A seasoned and experienced fighter pilot of the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been appointed to take charge of Hasimara Air Force Station (AFS), West Bengal, at a time when the airbase is gearing up to soon house Rafale fighter aircraft of the 101 ‘Falcons of Chamb and Akhnoor’ squadron.
The Hasimara AFS, considered a strategic IAF airbase, is waiting for the Rafales to arrive this year while the 101 Squadron is expected to be formally inducted in July.
Under the Eastern Air Command of the IAF, Hasimara base is closest to the Chumbi Valley trijunction between the Indian state of Sikkim, Bhutan and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). The airpower from this base can be projected over some major Chinese airfields in TAR, said IAF sources.
The defence spokesperson shared that Air Commodore Ashish Srivastava, who took charge of Hasimara AFS, is a CAT ‘A’ qualified flying instructor and experimental test pilot. As a test pilot, he has done major trials on Mirage 2000 and Jaguar aircraft.
He flew the Tejas light combat aircraft during trials at National Flight Test Centre, ADA, and has over 5600 hours of flying experience on 18 different types of fighter, transport and trainer aircraft. Commissioned into the fighter stream of IAF in 1993, he has commanded the only maritime Jaguar squadron at an operational base.
The Ministry of Defence had announced that Hasimara would house the second Rafale squadron after the ‘Golden Arrows’ at Ambala airbase. The Hashimara AFS, in Alipurduar district, provides air defence cover over a narrow land corridor stretching from Bangladesh to Nepal and Bhutan.
Interestingly, the air force station was started as a private airstrip used by Dakota aircraft of Jam Air and Kalinga Air. It used to be known as the ‘House of Hunters’ since it hosted three squadrons of the Hunter aircraft. It later became the base for Mig-21 fighters.
At present, Hasimara AFS has become more significant in the wake of the Indo-China conflict, and Air Commodore Srivastava’s role will be crucial in the operations of this airbase, defence sources said