New Delhi: With an eye on China, the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Monday gave South India its first squadron of the Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jets, by reactivating its 222 Squadron, also called the ‘Tigersharks.’

The induction ceremony took place at IAF’s Thanjavur air base, where it will be based, in the presence of  Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal (ACM) RKS Bhadauria and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief G Satheesh Reddy, too, was present at the induction ceremony.

The move, according to experts, will provide India with a ‘lethal weapons platform’ to keep a ‘strategic eye’ over the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), particularly the Bay of Bengal. The jets will be capable to carry out precision strikes against hostile aircraft carriers or other high-value targets by day as well as night in all-weather conditions in the regions.

The jets have been modified to carry supersonic BrahMos missile, which, due to its range of nearly 300 (290) kilometres, will help the squadron strike at targets deep within the IOR. While initially the squadron will have between five-six jets, it will complete its full quota of 18 by the end of the year.

The 222 Squadron was first raised at the IAF’s Ambala station in Haryana in September 1969 with Sukhoi Su-7s fighter jets. After being shifted to Halwara in neighbouring Punjab in July 1971, it took part in the war with Pakistan later that year, with its pilots winning several gallantry awards.

In December 1985, it also became the first squadron to be equipped with the MiG-27s and was officially decommissioned in 2011.