Amidst the ongoing stand-off between Indian and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a former Vice Chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF) made a startling revelation that the IAF had once had to reactivate the historic Daulat Beg Oldie airstrip in Ladakh, without the permission of the then-Congress led UPA government in 2008.
Air Marshal Pranab Kumar Barbora, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the western air command in 2008, wanted to re-open an airstrip along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) not only to maximise logistical support for troops stationed at Ladakh but also to check the Chinese activity along the LAC and to prevent any incursion by the Chinese troops.
The plan of Indian Air Force to re-activate the strip, which could give a huge strategic advantage to the Indian troops against received a major setback after UPA government under Manmohan Singh refused to give permission. Interestingly, the government did not give any clear reason for refusing permission.
However, the Air Marshal realising the prevailing security necessities along the LAC, decided to follow his plan, without the centre’s permission.
In May 2008, the Air Marshal himself flew an An-32 transport aircraft and landed on the Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip in Ladakh without informing the government. The historic airstrip was reactivated by the Indian Air Force again.
The strategic importance of Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip
Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip lies in one of the most strategically important terrains just near the base of the Karakoram Range and also close to Chip Chap river. The airstrip is just 8 km south of the Chinese border and 9 km northwest of the Aksai Chin Line of Actual Control between India and China.
The DBO airstrip is also one of the world’s highest airstrips in the world, located and operated at an altitude of nearly 17,000 feet. It was built during the 1962 war with China, however, there were no operations here since 1965. For 43 years, there had been no clearance from Delhi to re-operate from this outpost.
The first pilot to land a C-119G Fairchild Packet aircraft was IAF’s Squadron Leader CKS Raje. After a slight instability was observed in the runway after an earthquake in 1966, the landing of fixed-wing aircraft was discontinued, as per a report in SP’s Aviation.
The Indian Army maintains helipads and a gravel airstrip here, the highest airstrip in the world. The Air Force also carries routine sorties using An-32 aircraft to provide relief and supplies to the troops stationed nearby. The outpost is strategically important as it helps Indian Armed Forces to keep a check on Chinese troops that patrols along the Line of Actual Control.
In a significant demonstration of its capabilities, the Indian Air Force had landed a C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft in Daulat Beg Oldie on 20 August 2013. In fact, the DBO airstrip and the necessary infrastructure built around it has been adding weight to India’s bargaining power with China in the current stand-off.
The Daulat Beg Oldi outpost is also one of the five officially agreed personnel meeting points between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army for regular consultations and interactions between the two armies.