News and Views on Tibet

China sets up air defence system along LAC

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PLA Chinese soldiers on the highway to Nyingchi, Tibet in Oct 2020 (Photo- Reuters)

By Choekyi Lhamo

DHARAMSHALA, June 1: China’s People Liberation Army (PLA) has reportedly set up a combined air defence system for the Western Theatre Command, which is responsible for operations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India, according to Hindustan Times. It is the latest in a series of moves by China to strengthen its power in the region, followed by numerous reports of China moving in new military equipment and formations into Tibet and Xinjiang.

An anonymous source familiar with the military development told HT that PLA integrated army air defence units in the chain of command to create the air defence control system. The source confirmed that the new system was tested at an unknown location under the western theatre command, whereby army elements jointly trained with the air force under the supervision of the new defence wing.

“At least 10 PLA army units under the western theatre command are believed to have been integrated in the reporting chain for sharing inputs on early warning, combined readiness status and exercise participation as part of this new joint air defence set up,” one of the people cited above said. He further added that Chinese side appeared to feel an urgent need to put all such assets to use at the LAC under a central control.

The LAC expert Air vice-marshal Manmohan Bahadur said that such a development along the border in normal times would have been seen as part of routine to ensure military preparedness, but remarked that “since we have a confrontation, we must view it in that context and make plans accordingly.” The disengagement process from both the Indian and Chinese frontline troops along the border stalled after some withdrawal of armed units on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso (Lake) in February.

Satellite images from last month showed forces leaving the conflict zone around Pangong Tso, and further showed relocation of a large section of troops and equipment to Rutog County, where new barracks have been built by China since 2019. Reports in recent months have also shown China building villages in previously uninhabited areas and reinforcing highways and airports to facilitate speedy deployment of troops.

According to a report published by one of the leading intelligence consultancies, Stratfor, said last September that China has doubled the number of air bases, defence positions and heliports near the LAC since 2017. Since the Doklam standoff that year, China began building at least 13 new military facilities, and work on four heliports began after the standoff in Ladakh last year.

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