HISTORY OF EASTERN AIR COMMAND: SENTINELS OF EASTERN SKIES
1. One of the lethal arms of the Indian Air Force, Eastern Air Command (EAC) controls air operations over a vast area that straddles 12 states. It includes the seven north eastern states, Sikkim, West Bengal, Bihar and parts of Orissa and Jharkhand covering over three lakh square kilometres. It also controls the air space over 6300 km long international boundary with China, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
2. The headquarters of EAC are housed in a spectacular location in Shillong, also called the ‘Scotland of the East’. The command has permanent airbases at Chabua, Guwahati, Bagdogra, Barrackpore, Hasimara, Jorhat, Kalaikunda, Tezpur, Silchar, Mohanbari, Panagarh and Advance Landing Grounds (ALGs) at Tawang, Mechuka, Along, Walong, Tuting, Vijayanagar, Pasighat and Ziro to facilitate airlift and air supplies to remote areas in the country’s far east.
EVOLUTION OF EASTERN AIR COMMAND
Origin of Eastern Air Command (EAC)
3. The Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1958 and the activities of the Chinese forces in 1959 on the Indo - Tibet border were becoming increasingly worrying. As a result, on 01 Dec 1959, the No. 1 Operational Group was upgraded to the status of a command and rechristened as Eastern Air Command. EAC was raised initially at Ranikutir in Kolkata.
4. On assumption of the status of a command with Air Vice Marshal KL Sondhi as its Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, this formation shifted its Headquarters to the fortified East India Company Complex of Fort William in Central Kolkata to co-locate itself with the Army Command on the same day. Immediately, some new squadrons were raised and new aircraft were inducted.
5. At the time of its origin in 1959, the Command had Air Force Station at Kalaikunda (West Bengal), Air Force Station at Barrackpore (West Bengal), No. 1 Aircraft Staging Post at Car Nicobar, Air Force Station Jorhat in Assam, No.3 Tactical Air Centre at Siliguri (West Bengal) and No. 5 Air Force Hospital at Jorhat in Assam.
6. The Eastern Air Command grew steadily between Dec 1959 and Oct 1962 when the nations’ overall security situation was changing rapidly. As China flooded the border with its troops, India felt the need to strengthen its defence, especially to increase the airlift capability of the Indian Air Force. In order to strengthen the Indian position in the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), as Arunachal Pradesh was then called, the No. 1 Group was formed again at Tezpur on 25 Oct 1962. This formation was assigned the complete responsibility of the NEFA sector. Air Vice Marshal Shivdev Singh, PVSM was the Air Officer Commanding of the Group at that time. In order to achieve its objectives, the Group immediately increased its war potential, inducting few more operational units and strategically locating them within its area of responsibility.
Shifting of HQ EAC to Shillong
7. The necessity of increased transport support in the East was felt after the 1962 Indo - China conflict. At the same time formation of few other Commands in other parts of the country was also felt inevitable.
8. The HQ EAC set-up of Kolkata was shifted to Allahabad on 10 Jun 1963 by redesignating it as Central Air Command (CAC). On the same day, No.1 Group moved from Tezpur to Shillong and was upgraded to HQ Eastern Air Command. It then started functioning as a full-fledged Air Command from a few old barracks of Second World War at Nonglyer village in Upper Shillong, opposite the Elephant Falls on the Shillong - Cherrapunji national highway.