Sukhoi Su30 fighter jets will fly from civilian airports in Bengal, Assam and Mizoram over the next two days in a first-of-its-kind exercise that the Indian Air Force says will improve wartime preparedness.
The air force has identified airports in Kolkata and Durgapur in West Bengal, Guwahati in Assam, and Aizawl in Mizoram for round-the-clock operations of Sukhoi Su30s, which are currently India's most advanced fighter jets.
"For a Sukhoi Su30 class aircraft, this is the first time they are conducting drills from Guwahati or any other civil airfield in the northeast. Our focus was more on the western front earlier, but we are now increasing our focus in the east since our eastern neighbour is increasing its capabilities, and we need to have a serious deterrent in order to emulate any threat that may emerge in the future," Air Commodore Sashank Mishra told NDTV.
IAF fighter aircraft in the eastern part of the country mostly comprise squadrons of Sukhoi Su30 MKI fighter jets, which operate from military airfields in Tezpur and Chabua in Assam. IAF also has Hawk trainer jets operating at the Kalaikunda air base in West Bengal.
As the Indian Air Force prepares to induct the first batch of Rafale fighter jets - expected later this year - some of the new combat aircraft are likely to be based at the Hasimara air force station in West Bengal, from where the MiG-27 fighter jets are expected to be phased out.
"We are overhauling our capabilities to accommodate Rafale jets, and newly-acquired attack helicopters," Air Commodore Mishra said.
As part of this exercise, fighter pilots and crew will coordinate and train to operate from major civilian airports. This is also being done to be fully prepared to for an eventuality where the IAF may need to shift operating bases at a moments notice from a military air field to a civilian airport.
"The idea is to build synergy between civilian Air Traffic Control and IAF pilots so that they can use civil airfields if the main base of the IAF is attacked," Air Commodore Mishra said.
The drill will give the Indian Air Force more flexibility, while the crew and air force personnel will be able to formulate procedures and coordinate with civilian air traffic simultaneously. The pilots will also familiarise themselves with the operating procedures at civilian airports and get exposure to a different environment besides adapting to other factors which come into play while operating away from a military base.