Countering China: First four Sukhoi fighters land at Tezpur

June 12th, 2009 - 7:34 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) Four frontline Sukhoi Su-30 MKI combat jets landed Friday at the Tezpur airbase in Assam as part of the defence ministry’s efforts to beef up India’s military presence along the border with China in the northeast.
The aircraft will be formally inducted into service June 15, with the strength of the squadron eventually ramped up to 18 jets.

“Four Su-30s landed at Tezpur today (Friday),” a senior defence official confirmed to IANS, wishing to remain anonymous.

“It will be a symbolic induction as of now,” he added.

The basing of a Su-30 squadron in Assam is in line with the IAF’s policy of capacity-building along the India-China border. On a long-term basis, there are also plans to station Su-30s at Chabua in Assam, as also at Halwara in Punjab and Jodhpur in Rajasthan.

Simultaneously with the deployment of the Sukhois, the Indian Army is stepping up its presence along the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh by posting two additional divisions comprising some 50,000 troops. This follows repeated reports of Chinese incursions in the state, parts of which China has laid claims to.

India and China fought a bitter border war in 1962, with Chinese troops advancing deep into what was then called the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and inflicting heavy casualties on ill-equipped Indian troops.

The IAF base at Tezpur is within striking distance of the Chinese border.

Capable of carrying nuclear weapons, the Russian-designed Su-30MKI is tailor-made to Indian specifications. The aircraft is currently being manufactured under license by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) after the initial lot was purchased in fly-away condition.

The IAF now operates five squadrons of the jet, three of them based at Lohegaon near Pune in Maharashtra and two at Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. Each squadron comprises 18-20 aircraft. In the next five years, the IAF plans increase the strength of its Sukhoi fleet to nearly 200 aircraft.

After beginning his second stint in office last month, Defence Minister A.K. Antony had underscored infrastructure development in the northeast as his priority. The upgradation of various airfields is part of this effort.

“Five air bases - Tezpur, Chabua, Jorhat (Assam), Panagarh (West Bengal) and Purnea (Bihar) - will be upgraded. This will include increasing the length of their runways from 9,000 feet to 11,000 feet,” the official added.

Beijing has given up its territorial claim over the Indian state of Sikkim but still insists that a vast stretch of Arunachal Pradesh belongs to China.

Arunachal Pradesh shares a 1,030-km unfenced frontier with China that is defined by the McMahon Line, a notional border called the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

China has never recognised the McMahon Line, and claims 90,000 sq km, or almost all of Arunachal Pradesh. India also says China had illegally occupied 8,000 sq km of territory of Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir.

India and China have put their border dispute on the backburner while they move ahead in areas like trade and culture.

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