New Delhi: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Road, Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari will land on the national highway in Rajasthan’s Barmer district aboard the C-130 J Super Hercules aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) this Thursday.
The two ministers, accompanied by other officials, will take part in the mock emergency landing as part of the inauguration of a 3.5-km strip on the national highway in Barmer, which will aid emergency landings of IAF’s fixed-wing aircraft.
For the inauguration, the IAF will also undertake touchdowns by Su 30 MKI fighter aircraft.
According to sources in the defence and security establishment, the idea of having both Singh and Gadkari aboard the aircraft as a show of confidence came from one of the ministers.
While emergency landings have taken place on other expressways, this week’s event will be the first time a national highway will be used for such landings.
Sources further noted that a dozen such emergency landing strips have been selected across highways close to border areas.
The 12 national highways cleared to be developed into airstrips include Bijbehara-Chinar Bagh highway in Jammu and Kashmir, Rampur-Kathgodam highway in Uttarakhand, Kharagpur-Keonjhar highway in West Bengal and Mohanbari-Tinsukia highway in Assam.
Landing strips for wars, natural calamities
According to sources, these landing stretches on highways, especially near border areas, give the IAF additional options for both landing and take-off during wars and natural calamities.
“There are a number of civil airports and possible landing strips in the hinterland. However, it becomes an issue in the border areas where only IAF bases are there,” a source said.
In times of war, sources noted, air bases are usually targeted first and in such an event, these landing strips on highways and expressways can aid the IAF.
“It is not only for landing but also for carrying out take-off for combat missions. The enemy would have to double guess about where all the IAF can land and take off,” a second source said.
They noted that such landing strips will be spread throughout the country and will also be useful in carrying out relief operations during natural calamities.
Landings on expressways
While the event in Barmer will mark the first emergency landing on a national highway, the IAF has earlier landed the C 130 J on a stretch of the Lucknow-Agra Expressway in 2017. At the time, the IAF’s Garud Commandos had alighted to secure the landing zone as part of a mock drill.
This flight was then followed by ‘touch-and-go’ manoeuvres on the expressway by a combination of Mirages, Su 30 MKI and the Jaguar deep penetration aircraft.
The first time such a mission was accomplished was in 2015 when a Mirage 2000 landed on the Yamuna Expressway near Delhi.
This was followed up by a ‘touch-and-go’ operation by three Mirages and three Sukhois in 2016 at Unnao when the Agra-Lucknow Expressway was inaugurated.
(Edited by Rachel John)