April 22, 2021
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Keeping an eye
China is building massive aerial surveillance capacity in Tibet

The Chinese military is building number of air surveillance infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control in Tibet to keep a vigil on Indian military activities in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Ladakh region.

At the same time, number of air bases is all set to increase with 11 small air strips coming up along the LAC as part of China’s military infrastructure plan which will be completed by March 2015.

Currently China is operating its air surveillance and reconnaissance activities largely from Lanzhou and Chengdu military region depending upon the operational necessities but the plan to augment its aerial capacity closer to LAC may further alarm India in near future.

Under the 12th year plan which started in year 2011 and soon to end in 2015, China’s top leaders have allocated USD 5 billion for border military infrastructure to Central Military Commission, particularly enhancing aerial surveillance and reconnaissance along the LAC.

Since India is also now building and upgrading small British era air strips along the LAC, Chinese PLA Air Force (PLAAF) is eager to outnumber India in terms of capacity building after identifying major strategic sectors along the 4000 km LAC.

Chinese game plan revolves around the idea that in case of any war with India, the PLAAF should be able to neutralize all the Indian military infrastructures along the LAC by delivering a crippling blow to Indian Air Force.

In fact, for last 10 years China has been ramping up its strategic assets in Tibet for quick reaction capacity building in case of a war situation but for last three years PLAAF is focusing on air surveillance capacity by reactivating old air strips it had constructed during 1962 war with India.

China is also building 7 new radio and radar monitoring stations under the 12th year plan to outnumber Indian radar stations along the LAC in Arunachal and Sikkim sector.

In fact, China already has five operational airfields at Gonggar, Pangta, Linchi, Hoping and Gar Gunsa in Tibet sector but PLA military infrastructure building activities have increased five times in recent years with new types of surveillance mechanisms.

In case of war, China is also worried that India may target its infrastructure assets after it has launched connectivity of extension of the Qinghai Tibet Railway line to Xigaze and another line from Kashgar to Hotan in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region which is also in progress.

Strategically, the Tibet Autonomous Region is pivotal for China’s security as it comprises approximately one-fourth of China’s land mass, and it continues to have aggressive deployments in the region.

While experts believe that the new Chinese leadership led by Xi Jinping may not risk a war with India, the chances of a local commander triggering off a conflict cannot be ruled out given the growing intensity of the provocative incidents on the Line of Actual Control.

China’s main concern is that India is also revamping Daulat Beg Oldi which lies near the easternmost point of the Karakoram Range in a cold desert region in the far north of India, just 8 km south of the Chinese border and 9 km northwest of the Aksai Chin Line of Actual Control between China and India.

India is keen that after the Siachen Glacier military bases, DOB can serve as a second air base to tackle Chinese advancement in the region as a forward area of strike. For that, Indian government had first announced plans in 2001 to construct a motorable road from Leh to its destination at DBO.

This is making PLA nervous that it needs massive military buildup to overpower India in a quick reaction time and deny India any access closer to its border.

In April 2013, a platoon-sized contingent of 50 PLA troops crossed over deep inside 30 km southeast of DBO which is Indian territory and later withdrew after putting tents for three weeks.  

In a matter of defiance to Chinese diktat, Indian Air Force had landed a C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft in DBO in August 2013 to show that it is Indian territory and China must refrain from such adventurism.