Wary of the build up of Chinese military infrastructure along its borders, India has silently activated an advanced landing ground (ALG) for its air force transport planes at Dharasu in Uttarakhand to aid in the swift movement of troops during conflicts.
The ALG, at an altitude of 2,950 feet in the Uttarkashi hills bordering China, was made operational in the second half of 2010 without much fanfare with the landing of an AN-32 medium lift transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF).
This information is contained in the latest issue of ‘The Blue Glory’, an air headquarters’ quarterly news bulletin.
Dharasu was a “professional challenge” for years for the IAF and the “trial landing” of the AN-32 aircraft there was effected by the 12 Squadron of the IAF.
“The ALG is situated in the bowl in hills with restricted approach from both sides. It is at an elevation of 2,950 feet and the usable length of the landing ground is 3,400 feet,” the bulletin said.
The landing was achieved under the leadership of Central Air Command senior air staff officer Air Marshal V.M. Varthaman and 12 Squadron commanding officer, Group Captain S.K. Indoria, it added.
When Central Air Command spokesperson Group Captain Amit Mahajan was contacted over the phone Wednesday for further details of the Dharasu ALG opening, he refused to discuss the matter, citing “military” reasons.
When it was pointed out that the information was now in the public domain through the IAF bulletin, Mahajan reacted angrily and said he would not give any more details.
Dharasu’s opening for air operations comes two years after India consciously began upgrading and opening ALGs along the 4,057-km-long Sino-Indian line of actual control (LAC).
Apart from military mobilisation, the upgrade of the ALGs would also ensure that the movement of civilians and goods continues when road traffic gets affected during the harsh winter.
Daulat Beg Oldi at the tri-junction of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin, a 38,000 sq km of land in eastern Ladakh occupied by China after the 1962 Sino-Indian war, was the first such ALG to be opened.
The ALG, at the northern-most part of Ladakh at an altitude of 16,200 feet and just nine km away from the LAC, was made operational for AN-32s on May 31, 2008.
Just six months later, the IAF opened Fukche ALG, an old airstrip abandoned after the 1962 war, at an altitude of 13,700 feet, only three km from LAC in the southeastern part of Ladakh on Nov 4, 2008, again with an AN-32 landing.
On Sep 18, 2009, the IAF again carried out a first time landing at Nyoma in southeastern Ladakh, 23 km from the LAC. Nyoma was used as an helicopter base by the IAF prior to the AN-32 landing there.
After reactivating the ALGs in the western and central sectors along the Sino-Indian border, the IAF is also working on upgrading the ALGs on the eastern sector such as Pasighat, Mechuka, Walong, Tuting, Ziro and Vijaynagar, as well as several helipads in Arunachal Pradesh.
Apart from controlling 38,000 sq km of Aksai Chin, China also administers another 5,180 sq km of northern Kashmir ceded by Pakistan under a 1963 pact. China also claims the whole of Arunachal Pradesh state in northeastern India as its own territory.
In recent years, China has build up several air bases in the Tibet region, closer to its borders with India, apart from strengthening the road infrastructure and rail link to the region, to enable quick mobilization of its troops.
India has responded to the Chinese military build up by strengthening its border roads and air force infrastructure, apart from deploying its front line fighter jets at bases closer to the borders and raising two new mountain divisions for the northeast.