- Himali Nalawade
The Indian Air Force is celebrating its 88th Anniversary on Oct 8 2020. Since 1932, the Indian Air Force has executed several operations successfully, where many of them can be counted as critical. The Indian Air Force has participated in WWII and has played vital roles in the wars of Kargil, Sino - Indian as well as both Indo - Pakistan wars of 1947 and 1965. Even today, at the LAC dispute our Air Force is our strength. One may think that this is because of the higher Himalayan elevation and the fact that besides the army, it is only the Air force which can operate in the region.
It is all true but there is one important reason why Indian Air Force is operational in the region and makes it strategically vital for Indian defense. This reason is the functioning of the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) Airstrip. But there is an interesting story of how the airstrip, which was almost neglected for a long time, became operational and has become today the strength of Bharatiya Vayu Sena amidst the rising tensions at LAC.There are many operations that are carried out secretly at the Line of action, which are known much later. The story of DBO is about one such operation.
The Daulat Beg Oldie Airstrip was built during the 1962 Sino - Indian war and was abandoned ever after 1965. The location of the airstrip is strategically very significant to Indian armed forces. In fact that is the main reason why such a base was operational during the critical Sino - Indian war at a location so close to the LAC. The airstrip is located at the of the Karakoram pass and is at a distance of 9 km from the LAC on the Indian side. The presence of not only the Indian army but also the Air Force so close to the LAC always works well to create pressure on the enemy. However, the base was abandoned and no operations were performed from DBO after 1965, until 2008. What happened in 2008 is an important event in the history of Indian Air Force and India is dominating the LAC even today. All thanks to the brave efforts of Former Vice Chief of Air Staff Pranab Kumar Barbora.
In 2008, Air Marshal Pranav Kumar Barbora was the Commander- in- Chief of the Western Air Command. He was concerned about the logistical support provided to the Indian troops in Ladakh region and was seeking for a dependable option for the same. Air Marshal Barbora considered the airstrip of DBO to be the best option for this as it will not only effectively provide logistic support to the Indian soldiers but also potentially defend the Indian land from the Chinese side. He was determined to reactivate the Airstrip and thus on May 31st 2008, he himself flew an A 32 aircraft to the air base to reactivate it.
The whole plan was strictly executed through a secret operation. Therefore, there is no written document of approval signed by the then Defense Minister A K Antony. The location of the air base so close to the LAC is the main reason for the secrecy of the operation. Since, politically the operation was not backed overtly, practically it was completely the responsibility of Air Marshal Barbora to not only execute the plan but also face the repercussions, whatever it may. And just like any other Officer, he did what the call of his duty demanded him to do. After successful reactivation of the DBO airstrip, a flag meeting was held between the commanders of both sides of the LAC, however, the Chinese Commander chose not to be present at the meeting.
It was a brave move to take decisions all by himself for a secret operation in a vulnerable yet strategic location like that of DBO. But someone had to stood forward and act valiantly to take control of such significant point which is rightfully India's. It is commendable how his foresight has now strengthened the presence of Indian armed forces at the LAC and in the Ladakh region even today, by providing strategic aid.