First east coast base to strengthen Navy

India will operationalise its first naval fighter base on the east coast, flexing its maritime muscles days before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to visit China for bilateral talks.

The first Hawk MK-132 advanced jet trainer (AJT) will touch down at naval air station INS Dega near Vishakhapatnam within “a couple of days”, a Navy officer told Deccan Herald. This will be followed by induction of the Hawks in the Navy around October 15.

While the Hawk AJT is primarily used for basic, advanced and weapons training of pilots, it has the capabilities to be used as a ground-attack aircraft or for air defence. “It has a glass cockpit and more powerful engines. Its weapon profiles are superior to that of the Kiran, which Navy pilots fly at the moment,” said a naval aviator.

In 2010, the defence ministry had signed a contract with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to procure 57 additional Hawks, of which 17 were meant for the Navy.

The Navy is likely to receive at least five-six Hawks by December and the entire fleet of 17 Hawks will come by 2015 from the HAL, which manufactures these aircraft under licence production from BAE Systems.

As the vintage Kiran aircraft are slated to be phased out by 2014, the naval squadron flying the Kirans will operate the Hawks from the east coast in future.
At INS Hansa in Goa, the Russian-origin MiG-29K and LCA Navy will fly in future covering the west coast and the Arabian Sea.

Permanent positioning of two fighter squadrons on both sides of India's 7,500-km-long coastline is in tune with India's long-term strategic objective of having one aircraft carrier on either side of the peninsula.

The Russian-origin Vikramaditya will be based at Karwar whereas Vishakhapatnam will be home base for indigenous carrier Vikrant, when it is operational around 2020.
Currently, only small detachments of Kiran fighters fly from Vishakhapatnam.

But for the Hawks, the Navy is constructing permanent hangars, maintenance and repair facilities, some of which are ready and some are under construction. HAL handed over the first aircraft to the Navy on Monday.

As the prime minister is scheduled to start his China tour in the third week of October, the naval fighter base will come alive just days before the Singh lands in Beijing, where he will hold talks with his counterpart on a host of issues, including the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement.

The Indian Air Force landed its C-130J at Daulat Beg Oldie, within 10 km of India's de-facto border with China, on the day the foreign offices of two countries initiated another round of strategic dialogues.

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