The Indian Navy (IN) bid farewell to its Ilyushin-38 Sea Dragon long-range maritime patrol aircraft on Tuesday (31 October) after 46 years of service.
Simultaneously, the Indian Air Force (IAF) retired one more squadron of aging MiG-21 combat aircraft, which marked the beginning of the jet era in the IAF six decades ago.
The decommissioning ceremony for the Ilyushin-38 Sea Dragon, known as the 'ILs,' took place at INS Hansa at Dabolim, Goa.
Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar praised the aircraft, stating that "the ILs were flying till the very last day, culminating nearly 52,000 hours of flying! A remarkable feat indeed, which aptly sums up the exacting standards that Team 315 (INAS 315) had set for itself."
The naval aviation squadron, also known as the 'Winged Stallions,' was commissioned on October 1, 1977, with the introduction of IL-38 aircraft, ushering in a new era of long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare.
Over the years, the reconnaissance aircraft was modified with the integration of the Sea-Dragon suite, making it a formidable force multiplier.
While active flying operations will cease, two IL-38 aircraft will be permanently stationed — one at the National Maritime Heritage Museum at Lothal and the other in Nipani, Karnataka.
The long-range maritime patrol duties previously carried out by the IL-38 will now be taken over by Boeing-manufactured P-8I aircraft and MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones.
The Indian Navy placed an order for eight P-8I aircraft in 2009, with the first entering service in 2013. An additional four were ordered in 2016 and were all delivered by December 2021, bringing the total to 12 aircraft.
Since 2020, the navy has been operating two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones on lease from the manufacturer, General Atomics. As part of an agreement with the United States (US) signed in June 2023 during PM Modi's visit to the US, the navy is set to receive an additional 15 MQ-9B drones.
Under this agreement, India will acquire 31 MQ-9B Sea and Sky Guardian drones, with 15 designated for the navy, and the remaining 16 to be equally divided between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Army.
In parallel, the IAF decommissioned one of its oldest MiG-21 units at Air Force Station Uttarlai. The 4 Squadron, which had been operating MiG-21s since 1966, will now transition to the Su-30 MKI.
The MiG-21, the IAF's first supersonic fighter, was inducted in 1963 and played a role in all major conflicts since then. However, in the last two decades, it earned the unenviable nickname 'flying coffins' due to its frequent crashes.
The induction of the new aircraft into the 4 Squadron was marked by a ceremony featuring a joint flypast by the MiG-21 and Su-30 MKI, signifying the conclusion of MiG-21 operations for the squadron.
Currently, the IAF operates only two squadrons of MiG-21, which are scheduled for phase-out by 2025.
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