Specialist Indian Defence blog Stratpost recently reported that Indian Airforce and aeronautical experts were ‘unimpressed’ with the Pakistan Airforce’s Roadbase test. SAMAA and other Pakistan Media had reported that during the High Mark 2010 military exercises, Wing Commander Atta-ur-Rehman was flying a Mirage whereas Squadron leader Nadeem Iqbal was flying F-7P which landed on a 9,000 ft long and 103 ft wide piece of Islamabad-Lahore motorway. To prepare the runway for these exercises, blocks dividing the motorway were removed and tops of trees grown on an area of 3,000 ft on both sides of motorway were trimmed.
Stratpost quoted IAF officers saying that it didn’t really matter. PAF had simply converted a road into an airfield and were using the length of a normal runway and that IAF pilots trained for landing and taking from Parallel Taxi Tracks that are around 75 feet wide – half the width of a normal runway.
The blog further quotes Eddy de la Motte, India Campaign Director and former Head of Design, on what goes into designing an aircraft that can do real road base flying. He says that because of its Electrical Flight Control system, the Gripen can land and take-off on a strip with a length of 800 meters (2625 feet) and a width of 9 meters (30 feet). “The earlier Saab aircraft, the Viggen and the Drakken were also designed to operate from public roads with a length of 800 meters and a width of 17 meters (56 feet),” says de la Motte.
The Gripen designed from the same Cold War strategic philosophy that had governed years of fighter development has the unique ability to land and take off on very short, actual road conditions. This was to offset the short flying time from the then Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries as well as to disperse aircraft in a manner that it would be difficult to “take out” the aircraft in a massive pre-emptive strike.
The blog Jas 39 Gripen NG says about the Gripen’s STOL (short take-off and landing) capabilities that the “Gripen can take off and land in less than 600 meters (2,000 feet). Once deployed to a road base, the Gripens are serviced by a ground crew of six, including one highly trained specialist and five minimally trained conscripts. A service team can refuel and rearm a Gripen in ten minutes. The Gripen features an auxiliary power unit (APU) to reduce its dependence on ground systems, and the fighter’s onboard digital systems include “built-in self-test” capabilities that can download diagnostic data to a tech’s laptop computer. Service doors to critical systems are at head level or lower, allowing easy access by technicians.”
The Gripen’s STOL capabilities may have special significance for the IAF for three good reasons. One, the long borders that the IAF has to cover, making it imperative to either maintain a huge fleet or a nimble footed one that can operate out of road bases. Second, there are over 400 unused airfields in the country. The Gripen has the ability to turn these into assets for the country by making them serviceable bases. Third, the proximity of attacks and short warning time which requires either strategic depth for the airfields against first strike, moving bases away from the frontline. The Gripen is a contender for the prized IAF MMRCA competition which is currently underway,