Naval Air Station INS Garuda at the Southern Naval Command here is augmenting infrastructure to take on the challenges posed by asymmetric seaborne threats in the emerging security environment. Surveillance over the sea acquired a whole new dimension post-26/11 placing more emphasis on the key role played by maritime reconnaissance aircraft with deep-looking capability in thwarting attacks by the sea.
With the Navy taking strides to achieve leapfrogging capabilities in maritime recce by signing contract with Boeing for the P-8I Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft—the first of the total eight would be delivered in 2013—and scouting for fresh medium range ones (MRMR), Garuda, the alma mater of naval aviation, is gearing up to accommodate change.
New hangars are coming up at the air station for future acquisitions. A station to house the P-8I simulator, which would be delivered alongside the aircraft, is also under construction.
“A very big coastal security matrix has now come into play, but any maritime operation is preceded by surveillance and for coastal surveillance, the best platform is aircraft,” says Commodore Vijesh Kumar Garg, Commanding Officer of INS Garuda, the Navy's biggest aviation hub south of Goa.
The air station is home to the Navy's training schools such as Observer School, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) School, School for Naval Aviation (SFNA), the Naval Institute of Aviation Technology (NIAT) and the Aeronautical Training Institute (ATI). It has a 24x7 airfield with two runways — while one is 6,000 ft long and the other is 4,500-ft — from which small and medium range maritime recce aircraft such as the Islanders and the Dorniers carry out operations, which range from training sorties and recce to SAR (search and rescue).
The air station has anti-submarine and commando versions of the Seaking helicopter (on which divers were dispatched to Thazhathangadi after a bus fell into the Meenachal river there most recently), the Chetaks and the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) in SAR role.
INS Garuda also flies regular UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) sorties.
“They are always on the task. We have the capability of transmission of data and image from UAV or surveillance aircraft on a real-time basis to JOC (Joint Operations Centre), MOC (Maritime Operational Centre) and the Naval Headquarters in Delhi. The Coast Guard air component is also trained and operated at Garuda, which is an inter-services station with two Air Force officers working at the Air Traffic Control (ATC),” says Commodore Garg.
The ATC at Garuda shares slave radar imagery with Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL), which is without a radar at the moment.