Upgrading air bases to counter attacks: IAF chief
Apprehending a worst-case scenario of simultaneous air and ground strikes by Pakistan and China, the Indian Air Force (IAF)is creating new fighter and transport bases close to the border in Jammu and Kashmir to tackle the pincer attacks.
The IAF plan involves transforming Nyoma—located in eastern Ladakh within 25 km of Sino-Indian border—into a fighter-base and augmenting the capability of Kargil air base so that heavy lift troop carriers can land there.
The IAF has received permission from the Defence Ministry to modernise Nyoma for full-fledged fighter operations. The Second World War advanced landing ground was reactivated in 2009 following heightened threat perception from China.
“The length of the Nyoma airstrip will be12,000 ft so that it can support all types of aircraft, including fighters. The Cabinet Committee on Security approval is awaited,” said IAF chief NAK Browne on the eve of IAF Day on October 8.
At the same time, Kargil runway’s length will be extended to 6,000 ft so that medium and heavy lift troop carriers like C-17, IL-76 and C-130 J can land. “In due course, fighters will fly from there. Our priority currently is to make it ready for heavy-duty transport aircraft as an alternative to Thoise,” he said.
In the eastern sector, Charbatia airbase in Odisha, too, will be converted into a major transport hub with six brand new C-130J Super Hercules, which will not only quickly drop troops and equipment close to the border but also guard the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. “We will order six more C-130J from the US, which will be placed in the eastern theatre at Charbatia. They can also be used at the Car Nicobar base,” Browne said.
In 2008, India signed a $ 1.1 billion deal with US arms major Lockheed Martin to purchase half-a-dozen C-130J transport aircraft. Five of them have already been delivered to its base station at Hindon near Delhi and the sixth one will be coming in November.
The IAF chief asserted that the force wil maintain a fighter strength of 34 squadron henceforth and go up to 42 squadrons by 2022 – end of the 13th plan period – to retain air superiority over the neighbours.
Old aircraft—fighters, trainers, transporters and helicopters—are being gradually replaced to transform the air force into a more agile and potent force. “By the end of 13th plan, the IAF will be able to serve all of India’s strategic interests,” he said.
The IAF is also getting brand new Mi-17 V-5 helicopters from Russia.
The first four arrived last month. By the middle of October, the first squadron of 10 choppers will be ready. The phasing out of MiG-21 flown by 17 Squadron from Bhatinda will start in October. The MiG-21s will be replaced by a squadron of Su-30 MKI by early next year.
Swiss basic trainer for rookie pilots
The IAF rookie pilots may soon hope to fly a new hassle-free aircraft as the country is about to sign a deal to purchase Swiss-made basic trainer Pilatus PC-7 for their training purpose. “We are at the final stage and hope to sign the trainer aircraft contract by October end,” Indian Air Force chief N A K Browne said here on Monday. The new trainer was required because the 1988 vintage HPT-32 had developed a serious technical snag and remained grounded since 2009. “There were 108 instances of engine cuts and 23 pilots were killed. The confidence level of young pilots (on flying HPT-32) was lost,” he admitted.