The aviation wing of the Indian Navy is getting the country's highest military recognition. Indian Naval Aviation boasts nine air stations and three naval air enclaves along the Indian coastline and in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The President's Colour, the highest honour bestowed on a military unit (in recognition of its exceptional service to the nation), will be awarded to Indian Naval Aviation at INS Hansa, Goa, by President Ram Nath Kovind on September 6.
The Indian Navy was the first among the Indian armed forces to be awarded the President's Colour on May 27, 1951, by Dr Rajendra Prasad, the then president of India. According to the ministry of defence, the subsequent recipients of the President’s Colour in the Navy include Southern Naval Command, Eastern Naval Command, Western Naval Command, Eastern Fleet, Western Fleet, Submarine Arm, INS Shivaji and the Indian Naval Academy.
Indian Naval Aviation has been in service for last seven decades. It came into existence on January 13, 1951, with acquisition of the first Sealand aircraft, and commissioning of INS Garuda, the first Naval Air Station, on May 11, 1953.
The arrival of the armed Firefly aircraft in 1958 added an offensive punch, and Naval Aviation steadily expanded its inventory to become an integral part of a formidable navy. First, Indian Naval Air Squadron (INAS) 550 with 10 Sealand, 10 Firefly and three HT-2 aircraft was commissioned in 1959.
Over the years, a variety of rotary-wing platforms have been added as well, ranging from the Alouette, S-55, Seaking 42A and 42B; the Kamov 25, 28 and 31; the UH3H; the Advanced Light Helicopter and the latest in the line, the MH60R.
Maritime reconnaissance (MR) also grew steadily with induction of the Super Constellation from the Indian Air Force in 1976, the IL-38 in 1977 and the Tu-142M in 1989. Induction of Dornier 228 in 1991 and the state-of-the-art Boeing P-8I aircraft in 2013 marked the entry of modern high-performance maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
According to the Indian Navy, the world witnessed the carrier arm of Indian Naval Aviation coming of age with the induction of INS Vikrant, the first aircraft carrier in 1957 and integral Sea Hawk and Alize squadrons subsequently. INS Vikrant, with its aircraft, played a crucial role in the liberation of Goa in 1961 and again in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, where its presence on the eastern seaboard proved decisive.
When India got the former HMS Hercules from the UK, it became the first Asian country to acquire an aircraft carrier after the Second World War. Renamed INS Vikrant, the 20,000-tonne warship played a key role in enforcing the naval blockade of East Pakistan during the India-Pakistan War of 1971 and its Sea Hawk attack aircraft successfully struck many coastal towns, including Chittagong and Cox's Bazaar.
"Induction of INS Viraat along with legendary Sea Harriers in the mid-1980s strengthened carrier operations of the Navy, which transformed into a reckonable force with the arrival of MiG-29Ks on the mighty INS Vikramaditya in the last decade," said an Indian Navy officer. The officer added the navy's carrier capability received significant fillip with sea trials of the indigenously built aircraft carrier, the new Vikrant, commencing in August.
Over the past seven decades, Indian Naval Aviation has transformed into a modern, technologically advanced and highly potent force with more than 250 aircraft comprising carrier-borne fighters, maritime reconnaissance aircraft, helicopters and remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). The Fleet Air Arm can support naval operations in all three dimensions and will remain the first responder for maritime surveillance and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) missions in the Indian Ocean region. Naval Aviation has distinguished itself during operations such as Op Cactus, Op Jupiter, Op Shield, Op Vijay and Op Parakram.
HADR operations on behalf of the Indian Navy provided relief to numerous IOR nations in addition to our countrymen. This included Op Castor in 2004, Op Sukoon in 2006, Op Sahayam in 2017, Op Madad in 2018, Op Sahayta in 2019 and the recently conducted rescue operations off Mumbai during Cyclone Tauktae in May.
Indian Naval Aviation has been at the forefront in inducting women into the fighting arm of the Navy, and making them work shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts. Naval aviators were decorated with multiple gallantry awards including one Mahavir Chakra, six Vir Chakras, one Kirti Chakra, seven Shaurya Chakras, one Yudh Seva Medal and a large number of Nao Sena medals (gallantry) over the years.