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India Conducts Unannounced Air Exercise near Doklam

February 10, 2018

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Translations: Русский

This article originally appeared on

Commercial imagery acquired on 03JAN2016 shows up to 9 x SU-30MKI at Bagdogra Airbase.

Indian Air Force (IAF) rotations of SU-30MKI Flanker continued in 2017/2018 at the Bagdogra Airbase, likely for an unannounced air exercise. Previous commercial imagery acquired in January 2016 also showed a squadron level deployment of the IAF’s advanced fighter. Up to eleven Flanker were observed and nine were still visible by the end of January 2018.

Prior to the Bagdogra deployments, commercial imagery acquired in October 2017 captured the arrival of at least four SU-30MKI at nearby Hasimara. The flight of Flanker deployed for QRA duty likely due to tensions with China over the Doklam dispute. The QRA aircraft may have relocated to Bagdogra to fill out the squadron level deployment, as they were no longer visible at the end of December.

After the Flanker departed Hasimara, commercial imagery showed additional arrivals on the eastern parking apron. Imagery acquired in early January showed a flight of five Hawk MK 132 trainer aircraft. (The IAF & Indian Navy ordered 123 Hawk MK-132 jets.) The Hawk provide Stage 3 training before pilots progress to operational fighters. It’s likely the Hawk participated in the air exercise. Imagery suggests the exercise concluded within the month as the Hawk departed the airbase.

Not far from the Hawk, four MIG-27ML were also observed on the north side of the runway. India reportedly decommissioned the remaining MIG-27 at the airbase in late December; however many remained near operational areas in January. Previously, non-operational MIG-27 appear to have been cannibalized for parts and relocated south of the runway. India still operates the swing-wing aircraft out of Jodhpur and Gwalior.

Satellite imagery continues to show a larger number of fighter aircraft deployed at China’s Shigatse, the closest airfield to the Doklam dispute. With the completion of India’s air exercise and the decommissioning of the MIG-27, it will be interesting to see if the IAF will maintain the previous QRA flight or even a larger air element. Until we get additional collects, we won’t know if India is attempting to hedge against Chinese rotations.

Bottom Line: India conducted an unannounced air exercise near Doklam. Historical imagery suggests it was previously planned and may not be directly related with tensions in the area.

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  1. The Bird

    I am currently in India and I have noticed an increase of Air Force activities compared to my visits in the last year. Last week I discussed that with some locals which also shared my opinion. However, my location is far away from Doklam and it might not be related to the situation up there.
    (Due to privacy reasons I will not disclose my current location)

  2. David Ghosh

    It is very dangerous situation in between India and China. India s too much nervous.
    India is too poor in infrastructure and poor in readiness and weapon capacity.
    In other side China is capable in military power and economically strong.
    Present Gov is a Hindu fugitive and not taking any interest to educate and build best infrastructure. Instead installing Hindu temple and trying to convert the country to a Hindu state against sacularism. PM Modi is spereding Hindutva more, not upgrading education healthcare and many more urgent job.
    If China strick with even low range missile, India can’t protect.

    • Boni

      Any proofs for your statements?
      I have been following a lot of Indian news and I see a lot of progress lately

    • Indian

      Waw David Ghosh, If you think as a David then Hindutva and Modi’s agenda you can target.. but if think as a Ghosh then you can realize the progress of India. Fact … 🙂

    • Yohan

      It will be really intresting if you put your argument supported by some data as this website does.

      As far as development is concerned – present Govt has achieved good results in terms of Military and Civil Infrastructure.

      Education and Healthcare are developing slowly – its not easy for a state of 120Cr people – but we will achieve good results in few decades.

      I dont think India is incapable of defending itself from China. 1965 war a blunder on India’s part with weak leadership. Now leadership is strong and China knows it. I see atleast China will not mess with India for atleast 2 decades under normal circumstances.

      Rest be assumred India will not bow down to Chinese aggressiom and itd hegemony aspirations- India is strong now with strong leadership with clearly defined short term and long term objectives.

    • Yohan

      Rest be aassured India will not bow down to Chinese aggressiom and its hegemonistic aspirations- India is strong now with strong leadership with clearly defined short term and long term objectives.

  3. Jiang Buzzin' Bee Xi

    Holy moly, folks, we are screwed now forever in the forever, unlimited noxious fumes of the China-India-Pak trolling. Now, I don’t know if “David Ghosh” is a Chinese or Pakistani but he’s definitely not Indian. See the spelling and the syntax and the grammar… probably not even a Pakistani. I’m not saying the Indians are superior or anything (Full D: I’m one) but that’s not how they write. Even the many shallow, chest-thumping shrills that troll the Internet-sphere to show their rather large/first/greates/oldest whatever. (as amply demonstrated by the other messages). What I lament is that a serious, rational, earnest discussion (respectful disagreement of perspectives/opinions) will be gone and we risk seeing more patriotic tripe, parochial positioning, and loads of mispalced pride. I wish we have some moderation here!

    • Jiang Buzzin' Bee Xi

      Re: my previous message: obviously my actual name has none of those 4 bits. It’s a snarky reaction to the handle “David Ghosh” (I’m willing to bet there’s only ONE David Ghosh in the world, if at all, and he’s just commented here). My handle wasn’t/isn’t meant to offend anyone who might share any pieces of it. Er… except maybe to shame David Ghosh out of existence. 🙂


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