Kurebhar airstrip is part IAF’s op-plan to counter China
While the IAF remains tight-lipped about its operational plans, the fact is that the two earmarked airstrips in UP are close to airbases so that fuel and armament could be supplied to the landing fighters or transport planes in worst-case scenarios.
With the Chinese constructing new airports and upgrading the existing ones all along the 3488 km lone Line of Actual Control (LAC), the 3.3-kilometre-long runway at Kurebhar on the newly-inaugurated Purvanchal Expressway is designed to play a major role in fighter and transport operations in case of a worst-case scenario. The Lucknow-Agra expressway also has another airstrip for the same reasons.
According to Air Chief Marshal (Retd) S Krishnaswamy, the newly build airstrips on the UP highways are part of Indian Air Force (IAF) plans with the roads specially designed to handle the weight of fighters like Mirage-2000 H and transport planes like C-130 J Hercules. “During 1965 and 1971 wars, the IAF nearly lost planes due to airbases being bombed by Pakistan Air Force planes. Learning from that experience, the Air Force has decided to use these earmarked airstrips on highways to land round the clock using temporary lights, mobile air traffic communications, refuel and take-off after being loaded with armaments,” the former fighter pilot said.
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While the IAF remains tight-lipped about its operational plans, the fact is that the two earmarked airstrips in UP are close to airbases so that fuel and armament could be supplied to the landing fighters or transport planes in worst-case scenarios. As a number of Indian airbases have one airstrip, the airstrip on the highways takes the role of the airport in case the former has been hit by enemy planes or missiles. The airbases near the Kurebhar airstrip are Kanpur, Bareilly and Gorakhpur, which are front-line bases to launch against the northern neighbour.
The decision to construct these airstrips has been taken considering that PLA Air Force is building underground shelters for its fighters across the LAC in Kashgar, Hotan, Damxung, Lhasa, Shigatse, Ngari-Gar Gunsa, Bangda and Nyinmgchi dual-purpose airports with new airports coming up in Tashikorgan, Purang, Tingri and Lhuntse.
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The satellite imagery available publicly shows tunnelling activity along with fighter blast pens in Damxung, Ngari-Gar Gunsa, Lhasa, Bangda and Nyingchi airports. It is quite evident that these underground facilities will function as C3I (command, control, communications, and intelligence) centres in case of hostilities against India. Satellite imagery also shows the presence of Chinese armed drones present in Ngari Gar Gunsa, which is mere 100 kilometres from Indian Demchok across the LAC.
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Given that the Chinese have not only decided to ramp up military infrastructure but also link all border posts with optical fibre for fool-proof communications all along the LAC, India has already strengthened the Army’s Central Command as well as the Air Force bases in the area. The Kurebhar airstrip is part of this plan.