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IAF beefs up the Ladakh front as a search for a new airfield is revived

YB WEB DESK. Dated: 11/5/2017 7:06:42 PM

In the aftermath of the Doklam crisis, India is now planning to develop more airfields in the eastern Ladakh area along the China border so that it can rapidly deploy troops in large numbers in case of any misadventure by the neighbouring state.

'In Ladakh, we have realised that deploying troops for a long time or throughout the year is not feasible. Harsh winters and rough terrain make the job all the more difficult.

'This is why we plan to develop airfields where we can deploy troops in large numbers using air assets,' a top defence source said.

The Air Force is scouting airfields in the area from where the transport aircraft of the force can land and take off whenever required, the source said.

The Indian Army had issued an operational alert during the crisis, as part of which the troops had been deployed by it from the newly-raised mountain strike corps.

'Two brigades (6,000 troops) have already been withdrawn from there and sent back to their actual locations after we called off the alert about 10 days ago,' the source said.

It is understood that troops could not have been retained in the area due to the onset of harsh winters and beginning of snowfall, which would have completely blocked land routes and forced them to rely on air evacuation.

The deployment of an additional division meant the army had close to 20,000 troops in eastern Ladakh at the height of the crisis.

In normal conditions, it has only one division (Karubased 3 Infantry Division). As per inputs received by intel agencies, Chinese units are also withdrawing from their areas gradually.

The search for a new airfield is expected to revive the Indian Air Force's Nyoma airfield project that has been languishing for many years now, as it would be turned into a fully-fledged base where all types of transport aircraft can land.

The IAF had once landed its Antonov-32 aircraft at this airfield and has been trying to develop it as its base closest to the Chinese border in eastern Ladakh.

Sources said the IAF had also tried to look at Chushul for developing an airfield but it did not seem to be a viable project and is more interested in the development of Nyoma where the air strip was last used in the 1960s.

Nyoma is located at a height of 13,000 feet and India stopped using it after the war with China in 1962, but reactivated it in 2009.

India is also upgrading all of its seven Advance Landing Grounds (ALGs) in Arunachal Pradesh, some of which have already been activated.

IAF's C-130J Super Hercules planes have recently been landing there. However, these are not fully-fledged air bases but landing strips which can be used to drop off troops and supplies.

Some can be used for refueling fighter jets. The Arunachal ALGs were also deactivated after the 1962 war.

Since August, India and China have been engaged in a bitter stand-off on Bhutanese soil in Doklam as the Chinese were building a road to Jhamphiri which would have brought it very close to an area which separates the northeastern states from the rest of the country.

 

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