NEW DELHI: Learning lessons from the 1999 war with Pakistan, India is all set to develop the Kargil airfield as a fullfledged transport base by 2016, by when the Indian Air Force aims to operate both medium and heavy-lift planes from there.
It also plans to operate combat aircraft from Kargil sometime in the future.
The IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne, said at the annual press conference on Monday ahead of the Air Force Day on October 8 that the IAF will expand the 6,000-foot runway in Kargil to enable operations of all major transport aircraft such as the Soviet-origin IL-76 heavy-lift planes, the newly-ordered C-17 heavy-lift aircraft from the US, and the just-acquired C-130J Super Hercules.
Soviet-origin medium-lift AN-32 transport planes are already being operated from the Kargil airfield, in the northern part of Jammu and Kashmir, since the 1999 war with Pakistan.
Kargil was the primary theatre of battle during that conflict when Indian troops forced a retreat of Pakistani regulars who had clandestinely occupied heights that were vacated by India during winter.
The Jammu and Kashmir government had activated the airfield in 1996 for civilian aircraft operations and it was under the Airports Authority of India till the Kargil war, when the military operations began there.
Since then, the IAF has been operating the AN-32s from the airfield, apart from the Jammu and Kashmir government using it for operating tourist flights.
The IAF chief said as plans for Kargil base progressed, they would like to operate fighter jets from the air field there, “but that is still a distance away”.
Air Chief Marshal Browne said the IAF was also planning to develop the Nyoma air base close to the border with China in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir into a fighter base and the plans had been approved by the Defence Minister, Mr A K Antony.
“The Nyoma plans will soon go to the cabinet committee on security for final approval,” he added.
The development of these air bases is part of the IAF’s plans for developing its infrastructure in northern and northeastern India.
Nyoma already has a 12,000-foot runway and the air base is at an altitude of 13,300 fleet.
The IAF is at present operating AN-32s from Nyoma, apart from helicopters.
“We want to develop Nyoma into a base from where we can carry out fighter, transport and helicopter operations. Once the facilities come up, we can do a fair amount of defensive and offensive operations from there,” Air Chief Marshal Browne added.