Hi-tech Runways

The government has to speed up airfield modernisation for NewGen aircraft to be effective

Jaison Deepak

The induction of new generation aircraft like the Rafale, C-130J and C-17 into the Indian Air Force (IAF) mandates improved infrastructure and networking in airfields to maximise their utility and effectiveness for everyday operation and wartime purposes. Older aircraft like the MiG-21, MiG-27 do not possess the onboard equipment to take advantage of a modern airfield. A contemporary airfield is equipped to handle air operations and traffic management in all weather conditions. It has smooth logistics, protection against threats with air defence systems, passive protection to parked aircraft when under attack, and is able to reduce the threat of Foreign Object Damage (FOD) and bird hits while emergency units handle other unforeseen incidents.

Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules at Srinagar Air Force station


Airfield Infrastructure

The need for Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) was felt more than a decade ago by the Indian Air Force (IAF) but progress was made in 2011 when the ministry of defence (MoD) signed a Rs 1,100 crore contract with TATA Power SED for modernising 30 IAF and Indian Navy bases across the country, eight of which include those at Chabua, Tezpur and Hashimara are in the east bordering China. Phase I of the project was scheduled to be completed by 2014 but as of December 2017 only 25 airfields have been completed and the rest are to be completed by June 2018. The central part of the upgrade is the Raytheon AutoTrac Air Traffic Management System but it also includes Tactical Air Navigation System (TACAN) to aid aircraft navigation, Instrument Landing System (ILS) like the CAT-II lighting system to facilitate aircraft landing in poor visibility, Identify Friend or Foe (IFF), Distance Measuring Equipment, secure UHF Ground to Air Communication systems and Computed Direction Finding Equipment. Despite the long delay the project nearing completion is encouraging. The delay in completion of Phase I has pushed behind plans for Phase 2 modernisation under which there are 25 more air bases. Gwalior and Chandigarh will be the first of the bases planned to be modernised as part of Phase II.

The IAF has been trying to procure other elements such as the Precision Approach Radar (PAR) but it has been delayed following a poor response from the local industry. The Chennai-based Data Patterns has developed an X band AESA-based PAR and is expected to offer it in the tender. The IAF has also invited responses for 45 bird detection radars to be installed at IAF airbases to reduce bird strikes on aircraft during take-off or landing.

The IAF has been very keen to protect its fighter aircraft on ground from enemy attack by building 108 New Generation Hardened Shelters (NGHAS). These shelters would accommodate SU-30MKI, Mirag-2000, Jaguar and Mig-29 fighters. The blast pens are made out of reinforced concrete to withstand direct hits from air launched weapons and blast doors for the entry and exit. The current shelters can withstand direct hits from 1000 pound bombs while the new shelters being considered must be able to withstand a direct hit from 2000 pound bombs. Also, they should have blast doors to withstand splinters from such bombs. Initially, all bases which are less than 100km from the Pakistan border like Pathankot, Srinagar, Udhampur, Bagdogra, Naliya, Hasimara and Jaisalmer will receive the shelters followed by the others as they are more likely to come under attack in the event of war.

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