The Lucknow-Agra Expressway witnessed a different kind of traffic on Tuesday, 24 October, as 16 aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) landed on a stretch of the expressway. The IAF aircraft landed and then took off, as part of the IAF's plan to use highways as landing strips during emergencies.
Watch the drill here:
Jointly organised by the IAF and the Uttar Pradesh government, the exercise was conducted on a stretch of the highway near Bangarmau in Unnao district, around 65 kilometres from Lucknow.
The drill saw the participation of the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, Jaguar and Mirage 2000, as well as the An-32 transport plane. A C-130J Super Hercules also landed on the expressway, carrying personnel who secured the area for the touchdown of other aircraft.
Traffic restrictions on the highway stretch to be used for the drill had been in place since Friday, 20 October. The UP Expressways Industrial Development Authority had earlier proposed that the Lucknow-Agra Expressway be closed for the public from 10 am on 23 October till 2 pm on 24 October. It had further requested the district magistrate of Unnao to deploy a police force on 24 October to ensure safe flying operations.
Speaking about the participation of the An-32, Gargi Malik Sinha, PRO, Defence (Central Command), had earlier told PTI:
It is the first time any transport aircraft will land and then take off. The An-32 are meant for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief during floods or any other natural calamity.
“The aircraft can bring a large amount of relief material. It can also help in evacuating people,” Sinha said.
Third Drill in Three Years
Notably, the IAF has already conducted two such drills in the past. The first one took place on 21 May 2015, when a Mirage 2000 test-landed on the Yamuna Expressway. On 21 November 2016, six IAF jets – including Sukhoi and Mirage 2000 – carried out simulated landings on the Lucknow-Agra expressway as part of its inauguration.
Watch the videos of the two drills below:
According to the officials of the Road and Transport Ministry, a total of 12 highways have been cleared for such landing operations, with three of those connecting Maoist-affected areas in Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
These highways are supposed to be used as landing strips for IAF aircraft in case of emergencies such as disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, as well as in situations of war or conflict.
The practice of using roads as landing strips for fighter aircraft is reportedly common in several countries. Having such highways helps the aircraft carry out their operations unhindered in a contingency situation when the airbases have been destroyed by a disaster or by the enemy during a conflict.
A Lowdown on the Aircraft Involved
Here is a quick look at the various aircraft that landed on the expressway on Tuesday, 24 October:
Sukhoi Su-30MKI: The Russian-designed Sukhois form the backbone of the IAF's combat jet fleet in the current scenario. The aircraft is being license-built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which had got a contract to build more than 220 of these. Most of them have already been delivered, with the rest of them (around 35) to be ready by 2020.
Mirage 2000: The French Mirage 2000 was inducted in the IAF in 1985, and played a crucial role in the Kargil war of 1999. It has been said to be an effective counter to the F-16s of the Pakistan Air Force. The Mirage 2000s are currently in the process of upgrade, and the new ones have been christened the Mirage 2000I.
Jaguar: The IAF first took possession of the Jaguar aircraft in the late 1970s and it has remained a significant part of the fighter jet fleet ever since. Like the Mirage 2000, the Jaguars are also being currently upgraded. The manufacture of many of the Jaguar aircraft has taken place under HAL.
An-32: The Russian Antonov An-32 transport aircraft were first inducted into the IAF in 1983. The air force currently possesses more than 100 of these. In July 2016, an Antonov An-32 aircraft carrying 29 people went missing over the Bay of Bengal, while travelling from Chennai to Port Blair. All 29 people were presumed dead after various search operations failed to locate the aircraft.
(With inputs from agencies)
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