In a subtle show of strength to China, the Indian Air Force on Tuesday landed its C-130J Super Hercules transport plane at the world's highest and recently-activated Daulat Beg Oldie airstrip in Ladakh near the Line of Actual Control, the scene of a stand-off with Chinese troops in April.
The achievement will enable the armed forces to use the heavy-lift aircraft to induct troops, supplies, improve communication network and also serve as a morale booster for maintenance of troops positioned there.
"A C-130J Super Hercules landed at DBO, the highest airstrip in the world, at 0654 hours today. The Commanding Officer, Group Captain Tejbir Singh and the crew of the 'Veiled Vipers' along with senior officer touched down on the DBO airstrip located at 16614 feet (5065 meters) in the Aksai Chin area," the IAF said in a statement.
The airfield was reactivated by the IAF in 2008 after an Antonov-32 aircraft landed there from Chandigarh.
"Once again this strategic base in the Northern Himalayas gained importance when it was resurrected and reactivated by the IAF along with the Indian Army and made operational when a twin engine AN-32 aircraft from Chandigarh landed there after a gap of 43 years (in 2008)," the IAF said.
The decision to deploy the C-130J, which is capable of lifting up to 20 tonnes of load, was taken by the IAF considering the lower load carrying capability of AN-32s and helicopters.
"With this enhanced airlift capability, the IAF will now be in a better position to meet the requirements of our land forces, which are heavily dependent on the air bridge for sustenance in these higher and inhospitable areas," the Air Force said.
The tactical transport aircraft of the special operations squadron is capable of undertaking quick deployment of forces in all weather conditions, including air drops, besides landing on unprepared or semi-prepared surfaces.
It created history today by landing at such a high altitude, amid hostile terrain conditions.
"This achievement qualifies for the world record for the highest landing by an aircraft of this class," it said.
Incidentally, this was the same aircraft and crew that operated at Dharasu during 'Op Rahat' for Uttarakhand flood relief.
Chinese troops had pitched tents in Depsang Valley near Daulat Beg Oldie in April. They remained there for 21 days and left only after several rounds of flag meetings between the two sides.
Image: IAF's C 130J ' Photograph: Press Information Bureau