Bolstering The Peninsular Surveillance Capability Of The Indian Defence Forces
The unused World War II-era airstrip at Sholavaram, located around 26km from Chennai city, will soon find a place on the nation’s strategic map.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is looking at the possibility of setting up its first east coast air surveillance base at the facility and is planning to initially station a few attack helicopters at the airstrip which has been lying unused since the 1950s.
The move comes as part of efforts to intensify security along the east coast in the wake of expanding Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, Maldives and Myanmar, said an official.
The air surveillance base at Sholavaram will help the forces to secure the 2,500 kilometre coastline covering Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
According to sources, strategic assets would be set up to monitor the movement of intruder aircraft into Indian air space in the eastern and southern region.
In the event of any attempt to hit Indian coast areas, the air surveillance base would activate defence forces to neutralise the intruders.
This would bolster INS Rajali, the Indian Naval Station at Arakkonam, which carries out surveillance through Boeing P8I, a long range maritime patrol aircraft.
Defence sources said the range of air surveillance coverage in this part of the country would significantly expand because of the new facility.
The current coverage of air surveillance ranges from 100km to 350km.
The southern peninsula, face security risks due to the presence of hostile naval forces operating in IOR. “Tamil Nadu, which is the second largest industrialised state has vital installations like nuclear and thermal stations on the coast.
Andhra Pradesh is also emerging as a leading industrial hub,” the defence source said, driving home the point on the necessity for an additional air surveillance base to protect these assets.
A former defence official said the issue should also be viewed from the prism of heightened naval cooperations and exercises between India, US and other countries in pacific region of Bay of Bengal in the recent period.
“The air surveillance base can play multiple roles including for peace activities such as aviation and shipping.”
Sholavaram air strip was created by the British in 350acres during World War II. The British had a squadron at the airfield at the time.
However, it was declared as an abandoned facility in 1950’s. This resulted in largescale encroachment by outsiders, wherein about 200 acres have been gobbled up in the last 40 years by private parties.
IAF issued notice to encroachers two months ago and has kickstarted a drive last week to retrieve the land by evicting encroachments. So far, 55 acres has been recovered.
Sholavaram also figures in the list of small airstrips to be developed under the Regional Connectivity Scheme (UDAN) of the Union civil aviation ministry.
Sources said the existing cross runway at Sholavaram would be reconstructed to facilitate civilian air operations.