The Indian Air Force landed its largest military transport aircraft C-17 Globemaster at Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh close to the India-China border on Thursday at an elevation of 6,200 feet above sea level. The landing of the aircraft gives further boost to the IAF’s transport capabilities. The Mechuka air strip, called the ‘Advanced Landing Ground’ (ALG), is maintained by the Indian Air Force and will be one of its key forward bases along the China border.
The IAF had started its operations with Dakota and Otter in 1962 in the area and subsequently the Antonov-32, popularly known as AN-32, was operated till October 2013 before the upgrade work was started. The road connectivity to the nearest air/rail head at Dibrugarh, about 500 km away, is generally two days of travel, unless the roads get damaged due to frequent landslides.
“This is a quantum jump from the existing capability of An-32 and C-130J aircraft. Such airlift capability facilitates speedy transfer of men and material in this rugged terrain, interspersed with valleys and high mountain ranges that inhibit road connectivity,” a statement by the IAF said. In the event of a disaster in the region, C-17 operations to the remote ALG can enhance the speed and quantum of national relief effort.
Mechuka, located at an elevation of about 1830 metres above sea level and close to China border, was one of the several strategic locations during the 1962 war with China. Left unused and abandoned for a long time until a decision was taken in 2013 to reconstruct it, the IAF Works department completed the task in a record time of 30 months, Tezpur-based Defence PRO Lt Col Shombit Ghosh had said. With Mechuka becoming operational, the number of upgraded ALGs in the frontier state has gone up to four. About 500 kms by road from Itanagar, Mechuka is only 29 kms from the China border, and is already part of a major tourist circuit in the frontier state.
The IAF has carried out such daring maneuvers before. Back in 2013, India landed the C-130J Super Hercules at the world’s highest and recently-activated Daulat Beg Oldie airstrip in Ladakh near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in what was seen as a strong message to China.
The landing of C-17 Globemaster in Arunachal Pradesh shows the IAF’s growing commitment to secure its international borders along the India-China border as well as the far-flung North-East region. The C-13J, the largest aircraft with the Indian Air Force, has a capacity to carry 102 para-troopers and cargo such as tank and Armored Security Vehicles, among others. The plane has a payload capacity of 77, 520 kg.