Away from Spotlight, IAF Quietly Upgrades Bases Focused on China

Indian Air Force

New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) in the last four years has been slowly, away from spotlight, upgrading its infrastructure facilities in at least 20 air bases focused on China-centric operations or on having a dual area of operation.

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These upgrades include not just construction of new underground munition centres, hardened aircraft shelters and taxiways but also upgradation of navigational aids, besides setting up of new radars and base defence systems.

Sources in the defence and security establishment said that while the plans were already in motion, the military tensions with China since 2020 has led to a more faster and focussed approach. They explained that even as the tensions with China was just beginning in May 2020, the defence ministry had signed a Rs 1,200 crore contract with Tata Power SED (TPSED) for Modernisation of Air Field Infrastructure (MAFI) of 37 airfields for IAF, Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard.

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This was a follow-on program to MAFI Phase 1 that included upgradation of 30 airfields of IAF. The project included installation and commissioning of modern airfield equipment like Cat-II Instrument Landing System (ILS) and Cat II Air Field Lightning System (AFLS) among others, which were directly connected to Air Traffic Control (ATC).

Asked about specifics of the other programs that have been initiated with a focus on China, sources said there has been an increase of infrastructure projects.

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“These infrastructure projects were always on cards, and work was initiated on some of these airfields prior to the stand-off with China. But yes, the work has been sped up and more initiated,” a source said.

A second source pointed out that the work involved not just repair of runways and creation of additional taxi ways to enable better tempo of operations, the stand-off has led to increased need for storage of spare parts and munitions. “Across air bases, the focus is to have hardened underground munition centres. It is not just the IAF that is making them, but also the Army, especially in the Eastern sector,” the second source said.

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Popular satellite imagery expert Damien Symon, who goes by his X handle _Detresfa, April 15 put out images of the Chabua air base from March 2020 and March 2024 to show the work that has been done. The difference being that a new large apron (area where aircraft are parked, unloaded or loaded, refuelled, boarded, or maintained) has been made at the base which houses the Su-30 MKI fighter jets, besides hardened aircraft shelters and other such developments.

Talking about other upgrades, the sources explained that new radars have been set up at some bases close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC), besides increase in defensive capabilities. The sources explained that one of the reasons for new infrastructure building is also to cater to drones operations.

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“The Army has created integrated aviation Brigades which have seen a larger concentration of drones and helicopters in specific areas. They are based at IAF bases, which also cater to IAF’s own set of drones. Naturally more infrastructure is being created to cater to the increased demand,” a third source said.