The Indian Navy has formally decommissioned its British Aerospace Sea Harrier FRS51 fighters at a formal ceremony at INS Hansa in Dabolim, Goa.

The phasing out of the Sea Harrier with Indian Naval Air Squadron 300 (INAS 300), ‘White Tigers’, coincided with the induction of the RSK MiG-29K carrier borne strike aircraft into the Squadron. The type’s final appearance in Indian skies saw two Sea Harriers perform a flying display with two MiG-29Ks that included flying in formation, a high-speed pass by the MiG-29K, and the Sea Harrier’s trademark vertical take-off and landing.

The Sea Harrier served for 33 years in the Indian navy, flying from the aircraft carriers INS Vikrant and INS Viraat in the fleet air defence role. The MiG-29Ks are embarked on INS Vikramaditya (formerly Admiral Gorshkov), with INS Viraat scheduled to be decommissioned this year.

India Sea Harrier

All images Atul Chandra

The ageing Sea Harriers were getting increasingly hard to maintain and flew for the last time from INS Viraat on 6 March. Despite their age, the Sea Harrier afforded a unique capability as a fleet air defence fighter in the Indian sub-continent after they were modernised as part of the Limited Upgrade Sea Harrier (LUSH) effort to carry Israeli Derby BVR missiles, ELTA EL/M-2032 multimode radars and a datalink.

Approximately 11 aircraft remained at the time of decommissioning, including two twin seat Sea Harrier trainers. The Sea Harrier fleet had a high attrition rate, with approximately half lost in accidents since the type was inducted.

India Sea Harrrier

With the retirement of the Sea Harrier and induction of the MiG-29K into INAS 300, the Indian Navy has two operational squadrons of the Russian carrier borne aircraft, which has been modified to suit a number of specific requirements of the Navy. The Indian Navy has placed orders for 16 MiG-29Ks in 2004 and 29 in 2010. It has taken delivery of an estimated 40 examples.

India's first MiG-29K squadron, INAS 303, was stood up in 2013.

India Sea Harrier

The Indian Navy decided to acquire the Sea Harrier FRS Mk 51 in 1979, placing orders for six single seat fighters and two T Mk 60 trainers. The type replaced the Hawker Sea Hawk, which was phased out in 1978.

The arrival of VSTOL capability was heralded in India when the first three Sea Harriers, landed at Dabolim on 16 December 1983. The Indian Navy operated its FRS Mk 51 aircraft for a full decade after the Royal Navy retired the type in 2006.