AFS Arjan Singh

The Indian Air Force has without any fanfare added more teeth to its capabilities in the east by commissioning Air Force Station Arjan Singh in Panagarh, about 150 km northwest of Kolkata, in the middle of the stand-off with China in Doklam.

AFS Arjan Singh became fully operational, with its full complement of six C-130J Super Hercules strategic aircraft, in the last week of July.The Doklam stand-off with China started a month earlier.

Panagarh is the second location in the country, after Hindan in Ghaziabad, to have a base for the C-130J aircraft.Technicians and engineers from Lockheed Martin have been building hangars and other facilities for these aircraft at Panagarh for over two years. An Ilyushin Il-78 mid-air refueller has also been based at Panagarh to extend the endurance of Eastern Air Command's fighter fleet, particularly the Sukhoi Su-30 MKIs.

The hangars and other facilities at the bases at Hindan and Panagarh are hush-hush affairs not without reason. Entire Special Forces units with equipment bunk in air-conditioned quarters below the hangars.This enables them to mobilise within minutes and board the aircraft that are kept ready for takeoff at any point of time. When not in actual operation, Special Forces personnel train both with and without the aircraft.

The IAF believes commissioning of AFS Arjan Singh will raise eyebrows across the LAC but officers maintain that it is all part of a schedule that has nothing to do with the present situation. However, assets like Il-78 refuellers are deployed for better preparedness during contingencies. With squadrons of the Mig-21s and Mig-27s being gradually phased out, the Su-30 MKI has become the mainstay of the EAC. These air-superiority aircraft have a range of 3,000 km that can be more than doubled by mid-air refuelling, thereby increasing their potency manifold and enabling them to launch strategic weapons.

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