China Is Building Bases With Artillery, Bombers, and Helicopter Pads

The Chinese military appears to have started building infrastructure as they continue to beef up forces at Ladakh that led to a deadly clash in June 2020, after analysis of satellite imagery along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) came to light this week.

Besides the infrastructure improvements that would improve the bases along the border, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has also deployed long-range bombers in the region as a warning to India. China has been increasingly aggressive in asserting its presence around the globe, not only with India but in the South China Sea, against Taiwan and opening a base on the west coast of Africa, and now looking for an Atlantic base in Africa as well. These bases would serve as sustainment hubs for its navy and vastly increase its operating range in waters it has not patrolled previously. 

This in turn has prompted India to also improve it’s own military positions along the border region knowns as the Line of Actual Control  or LAC.

Satellite photo of Chinese expansion of the border region with India. Photo by Chris Biggers HawkEye 360

China’s build-up has been rapid and planned in advance

Chris Biggers is the director of mission applications at the RF geospatial intelligence firm HawkEye 360. He currently writes for Janes Defense. He was previously Defense & Intelligence Applications Lead for Planet Labs and an Intelligence Officer with the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. He was interviewed by the India Cable news about the interpretation of the satellite photos of the buildup of Chinese forces. 

“At the outset, the visible asymmetry between the respective sides’ forces and the relative speeds in which they appeared on the border was instructive. Our review of the available commercial collection suggests that some of these differences, particularly with regard to China, may be attributed to advanced planning,” he said. 

“China continues to improve infrastructure in the region by expanding lines of communication, adding new depots and air defense sites, constructing heliports, and upgrading airbases. Such improvements enable greater mobility and force sustainment in the border areas while also helping China become a more potent force.” 

“China has also added three additional hardened artillery positions (making a total of four) near the Chumbi valley and Doklam plateau to cover the Indian border area and nearby major mountain passes, should India choose to repeat the 2017 intervention.” 

“Additionally, a possible multiple launch rocket system battery has been identified and remains deployed east of Sikkim. Given the proximity of these developments to the Siliguri corridor, all of the above are likely being weighed by New Delhi.”

Further satellite of Chinese expansion by Chris Biggers Hawkeye 360 photo

As Many As Sixty PLA and Indian Troops Killed Fighting With Rocks And Sticks

Tensions had been simmering for decades along the contested border between China and India and had broken into open, armed conflict in 1962. Thousands on each side were killed in the brutal fighting. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) came about as a result of the 1962 clashes. The last time there were fatalities in the region before the 2020 fighting was in 1975, when Chinese troops killed four Indian soldiers in an ambush in the Twang region of northeastern India.

But last year, the fighting took on a Stone Age variety. Both sides accused the other of violating the LAC. While neither side was armed, under the provisions of a previously agreed upon pact aimed at stopping the escalation of any border skirmish to all-out conflict, the Chinese troops came prepared for a brawl. They carried iron rods, sticks and used rocks and fists as the fight turned deadly. 

The fighting began when an Indian Army patrol ran into Chinese PLA troops in a steep section of the region from where the Chinese had supposedly withdrawn after a disengagement agreement reached on June 6.

The fighting took place in sub-zero temperatures along a narrow ridgeline. At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed, including a colonel in charge of the Indian troops who were pushed off of a cliff. Chinese casualties were unknown but thought to have been over 40. 

As pointed out 18 months ago, the area in contention is Aksai Chin. China has claimed it as part of Xinjiang province, while India claims it is part of Ladakh. Until 2019, the region was part of the semi-autonomous state of Jammu and Kashmir but was controlled by India. This disputed territory had been under Indian control ever since India’s 1947 war with Pakistan.

China wants control of the area because it allows access to Pakistan. China has invested more than $60 billion in the economic corridor with Pakistan as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative. Beijing was upset after India completed a new all-weather road in 2019 that runs very close to the LAC. This road is used to support troops along the border, allowing them to be resupplied by road from the highest airfield in the world at Daulat Beg Oldi. 

In keeping with its aggressive behavior elsewhere, China has been building new villages in nearby Arunachal Pradesh while completing the construction of new runways and its rotation of helicopter and bomber squadrons through the Aksai Chin region.