On 19 August, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju inaugurated the revival and upgradations of the old Pasighat Advanced Landing Ground (ALG). Accompanied by Air Marshal C Hari Kumar, Air officer commanding-in-Chief of Eastern Air Command (EAC), he and senior civil and IAF officials witnessed a flypast by three Sukhoi-30 MKI air dominance fighters, followed by another Sukhoi-30MKI, which landed at the airfield, recording a ‘historic first’ in mountainous Arunachal Pradesh, which has several ALGs at varying altitudes.
In 2007, when then Defence Minister A.K.Antony visited Arunachal Pradesh, he was aghast at noting the great contrast between substantial infrastructural development across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by the Chinese and the starkness accentuating the lack of the same on our side. Then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who visited the State soon afterwards, announced a major financial package and a fast-track infrastructure development programme.
On approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security and following a Memorandum of Understanding between Government of Arunachal Pradesh and Ministry of Defence in June 2009, the IAF had embarked on an ambitious reconstruction plan to upgrade eight ALGs, including infrastructure development, at an overall outlay of nearly Rs. 1,000 crore. The ALGs at Walong, Ziro, Along, Mechuka and Pasighat have since been upgraded and are operational now. Two ALGs at Tuting and Tawang are expected to be ready by the year-end, while reconstruction of the ALG at Vijaynagar will be undertaken as soon as the road connectivity between Miao and Vijaynagar is restored.
The Pasighat airfield is now a strategic asset of EAC, from where all types of aircraft and helicopters can operate. The new runway surface and other infrastructure built are similar to the other upgraded ALGs in Arunachal Pradesh, inaugurated in the recent months. Replete with facilities such as aprons for ground manoeuvring, air traffic control tower, perimeter road and a security wall, it is now a full-fledged airfield, which will facilitate operations of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters of both for civil and military. As such, it will not only improve our response time for various operational situations but also the efficacy of our air operations in the Eastern frontier and will enhance air support capability for Army, security forces, and the civil administration. Airports Authority if India is in the process of setting up a civil terminal, the construction of which has yet to commence. The need of the hour now is for all agencies to get together and make it happen.
For the people of Arunachal Pradesh, the Pasighat airfield will mean air connectivity with the rest of the country. Placed on the civil aviation map, Pasighat, a pristine and picturesque town on the banks of Siang river and already known as a white-water rafting location, will become a destination for a large number of tourists, leading to greater prosperity for the local population.
Inaugurating the ALG at Ziro and Along earlier this year, Air Marshal Hari Kumar stated: “The ALGs will further enhance our existing operational capabilities in Eastern Air Command….The capacity build-up will enable operations by some of our new inductions including the C-130J Super Hercules….Besides enhancing air maintenance capability of the IAF in the region, the new airfield will also facilitate civil air connectivity soon.”
Mechuka, 7,000 feet above sea level, is only approximately 40 km from China and was one of the strategic locations during the 1962 Sino-Indian War. Since the inauguration of the upgraded ALG there on 30 May ’16, it is capable of landing large strategic lift aircraft like the C-130J.
China began upping the ante in Arunachal Pradesh much before India began its military upgrade in the Eastern sector. In November 2006, just before Chinese Premier Hu Jintao’s state visit to India, Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi, stated that the whole of the state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory. In May 2007, China denied a visa to Ganesh Koyu, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from Arunachal Pradesh, who was to be a part of a 107 IAS officer study to visit Beijing and Shanghai. China pointed out that Koyu is a Chinese citizen since he belongs to Arunachal Pradesh and hence could visit China without a visa. In June 2009, China tried to block India’s request for US$ 2.9 billion loans from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as the request included US$ 60 million for flood management, water supply, and sanitation project in Arunachal Pradesh. This was the first time that China sought to broadcast its claim on Arunachal Pradesh in a multi-lateral forum. In October 2009, China expressed deep dissatisfaction when then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Arunachal Pradesh as part of an election campaign for the state assembly elections. In November 2009, China protested against the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh.
A November 18, 2011, report in Pakistan Defence, quoted a 2010 US Department of Defense Report to Congress indicating that China replaced its old liquid-fueled, a nuclear capable CSS-3 intermediate range ballistic missile with more advanced CSS-5 MRBMs and vastly improved its border roads in the eastern sector bordering India for PLA movement. Intercontinental missiles such as the DF-31 and DF-31A have also been deployed by China at Delingha, north of Tibet. On the border with India, China has deployed 13 Border Defence Regiments amounting to around 300,000 PLA troops. Airfields have also been established at Hoping, Pangta, and Kong Ka respectively, along with the existing six airfields in the Tibetan Autonomous Region for supporting fighter aircraft and to enhance PLA’s airlift capability.
The report further stated that in October 2011 India decided to deploy the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile with a flight range of 290 km in the Eastern sector to strengthen its defense posture vis-a-vis China and had a five-year expansion plan to induct 90,000 more troops, where already 120, 000 troops deployed, are supported by two Sukhoi 30 MKI squadrons from Tezpur in Assam.
The distance of about 400kms from Tezpur to the LAC can be covered by the Sukhoi 30 MKI in less than 15 minutes.
However, there is a lot more to be done to match China’s strategic infrastructure.