The Indian Air Force is pressing ahead with a plan to intensify its operations in the sensitive Ladakh sector, with special-mission planes being landed every week at the world’s highest military airstrip located at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), despite resistance from China.
Sources said the IAF’s C-130J ‘Super Hercules’ aircraft, configured for special operations and airborne assault, have carried out at least five landings at the 16,614-foot DBO airstrip since August 20 — when the US-built plane first landed there.
The airstrip is located barely 8km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which has been the scene of a string of Chinese incursions that have caused friction between the two Asian giants.
An IAF source said, “We want to exploit the capability of the planes to support our deployments and enhance their combat effectiveness. The frequency of landings in DBO will only increase.”
US deputy secretary of defense Ashton Carter was briefed on the plane’s role in the IAF when he had visited the C-130J home-base at Hindon, outside Delhi, last week. Carter described the DBO landings as “impressive stuff.”
The development is a sign of India hardening its stance against China, which has been deeply suspicious of the re-activation of advance landing grounds (ALGs) by the IAF in recent years.
The DBO airstrip was reactivated in May 2008, followed by the ALGs at Fukche (3 km from the LAC) in November 2008 and Nyoma (23 km from the LAC) in September 2009 --- the airstrips had been out of use for more than 43 years after the 1962 India-China war.
The Chinese have demanded the de-activation of airstrips at DBO and Fukche.
“More missions will allow us to have more sets of aircrews to operate in that sector,” the source said. The planes would help quicker deployment of troops and logistics if hostilities were to break out.
New Delhi will be closely monitoring Beijing’s reaction to IAF’s sustained “capability demonstration” in north-eastern Ladakh with the C-130Js --- China had called for a flag meeting with India and objected to a much-smaller Antonov-32 cargo plane landing at DBO for the first time in May 2008.
India had signed a $1.2 billion contract with the US in 2008 for buying six C-130J planes. India plans to place a follow-on order for six additional C-130Js.