India is strengthening its strategic depth and presence along the Chinese border in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. The purpose is to maintain vigil over the Chinese road from Lhasa to Xijiang in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The road passes through the strategic mountainous area of Aksai Chin.
The construction of Indian roads in the region is a follow-up action after the country reactivated its two strategically important airfields in May and November last year after more than four decades.
The idea is to build India’s “strategic presence” there as new global realities and challenges are emerging on the borders, said an Army officer on condition of anonymity.
These roads will connect Daulat Beg Oldie and Fukche air fields which were reactivated on May 31 and November 4, 2008, for the first time after the Sino-Indian war of 1962.
“The roads are being constructed from both the eastern and western flanks,” confirmed minister of tourism Nawang Rigzin Jora, who represents Leh constituency in the J&K Assembly. He said work is in progress.
While the minister did not reveal much about the reasons for these roads, the army officer recalled: “We had lost Aksai Chin because of our absence there. But now we have realised that the presence in all the fields is required with the twin objective to strengthen ourselves strategically and make our presence felt there. We can also keep tabs on the Chinese activities in the Aksai Chin region.”
The argument for building roads is that there cannot be a permanent dependence on the air presence, though there are plans to land fighter planes. The AN-32 and medium sized transport plane IL-76 have already landed there.
The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) fixed-wing aircraft (AN-32) landed at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO). Following this, IL-76 planes made sorties over the region and landed in the airfield.
The Advanced Landing Ground (ALG), where the aircraft landed at DBO, has an unpaved surface and is located in the Aksai Chin area at a height of 16,200 feet near the strategic Karakoram Pass, very close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
DBO is an important army forward area post linking the ancient silk route to China. This base was built during the India-China conflict in 1962. Packet aircraft of the IAF operated from DBO between 1962 and 1965. In 1996, an earthquake caused some loosening of the surface soil, making this base unfit for further fixed-wing aircraft operations.
But now everything has been repaired and the airfield is functional.