Sukhoi set for Assam landing

New Delhi, June 2 : Four Sukhoi 30 Mki will land in Tezpur on June 15 to turn the tea-town base in Assam the third in the country to host a squadron of the frontline combat aircraft.
The basing of a squadron of the Sukhoi in Tezpur means that the Indian Air Force is moving some of its most powerful assets closer to the border with China in India’s Northeast.
The basing of Sukhoi aircraft in Tezpur — a second Sukhoi squadron is to be based in Chhabua, also in Assam — is in keeping with a policy in which India’s military has been beefing up assets near its borders with China. It began in Ladakh, where the western air command, revived two airfields, Daulat Beg Oldi and Chushul, and has continued in the Northeast.
“Our assessment is not threat-centric but capability-based,” said Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, who retired yesterday, in his last meeting with the media. (Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik has taken over).
Referring to China, he said: “There is no escalation in threat perception. We know very little about the capabilities of that country.”
An IAF source said modernisation projects had been taken up in five airfields in the eastern and north-eastern regions: Tezpur, Chhabua and Jorhat in Assam, Purnea in Bihar and Panagarh in Bengal.
Runways were being extended from 9,000 to 11,000ft. The Sukhoi base in Tezpur will be raised over two months. The chief of the eastern air command, Air Marshal S.K. Bhan, will preside over a simple ceremony to welcome the four Sukhois that will fly out from their original home in Lohegaon, Pune.
Pune currently has three squadrons of the Sukhoi, one of which is moving to Tezpur. Two squadrons are based in Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh.
A squadron in the IAF usually has between 18 to 20 aircraft.
An air force source said there were currently five squadrons of Sukhoi 30 Mki aircraft, one of which was yet to be fully raised. In five years, the air force is expected to have more than 200 Sukhoi 320 Mki in its fleet.
Two more IAF bases in Halwara, near Ludhiana, in Punjab and Jodhpur in Rajasthan are to be converted for the Sukhoi in two years.
Tezpur was the home of the MiG operational flying training unit that shut down. The units were moved to Bagdogra in north Bengal and Chhabua. With the MiG 21s — currently the mainstay of the IAF’s fighting fleet — due to be phased out in another two to three years, the training units will be shut down.