After 46 illustrious years of service to the nation, the Indian Navy’s Ilyushin-38 Sea Dragon Long Range Maritime Patrol aircraft was formally decommissioned. The ceremony took place on October 31, 2023, at INS Hansa, Dabolim. The event was graced by the Chief of the Naval Staff, dignitaries, esteemed veteran officers and sailors of the IL-38 squadron, along with their families, all gathered to reminisce about the years of devoted service.
INAS 315 was established on October 1, 1977, marking a new era in airborne Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities in the Navy with the induction of IL-38 aircraft. Equipped with unique capabilities, formidable strike power, and an extensive operational range covering the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean region, the IL-38 SD proved to be a significant force multiplier over the years. The powerful emblem of the ‘Winged Stallion’ that graced the squadron crest truly embodied the squadron’s motto, ‘Victory is my Profession’, by vigilantly guarding over and beneath the seas, in its unwavering commitment to secure the nation’s maritime boundaries.
The dedicated men and women responsible for operating and maintaining these formidable aircraft ensured their continuous operational readiness and proficient utilization of both the aircraft and its mission systems. In its final phases, the aircraft furthered ‘Aatmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) capability enhancement by successfully integrating indigenous Sahayak Air Droppable Containers (critical logistics support for units deployed at sea) and served as a trial platform for torpedoes. Additionally, the aircraft featured prominently in the 2023 Republic Day Flypast in New Delhi.
Addressing the gathering, Adm R Hari Kumar, CNS, conveyed his appreciation to ‘Team 315’ – past and present, predecessors, guides, mentors, and those who are no longer with us. He commended the determination, focus, energy, and hard work of the crew that overcame various challenges, enabling these stallions to dominate the skies. He remarked, “And yet, you prevailed; the aircraft performed; the squadron peaked; and the Navy pivoted to an era of normalising sustained LRMR operations across our primary areas of interest”.
The de-induction ceremony of IL-38 SD marks the conclusion of a remarkable era that introduced pioneering capabilities in Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare operations. The instrumental role of IL-38 SD as the ‘Eyes in the Sky’ in the ever-evolving and dynamic Indian Ocean Region, along with its contributions during crucial mission deployments, will forever be etched in the annals of Indian Naval Aviation.
While the era of active flying may have drawn to a close, two of these aircraft will find their permanent homes at the National Maritime Heritage Museum in Lothal, Gujarat, and in Nipani, Karnataka, where they will serve as a source of inspiration for future generations.