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Indian Naval Aviation - Part 2
By B Harry
Mar 30, 2004, 18:57

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INAS 310 "Cobras"

The "Cobras" are one of the Indian Navy's better known squadrons, participating in all wars and being blooded in 1971. To form a carrier-based ASW and Reconnaissance squadron aboard the newly purchased aircraft carrier "Vikrant", twelve Breguet Br-1050 Alize' ASW Turboprop aircraft, selected in preference to the highly inferior Fairy Gannet and Shorts Seamew, were purchased* in 1960 and the first two pilots, began an instructors course at Hyères, France, by summer of the same year. Following it's maiden flight on 21 October 1960, the first newly built Alize' for the Indian Navy (IN-201) was officially handed over on 07 January 1961. INAS 310 was officially commissioned at Toulon, on 21 March 1961, under the command of Lt.Cdr. Mihir K. Roy (Later, Vice Admiral) and this was followed by Catapult launches and Deck Landings from the French aircraft carrier, L'Arromanches. The Vikrant embarked the first four aircraft in July, after it's arrival via Portsmouth, where the first Seahawk fighters were embarked. INAS 310 was initially shore-based at INS Garuda, in Cochin, four to six aircraft being transferred for carrier-based operations when required. Within a few weeks after their arrival, the carrier and it's complement of Seahawk and Alize', was required to participate in "Operation Vijay", the annexation and liberation of Goa from Portuguese occupation. Although no offensive missions were flown, Alize' performed patrol and reconnaissance missions, on one occasion, buzzing an Indian frigate by mistake. The second major deployment of the Alize came during the 1965 war with Pakistan, where the aircraft operated from Jamnagar, in the state of Gujarat. On the afternoon of 7 September 1965, the Pakistani NHQ directed a task force of one cruiser, five destroyers and a single frigate, to bombard the shores of the temple town of Dwarka, in Gujarat. After refueling from their fleet tanker, the ships reached their target and commenced firing at 0024 hrs, the attack lasting only half an hour, with each ship expending nearly 50 rounds, before moving away at high speed. Although no major damage was caused, the attack served it's psychological purposes and caused some anger. By the 11th and 12th of September, Alize and Seahawk aircraft were operating from Jamngar, with the former carrying out searches north of latitude 21º 30', from 2000 hrs onwards. On the evening of 11 September, an Alize picked up the presence of the Pakistani fleet, just 50 miles off the Indian coast but luck was not on the Indian side when freak anomalous propagation caused unusually high signal attenuation, leading to a major delay in transmitting the wireless report to the Indian fleet. At first, the Pakistani ships fired green Verey's flares and switched on their lights when they assumed that the aircraft was one of their own but quickly realized their blunder and steamed towards their own coast at full speed. A second Alize was launched at 0300 hrs on 12 September and detected the enemy fleet, 90 miles north but by 0400 hrs, a third Alize failed to detect the enemy as they were out of reach. Alize ASW patrols were launched from Bombay on 11 September but yielded no results. One aircraft actually flew directly over the Pakistani submarine Ghazi when the latter was snorkeling, failing to detect the craft at all.

Seen above with it's weapons bay open, the Breguet Alize was no doubt, one of the most innovative aircraft ever designed, incorporating the Thomson-CSF DRAA-2B search radar, DSTV-2E omni-directional sonobuoys, ESM and generous weapon load which included 3 " rockets, Matra SNEB Rocket Launcher pods, Alkan Mk.11 practice ASW bombs, Mk.11CC Depth charges and Torpedoes, onto a single engine, carrier capable airframe. The internal weapons bay can accommodate one Torpedo or two depth charges. Despite it's sophistication, it failed to detect submarine activity during the 1965 war with Pakistan, but made up for the failure by achieving spectacular results in the air to ground role, during the 1971 war. However, lack of performance in the ASW role may also be attributed to the fact that the Alize' did not have ample opportunities to exercise with Indian submarines, which arrived only in 1968, as well as the reduced performance of the sonobuoys in tropical conditions. In 1988, the Alize became the last aircraft of the Indian Navy to be used in combat, when a single aircraft, fired rockets on the LTTE Mercenary ship MV 'Progress light', causing it to halt and eventually be boarded and captured by Marine Commandos. (B Harry) (Image expansible)

INAS 310 also begun it's ELINT career during the 1965 War, when a single Br-1050 Alize', initially operating from the IAF base at Jamnagar, was deployed for unarmed electronic surveillance duties along the border of West Pakistan. Most sorties were flown at low level, below 100 feet, and covered most of the Pakistani border from the Kashmir and Punjab sectors to the Rajasthan sectors towards the end of the war. A number of Pakistani radar stations were detected, identified and pin-pointed with a three point fix thanks to the Alize's highly sophisticated direction finding system which exceeded the capabilities of any similar system in IAF inventory at the time. Despite the fact that the radar recce sorties were flown to mainly address Air Force demands, the squadron felt that none of the information gathered was ever used or even taken seriously. Thus the 1965 war ended with several potential contributions being effectively wasted. The situation was fortunately, quite different during the 1971 war with Pakistan. Four Alize and eighteen Seahawk, operating from the carrier Vikrant, mounted intensive strikes on East Pakistan from 4 December 1971, onwards, destroying, more than 100,776 (1) tons of enemy shipping and maritime traffic, harbor installations, runways, infrastructure, vehicles, buildings, fuel dumps, AA gun positions, oil farms and troop concentrations, with just 291 sorties flown within 10 days. The Alize squadron mostly struck at night, and flew for a total of 158 hours, earning six Vir Chakras, six Nao Sena medals and three Mentions in Despatches, for their achievements.

For a short while, two Alize' were transferred to the INAS 550 training squadron and served from 1965 with the same, before being returned to INAS 310 in 1969. The first joint ASW exercises were carried out as early as 1965, with the British submarine "Astute", off the Madras coast, followed by joint exercises with the British submarine "Onslaught", off the coast of Cochin and eventually with Indian Foxtrot class submarines, from 1968 onwards. During this period, the Alize also served as the platform for the trial of indigenously developed mines and sonobuoys. Following two losses to attrition, the Indian Navy pressed for the acquisition of two additional Alize' aircraft from France. However, the French Aeronavale' claimed that their Alize' were being phased out and transfer of any additional units would be extremely difficult. Eventually, two Alize' were released in 1966-67 and transferred to INAS 310 in August 1968, as attrition replacements. These new aircraft were also fitted with newer, "Julie" sonobuoy processors and recording systems, to be eventually standardized on the entire Indian Alize fleet. To improve their effectiveness, joint exercises with IAF Liberator, Canberra, Hunter and HF-24 aircraft, were carried out, where, for the first time, the Alize would detect the targets and home the mentioned aircraft on to them. The Alize also received Swedish "Lepus" flare bombs, for target illumination at night, for attack by Seahawks. In April 1971, INAS 310 shifted based from INS Garuda to INS Hansa, in Dabolim, Goa but chronic defects as a result of ageing, had already become evident, leading to poor availability and flying time. To address this issue, refurbishment commenced in 1975 and was completed by 1978, in order to keep the Alize in service till the late 80s. When the Sea Harrier was acquired by the Indian Navy, it became necessary to remove the catapult system from the Vikrant and fit a ski-jump in it's place, in order to assist faster Sea Harrier take off and preserve the latter's endurance. Thus, the last launch of the Alize from the carrier, took place on 2 April 1987, after which, the entire squadron was shore based at Dabolim. Despite the age of it's aircraft, the squadron was yet again pressed into action, during the Peace keeping effort, "Operation Pawan", over Sri Lanka. INAS 310 operated it's aircraft from Madurai in southern state of Tamil Nadu, in support of Indian troops posted at Sri Lanka. During the conflict, the squadron logged 1800 hours of flight and earned three "Nao Sena" medals and four Mentions in Despatches, for it's efforts, which included attacking and crippling the LTTE merchant ship, Progress Light. Following the last flight of the Alize', on 12 April 1991, the type was phased out four months later. During it's service life, the Alize had flown a total of 35,912 hours and completed 7,144 deck landings. Incidentally, the Aeronavale', which once claimed to be phasing out the type in the 60s, upgraded and kept their Alize' in operation for even longer. Those aircraft became even more powerful, equipped with Thomson-CSF DRAA-10A Iguane radar, ARAR-12A RWR, ARR-52 sonobuoy system and Matra AS-30 ASMs.

In the early 80s, the Indian Navy, Air force, Coast Guard and Civil Aviation, pressed for a 15-19 seat light transport aircraft, under a common requirement plan. The aircraft chosen was the Dornier Do-228-101, manufactured under license by HAL from 1985 onwards, the naval version being essentially configured for Maritime Patrol (MP) and Electronic warfare, with the MEL Super Marec 360º Search radar, sonobuoys, ESM and direction finding systems. HAL's modifications to the airframe also included four underwing hardpoints, to accomodate up to 2201 kg of external payload.

In 1986, sanction was accorded for the acquisition of 3 Do-228s for observer training, 4 for surveillance and 3 for MRSOW. An additional Do-228 plus another 4 units funded by the Ministry of Petroleum for surveillance around offshore oil assets around Bombay high, were ordered in 1990. To replace the Alize' of INAS 310, the first Do-228-101 arrived on 24 August 1991, followed by another, at the year-end. Two more Do-228s joined the squadron in 1992 and one more in 1993, the squadron formally being recommissioned as the INAS 310 "Information Warfare" squadron. The fifth Do-228 was the first to be equipped with the Super Marec maritime radar and this was eventually standardised. Around 27 Do-228s (11 of them, recent orders in 2005) were eventually acquired from HAL and are distributed among the squadrons INAS-310 for "Information, Electronic Warfare and Surveillance (ISR)", INAS 550 for Observer training and INAS 318 for conventional maritime surveillance. The Do-228-101 operated by the Indian Coast Guard is similarly equipped and also has additional equipment such as the Swedish Space Corporation's IR/UV Line Scan, Micronair Pollution Control pods (1891 liters capacity), Spectrolab SX-16P (1 million candela) Searchlight and Agiflite camera. Both the Naval and Coast Guard versions are armed with 7.62 mm gun pods and an optical gunsight, designed and manufactured by HAL, each pod carrying 300 rounds of NATO standard, belt ammunition.

Of the opinion that the aircraft sport a scheme that better matched the sky, the Indian Navy repainted all Do-228-101s, from the flashy Blue and White to low visibility Gray. Thanks to HAL, these light transports have been converted to one of the most advanced aircraft in the region and although primarily intended as maritime and electronic surveillance platforms, these aircraft also perform SAR, limited ASW, SATCOM, paradropping, target towing, staff communication and observer training, meaning that the Do-228s, are the most multirole aircraft in the Navy's inventory. The sophistication of the sensors carried, enable the Do-228s to act as "mini" versions of the larger, longer range MPAs in Indian service. The aircraft of INAS 310 feature the letters "DAB" whereas the aircraft of INAS 318, feature the letters "PBR", signifying "Port Blair". (B Harry) (Images expansible)

The squadron was back in action during the 1999 Kargil war, this time equipped with IW Do-228s. Three aircraft and about fifty officers and men of INAS 310, were deployed to the forward airfield at Naliya in the state of Gujarat, close to the Indo-Pak border. The first sortie was launched at 10 p.m on 24 May 1999 and went on till nearly 3 a.m. The aircraft flew at about 3000 feet above the Arabian sea and 300 miles to the West. The crew of four, picked up and fingerprinted every signal they hoped for including the Pakistani ground radars at Karachi, Ormara, Pasni, Malir, Khetibandar as well as the radars onboard the Atlantique and P-3C Orion maritime aircraft of the Pak.Navy. Every parameter including the type of emitter, the frequency of the pulse and the location were identified in real-time and sent to the IAF after post mission analysis. The results were evident when the squadron received another operational order from Naval HQ, in June. During the briefing, the defence minister, the Air chief Marshal of the IAF and the C-in-C Western fleet were present. The briefing was carried out by Air Marshal Krishnaswamy (now CAS of the IAF). The Do-228s now flew from Kori creek in Gujarat to Bikaner in Rajashtan, with four to five MiG-29s as escorts and picked up major Pakistani radar deployments, troop concentrations and missile batteries. The next round of sorties were to cater to Army requirements. Flying 8-10 km inside Indian territory and hugging the border, the aircraft recce'ed the situation and emitters at Karachi, Lahore and Pir Patho. When the information was transmitted to them, the military intelligence was thrilled to find that the same corresponded with their own calculations. The squadron kept operating from Naliya, even after the war ended.

Despite the relatively young age of the Do-228-101, the Indian Navy, in collaboration with HAL, had already drawn up plans for an extensive upgrade, as of the year 2000. The upgrade was to replace the MEL Super-Marec with the latest Elta EL/M-2022A (V3) maritime radar, an Airborne Multi-Mission Optronic Stabilised Payload (AMOSP) comprising of a LLTV camera, FLIR and laser optics, installed in a retractable ,gyro-stabilized turret, Ring laser Gyro INS with GPS and long range real-time datalinking capabilities, to perform intensive day/night aerial surveillance duties. By 2001, atleast one Do-228-101 (INS-231) was upgraded to this standard and demonstrated during "Aero India", where it was also announced that this new upgrade would be standardized on the Do-228s of INAS 310. With a datalink range of 100 nautical miles, the mission commander can downlink sensor and navigation data to a ground observation station in real time. The upgrade has faced severe delays and the Do-228s of the IN, currently operate with a mix of avionic suites.

The Do-228 upgrade, as applied to the aircraft of the INAS 310 "Cobras", Information Warfare (IW) squadron.

Based on the Elta EL/M-2032 fire control radar, the Elta EL/M-2022A maritime radar, has become the favorite airborne sensor of the Navy. Following successful integration with the Do-228, the radar is also becoming the standard fit on the Tu-142 and one naval Dhruv helicopter is also being trialled with the same and the EL/M-2022U possibly being deployed on UAVs. The IAF had earlier, retrofitted at least 10 of it's Jaguar-IM maritime strike fighters, with the Elta EL/M-2032 radar as well. The latter has such a high degree of commonality with the EL/M-2022A, that, according to Elta, it is possible to "switch" from one to the other, by simply changing the antenna and modifying the software. The extremely lightweight (90-100 kg) set, uses a vertically polarized planar array antenna and is capable of acquiring large maritime targets at over 200 nautical miles with a track-while-scan of 100 targets ( In contrast, the Super-Marec can detect a Tanker at 125 nautical miles and track-while-scan 32 targets). Operating modes include Range Profile, SAR/ISAR classification and imaging, MTI surveillance, Air-to-Air, Navigation and Weather modes. The electro-optic sensors of the AMOSP are effective to about 40 km and it is possible to slew the turret to the radar, via the RS-422 interface. A small number of Do-228s, also operate with INAS 550, in the observer training role. Although the Indian Navy has not placed orders for additional Do-228s, the Coast Guard has contracted for the supply of 36 Do-228s in total, making it the largest operator of the type.

INAS 321 "Angels" and INAS 561 "Rotors"

With the planned growth of Naval Aviation from 1960 onwards, the Indian Navy identified the need for a light helicopter to carry out the Search and Rescue (SAR) of ditched pilots and turned to France, for the provision of the Aerospatiale SA.319 Alouette-III helicopter, two of which were loaned to the Navy for training purposes aboard the carrier Vikrant, in 1961. Before the return of the loaned helicopters after the completion of the work up in the Malta region, the Indian Navy placed a firm order for four Aloutte-III helicopters, each equipped with a rescue winch, manned by an aircrew diver, to equip Vikrant's very first SAR Flight. With the delivery scheduled for 1964, two Sikorsky S-55 helicopters were temporarily taken on loan from the IAF, to address the gap. However, when the Aloutte-IIIs on order did arrive in 1964, they were rerouted to the IAF due to the latter having urgent requirements for a helicopter capable of high altitude operations. In the meantime, the Indian government had already purchased a license for the manufacture of 160 Alouette-IIIs, selected as a common requirement for the Army, Navy and Air Force, and launched production at HAL's Helicopter Division, in Bangalore, on 4 June 1962. The Indian Navy, thus turned to HAL to provide the four helicopters and the first Aloutte-IIIs, under the name, "Chetak", were delivered to the Indian Navy, by mid-1964. Besides catering to a common SAR role, some Chetaks were also embarked on the survey ship, INS Darshak, and the tanker, INS Deepak, from 1967 onwards. With the acquisition of additional helicopters and the addition of survey, staff communication, casualty evacuation and logistical support roles, the squadron commissioned as "INAS 321" on 15 March 1969, at INS Hansa, comprising of more than 12 SAR Flights from all naval bases, ships and the carrier. On 1 Aug 1980, INAS 321 relocated to Bombay, to operate from INS Kunjali, although the squadron maintains independent SAR Flights at each naval base. Weaponized versions of the Chetak for ASW, known as the "Multirole Torpedo Carrying Helicopters" or MATCH Chetaks, entered service aboard the Indian Navy's Leander class frigate, and the MATCH flight for the first Leander class frigate, INS Nilgiri, was commissioned as "INAS 331", on 15 May 1972. MATCH Chetaks are capable of carrying two Whitehead A244S Torpedoes or two Mk.11CC depth charges. Flights of Chetak helicopters, eventually began operating from most ships, including the Hunt class frigates, Brahmaputra, Betwa, Beas,, frigates Trishul, Talwar, Tir and newer survey ships, after suitable modifications. A small maintenance facility for the Chetak was established at the naval base "INS Kunjali", in Bombay (Mumbai), in order to service disembarked helicopters. The MATCH Chetak is currently carried aboard the P.25 Khukri and P.25A Kora class missile corvettes of the Indian Navy. To make up for obvious ASW shortcomings on the type, the Navy purchased the Westland Seaking as the primary ASW helicopter, in the early 70s. A total of 85 Chetaks were acquired by the Navy, with a total of 19 writeoffs after accidents.

The MATCH Chetak, primarily equips eight Khukri and Kora class missile frigates, for protection against underwater threats. Major servicing of the type is carried out at HAL's Helicopter division in Bangalore, which also produced 336 Chetaks under license. Despite the small number of these helicopters in service, they are the workhorses of Naval aviation. (B Harry) (Images expansible)

INAS 561 is the Indian Navy's Helicopter Training School, originally commissioned on 15 September 1971, with the diminutive Hughes 300 helicopters for basic training. INAS 561, now operating the Chetak, catering to both MATCH and SAR training, is currently based at INS Rajali, in the state of Tamil Nadu, and all helicopter pilots must complete a Helicopter Conversion course on the Chetak, here. A permanent detachment of Chetaks, has also been stationed at INS Utkrosh, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Chetaks operating for INS Kunjali, carried out inner-harbour air surveillance, to detect and attack possible clandestine activity such as the operation of enemy frogmen and midget submarines or chariots. The helicopters also operated alongside Islanders, during 'Operation Pawan'. All Chetaks in military and civilian service, are to be replaced by the HAL Dhruv, the naval variant of which is expected to be fully integrated into the Navy, by 2005.

Chetaks are extremely versatile helicopters and can be operated from unprepared areas. While the Indian Navy plans to retire and replace the type with the HAL Dhruv, the Indian Coast Guard will keep the helicopter in service for while longer. The birth of the Coast Guard's air arm was initiated through the induction of a single Chetak in February 1982. (Indian Navy, via B Harry) (Image Expansible)

Chetak IN-433 from the Helicopter Training Flight at INS Rajali. (Copright B Harry) (Image Expansible)

INAS 333 "Eagles" and INAS 339 "Falcons"

In one of the largest Indo-Russian transactions in February 1975 that included the acquisition of the Il-38 MPA, the Indian Navy also signed for the transfer of three ex-Soviet 'Kashin-II' class destroyers. To strengthen the ASW capabilities of the ship, the 76 mm/60 AK-762 gun mounting in the Y position, was replaced with a helicopter deck to facilitate the operation of the Kamov Ka-25 (NATO: 'Hormone') ASW helicopter equipped with search radar, MAD, sonobuoys, dunking sonar, torpedoes and depth charges. For training, a small number of naval aviators were deputed to Kacha, (Soviet) Georgia and the first helicopter entered service with the commissioning of the destroyer, INS Rajput in March 1980. Seven Ka-25s (IN 571 - IN 577) were eventually acquired and the squadron, INAS 333, commissioned at INS Hansa in Dabolim, on 11 Dec 1980, under Cdr. Piyush Jha. The Indian Navy was also quick to follow up the initial deal with a separate order for thirteen units, including three trainer configured variants, of the improved Kamov Ka-28 (export Ka-27PL 'Helix') ASW helicopter. Tasked to take over the roles of the ageing Ka-25, these helicopters were inducted into the same squadron, in 1984, while the first of the trainers arrived only on 1 July 1989.

The LRDE SV-2000 radar was first fitted on the Ka-25 for flight trials between July and December 2002, after which, flight trials on the Dhruv started on 9 December 2003. The SV-2000 is likely to be standardised on all Ka-25s and Ka-28s. User trials of the SV-2000 began on 27 January 2004 and the radar has been selected. Peak power output is 8 kW, with Antenna gain 30 dB and a power requirement of 3.5 kVA, 400 Hz and 75 W at 28 V DC. The antenna can tilt ±30° and scans with one/two bars in elevation and sectors of ±15° to ±120° in azimuth. Antenna beam width is 3.0° in Azimuth and 9.5° in Elevation. ( BEL via B. Harry)

A second squadron, INAS 339, was formed at Bombay (Mumbai), on 23 November 1990, and was initially equipped with Sea King Mk.42B helicopters. The latter were transferred to other squadrons when the Ka-28 replaced them in November 1993. The squadron, primarily tasked with ASW training for helicopter crew, moved to Dabolim in June 1996 and finally to INS Dega at Vishakapatnam (Vizag), in the south eastern state of Andhra Pradesh. The Ka-25 element of INAS 333 was also known to have been stationed at Vizag and a total of 01 Ka-25s and 02 Ka-28s have been lost to accidents.

As with the Sea Kings, the Ka-28 helicopters are primarily ship based units, serving on the aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, as well as on helicopter capable destroyers and frigates. Additional units of these helicopters have been ordered along with the aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov. The Ka-28 has an endurance of 3.5 hours. The new Ka-31 AEW helicopters joined INAS 333 at INS Hansa, in 2002-03 and will eventually be transferred to INAS 339, currently based on the eastern coast, at Vizag. At sea, they are to operate from the carrier Viraat and the reequipped Gorshkov, and possibly provide Over the Horizon (OTH) targeting for Klub and Brahmos cruise missiles. (B Harry) (Images expansible)

One of the most recent and exotic acquisitions by the Indian Navy, has been the Kamov Ka-31 (NATO: "Helix-B") helicopter, equipped with the Vega E801M 'Oko' radar for Airborne Early Warning (AEW) but no dedicated ASW sensors. The Ka-31 is essentially a heavier (12.5 ton) Ka-27/28 derivative, powered by 2,200 shp Motor Sich TV3-17 VMAR Turboshafts, sporting a wider fuselage which offers greater accommodation space, compared to the cramped interior of the Ka-27/28. Four Ka-31s were purchased in August 1999, followed by five more in 2001, the first batch officially inducted on April 2003 and the second, by the end of 2004. Although initially intended as a supplement to the Indian Navy's new Talwar class cruise missile frigates, the Ka-31 will be operated from aircraft carriers as well as shore bases, providing for long range surveillance, AEW and fighter operations control. To address shortcomings with the type's endurance, Heli-Flight Refueling (HFR) will be implemented. The antenna assembly of the E801M radar is a 200 kg, 6 x 1 meter, foldable, rotating planar array, mounted under the fuselage. At the normal operating altitude of 10,000 feet, the radar itself is capable of very long range 360º surveillance, with a track-while-scan capability of 20-40 aerial targets at ranges exceeding 115 km, up to 200 air and surface targets being detected at ranges up to 250 km. The secondary strength of the Ka-31 is it's advanced real-time datalinking capability, which will introduce airborne network centric warfare to the Indian Navy. The secure datalink and onboard communication systems have a range of 150 km, at altitudes between 4,950 and 11,000 feet. Other equipment include SATCOM, Kronstadt Abris 12 channel GPS receiver and an onboard navigation system capable of ground-proximity warning, obstacle approach warning, auto-navigation of preprogrammed routes, auto homing onto and landing at the parent carrier/base, and flight stabilization.

INAS 300 "The White Tigers"

Following the government approval in April 1956 for the development of combatant naval aviation, the Indian Navy was able to finalize the acquisition of the aircraft carrier ex-HMS Hercules along with two aircraft squadrons for it's air wing. The choice of jet aircraft was the Hawker Seahawk, a modest but proven type which was in service with the British, German and Netherland navies. The first flight of Seahawks had been constituted in the latter part of 1959 and on 7 July 1960, the INAS 300 squadron commissioned at the Royal Naval Air Station in Brawdy, under the command of Lt.Cdr. B.R Acharya, and sporting on it's crest, the White Tiger of Rewa. A total of 23 Seahawk Mk.6s were acquired along with the aircraft carrier HMS Hercules itself, now recommissioned into the Indian Navy as the INS Vikrant. On 18 May 1961, the first Seahawk, piloted by Lt.Cdr. RH Tahilhiani, landed onboard the carrier at 10:30 AM. An additional 23 reconditioned Seahawks were purchased from Britain - seven in 1962, ten in 1963 and six in 1964. These were joined in 1966, by ten Seahawk Mk.100 day fighter-bombers and eighteen Mk.101 all weather fighters along with a large shipment of spares purchased from the Federal German Navy which was phasing out the type in 1965. In 1968, Seahawks carried out DART target towing trials and the first ever live firing sorties at towed banner targets.

During the initial operational periods, the Seahawk fleet suffered from several problems and poor availability, especially when operated from the shore. Consequences of the temperatures in India being far higher than in Europe included a large number of rear fuel tank fire warning light incidents, explosion of saddle tanks as well as fuel leaks and fires in the rear tank area. The situation improved when the 40 gallon saddle tank was replaced by 20 gallons of additional fuel in each drop tank and when maximum engine RPM was reduced from 12700 to 12400, during shore based operations. When new shipments of spares arrived with the ex-German Seahawks, availability improved further and the squadron, numbering 20 aircraft, was in it's best operational and material shape during the period from 1968 to 1970. However, there were two fatal accidents, one attributed to material failure and the other due to pilot error. Between 1972 and 1974, shore based Seahawks suffered a number of fatal accidents, many attributed to problems similar to the fire warning incidents. By 1974, spares became abundant, the firewalls on almost all aircraft changed and overall serviceability considerably improved. The Seahawks disembarked from the Vikrant for the last time on 8 May 1978 and the type was phased out by the end of 1978. The last flight of the Seahawk was on 16 Dec 1983 where a solitary aircraft flown by Cdr. U P Bapat escorted the first three Sea Harriers as they arrived over the naval air station in Dabolim.

Though Vikrant was deployed during 'Operation Vijay' in 1961, her 12-aircraft Seahawk squadron received no requests for air strikes despite high operational readiness. Following the 1962 war with china, a short period of tension led to the deployment of a number of Seahawks to Gorakhpur Air force base in the central Himalayan foothills. These aircraft were transferred back to their coastal base by the end of Oct. 1963. During the 1965 Indo-pak war, the carrier Vikrant along with nine other major warships was undergoing refit. The Seahawk and Alize squadrons which disembarked for the duration of the refit period, were distributed between Bombay, Goa and Cochin. On 1st September 1965, when the Pak.Army crossed the international border and advanced towards Akhnoor, the squadron, consisting of 9 Seahawks and a solitary Vampire trainer, had already moved to Jamnagar AFS for a previously planned armament workup. On 3 September, they were placed under the operational control of the Western Air Command and were tasked to prepare for a strike on the Pakistani radar installation at Badin, scheduled for 7 September. On 6 September, the airfield was bombed by PAF Martin B-57Bs which continued to operate throughout the night. Though the runway and some IAF aircraft suffered some damage, the Seahawks parked at the dispersal, escaped unscratched. On 7 September, the planned strike on Badin was abandoned and all Seahawks were flown to Bombay to operate from Santa Cruz, where they were entrusted with the air defence of the city. On the morning of 11 September, two Seahawks were scrambled from Bombay to intercept a possible unidentified snooper aircraft which had however disappeared by the time they arrived on the scene. Around one hundred dawn and dusk patrols were flown by the unit but without any contact. Thereafter, eight Seahawks were once again transferred to Jamnagar and carried out a sweep of an area where pakistani ships were reported. The last related event occurred on 15 September when an unidentified aircraft was reported over Cochin. A Seahawk got airborne from Cochin airfield but no encounter occurred. The White Tigers would have to wait for another 6 years to draw blood.

During the 1971 Indo-pak war, following government approval and the Navy's decision to throw everything it had into battle, a battle force with the carrier Vikrant as the nucleus was tasked with wiping out the pakistani maritime presence in the Eastern theatre. The 18 aircraft White Tiger squadron embarked Vikrant on August 1971 and were ready for operations by November. Air strikes commenced on 4 December 1971 against targets in erstwhile East pakistan. This was the moment of truth for the 'White tigers' who had trained long and hard but had been denied combat experience till now. The first strike consisting of 8 Seahawks, wrecked the facilties at Cox's Bazaar. In a mere 10 days, between 4 and 14 December, Air strikes accounted for more than 100,776 tonnes of Pakistani shipping sunk and destroyed pre-planned and oppurtunity targets at Cox's Bazaar, Chittagong, Khulna, Chalna, Mongla, Do Harisal, Barisal, Chiringa and Bakarganj including airfields, shipping, AA positions, oil fields, ammunition dumps, harbours and troop positions. Pilots banked on accuracy as a result of training and skill over the light armament of the Seahawk type which often consisted of just two 500 lb bombs or 8x rockets besides the 20 mm cannon. When the conflict ended, INAS 300 had not suffered a single loss. The squadron won one Maha Vir Chakra, five Vir Chakras, one Nao sena medal and four mentions in Despatches.

Following the phasing out of the obsolete Seahawk from the Royal Navy in the early 1960s, the Indian Navy went on the constant look out for a suitable replacement. At first, the McDonald Douglas A-4 Skyhawk appeared to be the most suitable but political considerations precluded their acquisition. A possible 'navalised' version of the Folland/HAL Gnat was considered for operations aboard the Vikrant in view of the design limitations of the carrier's steam catapult but the idea was scrapped after it was judged to be unfeasible and not cost effective. In 1966, following the British Government's decision to disband it's existing fixed wing naval aviation and carrier force and go in for the development of the STOL/VTOL Harrier to operate on carriers without catapults or arrestor gear, the Indian Navy itself concluded that it should observe and await the development of the Harrier, specifically the navalised Sea Harrier. In 1972, British Aerospace (BAe) sent their G-VTOL Harrier demonstrator to India for landing trials aboard the Vikrant which confirmed the ability of the carrier to operate the type. In 1977, following negotiations initiated a year earlier, the Indian Government approved the acquisition of 8 Sea Harriers including 2 trainers, even though the first British Sea Harrier itself flew in 1978 and by mid 1978, was undergoing intensive flight trials. In November 1979, Naval HQ placed an order for six Sea Harrier FRS.Mk.51 fighters and two T.Mk.60 Trainers, for delivery in 1983. In September 1980, select naval aviators and technical personnel were deputed to the UK for conversion training, forming the Sea Harrier Project (SHARP) at Kingston. Basic training and conversion on the RAF's Harrier T.Mk.4 of the No.233 OCU at Wittering was followed by a few months of training at BAe, Dunsfold, and Operational Flying Training (OFT) on the Sea Harrier FRS.Mk.51 at RNAS Yeovilton. The training of the first batch of Indian pilots initiated in early 1982, ended in November 1983 and maintenance personnel had already returned to India by August.

The first newly built Sea Harrier for the Indian Navy (IN 601) was completed and ready on 21 December 1982. During their handing over ceremony at Dunsfold, on 27 January 1983, the aircraft were actually armed with Aim-9L Sidewinder AAMs even though the customised Indian aircraft were modified to carry the Matra Magic-I instead. The first three Sea Harriers, flying via Malta, Luxor and Dubai, led by Lt.Cdr Arun Prakash** VrC (currently Vice Admiral and the next slated Chief of Naval Staff), landed at Dabolim on 16 December 1983. This was followed by the first deck landing on the carrier, INS Vikrant, on 20 Dec 1983 and the arrival of the first Sea Harrier T.Mk.60 trainer, on 29 March 1984. Unlike it's British T Mk.4N counterpart, the Indian T Mk.60 trainer variant has the full avionics suite of the Mk.51 fighter apart from the Marconi Blue-Fox radar. The remaining aircraft arrived on 12 July 1984 and the squadron was declared fully operational. The Navy's total Sea Harrier inventory included 23 fighters and 04 trainers, acquired in three batches. The second and third batches included 7 and 10 fighters respectively and also included a trainer each. At their peak periods of operations, an equal number of Sea Harriers were deployed on the two carriers Vikrant and Viraat, the aircraft otherwise being shore based at INS Hansa in Goa. To make up for the loss of two T.Mk.60 trainers in 1988 and 1994 respectively, the Indian Navy purchased two ex-RAF T.Mk.4 trainers as attrition replacements, originally operated by RNAS Yeovilton, for delivery in 2003. Refurbished and modified at Warton, these aircraft, now known as T.4 (I), have maximum possible commonality with the T.Mk.60 variant, despite the airframe differences.

IN656 is one of the two "Snoopy Nose" T.Mk.4s delivered to the INAS 300 in 2003, as attrition replacements. The original T.Mk.60 trainer variant acquired by the Indian Navy, differs in having no LRMTS thimble, a shorter fuselage and is more similar to the T.Mk.4N variant used by the Royal Navy. Both the T.Mk.4(I) and T.Mk.60 in service, have been modified for maximum possible commonality with the Sea Harrier FRS Mk.51 variant but need to be placed diagonally on the elevator of the INS Viraat, due to their larger length. IN-655 and IN-656 are currently deputed to INAS-551B (Artwork by B Harry) 

After the arrival of the first Harrier batch, INAS 300 began conducting intensive flying sorties, war gaming and tactical exercises against IAF aircraft. The intensity of the war gaming exercise 'Trishakti', off the western coast of India, in April 1986, attracted US Navy Hornets, Vikings and even Trackers, interceptions becoming frequent, henceforth. On 23 Oct 1990, Cdr SK Sharma 'jumped' an F/A-18 Hornet, some 80 miles from it's fleet. The excellent photographs brought back revealed the carrier to be the USS Enterprise with the aircraft belonging to the VFA 192 SF squadron of the US Navy. In Nov 1990, INAS 300 commenced their yearly trips to TACDE for DACT with the IAF. At the time the actual capabilities of the Sea Harrier against their supersonic airforce counterparts were speculative at best. The combat sorties flown by the squadron revealed that the Sea Harrier could hold it's own against the IAF MiGs with a fair amount of confidence. Eventually, the IAF did begin to admit that the Sea Harrier was superior to the MiG-21. A new dimension was added to the meaning of air combat and maneuvering space when the squadron commenced DACT against the Mirage-2000s of the elite No.1 'Tigers' squadron of the IAF, where the ASF would expose and exploit any minor error committed . Not to be outdone, INAS 300 took up the challenge with great determination. In the ensuing battle, the White Tigers gave the "Tigers" of the IAF, a run for their money, leading to an eventual decision by Mirage pilots to carry out DACT with the Sea Harriers on a regular basis from now on, in order to sharpen their nails.

A successful intercept can only be achieved through the target being caught completely off guard. Among the White Tigers frequent intercepts include these unfortunate Pakistani Atlantique-1, Fokker F27-200 and KC-10 of the USAF ( B. Harry)

The reborn White tigers of the Indian Navy were now a totally professional outfit and came out with flying colors during frequent embarkations, joint exercises, DACT and Air to Air gunnery. On 05 Dec.1990, 01 Feb. 1992 and 11 Apr.1997, Matra Magic-I missiles were fired against Mk.6 flares. On 15 May 1992, 1000 lbs. bombs were dropped on Pigeon island, in the toss bombing mode. For the first time in the history of Indian Naval Aviation, on 24 Apr.1997, a live BAe Sea Eagle anti-ship missile was fired on Ex-INS Nilgiri, by squadron commander S Nikanth, off the coast of Goa. INS Hosdurg, a "Nanuchka" class corvette, became the second decommissioned vessel to be sunk by a live Sea Eagle missile, launched from a Jaguar-IM of the IAF, in June 2000.

On May 16 2002, INAS 300 participated in the most glorious event yet - a day long joint exercise with the air wing of the French nuclear carrier Charles de gaulle. Code named "Varuna-2", the second bilateral joint excercise required the Sea harriers operating from Dabolim, to take on the Rafales and Super-Etendards of the French carrier. One part of the exercise involved four Sea harriers defending the participating frigate INS Godavari and the destroyer INS Ranvijay against a strike package of two Super-Etendards, given cover by two Rafale-Ms. The results of the experience have no doubt hardened the White Tigers to elite proportions. The Charles de gaulle, accompanied by five ships of the French navy, was back in 2004 for the second exercise "Varuna 2004/1", held between the 10th to the 14th of April, off the coast of Goa and the joint aircombat exercises between the Rafales and Sea Harriers continued. Always operating with modest equipment and resources yet coming out with extraordinary results, the White tigers have built an enviable reputation for themselves and continue to remain the forefront of Indian Naval Aviation.

INAS 551A "The Phantoms" and INAS 552 "The Braves"

With the acquisition of Hawker Seahawk fighters for operation from the carrier Vikrant, the Indian Navy realized the requirement for a separate jet training unit to help train the respective pilots. For the purpose, the Indian Navy contracted for the supply of three Vampire FB.52 fighters from HAL, plus a single Vampire T.Mk.55 trainer to be transferred from the IAF, to operate as the 'A' Flight of INAS 550 (while other aircraft of the same squadron were then designated as the 'B' Flight), based at Cochin (INS Garuda), at the time. However, the runway at INS Garuda was too short to operate the Vampires and the squadron had to be based at the IAF base in Sulur, near Coimbatore, in the state of Tamil Nadu. The naval element at Sulur was recommissioned as the Indian Navy's second base "INS Hansa", on 2 September 1951, and began operating the Vampires of the 'Naval Jet Flight' from 1957 onwards, the transfer of the Vampire T.Mk.55 from the Air Force having taken place in 1952. On 1 September 1961, the 'A' Flight was officially recommissioned as a new squadron, "INAS 551". The squadron was to cater to the conversion and operational training of Seahawk pilots and borrowed 8 aircraft from the reserve stocks of INAS 300, for the purpose. 130 hours of training on the type, included 75 to 100 simulated deck landings and several air-to-air and air-to-ground firing exercises. Dependency on the Seahawk for training increased as the serviceability of the Vampires came down. Following the Liberation of Goa in December 1961, the Indian Navy took over the Portuguese airfield at Dabolim by April 1962 and established facilities there, leading to the relocation of INS Hansa to Dabolim, in June 1964. INAS 551 retired all three Vampire FB.52 fighters in 1967, following the transfer of three more Vampire T.Mk.55 trainers. Eventually, as both Vampire and Seahawk aircraft were becoming less and less serviceable, the Navy decided to acquire the HAL HJT-16 "Kiran" Mk.1 Basic Jet Trainer. Seven HJT-16 Mk.1 trainers were delivered to the squadron in mid-1971, were fully operational by 1972, and by 1978, all Seahawks were returned to the reserve stocks of INAS 300. Although Kiran serviceability was initially low, the situation improved as soon as a good amount of flying and maintenance experience was established. By 1976, the squadron had phased out the Vampire from service and by 1987-88, acquired eight units of the improved HAL HJT-16 Kiran Mk.II. INAS 551 currently operates 12-15 HJT-16 Mk.IIs for basic and armament training, as well as training future Sea Harrier pilots.

Six HAL HJT-16 Kiran Mk.II aircraft of INAS 551, form the Indian Navy's own Saagar Pawan aerobatic team, similar to the IAF's Surya Kirans . However, unlike the latter, the Saagar Pawans perform only on rare occasions as the aircraft also need to cater to the armament training role of the squadron. The "done up" blue and white scheme is a standard service scheme, always worn by the aircraft, irrespective of the occasion. Previously, these aircraft wore polished metal, with a light blue tail, sporting the squadron's "Phantom" emblem. (Artwork by B. Harry)

After the induction of the Sea Harrier, the squadron was partitioned into two flights, namely, INAS 551A, operating the Kiran Mk.II and INAS 551B, operating Sea Harrier T.Mk.60 trainers, once again borrowed from INAS 300. The latter was established as the first Sea Harrier operational flying training unit (SHOFTU) in April 1990, with 2 trainers and 3 fighters borrowed from INAS 300. SHOFTU was to take over the ab-initio and Operational Flying Training (OFT) of new trainees, since all Sea Harrier related training was now to be carried out in India. All Sea Harrier fighter pilots of the Navy, need to complete six months of basic training on the Kiran Mk.II with the IAF, as well as a one year course (80 hours) on the MiG-21U. Following this, they proceed to INAS 551A and then to SHOFTU. Ex-SHOFTU pilots were awarded operational status after completing their Deck Landing Qualification (DLQ). SHOFTU was disbanded in recent years and INAS-551B was established as a second operational Sea Harrier squadron, 'The Braves'. The latter became an independant squadron, christened INAS 552, in 2006. Units from INAS-300 are usually rotated in and out of INAS-552.

Around half of INAS-551A's strength is dedicated to the basic training role while the rest are assigned to the armament training role. The former sport Red tails while the latter, originally sporting Blue tails, have been repainted with a deep Blue and White scheme with no squadron markings, to form the "Saagar Pawan" aerobatic team, on the lines of the IAF's well known Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT). In addition to training, INAS 551 also serves as a miscellaneous Fleet Requirement Unit (FRU). The Indian Navy acquired a total of 23 Kirans, out of which, 9 have been lost in accidents till date.

Future Units

To replace the HAL Chetak, the Indian Navy has a requirement for 120 HAL Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) 'Dhruv', to cater to SAR, MR, ASW and communications among other roles. The first prototype of the Naval variant of the Dhruv (PT-04/PT-N) flew on 26 December 1995 and structurally differed from the other variants in having a retractable tricycle undercarriage, a folding tail-boom, cheek and side mounted flotation gear and a hydraulic harpoon decklock securing system. Cabin volume at 7.33 cubic meters and baggage capacity at 2.16 cubic meters, remain the same as that on the standard land based variant. The first two Naval Dhruvs, IN-901 and IN-702, were officially handed over to the Indian Navy on 28 March 2002, in the presence of Vice Admiral SC Gopalachari. Representing a quantum leap over the Chetak, the Naval Variant of the Dhruv is certainly the most advanced variant of the helicopter, incorporating 360º search radar, dunking sonar, a rescue hoist system and a comprehensive ESM suite in addition to being armed with torpedoes and depth charges. The sensor information is presented to a radar and sonar operator seated directly behind and parallel the cockpit, on two giant AMLCD displays, manufactured by BARCO of Belgium. A combined radar, ESM, sonar and IFF presentation may be plotted on a single console as well. An external payload of 1500 kg may include torpedoes, depth charges and possibly anti-ship missiles (mockups of which were displayed at Aero-India 2001) at a later phase.

Extensive sea trails included deck landings on the carrier INS Viraat in 1997, followed by deck landings on the frigate INS Ganga, as seen here, in March 1998. Incidentally, IN-901 was the only Indian aircraft ever, to feature a shark-mouth scheme and was eventually fitted with the SV-2000 maritime radar, external pylons for armament, dunking sonar and an ESM system. The Dhruvs to be delivered to the Indian Coast Guard, are also expected to be similarly equipped, although the single helicopter (CG-851) delivered so far, has only been equipped with the rescue hoist system. (HAL, via B Harry)

Two helicopters, namely IN-901 and IN-703, have been fitted with radar and other features standard to the final production variant for the Navy. While IN-901 features the Super-Vision SV-2000 maritime radar, developed by LRDE (DRDO), IN-703 was equipped with the Elta EL/M-2022 maritime radar, downsized for the purpose. Elta's radars have already been fitted to the Dornier Do-228-101 MPA and the Tu-142M and the move to trial one of the former's radars for the Dhruv, establishes the respect, if not favoritism of the Navy, towards the Israeli developer's avionics. The X-band SV-2000 radar, which recently cleared all flight qualification tests, is a pulse-to-pulse frequency agile set based on open architecture, with a detection range of 50-110 nautical miles, optimized for very low RCS targets such as sea-skimming missiles, flying against rough weather and sea clutter. It also features programmable PRF and frequency, with operational modes including Anti-Ship/Submarine surveillance, Air-to-Air surveillance, Navigation, Weather characterization and Beacon modes, with Moving Target Indication (MTI) and doppler processing. The radar comprises of nine LRUs, weighs 98 kg and has an MTBF of 250 hrs. Although primarily designed for the Dhruv, the SV-2000 may also be installed on the Kamov Ka-28 or fixed wing platforms such as the Tu-142M.

In addition to the radar, IN-901 also carries the 'Mihir' dunking sonar, developed by the Naval Physical Oceanographic Research Laboratory (NPOL) of the DRDO. It combines the sonar dome, winching system and electronics into a compact lightweight package, designed for optimal operation under minimal power requirements. The onboard ESM system, developed by the Defence Electronics Research Laboratory (DLRL) of the DRDO, employs four cavity backed spiral antennae, mounted on either side of the fuselage and has 100% probability of detection and classification of hostile emitters. To improve the performance of this heavily equipped variant, the helicopter will eventually receive the Ardiden/Shakti engines, being codeveloped by HAL and Turbomeca.

IN-901 is the first Dhruv to be fitted with radar and other avionics standard to the final multirole naval variant of the helicopter and recently completed torpedo and depth charge dropping trials at Vishakapatnam, with further trials to take place later. An external payload of up to 1500 kg may be carried on pylons mounted on cabin-side hardpoints. The second helicopter to have similar features, IN-703, was also the first to feature the rescue-hoist system. IN-705 may be the next helicopter to undergo upgradation and already features the rescue-hoist system. The Indian Navy will operate a mix of general utility and ASW/ASV Dhruvs. (DRDO, via B Harry)

The next aircraft to join the Indian Navy, will be the MiG-29K/KUB, an initial number of 16 fighters to be delivered with the ex-Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, in 2007. These aircraft are more likely to be equipped with downsized NIIP N011M Bars-29 passive phased array radars, rather than the more traditional Zhuk-MSE, and Kh-35 (NATO: "Kayak") Anti-ship missiles. Progress on the Naval LCA, being jointly developed between the Indian Navy and ADA, continues, with two prototypes, NP-1 and NP-2, scheduled to fly by 2007. Other aircraft on offer include the Tupolev Tu-22M (NATO: "Backfire"), four of which, may be taken on lease, for the strategic Maritime Reconnaissance and Strike role. The new Indian Strategic Naval Base in construction at Karwar (Karnataka state), nicknamed "Project Seabird", slated to become the new headquarters of the Western fleet, will also feature a new airbase in the proximity, as well as the associated facilities.

Further Reading



* http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/NAVY/Articles/Article11.html


** Vice Admiral Arun Prakash, also flew the Hunter with the IAF, during the 1971 war, and is credited with destroying two PAF C-130s, for which, he received the "Vir Chakra" (VrC)

(1) Estimated wrecks

Selected References

- Vice Admiral GM Hiranandhini (Retd.) NM,PVSM,AVSM,"Transition to triumph - Indian Navy 1965-75"

- Vice Admiral Mihir K Roy (Retd.) PVSM AVSM,"War in the Indian Ocean",SPANTECH & LANCER 1995

- Commodore Ranjit B. Rai (Retd.), "50 Glorious years", Guide publications

- Srinjoy Chowdhury, "Despatches from Kargil", Penguin.

- Pushpindar Singh, 'Indian Navy : Spreading Wings', Frontline, 18 Dec, 1992 and "History of Aviation in India", 2004

- http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/NAVY/Tu-142.html

- http://www.isrjournal.com/story.php?F=2965790

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