Following suit with other military powers, the Union government of India is to inaugurate the country’s first “highway strip” near Barmer, Rajasthan. The 3.5 km strip would facilitate takeoffs and landings of military aircraft in case of conflict or emergency landings of civilian aircraft.
“Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari would be visiting Barmer along with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh for the activation of the first airstrip to have been developed on a national highway,” transport ministry officials said.
What is a highway strip?
A highway strip is a section of a major motorway, highway or autobahn that is specially built to cater as runways, in case of a military conflict when an airbase is destroyed. It is a form of auxiliary airbase. These strips often allow easier dispersion of military aviation assets, and also helps to deceive and stretch out enemy air assets.
Highway strips are built on straight sections of the motorway, which is used as the runway for takeoff and landing. These can be assisted with crash barriers or arrestor cable hooks in order to operate. Highway strips are often built using thicker-than-normal concrete to enable heavy aircraft to operate. Usually it takes 24 to 36 hours to convert a pre-designated motorway to a highway strip. Highway strips are used across the world.
Highway strips in Indian context
The need for India to develop a highway strip was becoming apparent over the past decade. While China had made its first highway strip as early as 1989, Pakistan, what India considers as a more immediate threat; developed its motorway strips as early as 2000. The PAF uses two separate strips, M-1 (Islamabad-Peshawar highway) and M-2 (Islamabad-Lahore highway). Pakistan first landed a Chengdu F-7 fighter aircraft on M-2 motorway in 2000, followed by a Super Mushshak trainer and C-130 transport aircraft.
India however didn’t have a highway strip until mid 2010 decade. The first road landings were performed on May 21st 2015 on Yamuna Expressway, Uttar Pradesh. It wasn’t until 2016 that Indian government announced construction of dedicated highway strips. Another test landing was conducted on 24th October 2017, along Agra-Lucknow expressway.