India’s future highways could be the latest force multiplier for its air force.
The Indian Air Force wants new public roads to be designed to serve as runways for its warplanes, providing an alternative for launching operations if key airfields are bombed out by the enemy, said a top officer.
The IAF, which has 53 airfields across the country, has firmed up an ambitious plan for emergency airstrips in important sectors — identifying road locations, minimum infrastructure requirement and portable logistics support.
It shared the plan for backup runways with the ministry of road transport and highways.
The first such runway is likely to come up on the 302km Lucknow-Agra Expressway, likely to be operational by the year-end.
As part of its plan to use highways as runways, the IAF landed a Mirage 2000 fighter on the Yamuna Expressway in 2015, days after two combat planes landed on an airstrip in Saifai village in UP’s Etawah.
“We have communicated with the road transport ministry and got the plan for future road constructions … We have identified the roads, which are coming up and can be utilised (as backup runways),” a senior IAF officer was quoted as saying in a report tabled in Parliament on May 3.
He said the IAF had covered significant ground over the past year.
Also, existing road sections have been identified for converting them into alternative airfields with a straight stretch of at least 3km.
Alternative runways are likely to dot new highways in Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Maharashtra — states where several fighter squadrons are based.
“We are not just looking at recovering fighters on roads. The plan is to create facilities that can be quickly converted into airfields that allow us to reload ammunition and launch missions,” said another IAF officer who did not wish to be named.
Countries known to have emergency airstrips on highways include China, Germany, Sweden and Singapore.
The new facilities, where peacetime training will be carried out, are set to come at a cost as state governments will have to acquire more land to convert road stretches into full-fledged airfields.
Such highway sections must fulfill requirements needed to land a plane and for takeoff such as installation of runway lighting, firefighting equipment, communication network, radars, weapon storage and makeshift air traffic control.