Text & Photos: Indian Navy
Two unit citations, over 80,000 hrs of flying, operations in – 1971 (East Pakistan), 1999 ('Op Vijay'), 2002 ('Op Parakram'); only Indian carrier borne Anti-Submarine Warfare Squadron, only Indian Information Warfare Squadron- Indian Naval Air Squadron (INAS) 310, 'COBRAs'- marked its Golden Jubilee on March 21 in a grand function in INS Hansa, Goa.
Over 100 odd veterans mingled with the squadron crew, greeted each other and reminisced of operations over fifty years, with two different aircraft types four different specialisations (Anti-Submarine Warfare, Maritime Reconnaissance, Information Warfare, Para Dropping) and an operational area that had spanned from Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific and from Jammu and Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and Rajasthan to Bangladesh. The celebrations started with the traditional Cake cutting and Bara Khana while INS Hansa put up an impressive air display on the occassion. The occassion was also marked with the IN sky diving team launching itself from the squadron's Para Dornier. Later in the evening a special cover and a coffee table book were released by Shri Digambar Kamat Chief Minister of Goa, in the presence of Admiral Nirmal Verma, the Chief of Naval Staff. The squadron is also hosting an International Seminar on 'Airborne Maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)” on 22 Mar 11.
INAS 310 was commissioned on 21 Mar 1961 in Heyres, France by Lt Cdr Mihir K Roy (later Vice Admiral). A unique privilege as the commissioning was on a French Aircraft carrier 'Arromanches', unusual as the squadron was ultimately to operate from INS Vikrant being acquired from the UK. The COBRAs proudly operated the Alizes from INS Vikrant for the next twenty six years ie till 10 May 1987. The Alizes saw action during the 1971 Indo-Pak war when the squadron's aircraft flew extensively, remarkably, even by night. The squadron earned six Vir Chakras, six Nao Sena Medals and three mention-in-Despatches for these operations. Most notable amongst those present today were Vice Adm M K Roy, the commissioning Commanding Officer and Cmde RAJ Anderson, the pilot who carried out the first landing of the Alize on INS Vikrant.
With the induction of the Dornier 228, in 1991, the squadron transformed itself from a carrier borne ASW squadron to a shore based Maritime Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare squadron. The squadron's exploitation of the Electronic Suite on board, and demonstrated domain expertise, earned it the distinction of being called the 'Information Warfare' squadron of the Indian Navy.
The Information Warfare reputation of the squadron was such that the squadron's services were requisitioned by the IAF and the Army for operations in the Western sector during the 1999 Kargil Operation. The squadron's aircraft operated far from any sea and from IAF airfields all along the Western border. The squadron earned the respect of the IAF and the Indian Army and its first unit citation from the Chief of Naval Staff. The 'Information Warfare' squadron had arrived.
Interestingly it was during this period that the COBRAs moulted from the blue and white skin to the steel grey skin. As recounted by a COBRA, “one day as we were returning to the (IAF) airfield from a sortie, the airfield being camouflaged was quite invisible but the Naval Dornier with its sparkling White wings shone like a torchlight. Immediately thereafter the Dorniers were recalled to Goa and repainted to a dull grey in two days and repositioned in the forward airfields”. The squadron now operates only grey Dorniers.
The COBRAs earned another unit citation in 2002 for their stellar performance during Operation Parakram. The squadron later inducted the 'Para' version of the Dornier and has now expanded its repertoire to include para dropping of Marine Commandoes.
The COBRAs, currently commanded by Cdr Sanjay Chauhan, continue to remain the backbone of the Maritime Reconnaissance stream and the only Information Warfare squadron of the Indian Navy.