Af­ter the con­fronta­tion in Dok­lam

SP's MAI - - MILITARY VIEWPOINT - The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

De­spite the hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat in 1962 of the In­dian Army at the hands of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, the fo­cus there­after of not only the In­dian Army but also of the In­dian Air Force (IAF), re­mained con­cen­trated on the Indo-Pak­istan bor­der. The per­pet­ual con­flict over Jammu and Kash­mir and its po­ten­tial to es­ca­late into a full-scale war with Pak­istan, were pos­si­bly the pri­mary rea­sons why the na­tion adopted Pak­istan-cen­tric policy for the de­ploy­ment of its armed forces.

For a va­ri­ety of rea­sons in­clud­ing pos­si­bly the lack of ad­e­quate op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity, the IAF was kept out of the Sino-In­dian con­flict of 1962 leav­ing the In­dian Army to face the on­slaught of the Chi­nese ground forces. But af­ter years of dif­fi­dence and ne­glect of the Sino-In­dian bor­der, the sit­u­a­tion has in­deed be­gun to change and over the last decade or so, the In­dian Army and the IAF have taken a num­ber of mea­sures to bring about pos­i­tive changes. While the In­dian Army has bol­stered its strength con­sid­er­ably to take on the PLA and is now bet­ter placed in respect of in­fras­truc­ture de­vel­op­ment es­pe­cially by way of road net­work that will help pro­vide far bet­ter lo­gis­tic sup­port, the IAF too has taken a num­ber of steps to en­hance both de­fen­sive and of­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­ity against the Chi­nese armed forces de­ployed against the fron­tiers of In­dia in the North East Re­gion. The re­cent con­fronta­tion with China at the Dok­lam Plateau in Bhutan wherein In­dian and Chi­nese forces were locked in a 73-day stand-off that be­gan on June 16 last year and ended on Au­gust 28 the same year, was a grim re­minder that there is no room for com­pla­cency on the part of the In­dian armed forces on the Si­noIn­dian bor­der.

While the most po­tent plat­forms in the com­bat fleet of the IAF were in­vari­ably based at air­fields on the Western front, those in the North East re­gion gen­er­ally housed the older and less ca­pa­ble com­bat plat­forms and lo­gis­tic sup­port plat­forms both fixed and ro­tary wing plat­forms. In 2008, the Min­istry of De­fence took a de­ci­sion to sta­tion the Su-30 MKI multi-role air dom­i­nance fighter air­craft at the four ma­jor air bases in North East In­dia that were lo­cated in the prox­im­ity of the Sino-In­dian bor­der. Th­ese four air­fields were at Tezpur, Chabua, Hashimara and Bag­do­gra. In ad­di­tion, the IAF has been able to up­grade and fully op­er­a­tionalise seven Ad­vanced Land­ing Grounds (ALGs) in Arunachal Pradesh. Th­ese ALGs that were short, un­pre­pared or semi-pre­pared land­ing ground or even mere grass strips that could ac­com­mo­date only light or at best medium-lift trans­port air­craft de­ployed to pro­vide lo­gis­tic sup­port to forces de­ployed on the North Eastern front, can now host even the lat­est com­bat air­craft as also strate­gic air­lift air­craft. The IAF is in the process of build­ing blast pens to en­sure safety of com­bat air­craft from at­tack by en­emy air­craft when parked at th­ese ALGs dur­ing a pos­si­ble sino-In­dian con­flict in the fu­ture. The up­graded ALGs are lo­cated at Wa­long, Ziro, Along, Mechuka, Pasighat, Tut­ing and Vi­jay­na­gar. This has been a ma­jor for­ward move­ment in the regime of in­fras­truc­ture de­vel­op­ment which will un­doubt­edly en­hance the coun­try’s op­er­a­tional reach and ca­pa­bil­ity.

In Au­gust 2016, a Sukhoi Su-30 MKI com­bat air­craft of the IAF landed at the up­graded ALG at Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh on the oc­ca­sion of its for­mal com­mis­sion­ing for op­er­a­tional use. On March 14 this year, the IAF landed the C-17 Globe­mas­ter III, the largest strate­gic air­lift trans­port air­craft on the in­ven­tory of the IAF, at the up­graded Tut­ing air­field in Arunachal Pradesh which is lo­cated in the prox­im­ity of close to the Chi­nese bor­der. This has cer­tainly strength­ened the IAF’s op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity in the North East re­gion.

Air op­er­a­tions ca­pa­bil­ity is also be­ing strength­ened along the bor­der with China in Eastern Ladakh. Ear­lier on, in Au­gust 2013, the IAF car­ried out a land­ing by a C-130J Su­per Her­cules tac­ti­cal air­lift air­craft at the rudi­men­tary airstrip in Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) in Ladakh, just seven km from the bor­der with China. Lo­cated at an al­ti­tude of nearly 17,000 feet above sea level, DBO is the high­est ALG in the world and over­looks the strate­gic Karako­ram Pass.

While both the In­dian Army and the IAF have taken a num­ber of con­crete steps, the IAF plans to op­er­ate Su-30 MKIs ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing the BrahMos su­per­sonic cruise mis­sile. The IAF has plans to base the first squadron of the Rafale fighter jet at Hashimara by 2020. This air­craft pro­cured from Das­sault Avi­a­tion of France is ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing nu­clear weapons. The In­dian armed forces have in­deed come a long way since the de­ba­cle of 1962.

AIR MAR­SHAL B.K. PANDEY (RETD)

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