Sea Harrier Training Squadron Commissioned

An IDC Report


New Delhi, 14 July 2005

Sea Harrier VTOL aircraft landing on the Carrier's deck

During Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee's visit to USA there was a report that Indian Navy pilots would receive training from the US Navy. This is good news because Indian Navy pilots are Top Guns and those that fly off the Carrier are the "crème de la crème". They can gain a lot from US Carrier training and the IAF already has pilots being trained in USA and UK.

CNS Admiral Arun Prakash now 60, is a very able Sea Harrier pilot himself who has commissioned and commanded the Harrier squadron and INS Viraat. Interestingly he flew with the Indian Air Force Hunter squadron in the 1971 war as an exchange pilot and was awarded a Vir Chakra. He is soft spoken and does not publicise this ever, but at the IAF Pilots Passing out parade held last month at Hyderabad he did speak about his days in training with the IAF and his Hunter war experience. He called himself a half IAF officer and that is one reason why we believe that he is a very good choice for CDS –– he is the senior most Chief in the chair but that is another story. We are unable to predict when a CDS will be appointed. The cadets at the POP were amazed at the exposure and experience of the Navy Chief in white uniform and applauded his achievement with awe. The Indian Navy now has the big challenge to commission the Gorshkov with MiG 29Ks and that will be quite a task and achievement when accomplished, under the next Chief of Naval Staff in 2008. Professionals are watching worldwide including the IAF in India.

The IN is gearing up for the arrival of INS Vikramaditya (Gorshkov) and it will need more pilots and very professional fighter pilots. No MiG 29K has landed on the deck of a 40,000 ton ship but it has landed on the Kuzenetsov a 67,000 ton ship and amazingly Russia cannot afford the carriers in their Navy anymore. The market for experienced pilots for the expanding civil airlines in India is exploding and attracting service pilots, so one can expect attrition.

On 7 July, the Indian Navy commissioned a new squadron INAS 552, at INS Hansa Goa, under the command of Cdr Shailender Singh for ab initio Sea Harrier training. HE Shri SC Jamir, the Governor of Goa commissioned the Squadron in the presence of Rear Admiral SK Sinha, Flag Officer Naval Aviation. This is the Navy’s fourteenth air squadron to be commissioned. The IN received some refurbished trainers from UK as the production of the models has stopped. The Royal Navy is set to dispose off the old Harriers and ultimately they will get the JSF 36 the Carrier version of the JSF 35 in 2012, when their carrier is commissioned. If the IN can commission Gorshkov in good fettle and the MiG 29s operate with elan and safety, the Indian Navy will be ahead of the RN in sea attack capability.

The Sea Harrier is presently the IN’s carrier based fighter aircraft capable of both maritime strike and air defence missions. It is an unconventional fighter aircraft capable of vertical/short take off and landing (VTOL). The complexity of the aircraft design demands intensive flying training ashore called MADLs in the squadron to simulate deck landings prior to undertaking flying and tactical missions from the deck of an aircraft carrier, which is likened to a floating postage stamp size landing strip. In the earlier days, the Royal Air Force in United Kingdom carried out Harrier conversion of pilots.

To attain self-sufficiency in the field of fighter training, the Indian Navy decided to conduct training of Sea Harrier pilots in India. Thus, Sea Harrier Operational Flying Training (SHOFTU) was formed as a part of INAS 300 on 16 April 1990. In 1991, SHOFTU was conjoined as a separate flight into the existing Kiran Training Squadron INAS 551.

Post commissioning, Indian Naval Air Squadron 552 will operate as an independent training unit to undertake the arduous task of training young pilots and converting them into professional carrier borne fighter pilots. The squadron forms the bedrock of future naval fighter training and the squadron will need more superior advanced jet trainers and the US Goshawk is a good choice for MiG 29K as the Hawk 115 Y of the IAF may not be able to meet the needs.

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