Hello defence lovers! Recently Indian airforce fighters and transport aircraft C 130 J super Hercules carrying Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari & Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauriahave successfully landed on the newly constructed energy landing strips on National NH-925A in Barmer, Rajasthan. In this article, we are going to discuss what are highway strips or emergency landing strips, why they are constructed, and how they are used during any conflict.
A highway strip, road runway, road base, or emergency landing strip is a section of a highway, motorway, or another form of public road that is specially built to use as a runway for military aircraft and to serve as an auxiliary military airbase. These highway strips allow military aircraft to continue operating during a conflict even if their regular air bases, some of the most vulnerable targets in any war, are degraded or destroyed.
History Of Highway Strips
The first highway strips were developed during the end second world war by Nazi Germany. The Nazis called it the Reichsautobahn system which allowed military aircraft to use motorways. The world’s fastest highway, the German AutoBahn is the result of this system.
During the Six-day war between Israel and the Arab world, under operation focus, Israeli surprise attacks destroyed the airfields of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. This proved to be very effective as the enemy was not able to use its airforce and most of the fighters were destroyed when they were grounded.
When this event occurred, the cold war was at its peak. learning lessons from the event, emergency highway strips were but on both sides of the Iron curtain.
The Highway strips are generally 2 to 3.5 kilometre straight sections of highway with removable crash barriers in the central reservation. The road is made up of thicker layers of tarmac and is constructed on a solid concrete base to support aircraft operations. Taxiways and parking areas are also sometimes made. The specialized equipment for air operations is stored somewhere nearby and only carried there when airfield operations start. In general, the highway strips can be converted from motorways to airbases typically within 24 to 48 hours. The road would need to be swept to remove any debris before use by aircraft to avoid foreign object damage to the engines.
The highway strips or emergency landing strips serve a variety of strategic purposes. During any conflict, the forward operating bases are the primary targets. The enemy often bombs the runway to make it non-operational. In such a scenario neither the fighters at the base can take off neither the airborne fighters can land to refuel and rearm. The fighters grounded in that case become sitting ducks for the enemy. This is what exactly happened on the evening of 3rd December 1971 when the Pakistani airforce launched pre-emptive strikes on the forward operating bases of the IAF on the western front.
The highway strips serve as additional airbases during these emergencies, where the airborne fighters can land refuel and rearm. Also, these strips can be turned into mini airbases if required. So the fighters can be stationed there so that enemy cannot predict the exact location of the fighters.
Highway Strips Across The World
Highway strips are found in many countries around the world. These countries are Germany, Australia, Finland, China, Cyprus, Estonia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Taiwan, Pakistan, United States, and obviously in India.
The most remarkable out of these countries is Sweden and Finland. In Sweden, under their Bas 90 system, short backup emergency runways on highways are constructed in close vicinity of the airbases. Apart from that these runways are not more than 800 meters in length and are adequate for their STOL capable JAS 39 Gripen. Finland is one step ahead of where it uses arresting wires just like a CATOBAR aircraft carrier for landing its F/A 18 super hornets on highway strips.
Highway Strips In India
India has already tested its highway strips present on Yamuna Expressway and Agra Lucknow expressway. Now Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari and Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh inaugurated India’s first runway strip on a National Highway in Barmer, Rajasthan and, a mock emergency landing was conducted with the two ministers and Air Chief Marshal R. K. S. Bhadauria on-board a C 130J Super Hercules. The Indian airforce has also demonstrated the landing of its Su 30 MKI and Jaguar fighter bombers. This time it wasn’t just a touchdown. The fighters landed, taxied, parked, and then again took off. This showed the capability of using this strip as a mini airbase during any conflict. According to media reports, 20 other such highway strips will be developed on National Highways across the country. Neither China nor Pakistan has any such highway strip in close proximity to the international boundary. This will definitely give India an edge over its adversaries.