The Indian Air Force wants to step up its offensive capabilities in the sensitive Ladakh sector by deploying fighter planes at a strategic military airbase barely 20 km from the Chinese border.
A proposal to develop the Nyoma airstrip in eastern Ladakh into a full-fledged base will be taken up by the Cabinet Committee on Security in November, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne said on Friday.
The fighter base, closest to the Chinese border, will come up at a cost of Rs. 2,173 crore.
Basing fighters near the line of actual control (LAC) will reduce strike distance, allowing combat planes to carry extra weapons and lesser fuel.
"Nyoma is an important location…We will operate fighter planes, cargo aircraft and helicopters from there," Browne said at a press briefing ahead of the IAF's 81st anniversary on October 8.
It will take four to five years to develop the Nyoma airbase.
The proposal, approved by the defence ministry, is being examined by the finance ministry.
The Nyoma airstrip, located at a height of 13,300 feet, was reactivated in September 2009 after more than 45 years with the symbolic landing of an Antonov-32 cargo plane, a year after advanced landing grounds at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) and Fukche were made operational close to the LAC.
The IAF's presence near the Chinese border is growing steadily.
The C-130J 'Super Hercules' aircraft - configured for special operations and airborne assault --- have carried out five landings at the 16,614-foot DBO airstrip since August 20 when the US-built plane first landed there.
The planes would help quicker deployment of troops and logistics if hostilities were to break out.
The air force is also upgrading seven airfields in the eastern sector at a cost of Rs. 720 crore to expand its arc of operations.
Plans are afoot to upgrade the Kargil airstrip so that the IAF can operate fighter planes, C-17 heavy-lift planes and C-130Js from there.
The air force's AN-32 transport planes have been undertaking regular flights to Nyoma to prepare its air and ground crews to operate there.