Kolkata: With time, the geo-political balance in Asia has undergone a sea change. To thwart the Chinese dragon, the Ministry of Defence is now strengthening its bases in the eastern region, keeping West Bengal as its main focus.
This marks the 45th year of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, and the Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to renovate its bases and stations in the state and is contemplating rebuilding 12 airstrips as new bases or stations. The IAF has a very large base at Kalaikunda in West Midnapore district, a fighter aircraft base at Hashimara and a fighter aircraft and training base at Bagdogra—both in North Bengal. It also has a helicopter station at Barrackpore in North 24 Parganas, and has recently set up an air base at Panagarh in Burdwan district.
A massive modernisation programme is being conducted at Hashimara, and by phases, the Mig-27 aircraft will be withdrawn. Instead, multi-role aircraft will be inducted into these two squadrons. A plan has also been formulated to strengthen the air base.
The IAF also plans to rebuild runways and airstrips that were used in WW II in Asansol, Hijli, Chakulia, Peardoba, Dhubulia, Garbeta, Ghuskara, Jhargram, Kanchrapara, Pandabeswar, Purulia and Shalboni. These unused facilities can act as vital air bases and stations to aid the major ones.
After the creation of Bangladesh, the Ministry of Defence had not paid much attention to strengthen defence establishments in eastern India as the threat perception had decreased. But now, after the activities by Chinese People’s Liberation Army—which had run over the Indian armed forces and entered up to Tezpur in Assam—the ministry felt there is a need to strengthen all armed forces bases in the eastern region.
As a result, to strengthen the Mountain Strike Corps XVII which will be based at Panagarh, the IAF is also being given more air power to increase its strategic capability as West Bengal very close to the Sino-Indian border.
This airbase was established by the US armed forces during WW II and was later taken over by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. But during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the IAF took it over and two fighter squadrons comprising Sukhoi-7 and Mig-21 aircraft were deployed there. After the war, it was handed over to the National Airports Authority of India but remained unused.
Now, after the ministry’s decision, the IAF has enhanced its strategic capability with the second-largest base for C-130J Super Hercules at Panagarh to strengthen its power to take on China. A senior IAF officer of Eastern Air Command said: “Availability of Panagarh airfield will definitely enhance strategic capability of IAF in the Eastern Area of Responsibility and will also augment mobility of Mountain Strike Corps.” The officer added that there are plans for a larger aircraft, a tanker variety aircraft to be based there.
Initially, the C-130J was to be stationed at Charbatia in Odisha, but since the headquarters of the Mountain Strike Corps is now located in Panagarh, the ministry chose this airfield. “It is a strategic decision of the Indian government and the primary role for the C-130J will be to work as special operations aircraft,” the official explained.