China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently conducted tests at a high altitude near the disputed border with India to evaluate the precision strike capability of its newly developed rocket launch system, which was capable of hitting strong Indian military bases. At the same time, both sides worked together on addressing border issues.

During the test, PLA used the PCL191 multiple launch rocket system, striking a target several kilometers away in a desert shooting range in the western part of China. Analysts assume this was a show of power to deter potential border conflicts.

The new long-range rocket launch system can attack any Indian military post along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which serves as the “de facto” border.

“The PCL191 is more capable when it’s deployed at high altitude, with its maximum range having been extended several times,” said Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank researcher.

A group of four people on motorcycles, driving on a desert road in the Ladakh region, India. An aerial photograph was taken by helicam. (Source: Ville HyvönenCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) made its public appearance at China’s National Day parade in October 2019. It has been dubbed as a cutting-edge piece of military equipment capable of shooting rockets and ballistic missiles. The modular rocket system can carry either eight 370mm (14 and a half inch) rockets, each with a range of 350 kilometers (220 miles), or two 750mm Fire Dragon 480 tactical ballistic missiles – each of which is capable of launching for up to 500 kilometers. An analyst for the state-run television network CCTV referred to the new Chinese weapon as a “self-propelled rocket launcher with precision strike capability.”

The Xinjiang military district’s artillery brigade used this system last year. The unit was sent to an area in the Himalayas 5,200 meters (17,000 feet) above sea level and close to the border with India. The PCL191 brigade was capable of being deployed wherever in the country “from the coast to the Himalayas” and taking on possible difficulties such as the border issue with India or even a Taiwan dilemma, according to Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor and military commentator.

Chinese and Indian Military Upgrades

An M777 howitzer is seen from the rear. (Source: Sgt. Jose E. Guillen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Since the conflict in 2020, China and India have strengthened their military capabilities along the LAC. In September, it was claimed that the Indian military had employed helicopters to transport M777 howitzers to the disputed area. The PLA retaliated by sending out its PCL191 brigade and a hundred PCL181 truck-mounted howitzers, adding that the Indian move provoked an “arms race.”

The PLA and Indian Army commenced their “16th round” of dialogs to address a long-drawn border stand-off in the Ladakh region. The border dispute is where at least 20 Indian and four Chinese troops were killed in 2020 and were considered “the worst clash on the disputed border in decades.” The talks are intended to resolve a protracted dispute in the Ladakh region that has lasted for several years, as noted by the report and the negotiations resulted in no concrete agreements being reached.

But the development does not end there. Recently, it was reported that China increased its capacity to house troops from 20,000 to 120,000 within 100 kilometers of the LAC – which the Indian side views as a significant upgrade of China’s “military projection and logistics capabilities,” ultimately considering the move as “offensive and provocative” behavior.

China also implemented structural upgrades, including expanding infrastructures like runways and protected blast facilities to store fighter jets, adding more long-range artillery and rocket systems, and improved air defense systems.

With the heightening conflict between the two countries, experts chime in on the tensions between India and China. According to Wang Dehua, an South and Central Asian affairs analyst at the Shanghai Centre for International Studies, the persistent tensions between the two Asian powers result from a lack of “mutual trust.”  China’s move to modernize infrastructure and deployment along the LAC primarily aims to prevent a repeat of the violent clash in 1962. But, by doing so, China is ultimately provoking India.