Tezpur/New Delhi : Four front-line Sukhoi combat jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) were formally inducted in the sensitive northeastern region Monday as part of a strategic deployment of advanced assets close to the Chinese border, defence officials said.
The four multi-role strike Su-30MKI fighters will be based at Tezpur, about 185 km north of Assam’s main city of Guwahati, with the strength of the squadron gradually being raised to 18 aircraft.
“Due to bad weather, there was no flypast of the Sukhois, although there was a small symbolic ceremony to welcome the jets and crew at the Tezpur base,” an IAF official said.
Air Marshal S.K. Bhan, air officer commanding-in-chief of the Eastern Air Command, presided over the induction ceremony.
The decision to deploy the Su-30MKIs, the most potent fighter in the IAF inventory, follows repeated instances of Chinese incursions in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh in the last few years.
The Tezpur base is within striking distance of the India-China border along Arunachal Pradesh.
According to the defence ministry, there have been about 270 violations by Chinese soldiers in the western, middle and eastern sectors of the border in 2008, while 60 have been reported so far this year.
Beijing had in 2003 given up its territorial claim over the Indian state of Sikkim but still maintains that vast stretches of Arunachal Pradesh belong to China.
The mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh shares a 1,030-km (650-mile) unfenced border with China. This frontier is defined by the McMahon Line, a notional boundary that is now known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). China has never recognised the McMahon Line, and claims 90,000 sq km or almost all of Arunachal Pradesh. India also accuses China of occupying 8,000 sq km (14,670 square miles) in Kashmir.
India and China fought a bitter border war in 1962, with Chinese troops advancing deep into what was then called the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and inflicting heavy casualties on Indian troops.
Capable of carrying nuclear weapons and tailor-made for Indian specifications, the Russian designed Su-30MKI being manufactured under license by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The aircraft was inducted into the IAF in 1997.
The IAF currently operates five squadrons of the Su-30s, with three stationed at Lohegaon in Pune and two at Bareilly. Each squadron comprises 18-20 aircraft.
The IAF plans to increase the strength of its Su-30 fleet to nearly 200 jets over the next five years.
The Tezpur airfield was constructed in 1942, during the Second World War. It lies between Bhutan, Tibet, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Ever since its inception, it has been one of the most active bases in northeast from where a variety of fixed and rotary wing aircraft have been operating.
As of now, five bases in the eastern and northeastern parts of the country, including Tezpur, Chabua and Jorhat in Assam, Panagarh in West Bengal and Purnea in Bihar, are due for upgrades.