China building airbases near LAC: Experts

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Published on Aug 31, 2020 11:53 PM IST
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Open source satellite imagery and intelligence suggest that China is upgrading or developing at least 10 airbases, about a dozen air defence facilities and associated radar sites along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), according to experts in the field.

On Monday, the open source intelligence analyst who uses the name @detresfa on Twitter shared an image of a heliport China is building in proximity to two new air defence positions that can cover sensitive stretches of the disputed border in Doklam and Sikkim sectors.

The imagery shows the suspected heliport under construction at the tri-junction of the borders of India, Bhutan and China, and at a distance of about 100 km from Doka La (Doka pass) and Naku La (Naku pass).

Earlier this month, @detresfa used open source satellite imagery to report that China had stepped up work on military infrastructure opposite Lipulekh region in Uttarakhand, including a surface-to-air missile site on the banks of the Mansarovar Lake in Tibet.

“The big thing that stands out [in the open source satellite imagery] is how vast and widespread this is. In the past, the Chinese side would add additional runways or aircraft shelters to some airbases,” said Sim Tack, a Belgium-based security and military analyst with Stratfor, which calls itself a geopolitical intelligence platform.

“Now, China is upgrading or rebuilding facilities or creating new facilities, including 10 airbases, a dozen air defence facilities and other associated radar sites,” said Tack, who works with @detresfa.

“The efforts appear to be significant and very directed,” Tack said, adding that one recent image had captured hundreds of trucks carrying concrete for upgrading the tarmac at just one site.

Much of the work, he said, had begun either late last year or early this year, well before the India-China border standoff emerged in the open in May after two clashes, one at Pangong lake in the Ladakh sector and another at Naku La in the Sikkim sector.

“In the context of how this sort of development work usually takes places, the pace has been rapid,” Tack said, with much of the activity focused on building or upgrading facilities that will allow the Chinese side to control the airspace and provide additional mobility and support to ground forces.

Besides the heliport in the Doklam sector, the Chinese side is also working on two more heliports in the Ladakh sector, one in Rutog county near the northern bank of Pangong Lake and another at Tianshuihai near Galwan Valley and Aksai Chin, according to the experts.

The open source intelligence and satellite imagery, the experts said, pointed to long-term planning for the positioning of forces and assets.

The suspected heliport near Doklam “could sustain all weather & rapid troop deployments in the sector along with improving surveillance operations”, @detresfa tweeted.

The heliport is located almost equidistant from two sites at which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is developing surface-to-air missile facilities, according to imagery tweeted earlier by @detresfa. Both missile facilities are near what have been described as “suspected early warning radar sites” opposite Sikkim state.

In a graphic posted on Twitter, @detresfa said the “steady build-up of support infrastructure” by PLA near “areas with a history of clashes [and] disputed territorial claims demonstrates the long-term Chinese ambitions in these sectors”.

“With the addition of a heliport along with area denial systems within 100 km from Doka La [and] Naku La, China would be able to sustain all weather operations in the disputed areas regardless of the harsh terrain [and] conditions,” according to the graphic.

There was no immediate reaction from Indian officials to the reported development of the heliport and the missile sites by the Chinese.

These developments come against the backdrop of the Indian Army’s acknowledgement on Monday that its troops had pre-empted efforts by the PLA to unilaterally change the status quo along the LAC on the southern bank of Pangong lake.


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