In a show of strength and reach of the country’s only joint services command, two Indian Air Force frontline Sukhoi MKI fighters roared across the skies at an impressive City Parade here on Sunday.

Witnessed by hundreds of people against the picturesque backdrop of the sea, the two air dominance fighters scorched the skies, flying some 1,400 km from the Kalaikunda airbase in the East.

After refuelling mid-air, the Sukhois made an appearance for the first time here at the parade held to coincide with the Indian Navy’s multi-country “Milan” exercise. The aim was to demonstrate the reach of the joint services which operate in these islands of strategic importance to the country.

“Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a vantage position across vital areas in the 800 km north-south (linear) axis… and is sitting at the entry/exit point of the western approach to the Straits of Malacca,” Commander-in-Chief of the Andaman and Nicobar Command, Vice-Admiral D.K. Joshi said.

The command, with constant patrols by the tri-services and the Coast Guard, keeps a steady vigil and stops terrorists from setting up bases over the 572 islands with a 2,000-km coastline, of which only 36 are inhabited.

Challenges

The challenges in the region are centred around poaching and the Indian Navy held a table-top exercise with navies of other countries to undertake joint planning towards building mutual confidence and improving inter-operability in dealing with problems such as piracy, gun and drug running and illegal migration.

Upgrading airstrips

Efforts were on to expand the length of runways and upgrade the airstrips to facilitate night-landing, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma said here earlier.

Currently there are four airstrips that can operate Sukhois in the region. Sunday’s demonstration showed the reach of the IAF since the fighter aircraft equipped with Beyond Visual Range missiles and other lethal weapons, reached these skies.

In addition, the Landing Ship Tanker (Large) INS Kesri has been positioned here for amphibious operations since the command is being developed as a niche centre for such warfare.

At the parade, the Navy mounted an operation by its famed Marine Commandos, who slithered down a hovering helicopter at sea to carry out a simulated attack on a dummy oilrig platform.

Another team demonstrated water para jumps.

Precision drill

Besides the enthralling precision drill by Air Warriors, the viewers witnessed breathtaking performance by sky divers and a marchpast by contingents from Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Thailand. At sunset, the people were treated to fireworks as five ships at anchorage were illuminated.

Malaysian woman in combat role

At a time when a debate continues in the Indian defence establishment over the induction of women in combat role, Malaysia is showcasing the opportunity the country provided them in its defence services.

Among a batch of 19 officers on warship KD Perak, is Lieutenant Farah Al Habasi, who is deployed as its Deputy Weapons Electronics Officer, and is taking part in the multi-nation ‘Milan’ exercise organised by the Indian Navy here.

Working in the team of Commander Ismail Bin Othman, this young woman officer interacted on the warship on Sunday with a group of Indian journalists. She spoke of her duties on the new generation vessel that has electronic controls to operate the armaments on the ship built in Malaysia and inducted last June.

With a background in engineering, Lt. Habasi said she joined the force five years ago. After undergoing training, she was posted to serve on the vessel. Her woman colleague and logistics officer is currently on leave. “I have no problem working with men on the warship,” said the officer who is in her twenties.

Dressed in uniform with a traditional headscarf donned by women in the region, the young officer is assured of privacy on the warship in the form of a separate room with attached washroom.

On his part, Cmdr. Ismail Othman said Malaysia has guidelines for having women in these roles apart from regulations that restrict access to areas on the warship where these officers reside.

This year, he said Malaysia inducted 5 women officers and was confident that in two to three years, they will start commanding ships. Overall women form some four per cent of the total Navy personnel, the officer said.

Meanwhile, Australia already has a woman commanding a warship. The captain of visiting Australian HMS Glenelg said nearly 20 per cent of its Navy has women serving in various capacities including combat roles.

In India, the roles of women are restricted to non-combat ones like support, logistics and other services. The Navy maintains that its ships are not designed to accommodate women.