Multirole Seaking helicopters, the old warhorses of the air arm of the Navy, are still pretty menacing, ranking among the top five naval choppers the world over. And the city-based Southern Naval Command’s Seaking squadron — Indian Naval Air Squadron (INAS) 336 a.k.a ‘Flaming Arrows’ — makes it a lot more special having won twin awards at the annual performance appraisal conducted by the Naval Headquarters.
In a unique feat, the squadron bagged the ‘best naval air squadron’ and the ‘best training squadron’ awards in a country-wide competition. At a ‘Naval Flight Safety Seminar’ held at Visakhapatnam recently, Vice-Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of Staff of the Eastern Naval Command, handed over the prestigious awards to Commander Rewant Kumar, commanding officer of the ‘Flaming Arrows’.
“It is a rare honour in recognition of the high standards maintained by the squadron,” Commander Kumar told The Hindu.
INAS 336 operates two versions of the massive helicopter: on anti-submarine warfare and surveillance roles and as a commando carrier. The squadron’s choppers have been deployed in aid to civil power particularly on search and rescue operations, said Commander Kumar. When tragedy struck Sabarimala following a stampede at Pulmedu two seasons ago, the Seakings were pressed into service to airlift a disaster relief team comprising medics and paramedics to the site of the tragedy.
The squadron, the alma mater of the entire Seaking aircrew of the Navy, meets the training and operational requirements of the Southern Naval Command. In the initial days after its raising, it was kept stand-by for operations from aboard India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. Over time, its role has been redefined and the squadron now provides conversion training to Seaking pilots and observers, naval air combatants.
The existing fleet of Seakings, which recently underwent a life-extension upgrade under the ‘Recovery’ programme, is armed to the teeth to take on surface and underwater targets. Its sensor suit, operated by observers, provides real-time intelligence to shore-based control rooms using data-link. The choppers also possess long-range communication capability.
Commissioned in December, 1974, the squadron is based at the naval air station INS Garuda, which also operates a variety of helicopters including the Advanced Light Helicopters and Chetaks.