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Since Galwan border flare-up, China has installed massive military infrastructure, says The Warzone

India needs best Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to counter threat, reports web defence magazine

Paran Balakrishnan New Delhi Published 12.07.22, 02:01 PM
China has strengthened its military positions in Ladakh and Aksai Chin

China has strengthened its military positions in Ladakh and Aksai Chin File picture

China has strengthened its military positions in Ladakh and Aksai Chin to such an extent that India will find it tough to assert its claims to disputed regions where the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has always been fluid, according to the Warzone online magazine.

At several key points, the Chinese have turned what used to be temporary camps on the edge of their own territory into “permanent all-weather encampments”, says The Drive – The Warzone, which focuses on defence issues.

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The Chinese are also building roads and bridges that will sharply cut the time needed for back-ups to reach the frontline, particularly in Aksai Chin.

The military build-ups are particularly strong in the Depsang Plains where both Chinese and Indian forces patrolled till a few years ago and also at the Galwan Valley where soldiers died in clashes between the two armies in 2020, says The Warzone.

Two years after the Galwan border flare-up, “the overall strategic picture is one of remarkable Chinese military buildup and encroachment,” the magazine says.

For instance, the intensity of China’s military buildup in and around Aksai Chin “effectively puts it in a position where its ability to project military power into the disputed region is relatively uncontestable, “ the Warzone says.

“India now faces a (quite literal) uphill battle to restore even a semblance of control over its territorial claims in this area while it simultaneously faces similar challenges at other locations of its shared border farther East,” the magazine adds.

The magazine quotes Vikram Singh, Asia senior advisor at the US Institute for Peace, as saying enhancing India’s situational awareness and deterrent posture will be critical to maintaining stability.

“In Aksai Chin, China has largely replicated its success of gaining de facto control of disputed territory in the waters of the South China Sea,” Singh says. “Getting the best intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities possible and investing in its military to deter further Chinese provocations is vital,” Singh said. “Beijing’s success with coercion and militarisation of disputed territory below the threshold of conflict can easily lead to miscalculation about what will provoke a forceful response from a neighbor,” he added.

Three air-bases, better roads

China’s strengthening of its border positions is in addition to the formidable infrastructure build-up that’s taking place in Tibet and also Xinjiang with three air bases being built or expanded and improved roads being constructed.

The strongest Chinese build-up has been in the Depsang Plains where there have long been differences about the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Here the Chinese initially set up tent camps and have now turned them into “all-weather military encampments” to deal with the treacherous winter conditions.

Says The Warzone: “Today, this area boasts a large military position composed of infantry shelters and ammunition storage facilities, as well as tanks and artillery systems. The Chinese presence at the Depsang Plains evolved from a limited mission to a permanent deployment of a large combat-capable force that would present serious challenges for India to dislodge from its positions.”

A 255-km all-weather road

Depsang is particularly important for India because at one point it is barely 30km from the high-altitude Daulat Beg Oldi airbase. Also in the region, India has built the 255-km all-weather Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road which is reckoned to be a possible trigger for the latest round of Chinese aggression.

In 2013, soon after the road was completed, Chinese soldiers occupied portions of the Depsang Plains and didn’t pull back for over three weeks. Portions of the Galwan Valley where the deadly skirmish between Indian and Chinese troops took place in May 2020 also overlook the DSDBO road.

The Chinese have also built up well-manned outposts at the Galwan Valley. Similarly, it has strengthened its forces at several points in the Gogra & Hot Springs area.

Solar panels for energy

Says The Warzone: “Even at these locations of the so-called ‘mutual withdrawals’ just a single kilometre removed from their initial positions, Chinese forces have established large permanent bases supported by solar panels to provide them with energy and modern roads to resupply them.”

One area where there has been a slight pullback by the Chinese is around the Pangong Tso Lake. But that was partly because India had managed to move positions here in its favour. But here too, the Chinese have built up permanent positions. Says The Warzone: “At the Pangong Lake, for example, new roads – and a bridge across the lake just outside of India’s territorial claim – reach all the way around the lake to the town of Rutog where large military facilities now dominate the landscape.”

The latest Chinese military build-up will, according to The Warzone, make it tougher for India to assert its claims to Aksai Chin. “Through the crisis, China managed to effectively take control of Aksai Chin – in a practical military sense, this is a departure from its previous disputed status – and has heavily militarized the entire region around it.”

Upgraded infrastructure

“Where China in the past maintained a logistics network that could support the presence of several hundred Chinese troops on the frontlines of its territorial claims in Aksai Chin, this upgraded infrastructure and support network now allows it to reinforce many thousands of troops simultaneously,” says The Warzone.

Close to the frontline, the Chinese have also strengthened their aerial support. Says The Warzone: “Prior to the 2020 crisis, small Chinese observation posts would sometimes have a small helipad nearby.” It adds: “The new disposition includes the permanent deployment of entire helicopter squadrons at key logistical nodes.”

The Chinese have backed up their frontline positions by building new air bases in Xinjiang and also in Tibet. Hotan airbase in Xinjiang is not far from the zone that separates Aksai Chin and Ladakh.

In addition, the Chinese are building new heliports in different parts of the Tibetan Plateau. The Warzone says that in Golmud, “a behemoth heliport can be seen under construction south of its existing airport.” It adds: “A total of 63 individual hangars are visible along with the construction of barracks and support buildings.” Construction at the site began in early 2020.

India's Rafale squadrons

India has also been strengthening its positions on the border but not in the massive way the Chinese have been doing. India already has forces on the ground and appears to be focusing more on enhancing its aerial strength. Many of the 35 Rafale aircraft that have been bought from France are now operational. One squadron of Rafales is based in Ambala about 400km from Ladakh. A second squadron has been based at Hasimara, not far from the Bhutan-Sikkim-Tibet trijunction.

India may possibly have acquired US-made MQ-9B unmanned aerial vehicles and these would better enable them to track movements by Chinese forces. However, it has been cautious on the ground, according to The Warzone which says: “Its risk-averse approach did eventually allow the Chinese military to dig in at Aksai Chin.”

Indian analysts quoted in The Warzone point out one potential plus point with the Chinese having established permanent bases is that they offer clear targets if ever hostilities should break out.

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