As part of its efforts to ramp up defence infrastructure along the border with China, India is upgrading seven airfields in the northeast for day and night operations and has drawn plans to make Nyoma in Ladakh a fully operational station at a cost of R2,173 crore.
According to the IAF chief NAK Browne, “Funds had been released for upgrading seven advanced landing grounds (ALG) in the northeast, most of which will be ready by 2016. Nyoma was an important location for both the army and IAF in southeast Ladakh with good weather round-the-year.
It will be developed at a cost of R2,173 crore and will take 4-5 years to develop it.”
India has taken steps to ramp up its infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control to match China.
The air chief said the proposal for developing the Nyoma airfield was mooted in 2010 with the landing of an An-32 transport aircraft there. “The proposal for developing Nyoma airbase was with the finance ministry and is expected to be taken up by the Cabinet next month,”the air chief said.
All types of aircraft including fighters, helicopters and transport planes can be deployed and operated from there.
Prof Srikanth Kondapalli, Centre for East Asian Studies School of International Studies, JNU, told FE, “ While a full-fledged war between the two nuclear and rising powers in Asia is highly unlikely due to the costs of war, yet a scenario of a quick land grab by China to humiliate India again cannot be ruled out in future.”
“The IAF is trying to beef up its preparations in that sector. If the ALGs are being upgraded, then it indicates that the future theatre of war could be far beyond. Plans are to use these bases for special forces,” added Kondapalli. “At the root of the crisis is the obvious unease in the Chinese security establishment at India's border build-up, especially the surge in military deployment and infrastructure over the last five to seven years.”
Starting from the mid-2000s, New Delhi sanctioned two mountain divisions to defend Arunachal Pradesh and IAF activated three Sukhoi-30 fighter bases in Assam along with several units of Akash air defence batteries.
Browne said the Nyoma airbase, located at an altitude of around 13,000 feet, is lower in height than the Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) at DBO but was higher than the airbases in Leh and Thoise.
"These (ALGs) were lying unused for a number of years. Funds have now been released. We expect that by 2016, most of them will be ready," he said.
The ALGs in the northeast include Ziro, Passighat, Walong, Tuting and Mechuka.
“ From a military perspective, Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) and its airstrip are very important to India. On the south of Karakoram pass, DBO allows India to put in place a booby trap to snap the Sino-Pak road link and guard the eastern flank to the Siachen glacier. Later this year, as the snow sets in across Ladakh and makes the terrain inhospitable, Chinese outposts will have to be withdrawn,” opined another keen observer of the Sino-India relations.
“Restoring status quo and extracting a peace dividend is in the long-term economic and geopolitical interest for both sides.’
“Of apparently greater concern to Beijing is the growing Indian capability in Ladakh. India has moved at least two additional infantry brigades into southeastern Ladakh and an armoured brigade will become operational by 2017. ALGs have been activated in Nyoma, Fukche and DBO,” pointed out experts.
The IAF had recently created a record of sorts by landing its C-130J Special operations aircraft at the DBO ALG, which is situated at an altitude of over 16,000 feet and is close to Depsang Valley where Chinese troops had infiltrated and pitched their tents for 21 days earlier this year.