A C-130J Hercules special forces’ and transport plane lands at the Daulat Beg Oldi in Ladakh on Tuesday. Photo released by the IAF
New Delhi, Aug. 20: The Indian Air Force today landed its recently acquired US-made special forces’ aircraft, a C-130J Hercules, at Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO), giving itself a year-round capability to land troops and equipment in the sensitive China frontier in Ladakh.
Indian and Chinese troops were eyeball-to-eyeball at Raki Nala near DBO for three weeks in April-May this year. At 16,614 feet, Daulat Beg Oldi is the highest airstrip in the world and was accessible to fixed-wing aircraft for only a few months in the year. Helicopters have been using DBO more frequently but they cannot carry the kind of load that fixed-wing aircraft can.
The Indian Air Force said: “This achievement qualifies for the world record for the highest landing by an aircraft of this class.”
The demonstration of military capability coincided with foreign secretary-level talks in New Delhi during which India addressed Chinese concerns over military cooperation with Japan and the US.
“We have been landing and taking off on AN32 aircraft there but we had to cease fixed-wing operations for several months in a year. With this, we can now send supplies to troops there for a month on a single sortie and at any time of the year,” Air Marshal P.K. Barbora, who retired as the vice-chief of air staff, told The Telegraph, explaining the significance of the landing.
It was Air Marshal Barbora’s report on the reopening of forward airstrips and landing in DBO as Western Air Commander that led to the resumption of flights from DBO in February 2008 after 43 years. The Chinese immediately objected to the use of military aircraft so close to the contested boundary.
The Chinese military aircraft on their side of the Line of Actual Control are at Shikwane and Kashgar, none of them as close as DBO to the boundary. DBO is 17km south of the Karakoram Pass.
The IAF said its C-130J Super Hercules aircraft landed at DBO at 06.54 this morning piloted by Group Captain Tejbir Singh and the crew of the “Veiled Vipers” special operations squadron based at Hindon near Delhi. The flying time from Hindon to DBO is approximately one-and-a-half hours.
The “Herc” carried a team of senior officers from IAF headquarters that included Air Marshal P.P. Reddy, director-general (inspection and safety), Air Marshal S.B. Deo, director-general (air operations) and Air Vice-Marshal S.R.K. Nair, assistant chief of air staff (transport and helicopters).
The crew was handpicked by the IAF for the landing in DBO — it was the same team that landed the Herc at Dharasu, a small strip in Uttarakhand, during the rescue of the stranded following rain and landslides in June.
Apart from Singh, it comprised Wing Commanders S.G. Mohan and Amit Khanna, Squadron Leader Rahul Rawat and Warrant Officer Kiran Kumar.
DBO, a forward post of the army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, was built during the India-China war of 1962. The air force operated Packet aircraft between 1962 and 1965.
The C-130 can lift up to 20 tonnes.
“With this enhanced airlift capability the IAF will now be in a better position to meet the requirements of our land forces who are heavily dependent on the air bridge for sustenance in these higher and inhospitable areas,” the air force said in a statement.
It said troops can now be deployed faster and “serve as a great morale booster for maintenance of troops positioned there”.
Sub Sector North (SSN), the area of DBO, is difficult to access by foot. It is connected to the rest of Ladakh through two routes — one along the Nubra valley that goes through Saser La (about 17,000ft) and another along the Shyok River after a height of 17,800ft. The foot track could take from four to 15 days from Leh.
The air force is also planning to land in DBO and take off on the larger C-17 Globemaster III that is its latest acquisition from the US. But it does not immediately see the need for everyday operations to DBO with the C-17, a strategic airlifter that can carry 40 tonnes.