South gets 1st Sukhoi squad with Brahmos

India now has a new lethal weapons platform to keep a ‘strategic eye’ over the Indian Ocean Region, especially the Bay of Bengal, as well as carry out ‘long-range precision strikes’ against hostile aircraft carriers or other high-value targets by day and night in all-weather conditions in the region.

The IAF will commission a squadron of Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets, especially modified to carry the 2.5-tonne airlaunched supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles, at its Thanjavur airbase in Tamil Nadu on Monday. Primarily tasked with a maritime strike role, these Sukhois will be “a huge addition to IAF’s operational capabilities”, Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria said.

BrahMos director-general Sudhir Mishra said, “It’s the realisation of our dream to provide IAF with a formidable and much-desired capability to strike from long stand-off distances on any target at sea or on land with pinpoint accuracy.”

The new Sukhoi squadron, nicknamed ‘Tiger Sharks’, will be commissioned with four to six fighters at Thanjavur on Monday, and will induct its full complement of 18 fighters by the end of the year. With a combat radius of almost 1,500 km without midair refuelling, the Sukhoi will combine with the 290-km range BrahMos missile to constitute a formidable weapons package.

Tiger Sharks is the 12th squadron of the 4th-generation ‘air dominance’ Sukhois but the first one to be based in south India after the first 11 were deployed on the western and eastern fronts, from Halwara, Pune, Jodhpur and Sirsa to Bareilly, Tezpur and Chabua, to cater for Pakistan and China.

The deployment at Thanjavur is clearly in response to China’s fast-expanding strategic footprint in the IOR, with Beijing now also looking to establish additional logistics facilities in the IOR after setting up its first overseas military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa in August 2017, while also using Karachi as a regular naval turnaround facility.

The Navy already operates its Poseidon-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft, which are packed with sensors and weapons to detect, track and destroy enemy submarines, from its INS Rajali base at Arakkonam in TN. Armed with BrahMos missiles, the Sukhois will further add to this deterrence over the high seas right up to the Malacca Strait.

“The capability of the missile, coupled with the high performance of the Sukhois, will give IAF strategic reach and allow it to dominate over land and sea. The Sukhoi-BrahMos package can also be used in surgical strikes to destroy terror camps across the Line of Control with Pakistan,” said an official.

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