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March 16, 2015

IAF wants new tech for Ladakh air bases



(tribuneindia) : Extreme cold conditions in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, are hindering plans for speedy expansion of Indian Air Force (IAF) bases to counter a surging China, forcing a rethink on existing building techniques. The IAF has asked for newer technologies that will enable rapid construction and sustain smooth operations during winters when temperatures drop to -30°C with heavy snow. The Ministry of Defence has already given its nod to develop an airfield at Nyoma — a 13,300-ft-high plateau in south eastern Ladakh — for fighter jet operations and expand the existing one at Kargil. Nyoma is 40 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the defacto border with China. The Kargil airfield is less than 10 km from the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan in northern part of Ladakh. The IAF has suggested to the MoD that carrying out building work only during four-month summer-autumn in Ladakh — between late May and September — would take years to develop airfield infrastructure. Thus, newer technologies need to be adopted. Sources said the IAF had suggested that technologies in perennially cold countries be studied which could speed up construction work beyond the existing short period and keep day operations in areas like Nyoma in South eastern Ladakh uninterrupted during winters. Also, the airfield undergoes weather-related changes in the severe winter. Some kind of method is needed to ensure proper friction for fighter jets to land or take-off. At present, the construction is labour-intensive and only for four months of the summer. India has two full-fledged airbases at Leh and Thoise that allow operations of all types. Nyoma, at present, is a mud-paved advanced landing ground (ALG) that allows landing of fixed-wing transport planes like the C-17, C-130J, the IL 76 and the AN 32, but fighter jets would need a much harder paved surface. Nyoma sits at a junction from where three pressure points along the LAC — Demchok, Chushul and Chumar sector — are close by. Indian strategic planners have ruled out having a full operational usage of the ALG’s at Fukche and Chushul as they are deemed too close to the LAC, rather Chinese watch towers overlook these ALG’s. The Kargil airstrip is just 6,000-ft long and allows only smaller planes like AN32 or the C-130-Js to land. It will need to be expanded for operations of planes like the IL76 that have greater carrying capacity. Military developments in western parts of Tibet and Xinjiang province means China has readied seven airbases on its side in areas of western Tibet and Xinjiang province adjoining Ladakh. The Indian security establishment has inputs that Beijing now has the capability to launch fighter aircraft carrying deadly strike weapons or transport planes carrying tonnes of equipment or hundreds of troops to land then close to Indian forward defence lines along the LAC. These fully-functional airfields virtually form a ‘ring’ around Ladakh. A senior official explained that Kashgar, Korla, Yarkand, Hotan, Cherchen (Qiemo), Ngari Gunsa and Gardzong, have operational airfields.

 Extreme weather a worry
The IAF has asked for newer technologies that will enable rapid construction and sustain smooth operations during winters when temperatures drop to -30°C with heavy snow
  • The Defence Ministry has given its nod to develop an airfield at Nyoma — a 13,300-ft-high plateau in south eastern Ladakh — for fighter jets operations and expand the existing one at Kargil
  • At present, the construction work at high altitudes is only possible during four-month summer-autumn in Ladakh — between late May and September.

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