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In an era where strategic military capabilities are continually evolving, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is redefining its approach to maritime power projection. With the integration of advanced aircraft and cutting-edge technology, IAF officers are increasingly confident that platforms like the SEPECAT Jaguar IM/IS and the multi-role Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters can deliver more economical and secure maritime strike capabilities compared to traditional aircraft carriers.

The SEPECAT Jaguar IM fleet has long been a cornerstone of the IAF’s maritime strike force. These aircraft, now armed with AGM-84L Block II Harpoon missiles, represent a formidable asset in India’s maritime arsenal. The Harpoon missile, known for its precision and destructive power, significantly enhances the Jaguars’ strike capabilities against naval targets.

Moreover, the Jaguars are being upgraded with Israel Aerospace Industries’ Elta EL/M-2052/2060 multi-mode active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. This advanced radar system boosts the aircraft’s capability to detect and engage sea-borne targets with improved accuracy and reliability, making the Jaguars an even more potent tool for maritime operations.

In early 2020, the IAF commissioned its first squadron of Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters armed with the BrahMos-A (Air) supersonic cruise missile at Thanjavur on India’s southeast coast. This strategic move was aimed at enhancing the IAF’s ability to monitor and defend India’s seacoasts and the wider Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

The Su-30MKI, already renowned for its versatility and combat prowess, is further empowered by the integration of the BrahMos-A missile. This supersonic cruise missile enables the Su-30MKI to engage potential maritime targets with pinpoint accuracy, significantly boosting India’s maritime strike capability. Military planners assert that the Su-30MKI’s enhanced maritime strike potential ensures robust deterrence and a swift response to any threats in the IOR.

In addition to these airborne capabilities, there is a growing preference among some naval strategists to upgrade the military infrastructure of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. By establishing an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) maritime ‘exclusive zone’ around the archipelago, India can create a formidable deterrent against hegemonic powers, particularly the Chinese navy.

The Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, while immovable, offers significant strategic advantages. It is a permanent presence in the Indian Ocean, serving as an unsinkable aircraft carrier that can host a range of military assets. Upgrading its capabilities is seen as a cost-effective alternative to maintaining an expensive and vulnerable aircraft carrier fleet. Additionally, the islands’ strategic location enables India to monitor and control critical sea lanes, enhancing maritime security.

The shift towards utilizing advanced fighter aircraft and fortified island bases reflects a pragmatic approach to maritime defense. Aircraft carriers, while symbolizing power projection, come with significant financial and operational costs. They are also susceptible to modern anti-ship missiles and other asymmetric threats.

In contrast, leveraging platforms like the Jaguar IM/IS and Su-30MKI fighters offers a more economical and secure solution. These aircraft can rapidly respond to threats, provide extended strike ranges, and operate with a high degree of flexibility. Furthermore, enhancing the capabilities of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands ensures a persistent and resilient maritime defense posture.