The Galwan Valley clash in 2020 has triggered an infrastructure race along the India-China border that passes through the mighty Himalayan ranges. Satellite images revealed massive infrastructure construction being undertaken by China.
With no signs of tensions easing between the two countries, India on September 12 laid the foundation of its highest airfield along the border. Once completed, it will be the closest air base to the India-China border on the Indian side.
The Indian and Chinese troops have practically been standing eyeball-to-eyeball along the border following the Galwan Valley clash in 2020. Since then, it has been downhill for the bilateral ties, with the tension between the two countries not abating anytime soon.
Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh laid the foundation of Nyoma Airfield in eastern Ladakh. With just 50 km short of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de-facto border between the two countries, the project will bolster the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) capabilities along the northern frontiers. The project is estimated to cost INR.218 crore.
Taking to X (formerly known as Twitter), BRO said, “BRO India will be constructing the World’s highest fighter airfield at Nyoma in Ladakh. Shilanyas of this project will be done by Hon’ble Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh on September 12 23 from Devak Bridge in Jammu. Jai Hind! Jai BRO!! (sic)”
Nyoma has a mud-paved Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) and is unfit for fighter operations. During the ongoing standoff with China, the ALG has proved critical to moving men and material. Chinook heavy lift helicopters, Mi-17 helicopters, and C-130J Special Operations aircraft have been operating from Nyoma to maintain the forward posts in the region.
Nyoma has immense strategic importance and plugs the critical gap between Leh airfield and the LAC, paving the way for swifter movement of men and material in the treacherous terrain. Man-portable air defense missiles Igla has already been deployed here. The IAF has been operating its latest Rafale fighter jets along with MiG-29s in the sector, and they were based in Leh.
Nyoma is situated at a high-altitude location, boasting 13,000 feet above sea level. This poses unique challenges for aviation due to the lower air density and reduced oxygen levels at such heights.
India has been mulling over developing multiple airfields in eastern Ladakh, including Daulat Beg Oldie and Fukche.
China has ramped up construction on its side of the 3,488 km long LAC since the Galwan clashes. The recent acceleration in infrastructure development along the LAC comes after a decade of sustained construction.
A report in the Hindustan Times comparing satellite images dating from December 6, 2021, and August 18, 2023, said that China has been constructing reinforced personnel bunkers and underground facilities in Aksai Chin.
Located just 70 km from the LAC, the construction aims to protect its military assets from aerial or missile strikes.
India Counters The Dragon
With no sliver of hope that Beijing wants normal relations with New Delhi, India has embarked on a massive infrastructure revamping along the LAC. Besides laying the foundation for Nyoma airfield, the Indian defense minister inaugurated 90 infrastructure projects constructed at INR.2,941 crore.
Of the 89 projects inaugurated virtually, 36 are in Arunachal Pradesh, 25 in Ladakh, 11 in Jammu and Kashmir, five in Mizoram, three in Himachal Pradesh, two each in Sikkim, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, and one each in Nagaland, Rajasthan, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Among the inaugurated projects, the 422.9-metre Devak bridge on the Bishnah-Kaulpur-Phulpur Road in the Samba district of Jammu and Kashmir holds strategic importance for the defense forces. It will facilitate the rapid deployment of troops, heavy equipment, and mechanized vehicles to forward areas while also contributing to the socio-economic development of the region, a BRO official was quoted by the Indian news agency Press Trust of India.
The 500-meter Nechiphu Tunnel on Balipara-Charduar-Tawang Road in Arunachal Pradesh, along with the under-construction Sela Tunnel, will provide all-weather connectivity to the strategic Tawang region, benefiting both the armed forces and tourists. Tawang is another area where China keeps needling India.
The BRO also reconstructed and revamped Bagdogra and Barrackpore Airfields in West Bengal to enhance the IAF’s defensive and offensive capabilities along the borders.
In the past two years, the BRO has dedicated 205 infrastructure projects to the nation, with a combined cost of INR.5,100 crore. Last year alone, 103 infrastructure projects were completed for INR.2,897 crore; in 2021, 102 projects were dedicated to the nation for INR.2,229 crore.
Earlier, BRO chief Lt Gen Rajeev Chaudhry said that India will beat China in the next two to three years as the Narendra Modi-led NDA government is proactively working towards developing infrastructure along the LAC.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com