NEW DELHI: Naval MiG-29K supersonic fighters and Poseidon-8I long-range patrol aircraft may primarily have a maritime role but they are also being used over land amid the ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh.
Sources said the US-origin
aircraft, which are packed with radars and electro-optic sensors to hunt enemy warships and submarines, are being regularly deployed to keep track of movements and build-ups of the People’s Liberation Army along the Line of Actual Control. “Satellites and drones, of course, are also being used for surveillance,” said a source.
The Russian-origin MiG-29Ks, in turn, have replaced IAF fighters at an airbase in north-western India. IAF has forward deployed a lot of its fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs, Mirage-2000s and MiG-29s as well as Apache attack and Chinook heavy-lift helicopters along the LAC, especially in eastern Ladakh.
IAF has also positioned around 10 Jaguar maritime strike fighters, armed with anti-ship Harpoon missiles, at the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, which dominates China’s critical sea trade lanes passing through the Malacca Strait, as was first reported by TOI on Tuesday.
Incidentally, India had deployed the P-8I aircraft, which are also armed with missiles and other weapons, to keep tabs on Chinese troops even during the 73-day troop face-off at
near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction in 2017.
Chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, who was then the Army chief, had earlier said he was surprised to find out about the naval aircraft’s robust reconnaissance capabilities during the Doklam crisis.
The Navy currently has eight P-8Is, acquired under a $2.1 billion deal of January 2009, while another four are slated for delivery next year under another $1.1 billion contract inked in July 2016.
The force, in turn, had procured 45 MiG-29Ks from Russia for $2 billion to operate from the 44,570-tonne aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, which usually carries 18-20 of the fighters and some helicopters at a time.
The Navy, of course, has also deployed several warships and submarines on the eastern seaboard to maintain high operational readiness. On Monday, in a strong strategic signal to China, four frontline Indian warships had conducted a “cooperative exercise” with the US carrier strike group led by aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the southern Bay of Bengal, as was reported by TOI.