New Delhi, Nov. 9: The Kalaikunda air force station is for hire. Singapore’s air force has asked for use of its facilities and is negotiating a price with the Indian government.
The airbase is currently hosting contingents of the Indian and US air forces for the latest edition of the Cope India series of exercises. Outside its perimeter, Left supporters are protesting against India’s alleged military tie-up with the US.
Air Force Station Kalaikunda was built by the British for the Royal Indian Air Force in the Second World War. Through this year its facilities have been modernised and it is now upgraded to international standards and has the wherewithal to host crews from foreign air forces.
The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) used the Kalaikunda airbase for an exercise with the IAF last October.
That exercise, called Sindex ’04, was based out of Gwalior, the IAF’s bigger and probably more sophisticated airbase capable of hosting foreign crews. It was in Sindex ’04 that the IAF exercised with F-16 Fighting Falcons for the first time in the country.
But more than giving the IAF a foretaste of the F-16s, Sindex ’04 also provided the RSAF contingent with valuable space to exercise in. The island nation and city-state has a hinterland that is only a fraction of India’s. That does not afford its modern air force the airspace to conduct drills and manoeuvres of combat aircraft.
Such exercises need a lot of airspace. The IAF’s Sukhoi 30 Mki, MiG 29 and Jaguars and the USAF's F-16 CJ Fighting Falcons currently engaged in Cope India are flying from the new tarmac and runway of Kalaikunda ' just 130 km west of Calcutta ' and are using Indian airspace over the Bay of Bengal and also over the hinterland.
Kalaikunda is close not only to the Bay of Bengal but also to a field firing range for mock ground-attack raids.
Kalaikunda ' called KKD in the air force ' is home to the Eastern Air Command’s 5th wing. It has a stellar role in the country’s military history and was the home base of the last squadron of Hunter aircraft. Now it is the home base of the MiG 27 fighter aircraft. The Pakistan Air Force claimed to have bombed it during the 1971 war.
The airbase has camouflaged hangars ' a feature that marks many military establishments.
During the Second World War, the British established several such airbases in the eastern region to conduct raids against advancing Japanese and also for operations to transport aid to parts of China.
Eastern and northeastern India have a number of abandoned airfields built by the British. Kalaikunda was never allowed to run into ruin.
Upgraded facilities in KKD now include state-of-the-art navigational aids, a new tarmac, a freshly laid runway and billets for the crew.
Specially built air-conditioned billets are being used for the first time to host the American pilots, technicians and engineers of the F-16 fighter aircraft and the E-3 Sentry Awacs that have flown in from their bases in Misawa and Kadena in Japan.
KKD can also accommodate a large number of aircraft. Most of the work to upgrade KKD was done by the Military Engineering Services (MES), a wing of the army that caters to all three armed forces.
So impressed was the Singapore Air Force with the potential of Kalaikunda after Sindex ’04 that they made the offer to use it and pay for the facilities.
The Singapore Air Force has also offered to bear the cost of such exercises that are meant essentially to train their own crews but will also give the Indian Air Force the experience that is necessary to hone skills of pilots.
For the Indian Air Force, such a deal will also mean opening up a revenue stream.