INAS 303 - Supersonic Predators of the Indian Ocean
Supersonic Predators of the Indian Ocean
Indian Naval Air Squadron (INAS ) 303, the ‘Black Panthers’ commissioned on 11 May 2013 at INS Hansa,Goa.
The Defence Minister, Shri A K Antony commissioned the squadron in the presence of the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral D K Joshi .Also present were the three naval CinCs – Vice Admirals Shekhar Sinha,Anil Chopra and Satish Soni.The Commander-in-Chief,Strategic Forces Command, V Adm S P Cheema , the DCNS V Adm P K Chatterjee ,ACNS (Air) R Adm D S Sudan , Chief of Staff ANC, R Adm Sudhir Pillai ,FOCWEF R Adm Abhay Karve and FOMAG R Adm Karambir Singh completed the galaxy of admirals present at the function.
The day also coincided with the Diamond Jubilee of Naval Aviation and quite a few retired senior naval aviators attended the commissioning ceremony and the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Prominient among these were former CNSs Admirals Ram Tahiliani, Arun Prakash and Sureesh Mehta.
Also present was Vice Admiral Vinod Pasricha (Retd) ,former CO of INAS 300 when it was flying Seahawks off Vikrant and later commissioning CO of INS Viraat.He has recently published the definitive history of the Seahawk in Indian Service to wide acclaim.
The MiG – 29Ks were inducted as an Intensive Flying Trials Unit (IFTU) under Cdr Ajay Theophilus in January 2010. The IFTU has now been upgraded to a commissioned squadron after a longer than expected period. Cynics will mock the Indian Navy for this delay ,but it has to be realized that the IN is the only operator of this type in the world. It had no access to prior flight data, best practices, standard operating procedures etc. Plus,the Navy has developed a protocol where it formally commissions its inductions/purchases only after doing a complete shakedown trial where it validates the weapon system.
The MIG-29 K (Korabelny) is a 4++ generation aircraft.It is vastly different than the existing IAF MiG-29Bs which are optimized for the Air to Air role.It is a swing role fighter capable of switching between air to air and air to surface missions.It carries enough weapon and sensors to undertake Air Dominance and Power Projection missions bestowing great flexibility to a fleet commander at sea.
Its primary sensors include the Zhuk-ME pulse Doppler multi mode radar,Optical Locator Station,the indigenous Tarang RWR and an ELTA 8222 ASPJ.The pilot enjoys great advantage in air combat with the Topsight Helmet Mounted Sight and Target Designation System and carefree maneuvering afforded by the digital Fly-by-Wire system.It’s twin RD-33MK smokeless engines with FADEC ,generate a massive 9000 kg of thrust which is an excellent thrust to weight ratio for combat.
The IFTU had to operationalise its aircraft and systems , qualify posted aircrew and convert new pilots onto the aircraft. This is the Navy’s first supersonic carrier borne fighter and a special SBTF was set up for pilots to practice ski jump takeoffs.
The top echelon of the squadron has a mix of Sea Harrier and Mig-29B background.
The CO is Capt Ajay Theophilus, a veteran of the Sea Harrier with hundreds of hours as a SHAR Qualified Flying Instructor. A superb demo pilot, aficionados will remember his jaw dropping demos from Aero India 2005. He is uniquely qualified to instruct on both the Sea Harrier and the MiG-29.Having been associated with the MiG for more than four years now,he has been instrumental in all the milestones achieved by the IFTU.Gregarious and Dynamic , his maturity and considerable deck landing experience is a building block of the squadron.
The Senior Pilot of the squadron is Commander Kunwar Harsh Veer Singh. A fitness enthusiast,keen golfer, this calm and composed officer is the most experienced Naval fighter pilot on the MiG-29K.
He is also a fully ops Sea Harrier pilot,having converted to the type about a decade ago.
Cdr G Rishi Menon , the Sqn Engineering Officer completes the leadership troika.He has oodles of aircraft maintenance experience and has been responsible for the smooth induction of the type.
The first batch of pilots which went to Russia to convert to the aircraft had an IAF Fighter Combat Leader embedded with them ,who converted with them and came back and started laying down the tactics for the exploitation of the aircraft and its weapon systems.
This pilot was Wing Commander Manish Nigde. H e was replaced by Wing Commander S S Balling,another ace FCL who worked with the squadron during their consolidation period.
By now,both the Navy and the Air Force realized that the MiG-29K was more like a Sukhoi due to its capabilities than a IAF MiG-29. So,the new FCL to be posted in is Wing Commander Akhilesh Sabnis,who hails from the MiG-21 Bison and the Su-30 MKI world. He is one of the few Su-30 MKI FCLs in the IAF and will now work up with the squadron and will land on the deck of the Vikramaditya too when she arrives.
He embodies the IN-IAF co-operation on this project.
Other pilots in the squadron are:
Cdr M R Harish
Cdr Rajat Kumar
Lt Cdr Mrigank Sheokand
Lt Cdr Abhijit Bhutey
Lt Cdr Pradosh Kumar
Lt Cdr S S Sambyal
Lt Cdr Srijeeth Nair
Lt Cdr Vikash Narwal
Lt Cdr Vikramdeep Chauhan
Lt Cdr G Raajadurai
Lt Cdr Yashu Aggarwal
Lt Cdr Vishal Menghnani
Lt Cdr Purujit Mehta
Lt Cdr Rajiv Prasanna
Lt Cdr R Venkataramanam
Lt Ankit Bhatnagar
Lt Vicky Sharma
Lt Rakesh Rao
S Lt Arun Banyal
The IFTU has since its induction, flown over 2500 hrs and have successfully concluded armament trials of the entire range of arsenal comprising air to surface missiles, air to air missiles, bombs, rockets and guns. After proving in trials the aircraft have also participated in important theatre level exercises with the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. Having successfully completed all tasks and trials assigned and established its combat potential, the MiG-29K squadron has now been cleared for commissioning in the Indian Navy.
Some key validations have been Air to Air refueling, Anti Ship Missile launches and air-surface weapon firings.The squadron will now take part in larger exercises and deploy from various shore based bases.
A second squadron should be raised in the next two years.the next key event will be embarking on the Vikramaditya,working up with her air group as well as the rest of the Fleet elements.
May 11, 2013 dawned benign and bright. Divisions of sailors stood before the menacing and magnificient MiG-29Ks. There was thrill in the air; these aircraft represent a big leap ahead in IN carrier aviation and Blue Water force projection.The X-factor was in the air and it made one feel proud of the momentous occasion.
Capt Theophilus read out the commissioning warrant , as the squadron ladies ie the wives of the squadron officers sat resplendent in fiery red sarees co-ordinated with each other and were as eye-catching as the twin tailed fighters.
All the aircraft of the Indian Navy’s inventory flew past in formations.Kirans,Sea Harriers,IL-38 SD, Tu-142,Kamov-31s,Dorniers,Seakings,Chetaks and the ALH Dhruvs showing the varied origins and uniqueness of Naval Aviation.The Boeing P-8I MR aircraft was also anticipated to arrive that day and link up with the formation,which,had it happened would have been the icing on the cake but that was not to be.
The showstopper was a MiG-29K twin seater flown by Cdr Harish and Lt Cdr Yashu Aggarwal which was escorted in by two Sea Harriers.
The audacious Sea Harriers who had been welcomed some 30 odd years back at this very Naval Air Station formatted with the MiG and then started banking away.
As they did so, the MIG lifted,gently,effortlessly and commenced a Vertical Charlie announcing its arrival as a Game Changer.
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