Shailesh Kumar, National Defence
New Delhi, 23 October 2017
In a major showdown, 15 of the mighty fighter jets and one transport aircraft of Indian Air Force will land on Lucknow – Agra Expressway on 24th October.
The exercise third in a row starting from 2015 will prove the strengthen and capability of Indian Air Force to use roads and expressways in case of emergency and in conflict situations when due to enemy action regular airstrips are denied for operations.
On 24th October The exercise will commence with an impressive short landing by the C-130 transport aircraft which on its landing roll itself will start off loading the Garud Commandos and their vehicle.
Immediately on disembarking from the C-130, the Commandos will take up position on either side of the airstrip to cordon it off for the fighter operations.
This will be followed by 3 Jaguar Deep penetration strike aircraft.
Then 2 formations of three aircraft each of Mirages;
and 2 formations of three aircraft each of Sukhoi- 30mki.
All fifteen fighter aircraft will carry out a roller/ touch and go manoeuvre on the expressway. The C-130 will then return for another short landing to extricate the Garud Commandos.
C-130 Super Hercules will land at 10am and from 10:15 am onwards 25 min blocks are given for various formations.
All timings of operation may change according to weather conditions
According to sources, in India, 12 highways have been cleared for similar landing operations. Three of these highways connect Maoist-affected areas in Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. These strips would be used in case of emergencies such as disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, as well as in situations of war or conflict.
Earlier in May 2015, a Mirage-2000 fighter plane of the IAF had touched down on the Yamuna Expressway as a display of capability to land fighter jets on highways. Last year, six fighters jets including Sukhoi and Mirage of the Indian Air Force performed simulated touch-down to celebrate the opening of same Lucknow Agra Expressway.
India has started the practice just 2 years back but its an old practice world over to land fighters on motorways and highways. Germany during the world war –II was the first country to use highways strips. Even for Pakistan, the feat is now almost 2 decades old.
Pakistan Air Force used the M2 motorway as a runway for the first time in year 2000 when it landed an F-7P fighter, a Super Mushak trainer and a C-130. PAF repeated the act in 2010 by using a runway section on the M2 motorway on 2 April 2010 to land, refuel and take-off two jet fighters, a Mirage III and an F-7P, during its Highmark 2010 exercise.
After Uri attack, Pakistan in September 2016 had landed mirage fighter and F7 fighter jet on Motorway M2.
Even Chinese have been practicing landing and take offs of fighters from their highways. China’s air force for the first time test flew warplanes on a highway strip in Central China’s Henan Province on May 25 in 2014. Flight tests of military aircraft including the third generation of warplanes were held on the Zhengzhou-Minquan highway.
In 2014 itself, in a major war game Taiwan has landed fighter jets and airborne early aircraft on Highway. Three jet fighters, an F-16, a Mirage 2000-5 and a home-made Indigenous Defence Fighter, practised landing on a freeway in southern Chiayi county, where they refuelled and loaded missiles and other ammunition before taking off again.
Around the world, America, Australia, China, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, India, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Srilanka, Sweden and Switzerland, Taiwan and Russia have capabilities to land fighters on highways.
For India, the most alarming aspect is the Chinese capability to use most of their highways specially G219 and G214 running parallel to Indian border. According to estimates by 2016, Chinese have built 1,31,00 kilometre of highways. At stretches in between, China has inserted airstrips.
The appearance of highway strip looks no different from other highways. The locations of roads used for airstrips are classified information kept by Chinese management authorities. The length of Highway strips for air operations are generally more than 2,000 meters long.
Highway strips are usually built on foundations tens of centimeters thick and made of high strength material. The foundations for regular highway are five centimeters and made of stone or cement.
Unlike regular highway asphalt, highway strips are covered with a special bituminous concrete, which is highly absorbent during rain and snow.
Highway strips should be cleared of surrounding obstacles that may impede landings, such as tall buildings or trees. Highway strip should not be lined with fences, and any traffic barriers should be equipped with wheels for easy removal.
Areas for turn-around aprons and service zones are reserved. The service zone on the highway strip is more than three times of the size of a regular service zone, and it can accommodate more than 20 large aircraft. Planes can be refuelled, maintenanced and turn in the service zone. The mobile control tower and aircraft navigation radar platform are designed to be used at both ends of the strip.
The surface should have no cracks and free of stones or metal particles that may get into engines.
According to sources, India by December 2016 has built 1,65,000 km of highway. Twelve highways have capability to land aircrafts. There is an urgent need to build more airstrips in stretches of these highways, which can turn a major player in network centric warfare.