The first AN-32 ever to land at Nyoma, close to the Line of Actual Control with China, in Ladakh. India is activating a number of Advanced Landing Grounds for a quick reaction capability in a border crisis
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Sept 10
At dawn on 18th Sept 09, Group Captain SC Chafekar lined up his AN-32 transport aircraft for a landing approach to the spectacular, 13,300 foot high Nyoma airstrip in Ladakh, sending a herd of local Khyang (Tibetan Wild Asses) fleeing in panic. This first ever fixed wing aircraft landing at Nyoma, the army’s newest Advanced Landing Ground (ALG), close by the frontline with China, was made possible by a new “miracle compound” called RBI-81.
The MoD, always secretive, merely stated that a “new advanced compound” had gone into building Nyoma ALG. But the army was pleased --- as a document with the Business Standard reveals --- at this infrastructure coup. The 2.7 kilometre airstrip was built in just 90 days by jawans who had never worked with RBI-81. All they had to do was to mix RBI-81 with local mud, sprinkle water over the surface and then run a road roller over the mixture. Hardening instantly, the surface easily withstands repeated landings by the 20-tonne AN-32.
Now RBI-81 is helping ease the chaos of Delhi’s preparations for next month’s Commonwealth Games. Here’s what just happened last week at the Siri Fort Sports Complex in South Delhi, the squash and badminton venue, to which Saina Nehwal will carry the hopes of a billion Indians. On 28th Aug morning, a flabbergasted CWG Organising Committee team discovered that the Siri Fort parking area and the roads inside the complex were still knee-deep bogs of churned up mud. With the games five weeks away, the contractor threw up his arms. Laying a concrete surface would take a week; and then 28 days would be needed for the concrete to set. If it rained, said the contractor, it would take longer.
Enter RBI-81. Ashwini Mundra, of contracting firm Salasar Marketing, undertook to prepare Siri Fort’s 1500 square metre parking area, in 48 hours using RBI-81. Work commenced at 1 p.m. on 30th afternoon; fourteen hours later, at 3 a.m. on the 31st, the job was completed. That morning, says Mundra, 100 buses were parked on the newly surfaced area.
The Delhi Development Authority’s Superintending Engineer, RK Gupta, who inspected the finished work, gave an unambiguous thumbs-up to RBI-81: “The Siri Fort Sports Complex is ready for use. This product is much faster than anything we have ever used before and the results are excellent. It is now in our sights for other projects.”
But RBI-81 is originally a military product and Alchemist Touchnology, which holds the licence to manufacture and sell RBI-81 in India, covets the Indian Army’s ongoing programme to construct 3429 kilometres of border roads in Himalayan altitudes, temperatures and weather conditions. Already the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is testing a road segment in J&K, constructed with RBI-81, to verify the company’s claims that the surface is waterproof, weatherproof and unaffected by temperatures from minus 40 to plus 60 degrees centigrade.
“The most attractive feature of this product is the economics”, says Gautam Gulati, a group Director with Alchemist, “An RBI-81 based road is almost 40% cheaper than a conventional tarmac or concrete road. Instead of multiple layers of stones, bricks and gravel, all you need is 2-3 layers of RBI-81 and the tarmac can be slapped on over that. A rural road, conforming to Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) standards, costs Rs 28.23 lakhs per kilometre built conventionally. If we use RBI-81 instead, the cost drops to Rs 18.52 lakhs, a saving of 36.87%.”
Even more important than the price advantage, say BRO officials, is the eco-friendliness of RBI-81, given the growing difficulty in obtaining environmental clearance for road projects. Firstly, building with RBI-81 reduces manual labour by more than 50% and, therefore, the administrative and security problems of moving hundreds of labourers for projects in sensitive areas. Furthermore, building with RBI-81 minimises stone quarrying and crushing, and transporting tonnes of stones to the project area.
Says the BRO official, “RBI-81 dramatically reduces the environmental and carbon footprint of road-building.”
Alchemist Touchnology plans to leverage this environmental advantage to market RBI-81 to India’s Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Josy Cohen, the Chairman of Holland-registered RBI Global, which patented RBI-81 worldwide and licensed Alchemist Touchnology to produce and market the product in India, claims, “India’s highway building programme uses 175 million cubic metres of gravel annually. By using RBI-81, this can be reduced to just 20 million cubic metres per year.”
RBI-81 was originally developed in South Africa to build roads along that country’s troubled borders and increase the army’s mobility. Today, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are major users of RBI-81. The IDF has rapidly constructed a network of roads from major towns and cities to border areas, permitting the rapid deployment of troops. Invisible from the air, these road surfaces are hard enough to prevent enemies from digging them up and planting mines.