system is quite a unique feature. (Artwork by B Harry)

Inert BAe Sea-Eagle training round on display at the Naval Aviation Museum in Goa. The contract for the missile was first signed on 26 November 1987 and until the Air-launched Klub and Brahmos-A arrive, the Sea-Eagle is the only air to surface missile in the Navy's inventory and has hence been integrated with most types including the Sea King Mk.42B, Tu-142M, Il-38 and Sea Harrier. Featuring a very advanced warhead designed to cripple the largest surface warships and an advanced guidance computer and active radar seeker, the weapon earned constant admiration from both British and Indian users. The former have retired the missile from service despite some internal objections. India has been the sole export customer for the missile. Before integration onto various aircraft, the missile, along with the associated pylons, underwent structural testing at HAL's Aircraft Division in Bangalore. (B Harry) (Image expansible)


INAS 550 "Flying Fish" and INAS 318 "Hawks"

 INAS 550, Indian Navy's very first dedicated air squadron, was initially raised as a Fleet Requirement Unit (FRU) in 1951, to provide for training, communications, target towing and radar calibration. It started out with ten Shorts Sealand aircraft, based at Cochin in the south-western state of Kerala. The very first Sealand (IN 101), piloted by Lt.Cdr. Balbir D. Law, landed at Cochin on 4 February 1953. Prior to this, on 1 January 1953, the Indian Navy took over the civilian airfield (which was incidentally, a former RAF experimental airbase operating then Catalina flying boat) at Willingdon island, Cochin, and assumed responsibility for the operation of both civilian and military aircraft from the same, now designated INS Garuda, commissioned on 11 May 1953. The FRU was formally commissioned on 11 March 1953 and recommissioned on 17 January 1959 as the Navy's very first air squadron. Between this period, ten Fairy Firefly aircraft fitted with winches to tow drogue/sleeve targets and three HAL HT-2 basic trainers were inducted in 1955-58 and 1952 respectively. Training and Maintenance establishments including the School for Naval Airmen (SFNA), Observer Training School, Naval Air Technical School (NATS), Naval Aircraft Repair Organisation (NARO) and Naval Aircraft Inspection Service (NAIS), were established between 1956 and 1961. INAS 550 retired it's Fireflies and HT-2s in 1964 and phased out the Sealand in the following year. To make up for this, two Dove (Devon) and two Breguet Alize were added to squadron and served until 1969 when they were replaced by two HAL HJT-16 Kiran Mk.1. 

 Urgent Fleet requirements for pilot and observer training, given the increasing numbers of the same, led to the proposal to acquire the Britten Norman BN-2A-21 Islander, in 1972. An initial order for six Islanders was placed and the first three aircraft arrived at Cochin, from the Isle of Wight, on 18 May 1976 while the remaining arrived at the end of the same year. Seventeen Islanders were acquired till date, including eleven BN-2A-21s (IN-126 to IN-136) and six BN-2Bs (IN-137 to IN-142). At least six of these were upgraded to BN-2T 'Turbine Islander' standard in 1996-97 and feature the Bendix-King RDR-1400 search radar. In Sept 1983, the Islanders got a local gun pod modification.

Although mainly used for Observer training, the BN-2A/B/T Islanders operating from Cochin on the south-western coast, also cater to maritime reconnaissance, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) patrol, SAR, logistics and communication roles of reasonable endurance. The aircraft feature the letters 'COC' on the tail, signifying their base and area of operation. Civilian operations from the airbase at Willingdon Island eventually moved to a newly constructed airport located much further away, much to the dismay of passengers on holiday. During 'Operation Pawan', the year old peacekeeping operation over Sri-Lanka, Islanders also operated on MR missions from a non-commissioned airstrip, 'INS Rajali-II', at Ramnad in the state of Tamil Nadu. (Indian Navy, via B Harry)

 The acquisition of additional Islanders allowed for a few of the same to be stationed at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the first two Islanders from INAS 550 arrived at Port Blair in Feb 1981. This led the formation of the new squadron INAS 318 'Hawks' in 1984, which was gradually joined by Dornier/HAL Do-228-101 MPAs. The latest Naval Air Station, 'INS Utkrosh', was commissioned at Port Blair, on 11 May 1985. Although there was no hangarage at the time, a hangar was prefabricated on the mainland and erected within three weeks. Eventually, all the Islanders were withdrawn from Port Blair and INAS 318 operates the Do-228 alone. In May 2000, a flight of Islanders was positioned at INS Dega in Vizag. Out of the 17 Islanders acquired in total, 4 have been lost to attrition. This includes one Islander (IN-132) being ditched in the backwaters of Cochin in Decemeber 1981, another on 11 Jan 1983 and another (IN-134) on 17 May 1983. The latter two cases involved the loss of officers, Lt CP Omanakuttan, SLt HS Kavre and, Lt SG Pynamootil and Lt PB Jose respectively. Operation "Khoj" was commenced to locate the bodies of the former on 14 and 21 Jan respectively. IAF Helicopters located the wreckage of IN-134 and the bodies of SLt HS Kavre and Lt SG Pynamootil at N 09 14.8' E 77 07' on 27 May 1985.  

In January 1986, IANS 550 acquired its first HAL HPT-32 "Deepak" trainer and between December 1986 and March 1987, acquired a total of eight HAL HPT-32 'Deepak' trainers, operating these for the basic flying training of pilots at the entry level. The first batch of 6 Naval pilots passed out in October 1987 after basic conversion training on these aircraft. Pilots may either train here or take up basic flying training with the IAF. INAS 550 participated in the IPKF operation in Sri Lanka in December 1987. On 24 August 1988, Islanders IN-142 and IN-127 became the first fixed wing aircraft to land at the remote Lakshadweep Islands. One HPT-32 was lost on 30 November 1989, with its pilot, Lt Cdr Shyam Sunder.

The Indian Navy also took the delivery of six IAI Malat Searcher-II UAVs and a single Medium Altitude High Endurance (MALE) Heron UAV in 2002. The drones are in operation at INS Garuda and additional units have reportedly been purchased, with at least three Herons operational from INS Garuda. Some of these drones are also operated at INS Dega, in Vishakapatnam, on the south eastern coast, as well as from Porbander in Gujarat and Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The total number of UAVs eventually acquired, are expected to equip as many as three squadrons.   

INAS 330 "Harpoons" and INAS 336 "Flaming Arrows"

 The requirement for additional and technologically modern assets to effectively counter the increasing threat of enemy underwater forces, lead to a proposal to acquire 12 Westland Sea King Mk.42 helicopters, in 1968. Following sanction for the acquisition of only six of these helicopters, in April 1969, an Indian team visited the UK and found the type to be suitable after thorough evaluation, leading to a formal order for the six helicopters plus a number of Mk.44 anti-submarine torpedoes, being placed in 1970. Training of the first batch of pilots and observers, commenced on 27 September 1970 and the first two Sea King helicopters were handed over at Yeovil, on 3 November. These two helicopters proceeded to India and the Sea King squadron "INAS 330", was commissioned at INS Hansa in Dabolim, on 17 April 1971, with Cdr. MinnieWadhawan as the Commanding Officer. Despite the new dimension introduced, the squadron was replete with problems. One of the immediately evident problems was that the first batch of pilots were merely given conversion and familiarization training in the UK, leading to an urgent deployment of a second batch of pilots to the Royal Navy, in order to gain tactical flying experience. In addition, serviceability was very low and the Mk.44 Torpedoes had not yet been delivered. Operational evaluation of the Sea King's panoramic dunking sonar 195 (performance of which, was found to be extremely poor), commenced only by August and in the absence of torpedoes, flight trials with depth charges were started, followed by the first night flying sorties by August-end. Between May and the end of 1971, the squadron was tasked to carry out conversion flying, maintenance courses and evaluation of the potential ASW capabilities by the Tactical School. However, the latter's Sea King dockets were given high security classification and based on the limited training and information given to the first batch of pilots, the helicopters were given limited deployment which eventually led to their ineffective and defensive utilization during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Only after the loss of the single frigate INS Khukri, did the Sea Kings deploy to an abandoned airfield at Diu on the western coast, to stage a few ASW searches. With the delivery of all six Sea Kings, two of them were based at INS Garuda (Cochin) and four of them at INS Kunjali. The latter had helipad facilities to accommodate helicopters from the ships stationed at the Bombay port and became a fully fledged helicopter base, only later on. Despite the arrival of the second batch by October, serviceability and utilization remained low and inefficient, due to the limited maintenance, no spares or workshop facilties and overpushing during the war.       

The serviceability of the helicopter had gradually improved between November 1972 and July 1973, although equipment performance remained poor and flying hours, limited. A British team of specialists were summoned to investigate and isolate the causes for poor sonar performance and only after one years, could they address the problems. After the situation was corrected, a second batch of six Sea King Mk.42s, were ordered and the first three arrived between August and November 1973. With the arrival of the new helicopters, serviceability greatly improved and evaluation of the Mk.44 Torpedo and intensive ASW exercises between the Sea Kings and submarines, became possible. The remaining Sea Kings arrived by July 1974 and the second squadron, "INAS 336", was commissioned at INS Garuda, on 9 December 1974, under the command of Cdr. 'Cheify' Yadav. By now, serviceability and flying hours had become very high and coordinated ASW training between the helicopter and surface vessels as well as aircraft such as the Seahawk and Alize, became very frequent, with tactics considerably improved. The Sea King Mk.42 type was embarked on the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, from May 1975 onwards. On 19 July 1979, the Sea King Flight and Tactical Simulator (FATS), was commissioned at INS Garuda and INAS 336 became the Sea King training squadron. The capabilities of the helicopter, pushed for the order of additional units and standardization as the primary ship-borne ASW platform. Orders for three units of a new variant equipped with Recovery Assist Traverse (RAST), the Sea King Mk.42A, to operate from the last two Leader class frigates built in India, were placed in July 1977. In the early 80s, the Indian Navy announced the arrival of a new generation, Type 16, "Godavari" class missile frigate, designed to accommodate not one but two Sea King helicopters. Keeping in mind, the need to supplement/replace the older generation Sea King variants as well, an international tender was floated in 1982, which required 20 new ASW/ASV helicopters (6 for INAS 330, 2 for INAS 336, 4 for a new squadron INAS 339, 2 each for the frigates Godavari and Gomati and 4 for MRSOW)

The two primary candidates chosen were the French Super Puma and an updated version of the British Seaking. Despite certain advantages such as composite rotor blades, the Super Puma was not selected because of the unavailability of a suitable AsHM. The British were not willing to integrate the Sea Eagle on the Super Puma and the French were not willing to sell the AM.39 Exocet due to a commitment made to Pakistan after supplying the same for the Pakistani Seakings. As a result, a conceptual upgrade to the Seaking was selected, also in consideration of existing operational experience, training, infrastructure and facilities. The Indian Navy was to select and evaluate the customized avionics and armament fit onboard the helicopter. So chosen was the Marconi Hermes ESM fit, Thomson-CSF HS-12 dunking sonar, LAPADS sonobuoys, Whitehead Motofides A244S torpedoes and BAe Sea Eagle AsHMs. Software for the integration was entirely developed by an Indian team which was deputed to Britain for inspection and modification.

The above picture signifies the evolution of the Sea King fleet in Indian Naval service, from the older Mk.42/Mk.42A to the Mk.42B, the most advanced Sea King version exported, and the Mk.42C Commando variant. Totally, 41 Sea King helicopters were acquired in a span of two decades and the type is now close to retirement. (Indian Navy, via B Harry) (Image expansible)

The Sea King Mk.42B was essentially based on Westland's "Advanced Sea King" concept and featured RollS Royce Gnome H.1400-IT engines, composite main rotor blades, uprated transmission, strengthened airframe, Alcatel HS-12 Dunking Sonar, MEL MAREC-2 radar, GEC ASQ-902B tactical sonobuoy processor and were most importantly, armed with two BAe Sea Eagle sea-skimming Anti-ship missiles. The Sea King Mk.42C is a commando/troop transport and utility variant, with the nose mounted Telephonics RDR 1400C radar instead of the MEL Super Searcher and was intended to be deployed from landing ships. Twelve Mk.42B and six Mk.42C variants were ordered in July 1983, followed by eight more Mk.42Bs at a later stage. The Mk.42A and Mk.42B variants continue to be operated by INAS 330 at Bombay and INAS 336 at Cochin and as an integral air element aboard the carrier INS Viraat, for ASW, ASV, training, SAR, communication, utility and other miscellaneous roles. The Mk.42C was inducted into a separate helicopter flight, initially known as the Indian Marine Security Force (IMSF) Flight, commissioned in January 1989, exclusively for use in Marine Commando operations and training. The flight, now renamed as "The Zappers", also caters to day/night SAR and general logistics. In a typical amphibious operation, the Sea King Mk.42C would be used to clear and secure the beach head, before the landing of troops. Four Mk.42s, one Mk.42A and three Mk.42Bs have been lost to attrition. The experience with the Seaking had the Navy draft a comprehensive and refined avionics and armament suite for the Naval Dhruv.

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