The Lucknow-Agra Expressway was closed for commuters from 10 am on Tuesday and will remain shut till 2 pm, as at least 20 planes belonging to the Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted major touchdown exercises on the expressway near Bangarmau in Unnao district.

Planes, including the AN-32, Mirage 2000 and Sukhoi 30 MKI, performed touch-and-go landings on a stretch of the expressway, starting with a 35,000-kg C-130 J Super Hercules aircraft which dropped special forces commandos to secure the landing zone as part of the special drill for the fighter jets that followed.

 

This is the first time that transport aircraft (AN-32) will land and take-off from this highway, an official told PTI.

In all, 20 aircraft, including AN-32 transport and fighter planes like Mirage 2000, Jaguar, Sukhoi 30 MKI, will take part in the exercise, Sinha said. “Two AN-32 planes will participate in the expressway touchdown on Tuesday,” said Gargi Malik Sinha, PRO, Defence (Central Command).

To ensure a smooth touchdown, traffic restrictions will be placed on the Agra-LucknowExpressway for the general public on 23 and 24 October.

A file image of Sukhoi 30. AFP

A file image of Sukhoi 30. AFP

“It’s for the first time that any transport aircraft will land and then take off (on the highway). The AN-32 are meant for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The aircraft can bring a large amount of relief material and can also help in evacuating people,” Sinha said.

In May 2015, the IAF had landed its Mirage 2000 and Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets on the Yamuna Expressway and the Lucknow-Agra Expressway. The Yamuna Expressway landing was the first of its kind in India.

Reports said that this was the first time the C-130J transport aircraft joined the IAF’s special drill to land planes on the expressway. Several nations allow their air force to practice landing and taking off from large highways in order to ensure air operations continue even when an airbase has been knocked out by enemy   The three-hour-long exercise simulates an emergency situation when airbases, the first target of bombs and missiles, won’t be available for air operations, necessitating use of highways as landing strips.

Commenting on the landings, vice-chief of Indian Air Force Air Marshal SB Deo said that fighter aircraft on the Lucknow-Agra Expressway is an “important operational achievement”. “It’s a very important operational achievement. We have done it earlier where we have the Mirages land on this highway, and highways can be very important during wartime when runways are denied for some reason,” IANS quoted Deo as saying.

Deo said that a unique feature of Tuesday’s exercise will be the landing of transport aircraft C-130. “We are also landing a transport aircraft, the C-130, which is special operations aircraft,” he said.

A number of highways have been cleared by the government for being used as airstrips for emergencies such as disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, and situations of war or conflict.