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Hunter, hunted set to rendezvous: Long range aircraft, submarine to be parked together in Visakhapatnam

New Delhi: The hunter and the hunted are set to rendezvous by a beach in India's east coast city, Visakhapatnam.

In a feat of military history, the last of the Indian Navy's cold war-era submarine-hunting planes, a Tupolev-142M long range maritime patrol aircraft, is slated to be towed through the city to rest near an a cold war-era Foxtrot-class submarine. The submarine, that used to be the INS Kursura, is a museum. The plane will also be converted into one.

The Tupolev landed at the Indian Naval Air Station (INAS) Dega in Visakhapatnam on Saturday morning. It was received by, among others, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh state, Chandrababu Naidu. It was flown by the six-man crew capable of flying it from INAS Rajali, Arakonnam, Tamil Nadu. The rest of the crew have converted to or are in training to fly the modern US (Boeing)-origin P8I surveillance aircraft.

In a sense the change-over of the squadron from the Tupolevs to the Boeings signify more than a technology-shift. The shift may be marking strategic and diplomatic moves.

aircraft sujan dutta

The TU-142M that landed in INAS (Indian Naval Air Station) Dega, Visakhapatnam. Photo procured by Sujan Dutta

Andhra chief minister Naidu has a history of offering to host military platforms that have been rendered out of service. It is a chequered history, one that is still riling the Indian Navy. He had offered to anchor the de-commissioned aircraft carrier, Viraat, off Vizag. He proposed to use it as a museum/tourist resort. But the one-time payment of Rs 1,000 crore that would be the cost of towing and refurbishing the flat-top has put off possible suitors.

Even the UK, from whom India had bought the ship, has looked the other way. The Viraat used to be the HMS Hermes in the service of the Royal Navy. She was the flagship in the 1982 Falklands war in her majesty's service. It was sold to India in 1986 and at the time of its de-commissioning last month, it was the oldest aircraft carrier in the world.

The Tupolevs, also decommissioned last month, have met with a kinder fate in a season when exhibiting military hardware is gelling with exhibitionist nationalism.

The cost of maintaining the Tupolev would be the price of its air-conditioning. The plane that landed at the INAS Dega on Saturday will have its wings, with contra-rotating propellers, cut. The wingspan is 50 metres. If the wings are not cut it would mow down half of Visakhapatnam.

The Kursura that is a submarine museum on Beach Road, Visakhapathnam. Photo procured by Sujan Dutta

The Kursura that is a submarine museum on Beach Road, Visakhapathnam. Photo procured by Sujan Dutta

Then the 53-metre long fuselage will be towed through the city to the Ramakrishna beach. The wings would be welded back. And the hunter and the hunted would in all likelihood face each other, should the Centre approve the Andhra government's proposal.

On the west coast, however, the 28,000-tonne Viraat continues to rust and rot and occupy a precious berth in the Bombay naval dockyards. A carrier before it, the Vikrant, was also proposed to be turned into a museum by the Maharashtra government. The government could not afford the idea.

Then the carrier was taken to Alang, the ship-breaking town on the coast of Gujarat, and cut-up. Its steel was bought by an automobile company that launched a two-wheeler with the name of the warship. It would be patriotic to ride the bike, the company claimed.

The Indian Navy does not want the same fate for the Viraat. But it may be left with no choice. Funnily, what sails does not have wings. What has wings sails through.

Updated Date: Apr 08, 2017 20:08 PM

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