South India to get second Fighter Squadron

While the squadron was pulled from its “mothball” status at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu on New Year’s Day, a source claimed that the squadron will be formally reactivated at the airbase next week. Representative image/AFP

The Indian Air Force's plan to reactivate a mothballed fighter squadron in Tamil Nadu is set to give South India its second fighter squadron. 

The unit in question, 222 (Tigersharks) Squadron, had been number-plated (or frozen), following the retirement of its ageing Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-27s at Hashimara in West Bengal in 2011. The squadron will re-equip with Sukhoi Su-30MKI-3 multirole fighters, as revealed by an Indian Air Force (IAF) tweet.

While the squadron was pulled from its “mothball” status at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu on New Year’s Day, a source claimed that the squadron will be formally reactivated at the airbase next week. 

Thanjavur has been home to a rotating detachment of Su-30s for several years. The MoD's plans to deploy a full-fledged Su-30 squadron there had been thwarted in the past by a lack of aircraft. A senior air force official clarified that the squadron’s reactivation this month has no connection to the IAF’s ongoing efforts to secure an additional dozen of Sukhoi 30s from Russia.

“The goal was to have 270 Su-30s in service and we are at the closing stages of acquiring the last of these machines,” the official said.

The squadron’s formation also highlights the renewed importance with which the Ministry of Defence has been viewing the country's southern borders and the Indian Ocean area. 

“Of course, we have a strategic interest in the Indian Ocean and the deployment of this second squadron will give us resources to better cover the area,” the IAF said.

Already, 45 Squadron, equipped with HAL Tejas Mark I, has been operating out of Sulur airbase in the southern state. The introduction of the Sukhois, however, will extend the range at which combat patrols can be mounted over the Indian Ocean by the IAF.

Known as the "Tigersharks" Squadron, No 222 had been formed on September 15, 1969, in Ambala to equip with an older breed of Sukhois, the Sukhoi 7 (Fitter-A'), which first saw action in the 1971 war with Pakistan. 

While Thanjavur was built in the 1940s by the British, it was rededicated by the then Defence Minister A K Anthony in 2013, to bolster the holdings of the IAF's Southern Air Command.

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