IN a major boost to defence infrastructure in Ladakh, which has witnessed a protracted standoff between India and China over the past three-and-a-half years, the Indian Air Force’s fourth full-fledged operating base in the union territory will be built at Nyoma, about 180 km south-east of Leh. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who laid its foundation stone on Tuesday, is hopeful that it would prove to be a game-changer for the armed forces. The Border Roads Organisation, which comes under the Ministry of Defence, has been tasked with completing the Rs 214-crore project in two years. The airfield will have a paved runway for fighter jets; on completion, it would be accessible to all fighter jets in the IAF’s inventory.
China’s all-out expansion of airfields along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since 2020 has lent urgency to the process of enhancing the IAF’s combat readiness along the border. Earlier this year, an analysis of satellite images of the airfields at Ngari Gunsa, Hotan and Lhasa revealed that the Chinese had created runways and shelters for combat jets. Their exercise was apparently aimed at bolstering offensive capabilities and facilitating faster deployment of troops.
India cannot afford to remain behind the curve. The importance of a robust air defence system along the LAC cannot be overstated. In December last year, a clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Yangtse area near Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh) had been preceded by the aggressive movement of Chinese drones towards Indian positions. This had forced the IAF to quickly scramble its fighter aircraft deployed in the region. The upgrading of the Nyoma advanced landing ground to an airbase for conducting fighter jet operations is expected to raise the IAF’s level of preparedness by several notches. The revamp of the Bagdogra and Barrackpore airfields in West Bengal, carried out at a cost of over Rs 500 crore, is another step in the right direction.
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