India inducted its frontline Sukhoi combat aircraft at its air force’s Halwara base in the northern state of Punjab, bordering Pakistan, on Sept. 25.

The Su-30MKI, the Indian-built version of the Russian combat aircraft, will replace the now phased-out, Soviet-origin MiG-23 fighters in the 220 Squadron also known as “Desert Tigers,” a defense ministry official says.

The first batch of Su-30MKIs was inducted into the Indian air force (IAF) in September 2002.

The Su-30MKI is an all-weather, air-dominance fighter that can undertake varied air combat and ground attack missions. Air Force Station Halwara is one of the oldest frontline air bases of the IAF. Since its inception as a forward airfield in 1942, Halwara, due to its strategic location, was actively involved in both 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars.

Halwara went from being home to Spitfires in the early 1950s to being the hub of MiG-23 operations until 2009. It was later chosen to base the first Su-30MKI Squadron in the Western Air Command in 2011.

The Desert Tigers were formed as an offensive fighter squadron on Feb. 9, 1963, the official says. Initially named the “Fighting Tigers,” the squadron flew the IAF’s first jet aircraft, the Vampire. The squadron has changed many bases during its 40-year journey and has taken part in the 1965 and 1971 wars, as well as the Kargil Operations against Pakistan.

While the squadron flew Vampires during the 1965 war, it flew the HF-24 Marut in 1971 from Jodhpur, where the squadron was given its current name.

The squadron later went on to fly the MiG-23 BN supersonic strike fighter until 2009. Having been inactive for two years, the Desert Tigers were resurrected with the Su-30MKI in September 2011.

India bought the Sukhois from Russia and initially inducted them in 1997. The MKI variant for India is built by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited under license.

Su-30 photo: Sukhoi