A plane of the Indian Air Force (IAF), carrying Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, will conduct a mock emergency landing for the first time on a national highway in Rajasthan's Barmer this week, reports said on Monday. This will be made possible because of an impressive engineering feat as the highway is equipped with the 3.5 kilometre-long airstrip which is ready to handle emergency landings of the IAF's fighter jets and other aircraft.
Earlier, India had also managed to build two expressways that are equipped with emergency landing airstrips, in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
A report in The Times of India said that Singh and Gadkari are scheduled to inaugurate the airstrip on NH 924A in the Sheshwa area in the Jalore district on 9 September at around 11 am. This emergency landing area is strategically important from the national security point of view also as it is just 40 kilometre from the India-Pakistan border.
Here's everything we know about the project.
What are highway strips?
A highway strip or road runway or a road base is a section of a highway, motorway or other form of public road that is specially built to act as a runway for (mostly) military aircraft and to serve as an auxiliary military airbase.
The standard design for the emergency landing strips includes parking slots for four aircraft, an air traffic control (ATC) tower and two gates at both ends of the strip.
Several countries such as Germany, Sweden, South Korea, Taiwan, Finland, Switzerland, Poland, Singapore, Czechoslovakia, even Pakistan have dedicated stretches on their highways and expressways for aircraft to land and take off in emergencies or during the war.
Over the past few years, India has also been trying to optimise multiple motorable roads and highways for this purpose. Uttar Pradesh's Lucknow-Noida expressway and Purvanchal Expressway both have a 3,300-metre-long airstrip that can support the landing of a number of moderate to light-weight IAF aircraft.
“Over the past few years, IAF has been increasing its efforts to utilise certain straight stretches of National Highways for emergency landings. Such highway stretches are planned to be used in emergencies, if an active airport is not available for some reason. These operations increase the flexibility in the use of Air Power. In addition, use of transport aircraft for quick insertion of forces for Human Assistance and Disaster Relief into civil area and Special Forces in case of contingencies has been validated,” the IAF had said in a statement in 2017.
Barmer highway strip
It is India's first national highway to be used for emergency landing of IAF aircraft. Officials of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) worked in coordination with IAF officials to develop the airstrip on the national highway in Barmer, sources told PTI.
According to sources, under Bharatmala project while making NH 925A, a 5km-long airstrip was made near Gandhav. The work is almost complete. On both sides of the airstrip, two parkings of 49 by 180 metre have been made so that fighter planes can be parked. Along with this 25 by 65 metre ATC plinth double-storied ATC cabin has been made which has a restroom facility.
The ministry of road transport and highways, in 2016, announced the formation of an inter-ministerial joint committee with the ministry of defence and the Indian Air Force (IAF) to look into the feasibility of setting up these strips and to arrive at the technical details. IAF and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) were tasked with the site survey and inspection.
Following this in 2019, the Centre planned to set up 29 airstrips on National Highways at strategic locations for emergency landings by fighter aircraft, according to the transport ministry. But the Indian Air force (IAF) gave clearance for only 12 National Highways (NHs). The proposed strips have been planned on highways and roads near the international border in the states of Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Manipur and West Bengal. Three are planned on highways connecting Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh — all Maoist-affected areas. Emergency strips are also planned in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
With input from agencies