With the formal induction of the multi-role Sukhois in the Navy pending, was the chief of naval staff, admiral Arun Prakash's trip to the Pune air base more than a courtesy visit, as claimed by officials from the air base?
While Indian air force officials (IAF) here only described the CNS' visit as a courtesy one to the no. 20 squadron, which is housed at the Pune air base now, indications are clear that the admiral was here on "a specific task."
The 20 squadron currently operates two lethal and technically advanced weapon platforms, namely the Sukhoi 30 MKIs and the Mig 21s.
Despite repeated attempts, tight-lipped officials of the Indian air force (IAF), said admiral Prakash paid a visit to the air base on Thursday to the squadron 20, adding "the admiral was attached to this particular squadron of IAF during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, and then as a young lieutenant, piloted the Hunter aircraft."
As a senior Navy official later confirmed, Admiral Prakash has been strongly advocating the need to enhance the Navy's capability for maritime strikes. "A fighter pilot himself, the CNS' visit was aimed at understanding issues related to Su-30 MKIs role in maritime operations."
The Lohagaon air base has already readied a few advanced Sukhoi-30 MKI combat jets for a maritime role, equipped with additional air-to-surface missiles apart from the air-to-air missiles. Sources in the ministry of defence said this conversion would add more teeth to the Indian Navy's striking power, while allowing an upgradation to the maritime Jaguars.
"The formal induction date has not yet been finalised, but training and other issues are being taken care at the IAF base at Lohagaon," said an official from the Western Naval headquarter, pointing out that compared to flying from a land base, the maritime role would require flying long distance over the sea.
Although the Indian Navy is yet to venture on a sensitive mission, as compared to the army and air force, the government's recent decision to develop the navy as a strategic force with military importance is a clear indication that the admiral's visit to the Pune air base was more than a courtesy one, a defence official explained.
"The conversion of the Su-30 MKIs is part of this process to equip the navy with nuclear-powered and strategic bomber/maritime strike aircrafts and submarines," the official added.