BY : Tribuneindia
India’s self-developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas will be based at the IAF’s brand new forward-operating base at Phalodi in Rajasthan. Medium-lift choppers, Mi-17s will also be stationed at the base which will be 102 km from the India-Pakistan border, said sources.
Uniquely, the new air base that was inaugurated four days ago is the first forward-operating airbase to be commissioned by the IAF in more than two decades. The first lot of the LCA — a squadron of 20 aircraft — is scheduled to be handed over to the IAF in 11 months from now. The second squadron will follow a year later — both are being built at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) unit at Bangalore. Once handed over to the IAF, the LCA’s first base, briefly, will be at a station in South India, from where the fighters will move in batches to Phalodi, the sources said. Moving planes in small batches is a normal IAF procedure. Phalodi has the capacity to handle other aircraft besides deep penetration radars.
Defence Minister A K Antony had told Parliament last month that the first lot of the LCA would be delivered in March 2011. The Air Force is likely to accord ‘initial operational clearance’ by the end of this year.
Phalodi is the sixth IAF base in Rajasthan. It is located almost equidistant from the three existing IAF bases at Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Nal (Bikaner). The IAF has two others bases in Rajasthan — Suratgarh and Uttarlai (Barmer). Across the border opposite Phalodi are two major Pakistani military bases in Bahawalpur and Rahimyar Khan.
In the past two decades, the IAF had not commissioned or operationalised a new base as it had focused on improving infrastructure in the existing bases across the country — some 70 in number. In the past two years, the IAF has reopened defunct advanced landing grounds at Nyoma, Fukche and Daulet Beg Oldie — all in Ladakh. The forces have a requirement for more than 200 LCA-type aircraft to replace the ageing lot of MiG 21 series of fighters. An additional $ 538.2 million (about Rs 2,500 crore) has been approved by the government for the LCA Phase-II programme. For this, the engines are to be selected soon.