Indian Navy retires Harriers, picks Russian MiG 29Ks

The Indian Navy is set to bid farewell to its unique short take-off/vertical landing Sea Harrier fighter aircraft which will make way for new MiG 29K/Kub fighters.

Harriers will fly from an Indian Navy ship for the last time during a May 11 ceremony at INS Hansa, Dabolim, Goa. Commander Shikhu Raj, a Sea Harrier pilot, will hand over the command of the Indian Naval Air Squadron 300 (INAS 300) to Captain KHV Singh, a MiG 29K pilot.

The Indian Navy ordered the initial six Sea Harrier FRS Mk 51 fighters and two T Mk 60 trainers. A total of 30 aircraft subsequently entered service with the Indian Navy.

The first Harrier landed on the Indian Navy aircraft carrier INS Vikrant on Dec 20, 1983. Designed and Manufactured by British Aerospace, Sea Harrier is a naval Short/Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VSTOL) Jet Fighter, Reconnaissance and Strike aircraft. It first entered service with the Royal Navy in April 1980.

Its ability of vertical takeoff and landing is the most unique feature of this fighter. It featured a single Rolls-Royce Pegasus turbofan engine with two intakes and four vectorable nozzles producing 21500 pounds of thrust propelling the fighter at approximately 635 Knots. The fighters were capable of Air to Air Refueling to operate at extended ranges.

The Sea Harrier operated from both INS Vikrant and INS Viraat where use of the ski jump allowed the aircraft to take off from a short flight deck with a heavier load than otherwise possible, although it can also take off like a conventional loaded fighter without thrust vectoring from a normal airport runway.

The aircraft were operated by Indian Navy and Royal Navy. The squadron was deployed during Operation Vijay and embarked on the carrier during Operation Parakram providing the essential offensive posture to the country and ensuring readiness to react to any escalation by the enemy.

As part of the Royal Navy, Sea Harriers have served in the Falklands War, both of the Gulf Wars, and the Balkans conflicts, on all occasions it mainly operated from aircraft carriers positioned within the conflict zone.

The fighters were de-inducted from the Royal Navy in the year 2006. The last time these fighters operated from INS Viraat was on March 6, 2016. INS Viraat, the carrier these jets operated from is also set to retire this year as the oldest aircraft carrier in service in the world.