Even as the western and eastern fronts with Pakistan and China are bolstered with additional Sukhoi-30MKI squadrons, India has also kick-started plans to base its most lethal ‘air dominance’ fighter in south India to keep a ‘strategic eye’ over Indian Ocean.
Defence minister A K Antony will inaugurate the new airbase at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu on May 27, which will eventually house a Sukhoi squadron (16 to 18 jets) after the requisite “tech-flight hangers, avionic bays, labs, fuel dumps and other infrastructure” comes up over the next few years.
Sukhoi Su-30MKI (NATO reporting name: Flanker-H) is a twinjet multirole air superiority fighter developed by Russia’s Sukhoi and built under licence by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
A variant of the Sukhoi Su-30, it is a heavy, all-weather, long-range fighter.
Development of the variant started after India signed a deal with Russia in 2000 to manufacture 140 Su-30 fighter jets. The first Russian-made Su-30MKI variant was accepted into the Indian Air Force in 2002, while the first indigenously assembled Su-30MKI entered service with the IAF in 2004. Additional MKIs have been ordered to increase the total from 272 to 314. The IAF had 240 Su-30MKIs in service as of October 2017. The Su-30MKI is expected to form the backbone of the Indian Air Force’s fighter fleet to 2020 and beyond.
The aircraft is tailor-made for Indian specifications and integrates Indian systems and avionics as well as French and Israeli sub-systems. It has abilities similar to the Sukhoi Su-35 with which it shares many features and components.