With threats from China looming large, India is set to increase its military flying in the Northeast as a large heliport will be operational in Tawang by September.
This will open up a new window for the Indian Air Force to enhance flying in areas close to the Sino-Indian border.
Not to be left behind, the Indian Army, too, will have a new aviation base in Assam to house a squadron of indigenous armed choppers.
An advanced landing ground (ALG) in the strategic Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh was to be completed by April, but was delayed by a few months with the new projected date of completion set for September 2017, sources told DH.
Though categorised as ALG, it would actually be a heliport as fixed-wing aircraft cannot operate from the monastery town because of its elevation and rarefied atmosphere.
The IAF may fly its Mi-series of Russian choppers as well as the indigenous advanced lightweight helicopters from Tawang.
In 2009, the Cabinet Committee of Security approved a Rs 1,000-crore IAF plan to upgrade eight existing ALGs under the Eastern Air Command. Those selected were Tuting, Mechuka, Along, Tawang, Ziro, Passighat, Walong and Vijaynagar in Arunachal Pradesh.
In the last year and a half, the IAF activated six of them – Walong, Ziro, Along, Tuting, Passighat and Mechuka – even as the seventh one at Tawang nears the finish line. The force has given up on Vijaynagar for the time being in the absence of connecting roads.
While Passighat is meant for fighter flying as well as a civil aviation base, five other ALGs would be used for transport aircraft operations, whereas Tawang can only handle the helicopters.
The army is coming up with it own aviation squadron in Assam’s Likabali town, which will house the indigenous armed Rudra choppers. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd handed over 22 of these gunships – armed version of the Dhruv advanced lightweight helicopters – to the army and eight to the IAF.
The Likabali base is also likely to be functional within a month or two in keeping with India’s plan to improve military infrastructure in areas close to its disputed boundary with China. The army’s first armed helicopter unit in the Northeast will have 10 aircraft.