Indian Naval Air Squadron (INAS) 330 or the ‘Harpoons’ completed 50 years of its existence on 17 April 2021. The squadron with moto ‘Any sea, Any mission, Any deck’ was commissioned on 17 April 1971 at INS Garuda, an Indian naval air station located in Kochi. The INSAS 330 squadron began operating the Seaking Mk 42 ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) helicopters, equipped with dunking sonar and anti submarine weapons, acquired from British Westland Helicopters Ltd. The helicopter was purchased in response to the Pakistan Navy’s use of modern submarines during the 1965 war.
On 26 July 71, a Seaking helicopter landed on the Indian Navy’s sole aircraft carrier INS Vikrant for the first time. The first operational ASW mission by a Seaking helicopter for the Indian Navy was flown on 18 October 1971 from the shore base. On 30 November 1971, the first vectored attack was carried out by the Seaking on a suspected submarine contact. During the war, the squadron notched 150 hours of flying as the helicopters operated only from the shore base. After the 1972-74 refit of INS Vikrant, the Seaking became its primary ASW air wing. Prior to that the Bréguet 1050 Alizé was the primary ASW aircraft of the carrier. The Seakings stopped flying from INS Vikrant from 1994.
In 1995, the squadron shifted to (Naval Air Station) NAS Kunjali in Mumbai, which is now called INS Shikra. The squadron currently operates the Seaking Mk 42 B variant which was inducted into the Indian Navy between 1988 and 1992. Nicknamed the “Flying Frigate”, the helicopter is capable of launching anti ship Sea Eagle missile, anti submarine torpedoes and depth charges.
“Seakings have been the backbone of Naval operations as far as I remember. The Flying Frigates as they were known because of their versatility and power that they carried, these multi role helicopters were the eyes and ears of the fleet. These helicopters brought immense pressure on enemy submarines, lurking outside our harbours in times of crises, and ensured that no harm was brought on to the fleet ships leaving/entering our harbours. When the Navy acquired them with INS Viraat, the Navy got transformed to a different level as the Carrier along with these assets embarked onboard was a very formidable force,” states Captain DK Sharma (Retd), former spokesperson Indian Navy.
These Seaking’s operate from most of the Indian Navy warships today. Initially, when the Indian Navy planned to operate the helicopters from the Leander Class ships, the western countries called the plan foolhardy as these ships had limited deck space and operating the huge Seaking helicopter from the ship during monsoons and in the night was considered tough. The squadron faced difficulties in operating the Seaking after the Shakti nuclear tests by India in 1998. Westland and the engine maker Rolls Royce complied with the US sanctions due to the US made parts in the helicopter. The sanctions were lifted in 2000. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and AgustaWestland signed a deal to jointly maintain the helicopter fleet.
To mark the occasion of the Golden Jubilee Of INAS 330, a special postal cover was unveiled by Vice Adm R Hari Kumar PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C) Western Naval Command on Saturday in the presence of HC Agrawal, Chief Post Master General of Maharashtra Circle and others at INS Shikra in Mumbai.