CHENNAI, India, April 12 (UPI) -- The Indian navy has commissioned its third unmanned aerial vehicle squadron.
The INAS 344 squadron is stationed at the INS Parundu naval air station near Uchipuli in Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu.
At the commissioning ceremony for the squadron, which will be known as "Spirited Shadower," Eastern Naval Command Commander in Chief Vice Adm. Anil Chopra said the induction pointed to the important of the Indian UAV program, the Press Trust of India reported.
"With the commissioning of INAS 344, the navy's third UAV squadron at the INS Parundu, and the planned extension of the runway, the operation reach, sustenance and relevance of the base will increase exponentially," Chopra said.
"The development of Sethusamudram project also underscored the significance of INS Parundu in general and INAS with her UAVs particular."
The UAV squadron is the first to be based on India's eastern coast. The UAV squadron, commanded by Cmdr. Vinit Anand, will be operating Heron (Machatz-1) and the Searcher MK II (Meyromit) UAVs, both built by Israel Aerospace Industries.
The unit is staffed with 50 sailors and 12 officers.
Chopra noted the significance of the Indian Ocean region for India and the importance of its international maritime trade and the new UAV squadron will undertake maritime surveillance and reconnaissance missions in the Palk Strait, Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay off the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh coastlines, in close proximity to Sri Lanka.
"These aircraft with long endurance and stealth capabilities are ideally suited for search and detection," the Indian Ministry of Defense said in a release. "The commissioning of the UAV squadron will provide value addition to the surveillance capability of the Eastern Naval Command and augment the efforts at enhancing coastal security along the east coast."
The Indian navy's first UAV squadron, INAS 342 in Kochi, was established in 2006 and performs operational missions as well as training. The Indian navy's second UAV squadron was commissioned at Porbandar in Guajarat in 2011.
Two of the four UAVs, which were tested and operated at Kochi squadron, have been deployed to INS Parundu, with the remaining two are expected to be deployed shortly.
"Right now our focus is on training and improving the operational proficiency of our personnel in operating UAVs," Anand said. "It will be immensely useful for intensive training, coastal mapping, collection of data and other missions."
INS Parundu Commanding Officer Capt. A. B. Bellary noted: "It is an important milestone as far as maritime surveillance of the region is concerned. It will be handy for surveillance, mapping, data collection, tracking, analysis and other operations."