HONG KONG, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Within the next four months, a first batch of eight Russian-built Sukhoi Su-30MKI multirole fighters will be positioned at India's Tezpur Air Base in the state of Assam, near the border with China, an Indian navy source has revealed.
This is almost six months ahead of the timeline reported some time ago in the Indian media.
This will be the first time for Su-30MKI fighters to be deployed so close to the Indian-Chinese border. The deployment of two squadrons of Su-30MKI fighters at Tezpur Air Base in the eastern part of the country will greatly enhance India's capability to launch aerial precision attacks on China.
The Sukhoi Su-30MKI's 932-mile combat radius is enough to cover all the major cities in southwest China, including Kunming, Chengdu and Chongqing. India plans to outfit the fighters with the latest BrahMos air-to-ground supersonic missiles, which have a 180-mile range. India's aerial refueling capability will greatly extend the combat radius of the aircraft. The BrahMos is co-produced by India and Russia.
Along the Indian-Chinese border, air power has been shifting in favor of India. First of all, India has quite a number of airports in Assam and the disputed territory of Arunachal Pradesh, making troop maneuvers easier. In the Tibet region, China has only the Kang-ko Airport in eastern Tibet, the Gongka Airport in Lhasa and one more known as the Hidden Airport. Fighter aircraft are not normally stationed at any of these airports.
China has sent Sukhoi Su-27SK fighters to this area for airport transfer training on the plateau. Troops who took part in this training reportedly faced difficulties in logistic support and supply. In the nearby Chengdu Military Region, the only air force units with decent combat strength are one J-10A regiment under the PLA Air Force's No. 44 Division and one Su-27 regiment under the No. 33 Division.
The Diqing and Zhongdian airports in Yunnan province could be used for operations against India, but these are small civilian airports.
India has built a number of airports in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, including seven military airports. The small Teju New Airport, located close to the border with China, has only one runway and is mainly used for rapid transport by helicopter. It could be used as a runway for MiG-21 fighters to take off and land.
There is another similar airport in Machuka, again close to the border. A small airport at Sookerating has one runway, while the Along Airport is also available for fast landing and takeoff of helicopters, indicating that the Indian air force attaches great importance to fast reaction capability.
Other small front-line airport facilities include the Jorhat Airport and Lilabari Airport. The Chabua Airport can field not only An-32 light transport aircraft but also Mi-8/17 helicopters, and is the pivotal airport for the Indian air force to quickly deliver troops in the region. Two runways have been built at this airport.
To the south of Arunachal Pradesh is Assam, where Tezpur is the largest military airport. Tezpur Airport, now preparing to receive the Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters, is no more than 300 miles from the practical line of control at the China-India border. The Indian Air Defense Force No. 30 Squadron is stationed there, armed with 16 MiG-21FL fighters, all of which are now anchored in mound-structured hangars.
Two other small airports have been built in Assam, the Dimapir and Kumbhirgram dual-use airports. The Indian air force also has the Lengpui, Barapani and Guwahati airports in the area.
(In Part 2: India's military airport buildup.)
(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)