A decade ago, on this very day, an Indian Air Force (IAF) C-130J aircraft etched its mark in aviation history with a pioneering landing at Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO), an advanced landing ground situated at an astonishing altitude of over 16,614 feet in the eastern Ladakh region.
DBO's strategic significance has been amplified by its proximity to the Depsang Plains, a site of heightened tension along the Line of Actual Control between India and China.
Its operational revival by the IAF, however, came with a controversial twist, as revealed by former Vice Chief Air Marshal (Retired) Pranab Kumar Barbora.
The United Progressive Alliance government, led by the Congress, was reluctant to open the airfield, as it did not want to upset the Chinese.
Barbora disclosed that the reactivation of the DBO airstrip was undertaken without formal written permission from the then United Progressive Alliance government led by the Congress, as he navigated the bureaucratic complexities that had previously thwarted attempts to reopen the airfield.
Barbora's decision to sidestep the formal channels was born from a history of bureaucratic hurdles, as various attempts to reactivate the airstrip had been met with rejections over the years.
The former Vice Chief Air Marshal recounted his strategic approach to circumvent the red tape.
"When I wanted to reopen the airstrip, I spotted five files. But after examining those, I realised that if I created another file and put up my request in writing, I won't get a go-ahead. All the earlier files had ended with a 'No' for various reasons", Barbora explained.
#WATCH "Nothing was done in writing, the government was informed through proper channels only after I had landed and come back from there": Former IAF Vice Chief, Air Marshal (retd) PK Barbora on reactivating Ladakh's Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip in 2008 pic.twitter.com/InTg82HpGY— ANI (@ANI) June 7, 2020
"So, I decided to reactivate Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip without any written permission. I decided, let's not create any file, let there be nothing in writing. After all, if you ask for permission, all the old files will be called, and the result will be another No," he added.
"Since there was nothing in writing (about reactivating the airstrip), the government was informed through proper channel only after the landing was done and I returned from there," Barbora told ANI in 2020.
Regarding the government's reaction upon learning about the airfield's reactivation without their knowledge, Barbora explained, "The government asked why did you do it? We said it is the Air Force's responsibility to maintain troops' logistics."
Barbora noted that when India reactivated the airstrip, China expressed interest in discussing the matter through a flag meeting. Despite India's agreement, the Chinese delegation never engaged in these discussions.
Barbora mentioned that the former Defence Minister had posed a question to him regarding what he should convey to the Chinese if they brought up inquiries about the reactivation during his visit to China.
Barbora further noted that, contrary to expectations, the Chinese did not raise the issue with the Defence Minister during that visit.
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