20 IAF planes land, take off from highway in unique exercise

The Indian Air Force on Tuesday began its drill to touchdown and take off 20 aircraft on the Lucknow-Agra Expressway.

The IAF exercise, in collaboration with the Uttar Pradesh government, is the first on an expressway. The jets used the stretch of expressway inaugurated in November last year to hone pilots' skills in using public roads in case of a war-like emergency.

AN-32 transport, a Mirage 2000 and Sukhoi 30 MKI were among the aircraft in the drill conducted near Bangarmau in the Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh, according to a defence ministry statement.

The Indian Air Force wants new public roads to be designed to serve as runways for its warplanes, providing an alternative for launching operations if key airfields are bombed out by the enemy.

The first transport aircraft, a C-130J Hercules, landed at 10.35 am and took off again soon after.

It was a short landing trailed by Garud commandos and their vehicles. On disembarking from the aircraft, the commandos took position on either side of the 'air strip' to cordon it off for fighter operations.

By 12 pm,?about 15 fighter jets - including three Jaguar Deep penetration strike aircraft, two formations of three aircraft each of Mirage 2000s and two formations of three aircraft each of Sukhoi-30 - touched down or made a low overshoot over the highway.

The exercise culminated with the C-130 J returning for another short landing.

"It is for the first time any transport aircraft will land and then take off from the expressway. The AN-32 are meant for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief during floods or any other natural calamity," PRO, Defence (Central Command), Gargi Malik Sinha was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

The IAF has contracted 272 Su-30 MKI fighter planes out of which nearly 240 have been delivered. The remaining 32 fighters are likely to be inducted over the next three years.

The first 50 jets came in ready from Russia, while the remaining were and are being built under licence by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Seven Su-30 jets have crashed since 2009, while one is still listed as missing. The IAF inducted its first Su-30 fighter at the Lohegaon air base in Pune in June 1997.