News and Views on Tibet

Satellite images show China’s new bunker near Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh

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Satellite images by BlackSky reveal China's extensive military build-up near Pangong Lake (Photo/Hindustan Times)

By Tenzin Nyidon 

DHARAMSHALA, July 11: The situation at Indo-Tibetan border near Ladakh may escalate after China reportedly constructed extensive underground bunkers and hardened shelters at a crucial base, according to satellite images by BlackSky, a US-based firm. These images show Chinese military build-up at Sirjap, an area claimed by India, located over 120 km southeast of the Galwan Valley, the site of a brutal skirmish in June 2020. 

The satellite images show China’s preparation for a long-term presence with eight sloping entrances to large underground bunkers and five entrances to smaller bunkers intended for ammunition and fuel storage. Additionally, hardened shelters for armoured vehicles have been established at Sirjap Post, which serves as a headquarters, just 5 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at the Indo-Tibet border.

There has been no immediate response from New Delhi or Indian officials regarding the images. A former Indian Army commander who served in the Pangong Lake region, speaking anonymously to Hindustan Times, remarked, “In today’s battlefield, everything can be pinpointed using satellites or aerial surveillance platforms. We have no such underground shelters on our side. Tunnelling is the only way out to create better defences.”

“Without underground shelters, weapons and stores are sitting ducks for air strikes with precision-guided munitions. The Chinese are pioneers in tunnelling activities and no hi-tech is required for these structures, just civil engineering skills and funds. Otherwise, we have to invest in more air defence equipment,” he added.

The developments at Pangong Lake have emerged at a time when, before the start of the standoff on the LAC in May 2020, this region was almost completely devoid of human habitation. However, India has since constructed roads, bridges, tunnels, airfields, and helipads for military logistics. India’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO) completed 125 infrastructure projects worth Rs. 3,611 crore in 2023-24.

The activity at Pangong Lake coincides with increased Chinese operations at the Shigatse airbase in Tibet on May 30. Satellite images from that period showed six J-20 and eight J-10 jets at the Shigatse airbase. Shigatse airbase is 300 km from India’s Hasimara base, which hosts Rafale jets. Analysts believe China’s J-20 deployment aims to counter the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Rafales, among the most advanced aircraft in the IAF’s arsenal.

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