The Indian Air Force today added muscle to its capabilities in the eastern region amid the ongoing standoff with China in the Doklam region. The IAF is learnt to have commissioned Air Force Station Arjan Singh in Panagarh, about 150 km northwest of Kolkata.
AFS Arjan Singh became fully operational, with its full component of six C-130J Super Hercules strategic aircraft, in the last week of July.
At that time, the Defence Ministry did not want to connect the arrival of the aircraft with the Doklam standoff and rather described it as “fruition of an old plan”.
The giant C-130J Super Hercules is described as one of the finest transport aircraft which can perform many duties simultaneously, according to various international aircraft reviews.
Panagarh is the second location in the country, after Hindan in Ghaziabad, to have a base for the C-130J aircraft, manufactured by Lockheed Martin of the United States. Technicians and engineers from the company have been building hangars and other facilities for these aircraft at Panagarh for over two years.
The report cited a senior IAF official saying that an Ilyushin II-78 mid-air refueller has also been based at Panagarh to extend the endurance of Eastern Air Command’s (EAC) fighter fleet, particularly the Sukhoi Su-30 MKIs.
“The first of the C-130Js started arriving in India in 2011 and the first squadron (Veiled Vipers) was based at Hindan. These aircraft are considered among the most versatile in their class, capable of landing with troops and equipment at Advanced Landing Grounds with short runways close to the Line of Actual Control with China in India's northeastern states. The Super Hercules is not a mere transport aircraft. It is a strategic asset that can deploy troops in hostile territory at extremely short notice,” another IAF officer was quoted by Times of India as saying.
“Panagarh is crucial also because the Indian Army's newly raised 17 Strike Corps is to be headquartered there. Panagarh will also have one of the two high-altitude infantry divisions (59 Division) of the Corps based there. The 17 Strike Corps is being raised keeping in mind threats from across India's northern border. All these make AFS Arjan Singh a key strategic location. It is being kept at a state of full preparedness for 'short and swift' operations,” he added.
However, assets like II-78 refuellers are deployed for better preparedness during contingencies. With squadrons of the Mig-21s and Mig-27s being gradually phased out, the Su-30 MKI has become the mainstay of the EAC.