Tamil Nadu's Thanjavur district will be home to a lethal fighter squadron that will play a key role in keeping China's growing clout in the Indian Ocean region in check. On Monday, the IAF commissioned the 222 squadron, also known as 'Tigersharks', for their Thanjavur base. The squadron has six Sukhoi-30 specially modified fighter jets, each carrying the 2.5 tonne air-launched supersonic BrahMos cruise missile.
A primer on India's new strategic eye in the Indian Ocean:
The squadron in Thanjavur will keep in check China's fast-expanding strategic footprint in the Indian Ocean Region. Beijing is shoring up its presence in the area. It has set up its first overseas military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa in August 2017, and also uses Karachi as a regular naval facility.
Beijing's high sea ambitions were out when Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh confirmed the presence of Chinese warships in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago.
China has developed several ports and pipelines in the region to avoid what is often termed as its Malacca Dilemma because over 80 per cent of its oil imports go through these areas dominated by India. India wants to keep on eye on Beijing's move with "mission-based" deployments.
What can Tigersharks do?
The fighter jets will give IAF the capability to strike from large stand-off ranges on any target at sea or on land with pin-point accuracy in day or night and all weather conditions. Brahmos gives the Sukhois a combat radius of almost 1,500 km without mid-air refuelling.
With BrahMos missiles, that can fly almost three times the speed of sound at Mach 2.8, the Sukhois will bolster India's deterrence in the high seas right up to the Malacca Strait.
Who are the Tigersharks?
It is the 12th squadron of the fourth-generation 'air dominance' Sukhois but the first one to be based in south India after the first 11 were deployed in the western & eastern fronts in Halwara, Pune, Jodhpur, Sirsa, Bareilly, Tezpur and Chabua, done to quell threats from Pakistan and China.
The squadron was raised at Air Force Station Ambala on September 15, 1969 with Sukhoi Su-7 aircraft. In July 1971, the Squadron moved to Air Force Station Halwara and took part in the 1971 war with Pakistan. The squadron was recognized for its heroic efforts during the war. In December 1985, they became the first Squadron in the Indian Air Force equipped with Mig-27 Aircraft. The Squadron was number plated in 2011.