IAF starts fighter exercise near China borders

A Su-30 fighter aircraft parked at Kolkata international airport as a part of the exercise.

The Indian Air Force on Wednesday began an exercise to fly fighter jets from six civilian airbases in eastern India aiming to boost its ability to undertake military operations from such airbases in case of an emergency.

Over the next few days, a bunch of Su-30 MKI and Hawk 132 combat aircraft will take-off and touch down at Dimapur in Nagaland, Imphal in Manipur, Guwahati, Kolkata, Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh and Andal in West Bengal.

The first phase of the exercise, which began on Wednesday will conclude on Saturday whereas the second phase will be conducted between October 29 and November 1. Guwahati, Imphal, Dimapur and Kolkata will be covered in the first phase while Andal and Dimapur will come under the second phase.

Five Sukhoi jets from the IAF Tezpur base and two from Chabua will participate in the drill.

"This is part of our capability building and operational training of undertaking operations from dispersed locations in case of hostilities. The exercise will familiarise the IAF crew with the procedure of flying at these busy airfields and coordinate with civilian counterparts,” Wg Cdr Ratnakar Singh, IAF spokesperson at its eastern command at Shilong told DH.

The drill, Singh said, would provide an opportunity to civilian aviation officials to familiarise themselves in the conduct of military operations.

The exercise is part of the IAF's efforts to enhance its operational capacity in the eastern frontiers closer to the Sino-Indian border. The IAF in the past had operated its fighter jets from national highways, which doubled up as runaways.

With an eye on the China front, IAF revived seven advance landing grounds in Arunachal Pradesh - the state which China claims as part of its Tibet region – in the last three years.

The ALGs at Pasighat, Tuting, Along, Wallong, Mechuka, Ziro and Vijaynagar were not used since the 1962 Sino-Indian war. But during the resurrection, the ALGs were given new runway and air traffic control facilities not only to boost military capabilities but also to commence civilian flights to some of the remotest corners of the north east.

The last of the seven ALGs, Vijaynagar was made operational only in September 2019 when an AN-32 landed at the remote airbase in the presence of Air Marshal RD Mathur, the Commander in Chief of the IAF Eastern Command and Lt Gen Anil Chauhan Commander in Chief of the Army's Eastern Command – two topmost military officers on the eastern front.

Besides boosting security, the ALGs would also aid in transportation and emergency responses during disasters.

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