The Indian Air Force is pursuing a plan to ramp up its airbases in Ladakh for better troop and logistics support. The plan takes off this week.
The air force is kicking off training flights to newly-operationalised airbases in northeastern Ladakh, not too far from the line of actual control (LOAC) with China, to prepare air and ground crews to operate these border airstrips regularly.
Three airbases located at lung-searing altitudes ranging from 13,000 ft and to 16,200 ft had been lying defunct for over four decades. These were activated during the last one and half years by carrying out symbolic landings of An-32 transport planes.
Favouring substance over symbolism, the IAF now wants to fully exploit these airstrips at Daulet Beg Oldie, Fukche and Nyoma to support troops deployed in India’s farthest frontiers, close to areas illegally occupied by China and Pakistan.
“We are training crews and will subsequently move to operations,” said Air Marshal N A K Browne, who heads the operationally critical Western Air Command (WAC) responsible for launching defensive and offensive air operations in the western and northern sectors.
“It will give us more options to convey men and material to forward areas,” he said. The area of responsibility of the WAC spans over 3.8 lakh square km.
Experienced IAF pilots may have landed An-32 transport planes at these airstrips but these are currently not equipped for sustained operations.
“The planes have virtually been landing on sand and gravel. We will now make the landing strips concrete,” said a senior IAF officer.