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India builds military air bases close to Tibet

August 28, 2008

Published: Aug. 25, 2008

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.)
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