India's capabilities to protect its vast interests in the Indian Ocean Region and to tackle any threat there received a boost today with the setting up of a Sukhoi fighter aircraft base in Tamil Nadu, the first such station in the southern part of the country.
Inaugurating the air base, Defence Minister A K Antony said, "The establishment of the premier fighter base is important in the view of the current geo-political scenario
and threat perception in the peninsular region and in the Indian Ocean...It will help protect our island territories and sea lines of communication in the IOR."
He said, "This airbase is going to be strategically important. By stationing our Sukhois here, the Indian Air Force can protect a vast area of interest. In the emerging security scenario, the presence of fighter planes in Thanjavur will not only guard our interests but also give a feeling of safety to our neighbours."
His statement comes against the backdrop of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's assertion last week that India was well positioned to be the net provider of security to the IOR.
A full squadron of 16 to 18 Su-30MKI combat aircraft will be deployed at the base by the end of 2017-18, which will give India the capability to keep a close vigil on the IOR.
"There is a threat of piracy and terrorism and also emerging security scenario around the country is volatile. Even though we are a peace-loving country, we have to be ever-ready to face any kind of aggression...," Antony said.
The defence minister mentioned that the assets envisaged for the futuristic air base would be able to provide security to all the strategic and vital installations in this region.
Antony said, "Various sensitive, strategic, industrial, aerospace and economic assets are coming up in the southern peninsula and the station will play a vital role in providing protection to those assets."
A highlight of the inauguration ceremony of the air base was a fly past by two Sukhoi-30 aircraft. This would be the first-ever fighter aircraft base in the southern peninsula under the control of the Southern Air Command.
The IAF also has plans to deploy its Israeli Searcher or Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles at the air base in the future. The defence ministry said the air base is now ready to undertake fighter, transport aircraft and helicopter operations and detachments of these aircraft will be planned every year.
"The base is also slated to house an array of IAF platforms in the future including Su-30 MKIs, Medium Transport Aircraft, Remotely Piloted Aircraft and a Medium Power Radar on build up of further infrastructure," it said.
The airbase has been modernised in the recent past and the infrastructure development includes "construction of runway, parallel taxi track and other operational, maintenance and administrative infrastructure to support air operations."
It has been used extensively for relief operations whenever the southern peninsula was affected by natural calamities.
At the inaugural function, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne said, "In the years ahead, the strategic importance of the Thanjavur base will grow in stature."
The airbase was first constructed in 1940 by the Royal Air Force. During the period 1942-45, the RAF operated Hudson, Wellington 1C, Hurricane and Thunderbolt aircraft from this airfield.