Punjab’s Halwara airbase: Tale of 68 years of battles fought and wars won

The biggest air force station of north India, Halwara Air Force Base, completes 68 years on March 16

punjab Updated: Mar 16, 2018 14:07 IST
Aneesha Sareen Kumar
Aneesha Sareen Kumar
Hindustan Times, Ludhiana
Halwara airbase,Royal Air Force Airfield,Indo-Pak conflict
Officers pose with the MIG-21 Bison — the upgraded version of the MIG-21 tactical fighter and (below) old fighter jets on display at the Halwara Air Force Station. (Gurminder Singh/HT)

The Halwara airbase was built as Royal Air Force Airfield in 1942. During World War II, it was used as an allied Air Force staging base. After the war ended in 1945, it was abandoned and reactivated after independence as 306 Wing on March 16, 1950 under the command of Wing Commander (later Air Chief Marshal) H Moolgavakar.

The base was tasked with exercising command and control, both functional and administrative, over two fighter squadrons and other lodger units, to which one squadron of the Soviet-origin Pechora surface to air missiles was added in 1980. In addition to this, the base controls the air to ground weapons range located at a distance of 23 kilometres, near Jagraon.

With the introduction of the Vampire in 1954, the base powered into the jet age. The station was renamed as 9 Wing, Air Force on January 29, 1955. In 1963, the recarpeting of the old 2,000 yard runway to its present length was carried out.

High altitude air ground operations were conducted from Halwara air base during the Kargil war in 1999.

Halwara came into sharp focus in 1962, during Chinese operations. The post of Station Commander was upgraded to the rank of Group Captain in 1962.

One September 6, 1965, during the Indo-Pak conflict, Halwara airfield became a beehive of activity. Offensive reconnaissance of enemy positions at Firozpur, Kasur, Lahore and Khem Karan were carried out. Enemy gun positions were located and destroyed. In addition to providing close support to the Army, the young pilots carried out offensive missions deep into Pakistan territory and caused heavy destruction to their military installations and war machinery.

On September 7, 1965, Captain Hussain, leader of the Pakistani para unit was apprehended by Squadron Leader SK Singh, station security officer and his team at Rajoana village, three kilometers from Halwara. A sizable amount of arms and ammunition, explosives and mortars, wireless sets were seized. Gradually, more Pakistani paratroopers were captured, totaling to 61. Some of the arms and ammunition captured are displayed at the station museum.

Fighter jets on display at the Halwara Air Force Station. (Gurminder Singh/HT)

On December 3, 1971, the base hummed with Gnats, MIGs and SU-7s. The entire operation against Pakistan code named ‘Cactus Lily’, lasted for 14 days and ended at 20.00 hours on December 17, 1971 with a ceasefire declaration. In due course, the post of Station Commander was further upgraded to Air Commodore.

High altitude air ground operations were conducted from Halwara air base during the Kargil war in 1999.

For nearly three decades, this base was a Mecca for the MIG 23 BN, until March 2009 when the last 23 MIG squadron was number plated. On September 1, 2011, 220 squadron was resurrected at Halwara with the SU-30 MKI. Halwara thus became the first air base in Western Air Command to operate the SU-30 MKI. Today, Halwara is one of the premier fighter bases of Western Air Command and is key to prosecution of the IAF operations during war.

First Published: Mar 16, 2018 14:04 IST