DE FACTO ALLIES TO AMPLIFYING THE TERRORISTS' IMPACT?
DE FACTO ALLIES TO AMPLIFYING THE TERRORISTS' IMPACT?
|PAYING HOMAGE: WITH OR WITHOUT INTERNAL RESPECT|
IAF Lands ‘Super Hercules’ C-130 Transport Aircraft on Unfeasible Strip for Tunnel Rescue Mission
IAF assistance in the ongoing tunnel rescue underway at Dharasu, Uttarakhand was first seen when an IAF C-17 was deployed to airlift almost 22 tonnes of critical equipment from Indore to Dehradun. From a non-descript 3500’ 25m wide airstrip, Dehradun runway was extended to 7,000’ and also broadened from 23 metres to 45 metres to enable the landing of short-field capable aircraft like the Boeing 737 some ten years ago.
But the scene of hazardous air operations was elsewhere, near the collapsed Silkyara-Barkot tunnel 140 km away on a treacherous mountain route. A small 3,000’ long disused Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) suitable for Dakotas in the late 40s-early 60s at Dharasu was selected as the ALG for the rescue mission.
Ahead of undertaking the delivery flight, an IAF helicopter with C-130 pilots on board had executed an exhaustive recce of the ALG’s questionable condition and the many obstructions it posed, before eventually undertaking the equipment delivery mission. Thereafter, varied aspects of the reconnaissance were suitably ‘war-gamed’, taking all impediments into consideration, and an operational plan was then formalised.
The quasi-military Border Roads Organisation, or BRO, was roped in to clear the ALG of thick undergrowth and shrubbery, and in the best tradition of jugaad that defines a wide spectrum of its operational activity, as well as that of the Indian military, it also constructed a makeshift mud ramp to substitute for specialised off-loading equipment, simply unavailable at the remote ALG. By now, the ALG had reached 3,600’ (1,100 metres) in length.
The narrow and undeveloped 3,600’ ALG was declared ‘unsuitable’ by the IAF for C-130 operations. Unsuitability notwithstanding, the IAF executed a perilous mission to deliver crucial equipment for rescuing trapped workers in Uttarakhand's mountain tunnel. There was too much at stake! The urgency in reaching the critical equipment to rescue teams spurred the IAF and its pilots to, yet again, exploit their jugaad or innovative skills and fabled derring-do to professionally vindicate their mission objectives.
In yet another instance of operational daredevilry, the Indian Air Force (IAF) successfully landed two of its C-130J-30 ‘Super Hercules’ military transport aircraft at Dharasu, a rudimentary and unfeasible ALG in Uttarakhand. These missions were carried out in inclement weather, to deliver heavy engineering equipment to help rescue workers trapped inside a nearby under-construction mountain tunnel.
In an official statement, the IAF said that two C-130J-30’s executed three sorties to the rudimentary Dharasu ALG on November 15. This was carried out in ‘reduced visibility conditions’, to ferry 27.5 tons of machinery needed to extricate 41 construction workers, entombed since Sunday, in the collapsed tunnel being built on Uttarakhand’s Yamunotri National Highway.
The narrow and undeveloped 3,600 feet ALG, located at an altitude of 3,000 ft, some 30 kilometres from the mishap site, had earlier been declared ‘unsuitable’ by the IAF for C-130J-30 operations. Despite this,
Based on inputs from the helicopter reconnaissance mission over Dharasu, the ‘non-routine critical delivery’ mission featured two C-130J-30’s from the IAFs 77 ‘Veiled Vipers’ Squadron at Hindan, on New Delhi’s outskirts, and was ably completed in under five hours. The IAF declared that the entire operation was underscored by a ‘calculated approach and adequate risk mitigation’. Its success, it added, stemmed from ‘pinpoint execution’.
One of the IAF’s other, larger, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III airlifters, too, were involved in the tunnel rescue operations. One of them shipped 22 tons of heavy equipment from Indore to Uttarakhand’s capital Dehradun, from where it was shipped to Dharasu by road, for onward transshipment to the accident spot.
The IAFs daredevil Dharasu delivery operation was reminiscent of its 17 daring flights, featuring C-130J-30’s and C-17s, which were undertaken earlier this year as part of Operation Kaveri to repatriate thousands of Indians from war-torn Sudan.
At the time, The Wire had reported on some of these C-130 flights, which were executed in pitch darkness, with calmness and dexterity on the unfamiliar Wadi Sayyidna airstrip that had neither any navigational approach aids nor critical landings lights, some 40 km north of the Sudanese capital Khartoum, wracked by civil war.
The IAF’s fleet of 12 C-130J-30s, inducted into service 2011 onwards, are split between the 77 Squadron at Hindan and the 87 ‘Wings of Valour’ Squadron at Panagarh in the east, from where they support the Indian Army’s deployment along the disputed line of actual control (LAC) with China. The IAFs 11 C-17s operated as part of No 81 “Skylords’ squadron, also from Hindan.
Both aircraft types were acquired via the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route, with the C-130J-30’s costing around $2-2.5 billion and the C-17s priced at around $4.1 billion. In recent times, both platforms had been instrumental in transporting army personnel – and their assorted assets-like tanks and infantry combat vehicles – to the LAC to counter the ongoing three-year-long face off with China’s People’s Liberation Army.
The IAF had last acquired some 70-odd second-hand twin-piston engine Fairchild C-119 ‘Flying Boxcars’ from the US in the 1950s, after which New Delhi’s relationship with Washington deteriorated and those with Moscow proliferated, lasting the duration of the Cold War era, which ended only in the early 1990s. The C-119s, however, were retired in the 1980s, following their extensive employment in two wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971.
Hence, for over five decades thereafter, the IAF remained dependent almost entirely on legacy Soviet-origin transport platforms. This was in addition to combat aircraft-like the Ilyushin Il-76s and Antonov An-32s, which a cross-section of IAF pilots maintained had recently been ‘technologically outmanoeuvred’ by the newly inducted US transports.
“The fully automated, state-of-the-art flight decks of both the US models fitted with +4 generation avionics were far superior to those of the two Soviet transports, making them relatively effortless to operate,” a former IAF transport pilot said, declining to be identified. Besides, the US platforms were ‘significantly’ more fuel efficient, requiring a smaller, three-person crew – two pilots and a loadmaster – to operate, compared to five personnel needed for an Il-76 and four for an An-32, he said.
Besides ease of operation both in the air and on ground, the US transports had a 12-week maintenance cycle, which was almost three times higher than that of the Il-76s and even the 60-70 retrofitted and upgraded twin-turboprop An-32s, both of which required regular servicing every three to four weeks, said the C-17 pilot quoted above.
The total technical life cycle of C-130 and C-17 engines, too, is notably higher – almost 10 times more than that of the fuel-intensive Soviet aircraft power packs. This operational aspect increased platform efficiency and considerably reduced maintenance and operating costs.
Besides, by undertaking the Dharasu delivery mission, the IAF had ‘stretched’ the C-130’s operational envelope, possibly even a little beyond what its manufacturers Lockheed had anticipated and could, in time, further boost the transport platform’s commercial appeal.
Or as the adage goes, the only way to discover the limits of the possible, is to go beyond them into the impossible; or in this case, the near-impossible, an endeavour in which the Indian military excels on multiple fronts in exploiting its assorted platforms and equipment.
SILKYARA MIRACLE: 17 DAYS, 67 METRES, 41 LIVES,
ONE INCREDIBLE RESCUE
On November 12, 2023, a collapse occurred in the under-construction tunnel from Silkyara to Barkot due to debris falling in a 60-metre stretch on the Silkyara side. Immediate mobilisation of resources by the State and Central Governments ensued to rescue the 41 trapped labourers.
Safety concerns in opting for a 900 mm pipe through the debris led to the exploration of multiple rescue options simultaneously. The area of entrapment, measuring 8.5 metres in height and 2 kilometres in length, is the built-up portion of the tunnel, offering safety to the labourers with available electricity and water supply.
After 17 painful days, all the 41 workers who were trapped in Uttarakhand's collapsed Silkyara-Barkot tunnel were rescued on Tuesday 28 November. When all efforts since November 12 including the use of a highly sophisticated auger machine, to rescue 41 workers trapped inside Uttarkashi’s, hit a setback in drilling 60 meters of mountains, a team of rat-hole miners achieved success.
Since the collapse of the tunnel, various government agencies worked tirelessly on each assigned task to ensure the safe evacuation of the workers. National and International experts were also present at the site to render advice on the rescue operation. Several machines, resources, and experts from across the country were tasked with ensuring the safe rescue of workers. Many experts were involved in what is being touted as one of the country's biggest rescue operations.
Since the collapse of the tunnel, various government agencies worked tirelessly on each assigned task to ensure the safe evacuation of the workers. National and international experts were also present at the site to help with the rescue operation. Several machines, resources, and experts from across the country were tasked with ensuring the safe rescue of workers.
Six plans were executed including drilling from over three sites - horizontal and vertical. The machines did help in moving pipes for food and other necessary materials to the trapped workers, but the rescue pipe could not reach them till the end. A few plans were still in the making but rat-hole miners, experts in digging tunnels in coal mines, were able to do the impossible. The rat-hole miners, a team of seven from Jhansi, were able to dig over 10 metres (till the end) within 48 hours which the auger machine failed to dig when its rotor blades were entrapped in metallic rods running underside, relics of some past experiment.
Regardless of personal opinion of Prime Minister of Modi, one has to accept that this kind of rescue operation is unprecedented. Five people from the Prime Minister's Office were at the spot day and night for 15 days and lived there in the container.
The Chief Minister of Uttarakhand was present for three-four hours every day, General VK Singh, Nitin Gadkari and many other ministers visited the buzzing-with-activity site frequently to review the rescue work.
A special aircraft of the Indian Air Force was sent from Hyderabad and the auger machine was brought from Slovenia. The world's best known rescue expert was called by a special plane.. To order a special kind of plasma cutter, the team was first sent to Hyderabad; then, the plane was sent to America and a special kind of plasma cutter was brought from there. Four machines and robots and ground penetrating radar were brought from Switzerland by special aircraft.
A helipad and a working runway were also built at the accident site and a vertical oxygen generator plant was installed there. Think whether you have ever heard of such a rescue operation being conducted in such a quick manner before in history.
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