HONG KONG, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- In the strategic direction of Bhutan and central Nepal, the Indian air force has built three major military airports, sufficient to provide deterrence over the central part of Tibet.
These airports include the Bagdogra -- Avantipur -- Air Base, where at least 16 MiG-21FL fighters and An-32 transport aircraft are based. The airport is equipped with mound-structured hangars, each accommodating two MiG-21 fighters. The Bagdogra Airport is also only 310 miles from the border with China and is the home base of the Indian air force No. 8 Squadron.
In this region, the Hashimara Air Base is one of the better-equipped military airports with large, full-fledged facilities. There are 18 MiG-27ML attackers based here, and during a confrontation with China, these could hit targets deep in Tibet through the Bhutan-Nepal corridor. The No. 22 Squadron of the Indian air force is stationed at this airport. In addition, a simple runway also has been built at Cooch Behar.
India and China have been following very similar paths in the construction of airport facilities and SAM-2 ground-to-air missile positions, as they are the students of the same Soviet Union professor. Nonetheless, the Chinese air force is ahead of the Indian air force in the construction of underground airport facilities. All along its western border with China, especially in the area north of New Delhi, India has been building a series of airports and military bases in an obvious effort to strengthen its defenses against its increasingly powerful neighbor.
There are three military airports in the central part of the border area, two of which are large air bases. Along the western part of the border there are 11 airports that could lend support to the Indian air force in the event of an attack upon Tibet. These include airports at Patna, Bihta, Varanasi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Bareilly and Adampur.
At the Bakshi-Ka-Talab Air Base near Bareilly, observers have spotted nine Su-30K fighter aircraft. Under normal circumstances, three or more MiG-25R aircraft are stationed here, for use by the No. 102 Reconnaissance Squadron in operations along India's western border with China. This airport, which belongs to the Indian air force's No. 35 and No. 102 squadrons, has extensive facilities including reinforced aircraft hangars and is located no more than 370 miles from the Indian-Chinese border.
There is another large air base not far away at Ambala, with 35 reinforced aircraft hangars. Less than 250 miles from the border with China, it is the closest attack base to Tibet. The Indian Air Defense Force's No. 5 Squadron is based here, with a fleet of Jaguar attackers. There are also at least two SAM-2/3 surface-to-air missile positions at this base.
At nearby Chandigarh, at least 13 reinforced aircraft hangars and one SAM-3 missile position have been built. This is an airport primarily for military transport aircraft as well as Mi-17/Mi-8 helicopters belonging to the No. 3 Air Base warehouse. There are at least two IL-76 transport aircraft, 13 AN-32 transport planes and one heavy-lift Mi-26 helicopter fielded at this airport. This deployment suggests the Indian military is highly aware of the need to airlift troops to the Tibet region should a conflict erupt between the two countries.
(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)