By Ms Sadaf Khan, Archive and Collection Associate, Maritime History Society
Leading Fighter Air Squadron of the Indian Navy, the White Tigers was commissioned on 07 July 1960 by Mrs. Vijayalakshmi Pandit, the then High Commissioner of India in Brawdy, Whales UK. During the commissioning ceremony Mrs. Pandit gave the Squadron its Crest- ‘White Tiger of Rewa’. With nine gallantry awards and unaccountable achievements in many major operations, White Tigers is one of the only squadrons to have operated in all three fighter aircrafts of the Indian Navy, the Sea Hawks, Sea Harrier and MiG-29K; and from all three Aircraft Carrier Ships I.e. INS Vikrant (R11), INS Viraat (R22) and INS Vikramaditya.
The first set of pilots from the Squadron that operated the Sea Hawks were trained by the Royal Navy in the UK. In November of 1961, Pandit Nehru and then Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon welcomed INS Vikrant (R11) and the Squadrons off Mumbai harbour. Although the Squadron was ready to strike during the 1962 (Indo-Sino) and 1965(Indo-Pak) wars, it was held back from active participation in these conflicts.
It was during the 1971 Indo-Pak war when the White Tigers successfully led the Indian Armed Forces from the air, over the seas. INS Vikrant (R11) was in her prime during the war, destroying all warehouses and sinking more than twenty merchant ships, gun boats, cargo ships and blocking the sea routes out of Bangladesh. The Aircrafts were on Combat Air Patrol (CAP) which ensured that no supplies went in and out of Bangladesh. The Sea Hawks were rigged with four 40 mm guns, carried two 1,000-pound and four 500- pound bombs and 24 rockets; it was a sub-sonic aircraft, which flew below the speed of sound, and reached a maximum height of 40,000 feet and attacked the Chittagong Port (modern day Bangladesh). The Sea Hawks emerged unscathed with the highest kill ratio for any aircraft in the entire war. The Sea Hawk served the Indian Navy just over two decades before being replaced by the Sea Harrier.
Introduction of Sea Harriers to the Indian Navy brought forward the concept of Short/Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VSTOL), meaning that the aircraft could hover, take off and land vertically without relying on a runway; it was one of the most unique feature of the aircraft. The Sea Harrier, a jet fighter and strike aircraft provided air defence to the naval fleet by operating from the aircraft carriers. The fighter was also capable of firing rockets and dropping bombs in shore bombardment role or in action against lightly armed ships. During this time the squadron performed exceptionally in Operation Vijay and during Operation Parakram it provided the essential offensive posture to the country while ensuring readiness to react to any escalation by the enemy. Along with this the squadron also participated in numerous multinational exercises. The White Tigers were entirely comprised of Sea Harriers from 1984 to 2016. The Sea Harriers were replaced after thirty-three years of service with MiG 29K/Kub fighters in 2016.
The MiG-29K are frontline fighter jets dominating the air and projecting punch in their missions while providing the Indian naval aviation a stature to dominate. The MiG 29K is an all-weather aircraft based on carrier ships, these fighter jets were specially built for the Indian Navy. With a maximum speed of that over twice the speed of sound (about 2000 kmph), the aircraft is capable of pulling up to 8 times the force of gravity. It can also climb to an altitude of over 65000 feet. The MiG-29K is armed with an arsenal of some of the most sophisticated weapons in the world while being entirely equipped to dominate by engaging the targets in air, at sea or on land. It is capable of air- to- air refuelling which supports its power projection and air space dominance role.
The 300 Squadron was amongst the first Indian Units to undertake tri-service co-operation, which meant having an Army Officer and an Air Force Officer along with Naval Officers in its strength. The Squadron manned by the White Tigers projected power over the Indian Seas and continue to do so even today. The White Tigers hold the title of Indian Navy’s longest standing Air Squadron and they celebrated its Golden Jubilee on 07th July 2010. Throughout their service the White Tigers showed exceptional bravery and valour for which they have earned nine gallantry awards including one Maha Vir Chakra and five Vir Chakras, proving themselves to be one of Indian Navy’s highly decorated units.
- Pasricha Vinod, Downwind, Four Green, Pashmira Publications, 2010
- Ministry of Defence, Government of India. 2016.pib gov.in. https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=145203.
- Indian Navy, www.indiannavy.nic.in, https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/content/indian-navy-bid-adieu-sea-harrier-fighters
- Indian Navy, www.indiannavy.nic.in, https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/content/mig-29k-kub
- The Economic Times, economictimes.indiatimes.com, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/indian-navys-the-white-tigers-completes-60-years/inas-3000/slideshow/76851032.cms
- The Tribune, www.tribuneindia.com, https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/features/1971-war-hero-on-role-of-ins-vikrant-sea-hawks-221772