The decision to upgrade Nyoma ALG should have been taken long back; much before the 2020 Chinese aggression if we had given due thought to Chinese intentions. When this airfield will be completed remains to be seen?
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
On January 1, 2023, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) invited bids for constructing Nyoma Airfield in Ladakh. At an altitude of 13,000 feet, Nyoma is located less than 50 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and 180 km from Leh. It presently has an Advance Landing Ground (ALG) used by the Indian Air Force (IAF).The existing ALG in Nyoma was built in 1962 and later reactivated in 2009 when an AN-32 aircraft landed on this ALG. The IAF can use the ALG for operating Apache helicopters, Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, Mi-17 helicopters and C-130J special operations aircraft.
According to media reports, the proposed Nyoma airfield will be spread over 1,235 acres, where a 2.7-km runway with allied military infrastructure will come up. The runway’s alignment will be such that aircraft can land in both directions, and it will be over 45 metres in width. The location of the new runway will be near Leh-Loma Road and the airfield will enable quick movement of both troops and material, making it a strategic asset. The project, which will enable operations by fighter aircraft is to cost 214 crores according to media reports and is to be completed in two years once sanctioned.
The location of the new runway will be near Leh-Loma Road and the Nyoma airfield will enable quick movement of both troops and material, making it a strategic asset
Nyoma village is located 41 km southeast of Chumathang and 87 km south of Chushul. Nearby villages are Mahe and Loma. Hanle, located 80 km to the southeast, is the largest village in southern Ladakh. Mount Sajum on the border with China is 43 km to the east. The Nyoma Tehsil borders the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) off China on the south and the east. The southern border runs along the Chumar village in Rupshu and the Imis Pass at the end of the Hanle valley. The eastern border runs along the Kailash Range watershed of the Indus River till the village of Dumchele and narrows to the right bank of the Indus River up to Demchok.
Chumar was in the news in 2013 during the visit to India by the then Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and the 20-km deep Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) intrusion at Y Junction in Depsang in Eastern Ladakh. It may be recalled that the PLA intrusion remained in situ for three weeks and withdrew only after India agreed to dismantle its surveillance equipment in the area of Chumar (200 km south of Y junction), which India meekly acquiesced to. But in 2020, the PLA has again occupied Y Junction in Depsang and our policy makers are too scared to even acknowledge this deep intrusion. Ironically, we have also vacated the Kailash Range in our own territory without demanding PLA withdrawal from Depsang and Demchok. Obviously a threat of escalation through the political-diplomatic channels has unnerved the Indian hierarchy.
The project, which will enable operations by fighter aircraft is to cost 214 crores and is to be completed in two years once sanctioned.
The BRO calling for bids to develop the Nyoma airfield is being hyped in the media as the Indian response to China’s infrastructure development opposite our troop deployment in Ladakh. But the two are hardly comparable given the massive Chinese border infrastructure, its pace of development and just counting the two bridges over Pangong Tso to facilitate offensive by mechanised forces. Moreover, it was more than clear that the manner in which China invaded Eastern Ladakh in 2020 left little scope for PLA withdrawal.
What then has taken us so long to decide to upgrade the Nyoma ALG? Is it lack of decision making, lackadaisical approach to national security, the fear of a Chinese reaction or something else? One reason could be the red tape which is the bane of India, in that, the Nayoma ALG received the Wildlife Board's forests clearance for expansion in 508 hectares land inside the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary only in 2022, as also wildlife clearance was granted for laying optical fiber cables in the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary and Karakoram Wildlife Sanctuary for the internet and telephone connectivity also last year. The wildlife clearance should not have taken that long given the operational priority and the fact that the nearby Mahe Field Firing Range (MFFR) already is on 1259.25 hectares land inside the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary.
The BRO has no plans to also upgrade the Fukche ALG in the Koyul Lungpa River Valley, close to the confluence of the river with the Indus River, perhaps because of its proximity to the LAC
Apparently, the BRO has no plans to also upgrade the Fukche ALG in the Koyul Lungpa River Valley, close to the confluence of the river with the Indus River, perhaps because of its proximity to the LAC and the Chinese intrusion in Demchok which our policy makers fear to acknowledge. Developed in 1961, Fukche ALG fell out of use after the 1962 Sino-Indian war. The IAF reactivated it on November 4, 2008 by successfully landing an AN-32 aircraft. During the abovementioned PLA intrusion at Y Junction (in Depsang Plains) in 2013, China had demanded that bunkers construction at Fukche also be stopped but India did not agree to the same. Fukche ALG has an unpaved gravelly runway of 3.2 km length which can accommodate small transport aircraft.