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IAF jets carry out drill on Agra-Lucknow Expressway

The Su-30MKI fighter prepares to touch down on the Lucknow-Agra Expressway during a drill conducted by the Indian Air Force near Bangarmau in the Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday. A PTI Photo

UNNAO, UP (PTI): Fighter and transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Tuesday performed breathtaking touch-and-go landings on a stretch of the Lucknow-Agra Expressway in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh, showing that highways can be used as landing strips in case of any emergency.

Over a dozen IAF planes, including the Mirage-2000 and Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, and the 35,000 kg C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft took part in the exercise near Bangarmau in the district, about 65 km from Lucknow.

Garud Special Forces commandos secured the landing zone as part of the special drill.

The top-of-the-line Sukhoi-30s and Mirage 2000s took off after touching down on the expressway, while the C-130J transport aircraft landed on it.

The transport aircraft are meant for humanitarian assistance and relief operations during floods or any other natural calamity, PRO, Defence (Central Command), Gargi Malik Sinha said.

"The aircraft can bring a large amount of relief material. It can also help evacuate people," she said.

The exercise will test the readiness of the Air Force in situations like war, humanitarian assistance or disaster relief, she said.

The three-hour-long exercise began with the IAF's Special Forces Garud commandos getting off the C-130J transport aircraft with their vehicle and taking "positions" on either side of the expressway to secure "their airstrip" for the fighter aircraft.

The exercise simulated an emergency situation when airbases, the first target of bombs and missiles, would not be available for air operations, necessitating use of highways as landing strips.

This is the first time a transport aircraft –  the Super Hercules which can carry 200 commandos – landed on the expressway. Inducted into the Air Force in 2010, each plane costs nearly Rs. 900 crore.

The Mirage-2000 fighters and Sukhoi-30 MKI – which form the backbone of the IAF's combat fleet – have landed on the Yamuna Expressway in the past too, but it was for the first time that a transport aircraft landed on it as well.

A Mirage-2000 had landed on the Yamuna Expressway near Delhi for the first time in 2015. A similar exercise was conducted in May 2016, when a Mirage-2000 fighter plane touched down on the expressway.

Last November, six Sukhoi-30 jets touched down on a 3.3-km stretch of the Lucknow-Agra Expressway.

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