The Indian Navy phased out the iconic ‘Sea Harrier’ maritime fighter jets on Wednesday after 33 years of service.

Speaking at a ceremony held at INS Hansa base in Vasco (Goa) to bid adieu to Sea Harriers, Chief of the Indian Navy Admiral R K Dhowan said that they ‘de-inducted’ the ageing Sea Harriers and replaced them with MiG 29K fighter aircraft in order to boost the country’s naval strength. The chief of the Naval Staff also said: “Today is the day to salute the pilots who flew Sea Harrier aircraft which made a mark for itself by protecting our seas…It’s a distinct honour and proud privilege to induct multi-role supersonic MiG 29K in the 300 squadron. It marks the induction of multi-role supersonic technology in Indian Navy.”

Before flying into the sunset, Sea Harriers displayed a vertical landing formation at the western Indian naval base. The Indian Navy had inducted Sea Harriers in the 1980’s after phasing out of then obsolete ‘Seahawks’. Admiral Dhowan recalled that the Navy had formed the Sea Harrier Project (SHARP) in September 1980 with select naval aviators and technical personnel for co-ordination of trials, testing, acceptance and training. And the first newly-built Sea Harrier – IN 601 – was ready on December 21, 1982.

The Indian Navy’s Sea Harrier squadron was deployed during “Operation Vijay” in 1999 and embarked on the ‘INS Viraat’ – a Centaur-class aircraft carrier in service with the Indian Navy since 2013 – during “Operation Parakram” in 2001 when India’s standoff with neighbouring Pakistan was at an all-time high. The reconnaissance and strike fighters, inducted in 1983, operated for the last time from INS Viraat during the International Fleet Review off the Vizag coast in March.

The Sea Harrier, with vertical take-off and landing capability, could be fitted with anti-ship Sea Eagle missiles. It also had the ability to derby air-to-air visual range missiles and Matra Magic II (or R.550 Magic) short-range air-to-air missiles.

The chief of the Naval Staff explained that they decided to phase out Sea Harrier, as the Navy was facing a hard time in maintaining the fighter jets as British firm Rolls-Royce stopped manufacturing its parts. The plane was powered by a Rolls-Royce Pegasus turbofan engine. The British Royal Navy had retired its Sea Harriers 10 years ago. The fighters served the British Navy for 30 years during which they took part in 1982 Falkland War, two Gulf Wars, as well as in the Balkan war.

The Navy chief told the audience that the retired planes, built by British Aerospace, would be dispatched as mementos to different Indian naval aviation bases and the Naval Academy. Two of them may be preserved on the INS Viraat, said Admiral Dhowan. “In last few years, the Harriers added a new dimension to their operations with the increased multinational exercises in which the Indian Navy participates,” said the naval forces in a statement.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]