Satellite images analysed by ThePrint show unprecedented security arrangements at the Bholari airbase, inaugurated in December.
New Delhi: Pakistan’s newest airbase at Bholari in Sindh — inaugurated in December last year — is suspected of storing nuclear weapons and has an F-16 fighter jet squadron.
Satellite images analysed by ThePrint show unprecedented security arrangements at the airbase, which has been described as having “strategic significance” for land and sea operations.
As many as six separate hardened shelters are visible on the southwestern end of the runway. There are high wire-fences with access controlled gates on the sprawling compound.
The northeastern end of the runway also has a similar offshoot, probably to create another six hardened aircraft shelters for additional nuclear warhead-rigged fighters in future.
The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has been upgrading its fighter aircraft fleet and bases for the past decade. It has been able to persuade China to sell technology to produce JF-17s Thunder, nicknamed Xiaolong (Fierce Dragon), at Kamra.
It has purchased F-16s from the US and Jordan to create at least three squadrons and is vying for another squadron. PAF has also purchased mid-life upgrade of F-16s as well as laser guidance kits for its bombs to hit its targets more accurately.
The aim is to enhance its strategic reach and capability to ensure a strong nuclear triad to counter India and its conventional superiority.
Pakistan’s air chief, while inaugurating this base in December last year, said, “PAF’s Bholari airbase is a project of strategic significance for capacity enhancement of Pakistan Air Force in operational domain both over the land as well as at sea.”
“With the establishment of this base, PAF would be able to support the land operations of the Pakistani Army more efficiently and would also augment and supplement maritime operations carried out by Pakistani Navy,” he added.
Operational domain is one of the three domains of Pakistan’s unofficial nuclear doctrine. Pakistan seems to confuse the rest of the world by projecting these domains as tactical, operational and strategic. However, this should not be confused with the nuclear triad.
The main operating airbase (MOB) is still under construction although it was inaugurated almost four months ago. Spread over almost 3,500 hectares of land, the airbase is located adjacent to the new highway, connecting Hyderabad in Sindh and Karachi, which is also under construction.
Runway: It has a runway of 4,000 m in length and 90 m in width. There is a taxiway of similar length on the north side of the runway.
Apron: There is an apron of 700 m X 125 m with two temporary helipad markings. This will probably be used by naval surveillance aircraft in future.
Hardened shelters: There are 10 hardened aircraft shelters constructed at the base for fighter aircraft. These are located on either side of the southwestern Bezier curve taxiway loop. There is enough space for future construction of another 20-30 hardened shelters on other taxiway/runway loops.
Special hardened shelters: There are six separate hardened shelters on the southwestern end of the runway shielded by high wire-fences. These are probably meant for nuclear weapons carrying aircraft.
Ammunition point: An ammunition point has been constructed to the east of the runway covered by high wire-fences. Until March 2018, only two hardened bunkers with automated doors and revetments have been constructed at this ammunition point.
A large space has been left vacant to create at least 28 more such bunkers.
The entire ammunition point has been provided with a double-fence security shield. There is also a layer of trees to avoid direct visual observation.
The security arrangements observed at this ammunition suggest that it could be used for deployment of air deliverable nuclear weapons.
Fuel point: A small depot is observed there to cater to fuel, oil and lubricants (FOL) requirement at the airbase. It has eight semi-underground FOL tanks.
Administrative block: There are a few administrative and support facilities such as six buildings for staff quarters and a masjid at the base.
The Bholari airbase has been provided with a triple layered security perimeter fence. The outermost layer is a revetment-type perimeter. There is a solid wall in the middle with watch towers and the innermost one is a wire fence.
The ammunition bunkers are probably provided with automated gates.