‘With the Kind of Air Assets that are Coming into this Sector, We will Be Able to Support the Army as far as Air Defence is Concerned’
Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Air Command, Air Marshal K.K. Nohwar VM
What is your total area of responsibility and what are the challenges that you face?

My area of responsibility spans about 300,000sqkm of airspace and we share our borders with Myanmar, China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. As far as international borders are concerned, it is 6,300km. The Line of Actual Control in our area of responsibility is much more than the Line of Control in the northern sector. And this is one major challenge. In addition to this, the seven north-eastern states, Sikkim and part of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa form part of our AOR.

Our primary challenge here pertains to weather. The entire north-eastern region comprises tropical rain forests and deep vegetation. Moreover, this region has very high density of rainfall, because of which the Assam valley is very fertile and has dense forest. Further north, the state of Arunachal Pradesh is densely wooded. As a result, search and rescue (SAR) operations assume a lot of importance in these areas. After all, flying is a very dynamic activity and if there is an incident where a pilot has to eject (even in peacetime) he has to be recovered at all costs. Hence, SAR in peacetime and combat SAR in war, are very important KRAs for the eastern air command and we regularly practice combat SAR.

In the last couple of years government seems to be pushing development in the Northeast. Right from Ladakh sector, a number of disused advanced landing grounds (ALGs) have been activated. What is the purpose of these ALGs and what kind of aircraft would be able to land here?

In my sector, there are a number of ALGs, starting from Pasighat, which is in the plains right up to north in the mountains at Tuting. In between these are Mechuka, Along, Vijaynagar in southeast and finally Ziro just north of Itanagar. We have taken over these from the Arunachal government so that we can develop these. Most of these ALGs are located in such areas where the only access is through air. For instance, Vijaynagar in the south-eastern Arunachal is a very remote and strategic place. It is a finger-like feature surrounded by Myanmar on all three sides. The area is so remote with no road connectivity — though earlier there used to be a jeep track — that it can only be maintained and sustained by air. We are also trying to reactivate the road. I met the chief minister of Arunachal and he has agreed to pursue the road connectivity matter with the ministry of forests. The Apex Committee for the Development of the Northeast, which is chaired by the vice chief of air staff, meets regularly in Delhi. The committee includes Chief Construction Engineer for North East Projects (CCE NEP) who is responsible for the development of these ALGs. We are working on building the surface of the runways. Earlier, some stretches were kutcha (dirt track) while others had PSP sheet cover. We are trying to hard-top them as fast as possible. One only has to glance on the other side to see what development has been taking place there; which is why our idea of the ALGs is to not maintain supply lines to our troops but also to assist the people of the Northeast. Besides, these ALGs will also facilitate tourism and help the local industry.

On an average, the length of runways at these ALGs varies from 3,500 to 4,200ft. For instance, while at Mechuka we have steady operations of An-32 aircraft (they carry loads, including food stuff, medicine and so on for both the army as well as the civilian population), at Ziro, only helicopters operate, including Pawan Hans. However, we have already identified ALGs where there is a possibility of extending the runway as there is no habitation in the vicinity. We will be requesting the government of Arunachal to allot the area to us for the extension of the runway. Subsequently, these will be used both for air maintenance of our troops as well as the civilians.

Can C-130J also land on a runway where An-32 does?
Certainly. In fact, C-130J is a more versatile aircraft and can land at a much smaller runway.

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