The Indian Navy started progressively thinking of inducting an air element to its combat mechanism in the 1950s. After due deliberations, the force commissioned INS Garuda, the first naval air station in Kochi. INS Garuda was well-welded operationally to the Southern Naval Command (SNC), the training command of the force.
As warfare and combat became technology intensive, the three-point 'preparedness' concept of search, locate and track assumed importance.
To add teeth to the conventional capabilities, the Navy thought of inducting 'unmanned air elements'. This prompted the launch of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
EYE IN THE SKY
The UAVs are basically highly maneuverable stealth sensors in the sky. That the UAVs are also a peace-time reconnaissance and tracking asset worked in its favor.
The Navy acquired two variants of the UAV - the Sketcher Mk II and the more capable Heron from IAI Malat, an Israeli arms maker, in December 2002.
The UAVs provide the force strategic advantages like over-the-horizon-targeting (OTHT), search and rescue (SAR) assistance, and battle damage assessment.
Now, the IFTU is tasked with 'aircraft acceptance,' operator and crew training, evaluation and trials of aircraft and sensors, and formulation of operational doctrines.
After many rounds of 'training flying,' the unit has been engaged in operational flying from off-coast and land, and non-military platforms.
After initial training of a batch of 16 'pilots,' the Intensive Flying and Trials Unit was set up at INS Garuda.
IFTU was formally commissioned as an operational squadron, INAS 342, on January 6, 2006.
(Courtesy: Indian Navy)