Iconic story of Tu-142M ‘Albatross’ : Indian Navy’s anti-submarine plane

After 29 years of service, the Tu-142M long range maritime patrol aircraft retired from the Indian Navy today.

Also known as the ‘Bear’ by NATO and ‘Albatross’ by the Indian Navy, due to its long wingspan, the Soviet era aircraft provided India with the required surveillance and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Making it a force to reckon with not only in the Indian Ocean Region, but across the world.

This is the story of this beast of a machine.

The birth of the ‘Bear’

During World War II the Soviet Union wanted a bomber comparable to those of the US. The former began developing such an aircraft that could have a range long enough to reach the US and drop nuclear bombs over it, in case of such an eventuality.

The Soviet Union designed and tested several such aircraft before the Tu-95, known as the ‘Bear’ by NATO, came into existence for this purpose.

Strategic Bomber

The Tu-95 is a strategic bomber and missile platform aircraft. It entered service with the Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to remain in service with Russia until 2040.

Different variants

There were several variants of the Bear, including experimental ones of being powered by a nuclear reactor or another similar one aimed at carrying fighter jets for airborne deployment.

On February 28, 1963 the Soviet Union issued an order to aerospace company, Tupolev (Russian), to develop an aircraft with search and targeting system and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. It was based on the Tu-95RTs (a variant of the Tu-95 meant for maritime reconnaissance and targeting).

What was produced were the Tu-142s, also known as Bears.

Soviet Navy

The aircraft was commissioned into the Soviet Navy in December, 1972. The creation of this aircraft came following the US Navy’s development of the UGM-27 Polaris, a submarine launched ballistic missile- having a range of more than 1800 kilometres- in the 1950s.

The Bear comes to India

INAS 312 Maritime Reconnaissance Squadron based at INS Rajali under the Eastern Naval Command was commissioned on November 18, 1976, at INS Hansa, Goa with five Lockheed L1049G Super Constellation aircraft acquired from the IAF’s number 6 Squadron.

After the de-induction of the Super Constellation in 1983, the Tu-142M (an updated version) Long Range Maritime Patrol aircraft, was inducted into the Indian Navy at Dabolim, Goa from erstwhile USSR in 1988.

The first three

On March 30, 1988, the first three Tu-142Ms (Albatross) arrived at INS Hansa, Goa, after a flight from Simferopol (Gvardeyskoye Air Base).By the end of October, 1988, a fleet of eight Tu-142Ms was delivered.

Eastern Command

The aircraft subsequently shifted base permanently to INS Rajali in 1992, keeping in mind India’s Look East policy and became the most formidable LRMR ASW (Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare) aircraft of the Indian Navy. It became the navy’s mainstay for such operations for close to three decades.

INAS 312 has the unique distinction of operating the Tu-142M, which is the world’s heaviest, fastest and highest flying turboprop aircraft.

Operational Roles

The aircraft has had a distinguished service with more than 30,000 hours of accident free flying with the Indian Navy. It has undergone several modifications to keep it updated with the evolving technology and changing requirements of the Indian Navy.

The aircraft has participated in major Indian naval exercises and operations. It saw action during Operation Cactus in Maldives. It has participated in operational missions off Sri Lanka to provide airborne surveillance. It has also rendered its service in Op Vijay in 1998, Op Parakram in 2002 and anti-piracy operations from 2011 onwards.

Despite being in its twilight year, the aircraft performed exceptionally well during the recently conducted Naval Exercise TROPEX in March this year.

Speed and stealth

The Tu-142M with its our powerful engines, contra rotating propellers, slender fuselage and swept wings was the ‘Eye in the sky’ for the Indian Navy. It provided real time inputs in the Indian Ocean Region. And fighter jets found it difficult to intercept due to its speed and stealth.

It has sensors that can detect low noise, nuclear powered submarines. It can carry torpedoes, free fall bombs and depth charges.

In 2008, the Albatross got sharper sight by fitting the ELTA Radar from Israel in it.

Retirement

The long range maritime patrol aircraft, Tu-142M, flew into the sunset today at INS Rajali, a naval air station in Arakkonam.

Welcoming the next generation

The role of Tu-142M will now be taken on by the newly inducted long range maritime patrol aircraft Boeing P-8l aircraft.

The P-8I aircraft has proven all its systems and has been fully integrated into the operational grid of the Indian Navy.

The previous Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had inducted the P-8I on November 13, 2015. It will be the third kind of aircraft after the Lockheed L1049G Super Constellation and the Tu-142M to be operated by INAS 312 squadron.

The P-8I aircraft is a variant of the P-8A Poseidon aircraft that Boeing developed as a replacement for the US Navy’s ageing P-3 fleet.

Capabilities of the P8I

The P-8I aircraft is equipped for long range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, surveillance and reconnaissance.

With its high speed and high endurance of about 10 hours, the aircraft has been pitted to be capable of maintaining a watch over India’s immediate and extended areas of interest.

By: ET

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