India's Hasimara During the Doka La Standoff

Imagery acquired on 26JAN15 of Hasimara Airbase, West Bengal. (Digitalglobe)

Last week we looked at the Gonggar civil-military airfield, one of China’s closest to the Doka La standoff. Today, we look at India’s Hasimara, an airbase in West Bengal less than 50 miles southeast of the crisis. Commercial imagery acquired in July has shown up to eight Indian Air Force MIG-27ML/UPG on the parking apron at the strategic location.  The aircraft are reportedly operated by No 22 Squadron.

The number of the ground attack aircraft operationally deployed at the airbase has officially lessened since last year when No 18 Squadron was “number-plated” or decommissioned. In February 2017, workers began relocating the retired MIG-27ML/UPG south of the runway in a new area cleared for field-parking. The following month 14 of the aircraft were visible and by July, up to 22.

Even prior to the announced retirement, it’s difficult to say how many of the MIG-27ML/UPG remained operational. Starting in 2013, imagery available in Google Earth and elsewhere started showing the swing-wing aircraft isolated at a north section of the airfield. Over the last four years many remained in this location and appeared to be cannibalized, possibly for parts. Similar activity has been viewed at other Indian airfields hosting the MIG-21.

Although few observations of Hasimara were made during July, imagery did not capture any additional platforms at the airbase to fill the gap. Presently, the IAF is authorized to maintain up to 42 fighter squadrons—the number Indian planners estimate for a two front war—but has contracted to 32. As new aircraft are available and the IAF stands up new squadrons, Hasimara is slated to receive new deployments with discussions in the Indian press suggesting one of India’s Dassault Rafale squadrons. Unfortunately,  the French-built aircraft will not arrive until 2019.

In the meantime, the airbase also hosts a surface-to-air missile component. Two Akash groups composed of four batteries each remain on-site on the north side of the airfield. The platform operates in the medium-range role with each Akash battery equipped with three missiles. A single group with its battery level radar is capable of engaging up to four targets, guiding up to eight missiles simultaneously with a maximum of two missiles per target.

Bottom Line – Hasimara remains aircraft light despite China’s growing rotation of fighters in the Tibet Autonomous Region.