Hasimara Air Force Station in West Bengal’s Alipurduar district is expected to house the second squadron of the Rafale jets to be received by end of mid-2021. The Hasimara airbase holds strategic importance as it lies only 364km away from Lhasa airport in Tibet’s capital.
Hasimara is under the operational command of the Shillong-based Eastern Air Command, which shares the security concerns of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) along with the Western Air Command and Prayagraj-based Central Air Command.
“The second base for Rafale is planned at Hashimara (West Bengal). Pakistan is not the real enemy as far airpower is concerned, but our eastern neighbor China is. When we didn’t have Rafale, we had moved three squadrons of Sukhoi in the east. With Rafale, we will have an adequate number of airborne fighters and fighter bombers to look after the China threat,” former Vice-Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Barbora told The Tribune.
The first squadron of the French origin jets was received at the Ambala Air Force Station in Punjab. New Delhi has allocated a budget of Rs 400 crores for these two Air Force Stations to build facilities, develop shelters, hangers, and maintenance facilities to house the Rafale jets.
The Hasimara base was created after the 1962 Indo Sino war. It earlier had a MiG-27 squadron which is being now replaced by Rafales but it presently has no squadrons. Although, it has also housed several other fighter jets including Gnats, Ajeets, Hunters, MiG-21Bis, and the Mig-27 ML fighter jets.
“Earlier, it was planned that one squadron of the Rafale would be based out of the Sarsawa Air Force Station in Uttar Pradesh. However, issues relating to land acquisition eventually led to the selection of the Ambala Air Force Station to prepare itself for a two-front war in the northern side from Pakistan and China,” said Grp Captain (retd) R K Das. “We have some porous border in the Eastern sector, so Hasimara Air Force base being fortified,” he added.
After the recent clash at the LAC in Galwan valley, India has ramped up its military preparedness by making emergency procurement of munitions. Hasimara airbase is responsible for guarding the tiny Chicken’s Neck or the Siliguri Corridor in North Bengal, a narrow stretch of land about 22 kilometers wide that connects the country’s mainland with the northeastern states.
Nepal on the north and Bangladesh on the south. Hasimara base is also responsible for guarding the Nathula pass in Sikkim from the Chinese.