C 130J Super Hercules aircraft at Panagarh air base; (right) an air exercise at the base. Pictures by Pradip Sanyal
Panagarh, Oct. 6: The Panagarh air base of the Eastern Air Command is readying to emerge as a strategic hub in the east with the induction of the C 130J Super Hercules aircraft, the second base in the country after Hindon, off Delhi, to have the world's most advanced tactical airlifter.
The Special Force of Hercules squadron in Panagarh in West Burdwan, which was raised only a month back, has begun preparing itself 24x7 keeping in mind the developments across the border in China. Officers said one could fly to the Chinese border from Panagarh in less than an hour on a C 130J Super Hercules.
"The runway of the Panagarh airbase has been refurbished to accommodate all types of fighter planes. We are in a state of heightened alert and ready to face any air-challenge," said Air Vice Marshal Vikram Singh, Air Officer Commanding (AOC), Advanced Headquarters, Eastern Air Command. "It would take us less than an hour to reach the Chinese border from here."
Constructed in 1944 by the United States Army Air Force, the Panagarh air base was used extensively during World War II. The base played a key role during the 1965 and the 1971 India-Pakistan wars and was rechristened Air Force Station Arjan Singh in 2016 after the late Marshal of the air force.
Sources said the IAF bosses had set their sights on the Panagarh base around June, when a border stand-off between India and China started over the construction of a road by the Chinese on the disputed Himalayan plateau of Doklam.
Reason: The base is not too close to the Chinese border and yet not too far away. Panagarh is ideally located to have in its fleet Super Hercules aircraft, which can deploy troops in a hostile territory in a short notice.
Panagarh has also been identified as a base for a section of the Mountain Strike Corps, a high-altitude infantry division with "quick reaction ground offensive capabilities".
"The Mountain Strike Corps is headquartered in Ranchi and some of its elements would be in Panagarh," Air Vice Marshal Singh said.
Insiders said the combination of the air force and the army in and around Panagarh signaled India's capability to strike across the border, if required.
Officers said they were looking for land to expand the base. While talks have started with the district administration and the air headquarters, there hasn't been much progress. "Land acquisition is a time-taking affair and talks are on," an officer said.