After 46 years of dedicated service to the Indian Navy, the Ilyushin-38 Sea Dragon Long Range Maritime Patrol aircraft took its final bow in a touching decommissioning ceremony at INS Hansa, Dabolim, on October 31, 2023. This poignant event, attended by high-ranking dignitaries, veteran officers, and sailors, marked the end of an illustrious era for the aircraft known for its formidable maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. The IL-38 Sea Dragon, symbolized by the powerful ‘Winged Stallion’ on its squadron crest, had dutifully safeguarded the nation’s maritime boundaries and played a vital role in strengthening India’s self-reliance. In a heartfelt address, Admiral R Hari Kumar, Chief of the Naval Staff, paid tribute to the unwavering dedication and resilience of the crews that had navigated the challenges over the years, heralding an era of sustained maritime operations. This farewell, while marking the conclusion of an era, opens a new chapter as two of these remarkable aircraft find their permanent homes, inspiring future generations at maritime heritage museums.
In a poignant decommissioning ceremony that took place on October 31, 2023, at INS Hansa, Dabolim, the Indian Navy’s Ilyushin-38 Sea Dragon Long Range Maritime Patrol aircraft said its final goodbye after 46 years of illustrious service to the nation. The event was graced by the Chief of the Naval Staff, dignitaries, and esteemed veteran officers and sailors of the IL-38 squadron, alongside their families, who gathered to reminisce about the aircraft’s yeoman service.
The journey of INAS 315 commenced on October 1, 1977, with the induction of the IL-38 aircraft, ushering in a new era of advanced Airborne Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities in the Navy. The IL-38 SD, with its distinctive capabilities, remarkable striking power, and extensive reach covering the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean region, has proven itself to be a formidable force multiplier over the years. The squadron’s emblem, featuring the mighty ‘Winged Stallion,’ has embodied the squadron motto, ‘Victory is my Profession,’ diligently safeguarding the nation’s maritime boundaries with unwavering vigilance over and beneath the seas.
The dedicated men and women who manned and maintained these formidable aircraft ensured unwavering mission readiness and the efficient utilization of the aircraft and mission systems. In its final phase of service, the aircraft played a crucial role in advancing ‘Aatmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) capabilities by successfully integrating indigenous Sahayak Air Droppable Containers, providing critical logistics support to sea-deployed units, and serving as a trial platform for torpedoes. Notably, the aircraft also featured prominently in the 2023 Republic Day Flypast in New Delhi.
During the ceremony, Admiral R Hari Kumar, Chief of the Naval Staff, conveyed his heartfelt appreciation to “Team 315,” both past and present, paying homage to their predecessors, guides, mentors, and those who are no longer with us. He lauded the crew’s resilience, determination, and hard work in overcoming numerous challenges, allowing the Winged Stallions to dominate the skies. Admiral Kumar remarked, “And yet, you prevailed; the aircraft performed; the squadron peaked; and the Navy shifted to an era of normalizing sustained Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare operations in our primary areas of interest.”
The de-induction of the IL-38 SD signifies the end of a glorious era that introduced groundbreaking capabilities in Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare operations. The aircraft’s operational role as the ‘Eyes in the Sky’ in the ever-evolving and dynamic Indian Ocean Region and its invaluable contributions during mission-critical deployments will forever be etched in the annals of Indian Naval Aviation history.
While the era of flying has come to a close, two of these venerable aircraft will find a permanent home 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.