S. Anandan

Kochi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) is in talks with the Tamil Nadu government for the transfer of a World War II airfield at Kayathar, about 60 km from Tirunelveli, for developing it into a full-fledged fighter base in South India.

“While Sulur and Thanjavur are being built up as fighter stations, Kayathar is the next one in our mind,” Air Marshal S. Radhakrishnan, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command (SAC), told The Hindu

Significantly, ambitious plans are on the cards for the relatively smaller Thiruvananthapuram-based command which, in its silver jubilee year of establishment, does not have much in terms of assets. That, however, will soon change in view of the evolving geopolitical situation and the increasing strategic pertinence of the peninsula. “Sulur, to begin with, is going to be the country’s first Tejas LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) base and will be operational by the end of next year or the beginning of 2011. Despite hiccups pertaining to its engine, the aircraft should be a very potent platform,” the Air Marshal said.

“Thanjavur is coming up quite fast; runway is the only thing left. What we have there is a World War II runway. The money is being released shortly and then the work will start. It should also be ready in a year-and-a-half. Kayathar, when operational, will be the southernmost fighter base in the country, with capability to defend the entire southern strip, including Lakshadweep. It could station Su-30 MKI or the Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA), whose procurement process is under way,” he said. The case of Thanjavur is pending with the Ministry of Defence, but the Air Force is hopeful that it would get the nod in a month or two.

It is likely to station Su-30 MKI or MRCA, if not another LCA squadron. Kayathar will, however, be the command’s principal base with an area of about 1,700 acres.

“It will be full-fledged with all facilities, including weapon storage,” said Air Vice Marshal Rajinder Singh, Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) of the Command.

The internal turbulence in Sri Lanka had the Southern Air Command deploy reporting radars to shore up air defence in the peninsula.

“Now, more radars will be put in place with this aim, with Lakshadweep having one. The command will also have an aerostat radar,” said Air Marshal Radhakrishnan.

Corrections and Clarifications

The expansion of SAC is Southern Air Command and not Southern Naval Commandas mentioned in the second paragraph of a Kochi report "Full-fledged IAFfighter base likely in Kayathar [near Tirunelveli]" (July 16, 2009).

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