Old Islamabad airport taken over by PAF | Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd.) | ThePrint
Text Size:

New Delhi: Following its friend China’s lead, Pakistan has taken to using its civilian airports for military purposes as well.

The old Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad could hold about a squadron of aircraft, 16 in hardened shelters and the rest on operational readiness platforms (ORPs). The new Islamabad International Airport, which replaced the old one last year, can hold at least half a squadron of fighters, with eight of them in hardened shelters and four on ORPs.

The Pakistan Air Force generally follows a policy of activating these dual-use airports for military use during emergencies.

The activation of Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport was observed on satellite imagery in the aftermath of India’s Balakot strikes.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd.) | ThePrint

China has 60 dual-use airports for civil and military use. All the airports in Tibet fall under this category. The dual use of any airport brings in inherent strategic benefits, and enhances support facilities. It obviously saves on expenditure by not having to create additional infrastructure.

ThePrint takes a close look at the latest satellite imagery to understand what Pakistan is doing in Islamabad and Karachi.

Advantages of dual-use airports

The main advantage of any dual-use airport is that it is economical, since infrastructure can be used by both military aircraft and civil flights.

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.


Such airports provide for well-dispersed deployment, which dissipates attackers’ resources, thus evading extensive damage in one pass.

Since there are civilian aircraft and, at many places, international flights in the vicinity, an attacker is likely to avoid pre-emptive bombing, considering international ramifications.

This gives inherent air defence to the airport, caters for redundancy of infrastructure, and imbibes security consciousness among civil employees etc.

Also read: Pakistani engineering near Kartarpur Corridor could cause floods, threaten pilgrim safety

New Islamabad International Airport

The new airport to serve the Islamabad-Rawalpindi area began construction in 2008, but was completed only in May 2018.

Satellite imagery suggests that it was not planned as a dual-use airport, with provisions only being added at the end of 2017, after India objected to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The engineers displayed indecision — like in the case of Kartarpur reported by ThePrint earlier — changing the blueprints twice.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd.) | ThePrint

At the new airport, there are two specially-protected underground bunkers for pilots to stay in, and two protected bunkers for ammunition storage.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd.) | ThePrint

The old airport

The old Islamabad airport, named after Benazir Bhutto after the former prime minister was assassinated in 2008, was infamous for its poor facilities, and in 2014, was named the world’s worst airport.

But it was a dual-use airport, as was clearly visible when it was activated after the Balakot strikes, just as it had been after the Lahore bombings on 8 and 12 March 2010.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd.) | ThePrint

The old airport housed Pakistan International Airlines’ kitchen, cargo, technical ground support and engineering departments. All these were planned to be moved to the new airport, but the facilities were not completed.

Soon after the Balakot strike, satellite imagery indicates that the PIA facilities were shifted to Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport temporarily, until the new complex became ready.

The PIA complex at the Bhutto airport has now been handed over to the Pakistan Air Force, which has absorbed it into its Nur Khan air base, earlier known as the Chaklala base.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd.) | ThePrint

The hardened aircraft shelters at the Bhutto airport have received an extra coat of concrete hardening after March 2019.

Source: Col. Vinayak Bhat (retd.) | ThePrint

Also read: The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has a weak link, satellite images show


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

Share Your Views


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here