The Indian Navy commissioned the first Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) squadron, INAS 342, at its premier Naval Air Station Garuda based at Kochi on Janary 6, 2006. Admiral Arun Prakash, then Chief of the Naval Staff commissioned the squadron. Vice Admiral SCS Bangara, FOC-in-C, Southern Naval Command, and many distinguished guests were present on the occasion. Cdr Rajesh Kawatra was the first CO of the newly Commissioned squadron.
The maiden UAV Squadron operates Heron and Searcher MK II UAVs. The UAVs are capable of undertaking maritime surveillance tasks. The induction of UAV platform in the maritime context has added a new dimension to naval warfare capability. Further, Indian Navy is one among the first few navies of the world to operate these air vehicles. With induction of these state-of-the-art vehicles, maritime warfare aspects would be revolutionised as these platforms would serve as force multipliers in support of fleet operations.
The Indian Navy has acquired two variants of the UAV, the Searcher Mk II and the larger and more capable Heron from IAI Malat in Dec 2002. These craft fulfill a myriad of roles from search and probe to location and tracking of maritime targets, providing of OTHT data, assistance in SAR and battle damage assessment.
The initial training to operators and maintainers was imparted at IAI Malat, Israel where 16 Internal Pilots, 11 Observers, 8 External Pilots, 06 Technical Officers and 75 technical and non-technical sailors had undergone theory classes in 2002. The Intensive Flying and Trials Unit (IFTU) was then setup on 31 Aug 02 at INS Garuda and was tasked with aircraft acceptance, training of operator and technical crew, evaluation and trials of aircraft and sensors, formulation of doctrines, operating and maintenance procedures.
Flying training commenced in Jan 2003 with the OEM withdrawing gradually as the unit personnel began gaining expertise. Routine and training flying gave way to operational exploitation and the unit started regularly participating in exercises off both coasts from ships and from various military and non-military airfields. Training of technical officers and sailors was also taken up by the OJT cell to hand over the freshly acquired expertise to successive generations of maintainers.
IFTU was formally commissioned as an operational squadron, INAS 342, on 06 Jan 2006 with the, then, Officer-in-Charge, Cdr Rajesh Kawatra, assuming Command. Today, INAS 342 has pioneered forth into a new era in aviation as a fully functional squadron valued and sought in any theatre of operations.
Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash (centre), Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Command Vice-Admiral S.C.S. Bangara (right) in front of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle at the Southern Naval Command, Kochi, on January 6, 2006. — Photo: Vipin Chandra (The Hindu)