Tajik air base is ready, gives India its first footprint in strategic Central Asia

India's first ever air base in Central Asia at Ayni in Tajikistan is now ready and the Defence Ministry has sought a mandate from the Cabinet Committee on Security to begin operations.

India refurbished the Ayni air base, 10 km north-east of Dushanbe, at the cost of over Rs 80 crore under a trilateral defence agreement with Tajikistan and Russia. With its runway extended, perimeter fencing secured and aircraft hangars built, the Ayni airbase is ready after a delay of nearly two years. Lying dilapidated since 1985, this airbase was used by the former Soviet Union during its Afghan campaign.

Official sources have told The Sunday Express that the Chiefs of Staff Committee has already put its stamp of approval on operating the base. However, Defence Minister A K Antony has asked the CCS for a formal mandate on force levels before the Indian Air Force moves its platforms to Ayni.

Under the trilateral agreement, India, Russia and Tajikistan will have command and control of the air base by rotation and a contingent of Defence Services personnel is already in Ayni after military contractors completed construction last December.

Ayni's use is limited by the fact that India has no direct access to Tajikistan with part of Kashmir and Northern Areas being controlled by Pakistan. Under the circumstances, the Indian team will have to work with the Russians, who already have a motorised division stationed in Tajikistan, for all logistical help and support.

India has plans to put a squadron of Mi-17 V1 helicopters at Ayni with logistical support coming from Russia in the landlocked Tajikistan. While Russia is operating fighters from this base, New Delhi does not want to commit fixed-wing platforms for Ayni. The Indian Air Force has already given flying training to Tajikistan air force personnel under the agreement.

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