India and China continue with a build of air power around the Doklam plateau, where the armies of the two nations were locked in a 73-day standoff.
“The imagery confirms that both China and India are pursuing a wide-ranging strategic buildup that has only accelerated in the wake of the August agreement (to dis-engage),” says the ‘Stratfor’ report ‘Preparing for a rematch at the top of the world’ released hours before the Republic Day parade in New Delhi.
The Tribune has accessed the documents put out by the think-tank.
The US think-tank said it had done analysis of four critical air bases, two Chinese and two Indian, which are within range of the Doklam Plateau. It says “…greater level of activity is visible from imagery of the Chinese air bases near Lhasa and Shigatse”. Beijing has added air defence missiles and made a new runaway in December.
China’s lack of air bases close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) forces it to concentrate more of its air power at these airports.
Imagery of the two air bases shows a significant presence of fighter aircraft (which peaked in October) and a notable increase in helicopters, as well as deployments of KJ-500 airborne early warning and command aircraft, components of the HQ-9 long-range surface-to-air missile system and Soar Dragon unmanned aerial vehicles at Shigatse Peace Airport.
The Chinese made a number of major airfield upgrades at Shigatse immediately after the end of the crisis. A new runaway was constructed by mid-December, nine aircraft aprons measuring 41 metres by 70 metres were built along the main taxiway and eight helipads were set up in the northeast corner of the airfield.
This construction, along with the deployment of new equipment in greater numbers, highlights how China has undertaken a serious effort to improve its capabilities close to the LAC.
On the Indian side of the border, imagery of the Bagdogra air base and the Hasimara Air Force Station has been released. “It depicts how India has moved to reinforce its air power close to the Doklam Plateau,” says Stratfor.
The Indian Air Force has greatly increased the deployment of Su-30MKI warplanes to these air bases as can be seen from the imagery, says the report.
The Su-30MKI is India’s premier fighter jet, and it will soon be capable of striking land targets with the advanced BrahMos cruise missile. The dispatch of these top-of-the-line Indian jets and airfield improvements at both stations highlight India’s determination to improve its force structure near the Doklam Plateau, the report said.