Augmenting strength

With the Defence Acquisition Council of the Defence Ministry sanctioning additional Rs 1125crores on  Feb 24, 2014, the IAF will soon kickstart the work for the phase-2 of the Modernization of Air Field Infrastructure.  

After mutely   observing the rapid upgradation of the military infrastructure in terms of roads and airstrips  in the Tibetan side  for movements of Chinese  troops, the Indian security establishment took a belated  but grand step to upgrade its own existing military  infrastructure three years ago. With China getting ready with six airbases surrounding the Ladakh region , the concern in Indian military establishment got deeper. The Chinese air force have already constructed the Kashgar, Korla, Yarkand, Hotan, Cherchen (Qiemo) and Gardzong airbases from where they can launch full fledged air operation against Indian Army.  

Though the development of ground infrastructure for movements of troops is facing many hurdles because of hilly terrain and ecological concerns, the infrastructure for the Air Force has advanced very fast in recent years. The modernization project of the leading air bases of the Indian Air Force which was kick started in March 2011 is expected to be finally executed by the end of this year.

Expansion, upgradation and modernization of the ground based infrastructure were very essential to meet the requirements of latest flying machines, from Sukhoi-30MKIs to C-17 Globemasters. The new acquisitions for same require radar, aircraft landing systems and defensive shields to be positioned on the airfields.

It will enable the air bases with latest flight control and day night landing facility along with most modern communication equipments. This was long overdue as most of the air bases had outdated communication and control equipments.

Modern facilities

The absence of modern gadgets on the airports would have proved to a major handicap during combat situation. The necessity for modern facilities was felt more strongly when the IAF started activating the forward landing air strips along its border with China. Also the acquisition plans of latest fighter and transport machines also encouraged the IAF and the Ministry of Defence to sanction the modernization of air bases under two phases.

Under the first phase, 30 most operational air bases were chosen out of 51 whereas in the second phase the rest of the air bases would be modernized besides the air strips of the army, navy and coast guards.

The project was awarded to the private sector TATA Powers Strategic Electronic Division (TATA SED) at a cost of US$ 260 Million. Probably for the first time a private sector company was engaged in such sensitive job. According to the Defence Ministry officials, requirements of the second phase of the modernization would be based on the experiences gained during the first phase of MAFI.

In the first phase, besides the airbases on the active borders with China and Pakistan, the Andaman and Nicobar based Car Nicobar airbase has also been included in the modernization project. The Car Nicobar air field has also been certified for operations of Sukhoi-30 MKI fighters.

Though TATAs bagged the project, they had to depend on foreign suppliers for key cables and circuits and other communication systems. Following the contract signed with MoD the TATA SED had signed an agreement with Nexans worth Euro 5million to supply Specialized medium voltage (MV) primary and Low Voltage (LV) secondary lighting cables for the MAFI project.

The Nexans supplied cables to upgrade the runway and taxiway lighting power circuits for the sanctioned 30 airbases under modernization. These cables include 5 kV cables manufactured according to FAA (Federal Aviation Standards). This will be utilized in the airfield lighting power series circuits and will form the backbone of the circuits. This will ensure the safe landing of the aircrafts for which additional category-2 landing facilities have also been installed.

These air field cables can effectively function in extreme temperatures from -25 degree to +70 degree C. Normally Indian airbases are situated in extremely varied temperature ranges, hence these specialized cables were required for 365 days reliability. They also are required to survive in extreme humid temperatures. These cables were manufactured in the France based facilities at Lyon and Bohain.

The TATA SED has also engaged the Northrop Grumman for supply of 30 NORMARC-7000 ILS (Instrument Landing System) and 31 NORMAR Doppler VHF Omni directional Range system.

India got hundreds of airports and air strips during the second world war and many more were constructed later. Many of these 428 airbases, from the Himalayan border regions in the North Eastern part of India to Ladakh region and also on the island territories are lying unused. But the IAF has planned to cover these air bases through intranet called AFNET.

The IAF plans to improvise these unused air fields in such a way that they can be used often and when required on emergency basis. Those upgraded airbases will neither be permanent homes of aircrafts nor will regular flying activities be conducted on them. In fact some of the airports are operated by the Airports Authority of India and some of them are in the operational control of IAF. Some of the forward airbases have been upgraded to handle combat activities and latest fighters in the IAF fleet.

Upgraded airbases

The upgraded airbases have also been equipped with the modern Air Route Surveillance Radars, Distance Measuring equipment and communication aides to intercept and communicate with civilian traffic and Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system. They have also been connected with Naval and Army assets along with their ground based and aerial platforms. These airfields are also being equipped with surveillance radar elements (SRE), precision approach radars (PAR), UHF ground-to-air radio sets and commutated automatic direction finder (CADF) systems. These airfields must be made impenetrable by the enemy for which 360 degree surveillance and missile attack warning and missile defence capability are required.

Along with the MAFI project implementation, the IAF is also working on making air bases in Ladakh and North Eastern region fully operational for fighter flying.

Under the Rs 700 crore project seven advance landing grounds in Arunachal Pradesh are being upgraded for night landing facilities. The landing strips can be used for dropping troops and supplies and for refueling fighter jets. These modernized facilities at the airport will in fact strengthen the offensive and defensive capabilities of the Indian Air Force and to a large extent assist the Army also in fast movements of its men and assets. Under the MAFI in the North East key air bases would be the Chhabua, Tezpur and Hashimara.

In the Ladakh region, the Nyoma and Daulat Beg Oldie airbases are already in advance stage of upgradation. IAF plans to modernize the Kargil air base also for full fighter and transport operations.

The Nyoma airstrip is only 23 kms behind the Line of Actual Control with China, where IAF has been able to land the latest acquired C-130 Hercules aircraft. Nyoma air base is being converted into a full fledged fighter and heavy transport airbase and is likely to be completed by 2016-17.

This airbase will be a cause of great strategic concern for China. From this airbase Indian Air Force can launch a very punishing air strike against many major Chinese strategic locations. Nyoma will also extend logistical support to Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Ladakh Scouts for patrolling on the LAC. Situated at a height of 13,000 feet in South Eastern Ladakh, Nyoma was reactivated in 2010, which went into disuse after the 1962 war. Nyoma overlooks the highway used by the Chinese PLA.

With the modernization of the ALGs located on the LAC with China, India has taken a delayed but very firm step in augmenting its infrastructure for the use of Air Force, which will in fact compensate to a large extent the lack of ground infrastructure, considered very difficult but extremely essential in the hilly terrain for the movements of Army convoys.