New Delhi: With tension continuing to prevail along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the Sino-Indian border, and in order to counter the Chinese build up, the Ministry of Defence has invited bids to upgrade the Nyoma airfield in eastern Ladakh into a full-fledged base with allied infrastructure. It also approved a new airfield near Kaza in Himachal Pradesh.
The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) had, in December last week, invited bids for upgrading the Nyoma airfield at a cost of Rs 214 crore. Located close to the Indus and some 180 km south-east of Leh at 13,700 feet, it is a part of the Ladakh plateau and is already being used by helicopters and special operation planes such as C-130J, which can land on mud. The plan now is to have a full-fledged fighter jet base that can launch and recover planes and also carry out minor maintenance jobs.
Rangrik airfield is to come up in Spiti valley, close to Chepzi in Tibet from where Chinese troops come for patrolling at LAC. The BRO plans to complete the upgrade in two years, according to the tender document. The site is spread over 1,235 acres where a 2.7-km runway with allied military infrastructure will come up. The alignment at Nyoma is such that aircraft can land from both directions.
The other important aspect is having an airfield at Rangrik in Spiti valley near Kaza. These parts of Himachal have a flat-plateau type terrain. Across the LAC in Tibet is located Chepzi, the place from where Chinese troops come for patrolling close to Chumar and Demchok. The airfield will connect civilian flights too as the Spiti valley gets blocked due to snow in winters.
US-based policy research organisation, The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), had in March released its report “How Is China Expanding its Infrastructure to Project Power Along its Western Borders”, which says “China has been constructing or upgrading 37 airports and heliports in Tibet and Xinjiang since 2017”. “The pace of this activity sped up significantly in 2020. That year alone, China began constructing seven air facilities and initiated upgrades at seven others,” the report said.
Air power expansion is being supplemented with new road, rail and infrastructure-enabling rapid movement of troops, etc. In 2021, China completed the construction of a road and tunnel system connecting Nyingchi (facing Arunachal), allowing military easy access to the LAC.