Air force seeks expansion of Nyoma airfield in Ladakh – DNA
Indian Air Force (IAF) has sent a proposal to the ministry of defence (MoD) seeking permission to expand the airfield at Nyoma, south-east of Leh, so that it can operate fighter jets from a high altitude.
If approved, it plans to make the expanded airfield fully functional in the next four years.
IAF mooted the idea after defence minister AK Antony visited the advanced landing ground (ALG) in June this year.
The Nyoma ALG, which was activated in September 2009, is at an altitude of 13,300 feet and has landing facilities for helicopters such as Mi-17 and transport aircraft such as An-32.
Just 40km from the China border, Nyoma has a compact airstrip. The runway needs an extension of at least 12,000 feet with a hard surface to enable fighters such as Sukhoi-30 and MiGs to land.
Nyoma was reactivated along with seven other defunct airfields. Its reactivation followed that of Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) and Fukche in Ladakh, which were made operational in 2009. DBO is the highest airfield in the world at an altitude of 16,200 feet.
In the run-up to the 78th Air Force Day, Air Marshal NAK Browne, air officer commanding-in-chief (AOC-in-C) of the Delhi-based Western Air Command, the sword arm of IAF, said on Friday, “There are no plans to extend the other ALGs in Ladakh — DBO and Fukche — due to limitations and challenges. When we look at the development of a base we should be able to operate each platform of IAF and the army, which includes fighters.”
Chushul, another ALG in Ladakh, will also not be extended since it is only 5km from the Chinese border.
Earlier, IAF has operated fighters such as Sukhoi-30 and Mig-29 from Leh and Thoise, both of which are at an altitude of 10,500 feet.
These airstrips have loose gravel ground and due to inclement weather and rough terrain work can be carried out for only seven months in a year, which may delay their expansion up to four years.
Browne said, “The expansion includes making a hard surface runway, infrastructure, re-fuelling, safety and air traffic control facilities. Most IAF fighters are designed to operate at a high altitude.”
Western is the largest command of IAF extending from Rajasthan to Siachen and 11 of its 18 air bases are fighter bases.
Browne also said the gap between the air forces of India and Pakistan was reducing, both in terms of numbers and capability, due to the help the US and China were extending to Islamabad in terms of fighter aircraft, missiles, and sensors.
“Pakistan Air Force [PAF] is the most modernised among the neighbour’s three services. It was modernised systematically since 2005. The US and China assisted Pakistan to come up as a fairly potent force. The new F-16s sold to Pakistan by the US are a challenge to IAF,” he said.
PAF has 21 fighter squadrons as compared to IAF’s 32.