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Sukhois deployed over eastern skyline

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A file photo of Sukhoi MKI

TEZPUR (PTI): The Indian Air Force (IAF) Monday formally deployed a squadron of Sukhois to guard the country's eastern skyline, although the ceremony was kept low-key.

An IAF official informed that the induction ceremony was carried out from the Tezpur air base of the IAF, but it was made low key and kept away from the media glare as a mark of respect for the AN 32 crash victims.

Nevertheless, it was an emotional moment for the Tezpur air base which had begun with only vintage Vampires and Toofanis.

The IAF officers and ranks broke in applause as the Squadron rolled into the air base, marking a new beginning for the air defence in the eastern skies.

The Sukhois will be India's main attack wing and can reach the Chinese frontier in less than four minutes after taking off from any of the three airports of Assam to be used by the Sukhois. The first Squadron has four aircraft.

Later, another squadron will be inducted in Chabua of Upper Assam. Both the stations are just four-six minutes away from the Chinese border. The Sukhois can reach a maximum speed of 1.5 Mach and the Chinese frontier is hardly 100 kilometers away.

''It can reach the border of Indian skies in any direction, be it China or Myanmar, in minutes from these two bases,'' the IAF official informed.

The basing of Sukhoi aircraft at Tezpur is in keeping with a policy in which the Indian military is being strengthened near its borders with China. It began in Ladakh, where the Western Air Command revived two airfields - Daulat Beg Oldi and Chushul - and has continued in the Northeast.

Already the IAF base at Tezpur has been strengthened and in fact the last MiG 21 squadron was removed from here last year, preparing for the arrival of Sukhois.

''The work having been completed, the airfield is going to open shortly for both civil and military operations. Stated to house the lethal Sukhoi-30, the station is gearing up to receive the aircraft in the second week of June,'' the IAF source said.

The SU-30 is a twin cockpit, multi-role all-weather, superiority fighter with air-to-air refuelling capability. The aircraft, now being manufactured at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (Nasik), was originally designed and developed in Russia.

Air Force Station Tezpur is presently commanded by Air Commodore T K Nair, a fighter pilot of repute, who has over 33 years of experience in a variety of Command and Staff appointments. An IAF source said modernisation projects had been taken up in five airfields in the eastern and north-eastern regions - Tezpur, Chhabua and Jorhat in Assam, Purnea in Bihar and Panagarh in Bengal.

Runways were being extended from 9,000 to 11,000 feet.

A squadron in the IAF usually has around four aircraft. An Air Force source said there were currently five squadrons of Sukhoi-30 Mki aircraft, one of which was yet to be fully raised. In five years, the Air Force is expected to have more than 200 Sukhoi 320 MKI in its fleet.

Tezpur was the home of MiG operational flying training unit that shut down. The units were moved to Bagdogra in North Bengal and Chabua. With the MiG 21s - currently the mainstay of the IAF's fighting fleet - due to be phased out in another two to three years, the training units will be shut down.

''The four aircraft will formalise the Sukhoi flying routes.

After that plans are afoot to station the Sukhois at Chabua air station in the Northeast (Assam) and at Halwara (Punjab) and Jodhpur (Rajasthan) in the west,'' the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Airfield in Tezpur was constructed by the British Royal Indian Air Force during the Second World War in 1942. It was subsequently developed into a full fledged Air Force base in 1959.

Its location bears great significance since it lies strategically between Bhutan, Tibet, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Ever since its inception it has been one of the most active bases in the NE with a variety of fixed and rotary wing aircraft operating from here.

The first aircraft that flew at this base were Vampires and Toofani. 101 reconnaissance squadron with Vampire aircraft and four squadrons with Toofanis were the first to be located at this base.

Subsequently came 29 Sqn (Toofani), 37 Sqn (Hunter), 4 Sqn (MiG-21), 8 Sqn (MiG-21), 28 Sqn (MiG-21), 110 HU (Mi-4 Helicopters), 30 Sqn (MiG-21), MOFTU (MiG Operational Flying Training Unit) with MiG-21s and 115 HU (Cheetah/Chetak helicopters).

In fact, in the last 25 years it was home to the MiG-21 fleet which was used extensively to train rookie pilots for the Indian Air Force most of whom fondly remember their days spent in Tezpur.

The aircraft continues to give yeoman service to the Air Force operating from other bases in the North East. The Airfield also handled civil flights from 1993, being the only feeder to the state of Arunachal Pradesh.

In September 2007, fighter operations were discontinued at the base to facilitate extensive runway repairs and extension.

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