India and China have been locked in a face-off in the Doklam area of the Sikkim sector for the last two months after Indian troops stopped the Chinese People’s Liberation Army from building a road in the area. This is the longest stand-off between the two armies since 1987 when they faced a similar situation at Somordong Chu Valley in Arunachal Pradesh.
Indian troops had stopped Chinese troops from building the road in Doklam citing the disputed status of the territory. Doklam is claimed by Bhutan, which has protested against Chinese road building. New Delhi backs Bhutan’s claims and sees a Chinese road in Doklam as a threat because the region is very close to the Siliguri Corridor, which connects India’s Northeast with the rest of the country.
Amid the 2 month long persisting Doklam standoff with China, Indian Air force has quietly boosting its air defence capability in the east at Panagarh, some 150 km northwest of Kolkata.
The Indian Air Force has activated the Air Force Station Arjan Singh in the last week of July,a little over a month after the Doklam dispute started. Indian Air force has stationed Six C-130J Super Hercules strategic aircraft at the AFS Arjan Singh, and it could be seen as a big boost to the IAF capability in the east.
Indian Air force have its First Base of C-130J aircraft at Hindan in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. Work was underway at Panagarh for the last two years to get the base ready. As per IAF officials, an Ilyushin Il-78 mid-air refueller will also be stationed at Panagarh in order to boost the capability of the Eastern Air Command (EAC)’s fighter fleet, especially the Sukhoi Su-30 MKIs.
The first of the C-130Js started arriving in India in 2011 and the first squadron (Veiled Vipers) was based at Hindan. These aircraft are considered among the most versatile in their class, capable of landing with troops and equipment at Advanced Landing Grounds with short runways close to the Line of Actual Control with China in India’s northeastern states. The Super Hercules is not a mere transport aircraft. It is a strategic asset that can deploy troops in hostile territory at extremely short notice.
Panagarh is very crucial also because the Indian Army’s newly raised 17 Strike Corps is to be headquartered there. Panagarh will also have one of the two high-altitude infantry divisions (59 Division) of the Corps based there. The 17 Strike Corps is being raised keeping in mind threats from across India’s northern border. All these make AFS Arjan Singh a key strategic location. It is being kept at a state of full preparedness for ‘short and swift’ operations.