NEW DELHI: The Indian Air Force today landed its largest transport aircraft, a Boeing-made C-17 Globemaster III, at Tuting in Arunachal Pradesh in what is clearly a demonstration of military mobility near the sensitive border with China.
In December-January troops of the Indian and Chinese forces came face-to-face after a Chinese road building team entered India near Tuting. Indian troops confiscated two dozers before returning them days later after the Chinese withdrew.
“The mission carried out today is a strategic leap in terms of operational performance demonstration and tactical air mobility,” an IAF spokesperson said. The C-17, bought from the US, is with the ‘Skylords’ squadron based at Hindon near Delhi.
Tuesday’s demonstration of “tactical air mobility” comes at a time when New Delhi is going easy with rhetoric that may annoy China. Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman is likely to visit China in April. It is not clear whether she would be on a bilateral visit or for a meeting of defence ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) countries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also scheduled to visit China in June.
The location of Tuting where an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) has just been revived is at a delicate point of the border where the Line of Actual Control takes an ‘S’ bend. The Yarlung Tsangpo, that later becomes the Siang and flows into the Brahmaputra, enters India from Tibet at the point.
Tuting is also difficult to access by fixed-wing aircraft though helicopters fly to and from the place regularly.
The IAF spokesperson described the landing of the C-17, that can carry troops as well as tanks, “historic”.
“The challenging airfield is in the midst of high hills in a narrow valley,” he said.
Though a quieter area of the contested frontier, the border around Tuting became tense in December-January near Bishing village. Coming as it did shortly after the 72-day face-off at Doklam in Bhutan last year, the Tuting incident had the potential to escalate. But both sides decided to disengage.