PLA shore up weaponry at India border as Xi wants it ‘combat ready’
President Xi Jinping has directed the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to be “combat ready” during the upcoming Chinese New Year (CNY) holidays and prepare for information warfare as key to victory over enemy forces.
State media reports and local experts interpreted Xi’s statement, delivered during a visit to the PLA air force unit in southwest China’s Guizhou province, as a message to troops stationed along the tense border with India as well as along the maritime zone along the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.
Xi’s statement coincides with several reports in official media on the deployment of new weaponry along the border with India and how China’s top military organisation, the Central Military Commission, also headed by Xi, is directing and monitoring the logistics supply for frontline troops.
“During the Spring Festival, the entire army must strengthen combat readiness on duty to guard national security and the happiness and tranquillity of the people,” Xi told the aviation unit during his tour.
The CNY or Spring Festival holidays are the most important ones on the Chinese calendar when hundreds of millions travel back home while ministries and government departments are either on holiday or work with skeletal staff.
During his inspection at the PLA Air Force aviation division, Xi inspected a special aircraft designed for information warfare.
Xi was quoted as saying by official media that in modern wars, the right to control information has become the key to victory in the war.
India and China have been locked in a military standoff in eastern Ladakh since last May. Tens of thousands of troops from both sides have dug in along the LAC in sub-zero conditions after diplomatic and military talks failed to take forward disengagement of troops at friction points in Ladakh sector.
Connecting Xi’s message to PLA’s increased weaponry deployment at border areas, at least two official media reports said that PLA border defence troops have recently received “holiday gifts”, including 155mm-caliber vehicle-mounted howitzers, armoured assault vehicles and light tanks.
Among the new weaponry, the deployment of Type 15 light tanks in high altitude areas along the border with India has created a buzz in the local media as well as international defence experts.
The PLA’s Xinjiang military command recently received delivery of and commissioned its first batch of the tanks, which excels at rapid reaction combat in plateau regions.
“Compared with the PLA’s Type 96 and Type 99 tanks, the Type 15 is of lighter weight, boasts better mobility in high altitude regions with low oxygen levels, and is more suitable for plateau combat,” a China Central Television report said.
“The tank will let China deter its neighbours in harder-to-reach places such as the contested border with India,” Kris Osborn, former Pentagon official and defence editor for the National Interest, wrote.
The PCL-181, touted as China’s most advanced howitzer, has also been deployed at the northern foot of the Tianshan mountains.
Several recent reports in Chinese official media have also pointed out how border troops stationed at high-altitude plateaus have stocked up on food and daily necessities – the PLA, it seems, is putting much emphasis on its border troops’ food requirements.
“For officers and soldiers of the plateau and alpine troops who are stationed in remote locations and have inconvenient transportation, winter storage and winter readiness are an important support for guaranteeing troops’ combat readiness training,” a PLA news website reported Sunday.
Troops can now grow vegetables at a height of more than 5,000 metres, the report said.
“A border defence company assigned to the PLA Xinjiang Military Command stationed in Shenxianwan at an elevation of 5,380 metres got good news that a smart “vegetable factory” has produced the first batch of fresh leafy greens of eight varieties. For the service members of the sentry post, they could now grow whatever they aspire, instead of eating whatever they had,” the report added.
Shenxianwan, located in the middle of Karakoram Mountains, is the highest-altitude PLA border post.
“Food is connected to combat power. In recent years, relevant departments of the CMC have instructed troops and local governments to establish non-staple food emergency support bases and logistics distribution systems, requiring fresh non-staple food winter storage and winter storage of no less than 12 varieties, effectively improving the food quality of border officers and soldiers and enriching the table,” another PLA report said about the new food arrangements for Chinese border patrols.