IAF gets Panagarh Hercules-ready amid high-decibel row with China
- Panagarh is the second location in the country, after Hindan in Ghaziabad, to have a base for the C-130J aircraft.
- C-130J Super Hercules can carry 64 airborne troops with equipment
- Can also be used to carry six pallets or a few armoured vehicles
KOLKATA: The Indian Air Force has without any fanfare added more teeth to its capabilities in the east by commissioning Air Force Station Arjan Singh in Panagarh, about 150km northwest of Kolkata, in the middle of the stand-off with China in Doklam+ .
AFS Arjan Singh became fully operational, with its full complement of six C-130J Super Hercules strategic aircraft, in the last week of July. The Doklam stand-off with China started a month earlier.
Panagarh is the second location in the country, after Hindan in Ghaziabad, to have a base for the C-130J aircraft. Technicians and engineers from Lockheed Martin have been building hangars and other facilities for these aircraft at Panagarh for over two years. A senior IAF official in New Delhi said an Ilyushin Il-78 mid-air refueller has also been based at Panagarh to extend the endurance of Eastern Air Command (EAC)’s fighter fleet, particularly the Sukhoi Su-30 MKIs.
“The first of the C-130Js started arriving in India in 2011 and the first squadron (Veiled Vipers) was based at Hindan. These aircraft are considered among the most versatile in their class, capable of landing with troops and equipment at Advanced Landing Grounds with short runways close to the Line of Actual Control with China in India’s northeastern states. The Super Hercules is not a mere transport aircraft. It is a strategic asset that can deploy troops in hostile territory at extremely short notice,” another IAF officer said.
The hangars and other facilities at the bases at Hindan and Panagarh are hush-hush affairs not without reason. Entire Special Forces units with equipment bunk in air-conditioned quarters below the hangars. This enables them to mobilise within minutes and board the aircraft that are kept ready for take-off at any point of time. When not in actual operation, Special Forces personnel train both with and without the aircraft.
“Panagarh is crucial also because the Indian Army’s newly raised 17 Strike Corps is to be headquartered there. Panagarh will also have one of the two high-altitude infantry divisions (59 Division) of the Corps based there. The 17 Strike Corps is being raised keeping in mind threats from across India’s northern border. All these make AFS Arjan Singh a key strategic location. It is being kept at a state of full preparedness for ‘short and swift’ operations,” the officer added.
The IAF believes that commissioning of AFS Arjan Singh will raise eyebrows across the LAC but officers maintain that it is all part of a schedule that has nothing to do with the present situation. However, assets like Il-78 refuellers are deployed for better preparedness during contingencies. With squadrons of the Mig-21s and Mig-27s being gradually phased out, the Su-30 MKI has become the mainstay of the EAC. These air-superiority aircraft have a range of 3,000km that can be more than doubled by mid-air refuelling, thereby increasing their potency manifold and enabling them to launch strategic weapons.