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What China Really Wants And Why

Prasun K Gupta

Obviously China is in breach of all the agreed-upon confidence-building measures (CBM) that have been inked with India since 1993. Everyone knows that only too well. However, what has not yet been reported is what exactly has so far gone on during the three flag-meetings at Chushul off Spanggur Gap between Indian Army (IA) officials and their People’s Liberation Army (PLA) counterparts. Information has come in bits and pieces and the ‘desi’ press corps’ penchant for splashing out ‘BREAKING NEWS’ has only caused further confusion among the masses. Here is what really happened over the past two weeks:

Unlike the Indian system under which military officials are not authorised to raise or discuss political issues, the PLA is authorised to do so, since the foremost decision-making body of China on national security is the Central Military Commission (CMC). Once the CMC gives the go-ahead, all organs of the government, be it civilian or military, fall in line and speak with one voice. Unfortunately in India, this has never been the case and therefore, instead of politico-military diplomacy taking place (i.e. either the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CCSC) or the yet-to-be-appointed Chief of the Defence Staff leading all negotiations with his Chinese counterparts), one is today witnessing the sad spectacle of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs taking the lead in discussions and negotiations on subjects it has no expertise or proficiency. Making matters worse is the fact that not even once has India's Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) asked the CCSC for a full-fledged briefing on the theatre-wide options and countermeasures available.

THIS IS A FUNDAMENTAL COMMUNICATIONS-BASED DISCONNECT that is now working against India. For instance, while the Senior Colonel (a political commissar) representing the PLA contingent at the Flag Meetings over the past two weeks freely and openly raised political issues, his Indian counterpart, an IA Brigadier, was aghast and speechless simply because he had never been exposed to such negotiating tactics and procedures anywhere else within India. What the PLA’s Senior Colonel said was that despite China’s repeated requests for the past two years at the highest levels (i.e. Defence Minister-level) to India to conclude a comprehensive package of CBMs dealing directly with a freezing of military force-levels on both sides, China's Ministry of National Defence (MND) is of the view that India not only continues to drag its feet regarding progress on such issues, but is also undertaking hectic military force expansion activities all along the LAC for no meaningful reason, and that too at a time when China has never undertaken any such India-specific military activity.

For India, it will be extremely difficult to come up with meaningful counter-explanations because, rather stupidly, when India began upgrading her transportation infrastructure in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, they were all labelled as being military-specific and that too targetted against China. At no stage did anyone in India even think about relating such efforts to the spill-over effects that would be of enormous benefit to the resident civilian populace in these states. Exactly the opposite holds true for China within the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), where, officially, mega-projects on transportation infrastructure have been launched and completed since the 1990s primarily for spurring regional economic growth and promotion of international tourism. Whatever military-specific infrastructure developments that have been undertaken thus far by the PLA within TAR, is therefore defined as being the ‘minimum required for protecting China’s economic investments within TAR’. 

China’s India-Specific Ground Forces For Aksai Chin

The PLA has, since the late 1990s, raised 23 customised, Brigade-sized rapid-reaction forces (RRF, or kuaisu fanyin budui), also better known as ‘Resolving Emergency Mobile Combat Forces (REMCF), three of which can be deployed anywhere within the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) within a 15-day period. The peacetime staging areas for these heliborne REMCFs are located within TAR at Hoping, Pangta, Kong Ka, Lhasa Nage Huka, Ali, Naqu, Lokha and Shigatse. To support the rapid deployment of its REMCFs anywhere within southwestern TAR, the PLA in 2007 completed the construction of two major heli-bases and a massive ELINT/SIGINT station in Aksai Chin to conduct early-warning and border surveillance missions that could, potentially, threaten Indian Army positions in Sub-sector North and Sub-sector West and the Saltoro Range. The two heli-bases are the biggest in the world at 16,000 feet and could accommodate up to 100 medium-lift air-mobility helicopters, light armed aeroscouts and attack helicopters at a time. Added to this is the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF) ability to deploy within TAR a Division-sized rapid-reaction formation drawn from its 15th Airborne Army. The 15th Airborne also includes elements of the PLAAF’s 13th Transport Division, and is directly under the CMC’s control (and not under the PLA’s General Staff Department).

While the 15th Airborne, under the PLAAF’s operational control, can be deployed anywhere on China’s peripheries within 10 hours of mobilisation, and would be used for independent strategic missions, limited power projection and deep strike manoeuvrability (for occupying strategic points in the enemy’s rear, destroying the enemy’s key communications infrastructure  hubs, and prevent hostile supporting forces from reaching the front). In addition, adequate air-assault assets like Mi-171E, Mi-17V-5 and Z-8KA utility helicopters have been inducted into the TMD to ensure the simultaneous transportation of up to three special operations ‘Fist’ Battalions (each with 1,200 troops) that are trained to fight behind enemy lines, and engage in sabotage, reconnaissance and other unconventional operations.

Strategically, the airborne troops are considered to be a reserve force, yet in tactical terms they can be deployed as an advance force. As of early 2012, it can also be reconstituted as an air-mobile REMCF, after the CMC raised a special command, known as the National Defence Mobilisation Commission (NDMC)—to coordinate civilian assets in air, land and sea transportation during both peacetime and wartime. On March 26, 2012 the NDMC demonstrated its readiness with a strategic mobilisation exercise involving the deployment of a few thousand troops of the 15th Airborne to TAR. While the PLA has conducted massive airlifts before, most noticeably in March 1989 to Lhasa and in June 1989 to Beijing, this was the first time that civilian airliners were used to transport both men and material (like the ZBD-03/ZLC-2000 airborne ICVs belonging to the 134th Regiment of the 45th Division of the 15th Airborne) to TAR. However, the premier formation responsible for leading san offensive ground campaign against India in Aksai Chin is the Xinjiang-based 6th Highland Mechanised Infantry Division (the PLA’s first fully Mechanised Infantry Division to be deployed for high-altitude warfare).

The Xinjiang Military District controls formations like 4 Highland Motorised Infantry Division (and its 52 & 53 Mountain Infantry Brigades), 6 Highland Mechanised Infantry Division, 8 Infantry Division, 11 Highland Motorised Infantry Division in the trans-Karakoram Tract, 1 Independent Regiment, 2 Independent Regiment, 2 Artillery Brigade, one AAA Brigade, 3 Helicopter Regiment, and 9 Engineer Regiment. On March 17, 2010 the PLA for the first time in its history deployed MBTs in the Tibet Military District, or TMD, these being ZTZ-96G MBTs, accompanied by Type 86G ICVs, which are with the 12th Armoured Division of the 21st Group Army (GA) under the Lanzhou MR. Overall, it is estimated that the PLA can mobilise (within three weeks), deploy and sustain up to three Division-sized formations for conducting a single-theatre campaign in Aksai Chin.

The TMD commands formations like the 52 Mountain Brigade, 53 Mountain Brigade, 54 Mountain Brigade, a Signals Regiment, plus the 9 Border Defence Regiment, 10 Border Defence Regiment, 11 Border Defence Regiment and 12 Border Defence Regiment, all spread over the Military Sub-Districts of Shannan, Shigatse and Nyingchi. 12 BDR is opposite Tawang.

Supplementing the ZTZ-96G MBTs (which will be used for defensive blocking operations inside TAR) are about 120 ZTZ-99A1 medium tanks, which will be used primarily for limited-in-depth offensive operations in areas facing eastern Ladakh. The ZTZ-99A1s arrived in TAR by rail in mid-2012. 

The structure of the 6th Highland Mechanised Infantry Division follows the standard PLA triangular organisation, comprising three mechanised infantry or armoured Platoons to a Company, three Companies to a Battalion, three Battalions to a Brigade and three Brigades to a Division. The Division comprises three Mechanised Infantry Brigades, one MBT Brigade (equipped with ZTZ-96G), one Field Artillery Brigade equipped with SH-1 155mm/52-calibre motorised self-propelled guns, plus WS-2D, WS-3 and PHL-03 300mm MBRLs (the 400mm WS-2D has a range of 400km, and one payload features three “killer unmanned aerial vehicles, while the 200km-range WS-3 uses navigation satellite guidance to achieve a 50-metre/164 feet circular error probable), one AAA Brigade, one Helicopter Regiment, and a Logistics Brigade. The Division HQ comprises a Combat Engineer Battalion, an EW Battalion, a NBC Defence Battalion, the Company-size Division HQ Staff, an integral air-defence unit equipped with FN-6 VSHORADS, and a quick-reaction Infantry Company.

There are a total of 351 Type 86G ICVs in this Division (to be replaced in future by the ZSD-89), which are supported by a Field Artillery Brigade of 20 P-50 tracked 122mm MBRLs and 52 PLZ-07 122mm tracked howitzers, and a MBT Battalion of 99 ZTZ-96Gs. Type 89 tracked armoured command vehicles are liberally provided throughout the Division down to the Company-level to provide command-and-control capabilities. The Type 86G ICV sports a one-man universal turret containing a 30mm chain gun. The turret also has greater depression and elevation to enable individual windows and mountainsides to be engaged. The Battalion’s Fire-Support Company includes one Mortar Platoon (armed with 10 W-99 82mm mortars mounted on 4 x 4 vehicles and to be replaced in future by PLZ-05A tracked 120mm breech-loading mortar carrier), an automatic grenade launcher (AGL) Platoon with two 4 x 4 vehicles each equipped with two QLZ-04 35mm AGLs, one ATGM Platoon of two WZ-91 4 x 4 armoured vehicles each armed with eight HJ-9 ATGMs. There are 18 WZ-91s in each Brigade, providing 72 anti-tank guided missile launchers in the Division.

There is also an AAA Platoon of three PGZ-04As that are also armed with four FN-6 VSHORADS launchers missiles per vehicle for a total of 12. The Division has 27 motorised air-defence vehicles and has 108 VSHORADS launchers that come under the operational control of the AAA Brigade, which includes one Battalion of 24 towed 57mm anti-aircraft guns and one Battalion of 18 towed twin 35mm PG-99 ‘Giant Bow’ anti-aircraft guns, PGZ-04A tracked gun/missile systems, Yi Tian SHORADS, LY-60D SHORADS and HQ-12/KS-1A MR-SAMs. An Air-Defence Platoon of six PGZ-04As and one Yi Tian firing unit are attached to the Field Artillery Brigade. The Helicopter Regiment has with one attack squadron of six Harbin Z-9WE helicopters and one transport squadron of six Mi-17V-5 utility/air-assault helicopters.

Operational logistics are provided assets that are attached to the REMCFs as required. The 8 x 8 and 4 x 4 all-terrain vehicles and weapons (built by NORINCO, Yongkang ADBTEV Vehicle Co Ltd in Zhejiang, Chongqing Yonghui Technology Development Co Ltd, Chongqing Jinguan High-Technology Group, and Shaanxi Baoji Special Vehicles Manufacturing Co Ltd) are much lighter than those in other PLA Army mechanised units, reducing their logistical footprint and providing tactical mobility, allowing for more roads and bridges to be used during operations. In addition, a wide range of wheeled light specialist vehicles have been inducted into service. These vehicles can be armed with weapons that include the NDM-86 7.62mm sniper rifle, PF-98A 120mm RCL, PF-89A 80mm RCL, QJG-02 12.7mm HMG, Type 88 5.8mm sniper rifle, QBU-09/Type 89 12.7mm sniper rifle, and the QLZ-04/Type 91 35mm AGL.

Long-range artillery fire-support for these formations will be provided by the PLA Army’s NLOS-BSMs, which have been stockpiled in both Xinjiang and Aksai Chin. To date, 13 tunnels dug into the mountains have been built at Xiadulla, 98km from the Karakoram Pass between Ladakh and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, while another similar NLOS-BSM storage facility is located at Qizil Jilga, 40km off the LAC in eastern Ladakh near the Western Tibet highway 219. It is believed that the NLOS-BSMs located in these areas will be employed against the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) existing air bases and Advanced Landing Grounds (ALG) in both Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand.

NLOS-BSMs of Chinese origin are presently being marketed by two state-owned entities: China National Precision Machinery Import & Export Corp (CPMIEC), and Aerospace Long-March International Trade Co Ltd (ALIT). The latter’s latest product is the P-20. Capable of striking targets between 70km and 270km, the all-weather capable M-20, with a Mach 3 cruise speed, comes armed with both a 200kg unitary high-explosive (HE) blast-fragmentation warhead for engaging high-value and time-sensitive targets, as well as a sub-kiloton yield tactical nuclear warhead. Two P-20s housed inside cannisters are mounted on a 8 x 8 transporter/erector/launcher (TEL). For navigation purposes, use is made of a RLG-INS coupled to a GPS receiver (for receiving high-accuracy navigational updates in secure PY-code from China’s ‘Beidou’ constellation of GPS satellites), and an infra-red sensor for terminal homing that gives the missile a CEP of less than 10 metres.

CPMIEC’s 2-tonne B-611M missile is designed to attack supply lines, warehouses, ballistic/cruise missile launch sites, SAM batteries, command-and-control centres, air bases, road/railway transportation hubs, and area targets in urban surroundings. Armed with a 480kg HE warhead, the B-611M has 280km range. Up to two cannister-mounted B-611Ms can be carried by a wheeled TEL. Another NLOS-BSM from CPMIEC is the P-12, which made its public debut in November 2006. Up to two P-12s are carried in an enclosed compartment mounted on a 6 x 6 TEL. The P-12 has a range of 150km, and it comes armed with either a 300kg HE blast fragmentation warhead, or a cluster warhead containing 19 anti-armour sub-munitions. Both the B-611M and P-12 have a CEP of about 2 metres when using a RLG-INS coupled to a GPS receiver, plus an optronic sensor for terminal homing. CPMIEC’s latest NLOS-BSM offering is the vertically-launched joint attack rocket & missile (JARM) system, which can fire both the 280km-range BP-12A and the 200km-range SY-400 from a common launch platform. The JARM, which made its public debut in November 2010, makes use of combined GPS-RLG-INS navigation systems to achieve a CEP of 3 metres  A typical JARM Battery comprises ten 8 x 8 TELs housing either 80 SY-400s or 20 BP-12As, or a combination of both.

For providing localised air-defence for these NLOS-BSM launch sites, the PLA last year began deploying 40km-range LY-80E MR-SAM Batteries along with the LD-2000 SPAAG.

In recent years, China has built and converted two large dual-use airports near the Sino-Indian border. Shigatse Pingan airport, 3,782 metres above sea level, has been operational since October, 2010, while Ngari Gunsa Airport—serving the town of Shiquanhe in Ngari Prefecture, is only 90km away from the northern section of Aksai Chin. It became operational on July 1, 2010, becoming the fourth civil airport in Tibet after Lhasa, Nyingchi, and Qamdo airports. Situated at 14,022 feet above sea level, Gunsa Airport enjoys the best takeoff and landing conditions of TAR. The runway length is 4,500 metres.

PLAAF elements falling under the Lanzhou MR include the Yinchuan AB-based 6 Fighter Division with 16 (Su-27SKs and Su-27UBKs), 17, 18 and 139 Air Regiments; Wulumuqi AB-based 37 Fighter Division comprising 109 (J-8Fs at Changji), 110 (Urumqi South) and 111 (with J-11s at Korla-Xinhiang) Air Regiments; and Wugong AB-based 36 Bomber Division with its 106, 107 (Lintong) and 108 (Wugong) Air Regiments, and the 93942 AAA Missile Brigade.

Shigatse is now being upgraded into Tibet’s first all-weather air base capable of sustaining high-intensity offensive air sorties, and is now protected by the JL-3D-90A long-range airspace surveillance radar, a Battery of LY-80E MR-SAMs and a combination of FN-6 MANPADS, LD-2000 point-defence systems, and SmartHunter low-probability-of-intercept radars. During hostilities, Shigatse, falling under the Lanzhou MR, could also receive reinforcements from the Yinchuan AB-based 6 Fighter Division with 16 (Su-27SKs and Su-27UBKs), 17, 18 and 139 Air Regiments; Wulumuqi AB-based 37 Fighter Division comprising 109 (J-8Fs at Changji), 110 (Urumqi South) and 111 (with J-11s at Korla-Xinhiang) Air Regiments; and Wugong AB-based 36 Bomber Division with its 106, 107 (Lintong) and 108 (Wugong) Air Regiments, and the 93942 AAA Missile Brigade.

PLAAF elements deployed in 2011 Shigatse air base between August and November, these being six Su-27SKs and three Su-27UBKs from the Chengdu MR’s Chongqing/Baishiyi-based 33 Fighter Division’s with 98 and 99 Air Regiments, and three J-10s from the Mengzi-based 44 Fighter Division’s 131 Air Regiment (based in Luliang). While some of the Su-27SKs engaged in defensive counter-air sorties, others were armed with 122mm S-13 and 266mm S-25 air-to-ground rockets for straffing runs. The J-10s on the other hand were armed with PL-11 beyond-range and PL-8 within-visual-range air combat missiles for air superiority taskings, and also took part in daytime precision strikes by dropping LT-2 laser-guided bombs (LGB), which were guided to their targets in both daytime and at night by man-portable laser target designators. And in another first for the PLAAF, a detachment of four J-10 MRCAs from 131 Air Regiment began a two week-long deployment at Shigatse starting January 2, 2012, during which tactical airspace dominance exercises were conducted in coordination with the PLAAF’s ground-based airspace surveillance radar stations deployed within the TMD. And in February 2012, a detachment of four J-10s from the 131 Air Regiment practiced the dropping of LT-2 LGBs (which were guided to their targets in both daytime and at night by man-portable laser target designators) and gravity bombs.

Since all types of combat aircraft to be operated over Tibet have to fly at the critical limit of their respective flight envelopes with reduced safety margins, and since the unpredictable weather there calls for a high level of flying skills (veteran pilots’ oft-repeated warning is: “you can take chances with the hills, you can take chances with the weather, but it is suicidal to take chances with the weather and the hills at the same time”.), it will be interesting to see in future whether:

1) The 106, 107 and 108 Air Regiments are equipped with newly-built H-6K bombers that are capable of launching CJ-10K air-launched cruise missiles.

2) The PLAAF deploys its H-6U aerial refuelling tankers in support of its future periodic deployments of Su-27SKs and J-10s (each of which are equipped with four external fuel tanks during their ferry flights and two during battlefield air interdiction sorties) to Shigatse.

3) The PLAAF accelerates the development of conformal fuel tanks for its J-10s.

Regarding land-based transportation infrastructure, there are three highways that presently link with Lhasa:

1) The 1,154km central highway connects Gormo with Lhasa by a Class 50 road, which has a capacity to transport 3,320-tonne load each day. This highway remains closed for an average 40 days a year on account of bad weather. A railway line between Gormo and Lhasa has since been completed and it has 34 stations and can transport a 600-tonne load each day.

2) A 1,080km oil pipeline between Gormo and Lhasa has a designed capacity to deliver 5,00,000 tonnes of oil annually.

3) The eastern highway from the Chengdu MR to Lhasa is a 3,105km-long Class 18 road, which remains closed for an average 90 days each year, and has a capacity to transport 800 tonne-loads each day.

4) The 3,105km western highway is a Class 18 to Class 50 road and runs northwards along the LAC about 150km in-depth towards Leh. This highway is closed for about 60 days annually, has many well-built feeder roads towards India’s side, and can transport up to 800-tonne loads daily.

India’s Build-Up

If one were to compare the terrain on the LAC’s two sides in Aksai Chin, the terrain on the Chinese side is flat and open, whereas on India’s side the terrain friction is very high. The extreme cold, broken terrain and fast changing weather on the LAC plays havoc with electronic equipment. Tactical net radios in the HF/VHF/SHF ranges work erratically, seizure of equipment and weapons due to cold arrest is common, while siting of equipment is a problem in terrain where visibility is poor and unpredictable. However, India’s field artillery assets have an edge over those of the PLA, as the latter suffers from across-the-board restricted high-angle capability, considering that up to 90% of artillery targetting is with high angle fire. The infantry firepower with direct-fire application compares favourably with both sides. The rough mountainous terrain will force both sides to use anti-tank recoilless guns, rocket propelled grenades, LAWs, flamethrowers and automatic grenade launchers in direct-fire application during advance as the field artillery’s mass would lag behind or get diluted because of inadequate deployment space. IA commanders would be forced to either allot troops to guard rear-logistics maintenance areas or emplace corps reserves nearby.

To appreciate the critical role played by the IAF's enhanced aerial logistics capabilities, one has to understand the operational-level posture of the Indian Army’s Leh-based III Infantry Division, which has committed forces against Pakistan for the Siachen area of operations, and Sub-Sector North (SSN) against China, stretching from DBO to Demchok—a frontage of 1,150km. Supplementing the Division’s three Brigades (with the 102 Brigade being deployed solely for Siachen and the remaining two Brigades being earmarked for support and back-up) are five Battalions of the ITBP(F), Vikas Battalion and Ladakh Scouts that are thinly spread. As a consequence, there are no Army reserve forces available at SSN and what further complicates matters is that SSN as a whole has not road connectivity. Therefore, the deployed troops undertake foot patrols in batches of 15 or 20 and have often come across intruding patrols of the PLA’s Border Defence Regiments (BDR), with each such patrol comprising up top 400 personnel riding on all-terrain wheeled vehicles. And when a faceoff ensues, the Indian Army along with the ITBP(F) and Ladakh Scouts are strictly forbidden to enter into any verbal or armed altercations, and instead seek a flag meeting of the respective sector commanders. And when this happens, no cohesive, coordinated or united response is forthcoming from the Indian side, since the Indian Army reports to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the ITBP(F) reports to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Such administrative mis-matches notwithstanding, the Indian Army and the IAF have, since 2003, devised several innovative measures for the flexible switching or redeployments of combat assets throughout the northern theatre of operations facing Aksai Chin.

It was in mid-2003 that a solitary Su-30MKI did trial-landings at the IAF’s Leh (located at 10,680 feet ASL and having a 9,000 feet-long runway) and Srinagar air bases. This was preceded by the Su-30MKI pilots during a few route-check flights and runway overshoots with MiG-29B-12s to familiarise themselves with the overall sortie pattern, weather conditions and the operating terrain. It was only after this that four Su-30MKIs from the Barielly-based No24 Squadron along with eight pilots landed at Leh on September 16, 2008 (in two phases of four each) for a 10 day-long deployment that also saw the Su-30MKIs each logging up to four training sorties per day and also doing overshoots of the runways at Srinagar and Thoise air base (located 10,066 feet ASL and hosting a 10,000 feet-long runway). Thoise is the acronym for Transit Halt of Indian Soldiers Enroute. Prior to this historic deployment, was another pathbreaking achievement on May 31, 2008 when after a 44-year break, an IAF An-32B tactical transport aircraft landed on the 2.3km-long sandy airstrip (now lengthened to 3km) at the 12,037 feet-high ALG in Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) in the sub-sector north (SSN) area of Ladakh at 6.17am. This was followed by another An-32B landing at the refurbished ALG at Fukche (at 14,200 feet ASL) on September 24, 2008, with the Nyoma ALG, south of Chushul, at 13,400 feet ASL being activated on September 18, 2008. The 3,400 feet-long ALG at Dharasu at an altitude of 2,950 feet in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi hills bordering China was made operational in the second half of 2010 without much fanfare. All these ALGs facing the LAC will by 2015 have a 3km runway length and will be used for aerial logistics support for the deployed ITBP(F), Vikas Battalions, Ladakh Scouts, and for the now-being raised independent armoured brigade (to be composed of one mechanised infantry regiment and two armoured regiments) for the Karu-based 3rd Infantry Division under XIV Corps) to cover the flat approaches from Tibet towards India’s crucial defences at Chushul.

India’s trumpcard, however, remains the IAF’s vastly superior offensive airpower projection capabilities, which include the following:

1) The IAF’s air bases in Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand and western Uttar Pradesh enable its Su-30MKIs and MiG-29UPGs (plus the Mirage 2000UPGs, Tejas Mk1s  and re-engined Jaguar IS/DARIN-3 in future) to takeoff with their maximum permissible weapons payloads and enter Chinese airspace by stealth by utilising their terrain-masking capabilities—something not possible to be achieved by the PLAAF due to the flat terrain at much higher altitudes prevailing within TAR.

2) The PLAAF lacks the IAF’s experience (since 1999) of undertaking sustained high-altitude offensive air campaigns.

3) The IAF presently possesses superior intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities, thanks to the usage by the Su-30MKI of ELTA Systems-supplied ELM-2060P SAR pods and their ground-based real-time and land-mobile imagery exploitation stations, plus the RAFAEL Advanced Defence Systems-supplied RecceLite pods (meant for Su-30MKIs) and their related ground-based imagery exploitation stations.

4) Most critically, none of the PLAAF’s combat aircraft have on-board oxygen generation systems (OBOGS), the consequence of this being the Su-27SKs, Su-30MKKs and J-10s will either be forced to fly at medium altitudes not exceeding 14,000 feet, or fly for very limited durations at higher altitudes due to the very limited number of compressed liquid oxygen bottles that each such aircraft can carry. The IAF’s Su-30MKIs, MiG-29UPGs, Mirage 2000UPGs, Tejas Mk1s, Jaguar IS/DARIN-3s and Rafales, on the other hand, will suffer from no such restrictions since all of them have to will have integral OBOGS installations produced by Larsen & Toubro. Consequently, during dissimilar air combat engagements—both within visual range and beyond visual range—the Su-30MKIs, even without airborne battle management cues being provided by A-50I PHALCON platforms, will, with the help of ground-controlled intercept (GCI) cues, be easily be able to outperform and outmanoeuvre any of the PLAAF’s existing combat aircraft assets.

  

5) The PLAAF has been able thus far to deploy its KJ-2000 AEW & CS platforms to only Lhasa-Gonggar Airport with little success, meaning the KJ-2000 has been discovered to suffer from endurance deficiencies and the PLAAF has therefore concluded that instead of the KJ-2000, the smaller turboprop-powered ZDK-03 AEW & CS platforms would be more suitable for deployment throughout TAR, but ONLY IF their engines are uprated and their cabin pressurisation systems are upgraded as well--tasks that are unlikely to be completed before 2016.



6) Finally, the PLA's existing range of tactical UAVs, including the ASN-229A, have been found out to have very limited endurance levels when flying above-ground-level, and are totally not flightworthy over Aksai Chin. Efforts are now underway to develop the CH-4B MALE-UAV version of the existing CH-4A Wing Loong Pterodactyl UCAV in order to overcome such tactical airborne reconnaissance and surveillance limitations. By 2017, the PLAAF plans to induct into service the turbofan-powered Xianglong Soar Dragon HALE-UAV for dedicated reconnaissance and surveillance missions over northwestern TAR.

Challenges For The Eastern Front

The PLA’s Chengdu MR comprises the Chongqing-based 13 Group Army (GA), Kunming-based 14 GA, and the Tibet Military District (TMD). 13 GA comprises 2 Army Aviation Regiment in Chengdu (flying Mi-171Es, Mi-17V-5s, S-70C-2 Black Hawks, Z-8Ws and Z-9WEs), 37 Mechanised Infantry Division (in early March 2011, the 1st Tank Battalion of the 348th Mechanised Infantry Regiment of this Division commissioned the ZTZ-96G MBT into its ORBAT, marking it the third Type 96G MBT-equipped unit in the western mountainous region opposite northeastern India), 149 Highland Mechanised Infantry Division at Emei in Sichuan, one Artillery Brigade, one Armoured Brigade (with a Battalion of ZTZ-96G MBTs and two Battalions of Type 86G ICVs), one AAA Brigade, one Special Operations Group (‘Falcons of Southwest’), a Combat Engineering Regiment, a Signals Regiment, and one EW Regiment. The TMD commands formations like the 52 Mountain Brigade (equipped with a Battalion of ZTZ-96G MBTs and two Battalions of Type 86G ICVs), 53 Mountain Brigade, 54 Mountain Brigade, a Signals Regiment, plus the 9 Border Defence Regiment, 10 Border Defence Regiment, 11 Border Defence Regiment and 12 Border Defence Regiment, all spread over the Military Sub-Districts of Shannan, Shigatse and Nyingchi. PLAAF elements falling under the Chengdu MR include the Chongqing-based 33 Fighter Division (95661 Unit) with its 97, 98 (Su-27SKs and UBKs at Chongqing-Baishiyi AB) and 99 Air Regiments; Mengzi-based 44 Fighter Division with its 130, 131 (based in Luliang with J-10) and 132 Air Regiments, and the Lhasa Command Post (39177 Unit).

To realise its strategic objectives at the operational-level, the PRC has, for the past two decades, placed heavy emphasis on ensuring superior border management, border dominance via military means, and create superior transportation and logistics infrastructure throughout the TAR. Special attention has been paid to operational logistics, as a result of which several innovative solutions have been implemented for sustaining high-tempo but limited duration (not more than 14 days) integrated land campaigns along the eastern sector of the LAC. For instance, the TMD hosts six ‘Logistics Brigades’ that are responsible for stockpiling and supplying war-wastage expendables like food, ammunition and fuel/lubricants, with up to two Brigades being attached to a Group Army (Corps-sized formation). Secondly, unlike India, which has four separate Army Commands that are expected to conducts their respective ground campaigns simultaneously against the TAR, the TMD functions as a single integrated command with its integral components hailing from the PLAAF, from the Chengdu MR and Lanzhou MR, and the 2nd Artillery Corps. In peacetime, the TMD plays host to six motorised PLA Army Divisions in-depth, out of which two Divisions can be mobilised within 48 hours for internal security, civilian pacification and humanitarian relief operations. In addition, there are six Divisions of the PLA’s infantry-centric Border Defence Regiment (BDR), and eight independent BDR Battalions that are deployed along the LAC and provided with integral infrastructure construction and tactical air transport assets. For instance, opposite Sikkim, China has three Companies (350 troops) of its BDR, though it has accommodation facilities for seven Battalions in the same area. There is also enough stockpiled equipment for the BDRs to construct black-top roads at a speed of 45km within 90 days. On the other hand, the Brigade-strength 2 BDR Regiment facing Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, which is located 40km away at Tsona Dzong, features several flat barren drop zones in-depth for Mi-171E and Mi-17V-5 utility helicopters in between its defensive positions. Overall, it is estimated that the PLA can mobilise (within three weeks), deploy and sustain three Highland Mechanised Infantry Divisions (having their peacetime locations in the eastern half of the TAR), plus a 15,000-strong airborne Division hailing from the PLAAF—all for conducting a defensive theatre campaign comprising simultaneous engagement of a given attack frontage in its entire depth, lateral spread, encirclement from all directions, and achieving tactical air superiority inside TAR. While an Airborne Division, under the PLAAF’s operational control, can be deployed anywhere on China’s peripheries within 10 hours of mobilisation (as was the case during the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake), and could be used for independent limited power projection.

Overall, there are three distinct advantages that the PLA presently enjoys over India in the eastern sector: Firstly, nature favours the deployed PLA troops in the TAR, for unlike Indian troops which need to gradually acclimatise above the height of 10,000 feet to man forward defences and fight the PLA in the mountains (spending six days for Stage 1 at 10,000 feet, followed by four days for Stage 2 at 12,000 feet and four days for Stage 3 at 15,000 feet), the PLA forces on the TAR do not face such a problem and are always acclimatised. Secondly, considering that the TAR is open, flat, barren, and has a gradual gradient—all favouring mechanised operations—the PLA can easily deploy its armoured, mechanised and rocket artillery formations both in-depth and in a widely dispersed manner, thereby severely complicating and stretching India’s ISTAR assets. Furthermore, the Indian side of the LAC is always vulnerable to landslides, especially during the annual monsoons. Thirdly, the PLA’s BDRs enjoy a tremendous psychological advantage over their Indian counterparts. For unlike India’s defensive mindset-induced posture (which mandates that every inch of the LAC is to be held and defended at all costs), the BDRs are under no instructions to maintain 24/7 forward vigil. Consequently, BDR force-levels along the LAC are inversely proportional to those of their Indian counterparts, and the BDRs instead rely on state-of-the-art tactical networks of surveillance sensors like LORROS, battlefield surveillance radars, ground movement sensors and hand-held thermal imagers.

While it is indeed true that in some sectors along the LAC, the deployed Indian armed/paramilitary forces actually far outnumber their PLA counterparts, the principal problem is that of the acute lack of road/rail transportation infrastructure along most of the LAC (i.e. leading right up to the LAC) due to the indecisions of India’s Ministry of Environment & Forests, meaning that in times of crisis, rapid deployment of forces required for border domination will not be that rapid, since forward deployments will be heavily reliant on the IAF’s availability of its limited fleet of medium-lift utility helicopters that's available from its Central & Eastern Air Commands. No less than 60 Mi-17V-5s and CH-47F-type helicopters are required for full-time deployments with these two IAF Commands. 

When it comes to the dynamics of India-PRC politico-military relations, they are best evident in Sikkim, where India has the highest concentration of troops anywhere in the world against a virtually non-existent adversary. India’s entire XXXIII Corps and elements of Assam Rifles are pitted against meagre BDR detachments. In terms of numbers, India has allocated nearly 40,000 troops for Sikkim, of which 8,000 are now physically holding forward positions against about 400 BDR personnel located 20km away from the LAC. The Indian Army has thus adopted a defensive posture, with the unsaid political directive that every inch of Indian territory must be guarded. The consequent Indian military posture against China is to maintain full strategic defence with minor tactical offensive capabilities. Given the politico-operational compulsions, difficult terrain, and the PLA’s track record, it is clear that the Indian Army is doing an onerous task. Sikkim has an area of approximately 8,000sqkm, measuring 113km north to south, and 64km from east to west with heights rising up to 28,000 feet. Militarily, the state is divided into north and east Sikkim. Due to a central massif, north Sikkim is further divided into the Muguthang Valley in the west, the Kerang Plateau in the east, and north-east Sikkim. The Lachung, Lachen and Muguthang Valleys in north Sikkim prevent any lateral movement. Of the 14 passes along the 206km-long Sikkim-TAR border, six are all-weather, implying that these are open throughout the year. Three each of these passes are in north and east Sikkim, these being Kongra La, Bomcho La, Sese La, Nathu La (at 14,438 feet in east Sikkim), Batang La and Doka La. Unlike the passes in north-eastern and eastern Sikkim, the passes on the watershed border in north Sikkim are fairly wide and motorable. Being windswept, they remain relatively free from snow and are open throughout the year. The watershed and the adjoining Tibetan Plateau are devoid of any cover. The terrain in north and north-east Sikkim is more difficult, rugged and formidable, with the altitude rising suddenly and steeply (one can travel from 5,000 feet to 14,000 feet in just about 60km) than east Sikkim, where surface communications are better developed due to its proximity to the north Bengal plains. India’s 435km-long border with Nepal includes a 125km border between Nepal and Sikkim, of which about 50km is most inhospitable.

Sikkim’s strategic importance is thus underlined by the following facts:

1) It adjoins Tibet in the north and east, Bhutan in south east and Nepal in the west.

2) It provides depth to the Siliguri corridor, which is 180km by 75km, with the neck of the corridor being 20km. The corridor comprises four districts in West Bengal—Dinajpur, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. If China were to sever this corridor, probably with support from Bangladesh, India would lose contact with Assam and other north-eastern states.

3) It outflanks the Chumbi Valley of Tibet in the east. The width of the Valley in the north is 25km and tapers down to 4km in the south. The Chumbi Valley has well-defined roads and tracks, which terminate in passes. As the Valley has a restricted deployment area, it favours offensive operations. Towards the southern tip of the Valley, China snce 1993 has claimed the area of Doklam Plateau in West Bhutan.

4) It projects into the Tibetan plateau.

Given the strategic importance of Sikkim, the Indian Army has identified three levels of threats from the PLA. The first is PLA’s border management posture, which is wholeheartedly offensive in nature. With little territorial claims and designs in the TAR, the Indian Army has adopted a defensive border management posture, which has two elements: to hold those passes that are likely ingress routes round the year, and to undertake regular internal patrolling to ensure that there are no intrusions made by the adversary. For example, with the Singalia mountain range and huge massifs in west Sikkim, the PLA’s intrusions in the adjoining Muguthang Valley of north Sikkim will be resource- and logistics-intensive, and therefore are unlikely. However, in the Kerang Plateau, Giaogang and Dongkya La provide the key to the Lachen and Lachung Valleys. Therefore, the Indian Army has ensured by its presence that these launch-pads are denied to the PLA. Similarly, the threat in north-east Sikkim comes from Tangkya La, Phimkaru La and Gora La in the same order, as these provide the shortest routes to Chungthang, a prominent town on the North Sikkim Highway (NSH), which links up with Gangtok in the south. In the mountains, the likely ingress routes are along the rivers, which are the Teesta, running from north to south, and the Dongkya La Chu in north-east Sikkim. In east Sikkim, the Indian Army holds all passes except Jelap La, which is held by the BDR. However, the dominating shoulders of this pass are with the Indian Army.

According to the Indian Army, the PLA, as part of a short border war campaign, could launch a limited offensive to ensure the security of Chumbi Valley, or capture areas in north and north-east Sikkim to deny launch-pads to the Indian Army. This would require the PLA to deploy two Highland Mechanised Infantry Divisions. On the other hand, a theatre-level campaign aimed at severing the Siliguri corridor, and capturing the important towns of Gangtok, Rhenok, Rangpo or Siliguri, would require the PLA to commit 20 Divisions. Moreover, the PLA could capture areas in west Bhutan, which it has claimed since 1989. Even as such a scenario looks improbable in the foreseeable future, and it has been assessed that adequate warning (of at least two weeks) would be available before it materialises, there is unease over PLA’s border management posture, which could easily snowball into a localised threat. The Indian Army’s deployments in Sikkim are primarily meant to thwart such localised conflicts. Considering that the Govt of India would be extremely reluctant to open a military front against China, the PLA’s shenanigans in Sikkim, if not checked in time, could well become a political and diplomatic embarrassment. Moreover, as the PLA is known to have transgressed the LAC in nearby Arunachal Pradesh on many occasions, a determined action by the Indian Army there could encourage the PLA to open a second military front in Sikkim to release pressure. The XXXIII Corps HQ, therefore, has an added responsibility to monitor the development in the more active IV Corps HQ in Tezpur (which is Arunachal Pradesh-centric). The defensive operational taskings of XXXIII and IV Corps are thus intertwined. For this reason alone, suggestions that with limited military activity in Sikkim, the Army could dispense with XXXIII Corps HQ make little military sense.

All these apart, roads remain an endemic problem in Sikkim, which is compounded by the twin assault of weather and terrain. There is only one main artery, the National Highway 31A, that links Gangtok with Siliguri in north Bengal. Jawaharlal Nehru Marg (JNM), named after India’s first Prime Minister, who converted the dirt-track into a metalled road in 1958, connects Gangtok with Nathu La. Though single-lane roads, these two are the only ones which seem to resist the vagaries of weather. But movement on the JNM is impeded by heavy fog and low-hanging clouds, which in monsoons reduce visibility to less than 10 metres. The other crucial passes in the east are connected only through unmetalled roads. The sparsely-populated and vulnerable north Sikkim is connected through a North Sikkim Highway (NSH) from Gangtok to Giaogang via Chungthang, which is also the confluence of River Teesta and Lachung. From Chungthang another road goes east via the Lachung Valley towards Zadong in the Kerang plateau. Currently, the NSH is the only lifeline that connects Gangtok with north Sikkim and consequently the plateau region. Essentially a Class 30 road, militarily the weakest link on this is a Class 12 bridge. However, the weakest link on this road is the impact of weather, which renders the road non-existing in parts. Innumerable waterfalls and springs run across the road, which in monsoons make driving dangerous. Steep ascends and descends through sinking soil, shooting rocks and landslide-prone slopes and gushing streams make this road a nightmare even on a good day.

To cheer the frazzled driver, the BRO and the state government has placed thoughtful messages all along the road: ‘You have seen the Niagara Falls, now drive through Myanchhu Falls’, ‘Tasted Coca Cola? Now see Lantha Khola,’ and so on. Lantha Khola, incidentally, is not a Sikkimese soft drink. It is a highly precarious stretch which was closed for traffic for 63 days in 2011 following severe slides. The problems are compounded by the fact that this is also a single-lane road, which implies that every time you see an oncoming vehicle, you have to either veer very close to the mountainside or balance precariously on the ridge side, hoping that the road does not sink below your tyres, to let the other vehicle go by. The responsibility of maintaining this road rests with the Indian Army, which is reluctant to invest too much money in it. It reasons that the lifespan of the road is over. Either it needs to be abandoned completely, or major reinforcements are required to make it motorable. To tide over the monsoon mania, the Indian Army has posted monsoon detachments all along the road, which carry out temporary clearing and repair work in case of a landslide or retrieve vehicles that slip down the edge. But these are temporary means, what the Army needs are solutions.

Hence the Army has proposed to build an Alternative NSH, taking over the existing track from Singtam in south Sikkim to Dikshu and then to Sanglang. From Sanglang, the road goes towards Toong covering a distance of 42km, of which 30km is completed and after that it will culminate in Chhaten, about 70km short of the plateau, where the existing NSH finishes. The ambitious road-building project, however, is stuck at two places at the moment. The state government is reluctant to give up its stretch of Singtam and Dikshu to the Army as it plans to develop it on its own. Besides, beyond Toong, the road will have to traverse a few portions inside the Kanchenjunga Reserve Forest. Once the state government objected, the Army appealed in the Supreme Court, which directed the disputing parties to sort out the issue by carrying out joint surveys. But Sikkim is against the Alternate NSH and does not see any reason for that. A road has to be economically viable. Even today, there is hardly any traffic on the existing highway and the Army can easily repair that road, according to Sikkim. What neither says is that the alternative highway will probably not be open to civilian population, which is why it does not suit the state government. But if the Army were to repair and relay the existing road then it will also help tourism in north Sikkim. And therein hangs the road.

However, throughout the LAC in the North-East, the Indian Army’s field artillery scores over that of the PLA, since the latter suffers from across-the-board restricted high-angle capability considering that up to 90% of artillery targetting is with high-angle fire. The infantry firepower with direct-fire application compares favourably with both sides. The rough mountainous terrain will force both sides to use shoulder-launched recoilless guns, flamethrowers, shoulder-launched LAWs and AGLs in direct-fire application during a ground offensive, since as the field artillery’s firepower  mass would lag behind or get diluted due to inadequate deployment space. The Indian Army’s ground commanders would be forced to either allot troops to guard rear-logistics maintenance areas, or emplace Corps reserves nearby.

The PLA elements deployed opposite Arunachal Pradesh are drawn from the Kunming-based 14 GA (nicknamed Forest Tigers), which is part of the 2nd Field Army and specialises in jungle warfare. 14 GA comprises the 40 Specialised Jungle Infantry Division based in Dali/Yunnan that in turn comprises the 110 Motorised Infantry Regiment, 118, 119, and 120 Infantry Regiments, and the 18 Artillery Regiment; 31 Mechanised Infantry Division in Dali/Yunnan that includes the 307 AAA Regiment; 32 Motorised Infantry Division (this being a reserve formation); 49 Mechanised Infantry Division headquartered in Kaiyuan, Yunnan; 149 Highland Mechanised Infantry Division at Emei in Sichuan; the 4 Artillery Brigade headquartered in Kunming/Yunnan; one Armoured Brigade in Kunming along with one Engineering Regiment; one Communications Regiment; one Reconnaissance Unit; one Transportation Regiment; one EW Battalion; one NBC Battalion; and the People’s Armed Police’s 38 and 41 Divisions.

There are two main areas where the PLA’s Light Mechanised Infantry (LMR) differs from its Motorised Infantry:

1) Compared to the latter, the former enjoys increased overall mobility, especially enhanced air mobility, enabling rapid vertical envelopment over mountainous, jungle, and desert terrain.

2) Compared to the latter, the former has increased organic firepower.

In addition, command-and-control is another area where the LMR differs from other PLA Infantry Regiments. While the latter is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, a Colonel commands the LMR. Each Battalion within the LMR has a large headquarters staff with PLAAF liaison officers, digital satellite telecommunications equipment (both manpack and vehicular for two-way voice/data transmission/reception), live-feeds of UAV imagery, and the unusual authority to make all tactical decisions. A small Regimental HQ exists for only administrative and logistics purposes. Within the LMR, tactical formations are task-organised Groups instead of the traditional 3 x 3 structured organisations. Groups are Battalion-sized formations assembled for a specific mission-tasking. Digital messaging in the form of ‘Call-for-Fire’ is standard norm, along with an automated situational awareness protocol. In a style of warfare where the ‘shock-and-awe effect’ really matters, the impact of an LMR overrunning hostile command-and-control nodes and logistics centres could truly be devastating. While a full PLA Infantry Regiment normally consists of three manoeuvre Battalions, in the LMR only one Manoeuvre Group exists. At the heart of the LMR is its Light Mechanised Infantry Companies (LMIC), which combine the flexibility of dismounted infantry with the mobility of motorised forces without having a significant logistics tail. Unique to the LMIC is the fleet of 8 x 8 ATVs. It routinely carries six infantrymen: a squad leader, gunner, driver, and three others that form a dismounted fire-team. Each APC is also equipped with a winch, tactical radio, GPS receiver, and tactical data terminal. It is capable of negotiating very rough terrain and with a quick modification, is amphibious. The ATV can be armed with either a QJZ-89 12.7mm heavy machine-gun (HMG) or a W-87 35mm AGL, or one 82mm mortar. The ATV also has a provision for mounting the QBB-95 5.8mm squad automatic weapon on a pintle at the front-left of the ATV.

Augmenting the already formidable firepower of the LMIC is the Fire Support Company (FSC). The mainstay of the FSC are the 4 x 4 ‘Brave Warrior’ and ‘Iron Eagle’ families of fast attack vehicles (FAV), comprising the SX-1 and XZ-AT-400 models, that have been in service with the PLA’s airborne and special operations forces for some time. For direct fire-support, one XZ-AT-400 FAV mounts a Type 87 25mm single-barrel cannon, while for indirect fire-support this FAV comes armed with the W-99 82mm mortar (similar to the Russian 2B9 Vasilyek). Several air-defence versions with a secondary direct fire-support role are armed with the Type 87 twin-barrelled 25mm cannon and dual FN-6 VSHORADS, or HJ-8L ATGMs and 35mm W-87 AGLs. The FAVs, unlike the ATVs, cannot be loaded inside a tactical transport helicopter, but with all FAVs featuring prominent sling-points they are sling-load compatible. Also within the FSC is one Sino-Mab Group Industries-Built XZ-AT-400 4 x 4 FAV that carries a sniper team with a QBU-09 12.7mm sniper/anti-materiel rifle. Another novel formation embedded within the LMR is the Artillery Battery, which replicates the tube, rocket, and anti-tank Batteries of a typical PLA Artillery Battalion in a microcosm. The Artillery Battery comprises a Platoon of PP-87 82mm mortars carried in BJ-2020SJ 4 x 4 jeeps, and a Platoon of 8-tube 107mm MBRL launchers mounted on 6 x 6 ATVs. The PTL-02 105mm 6 x 6 assault gun provides anti-tank firepower. The Reconnaissance Platoon comprises three BJ-2020SJs and two SX-1 FAVs. While one BJ-2020SJ carries the command-and-control element and two FN-6 missiles, and also tows a small cargo trailer, two BJ-2020SJs each mount a 12.7mm HMGs and two HJ-8L ATGMs. Two sling-load capable SX-1 FAVs carry another reconnaissance element armed with PF-89 80mm RCLs.

Specialised heliborne air-assault credentials of the LMIC make it ideally suited for sub-conventional warfare scenarios, while offering greatly increased tactical flexibility (in terms of pickup, insertion, and extraction of forces) when performing special operations against hostile air bases, POL sites and ammunition storage warehouses. There is no requirement to carry slings on a mission, no specialised sling-load training is required for the troops, and no time is spent in the ‘combat ineffective’ mode while the vehicles are rigged for under-slinging. Furthermore, for the utility helicopters there is no airspeed reduction while en route, nor any manoeuvring restrictions at the landing zone due to the pendulous sling-load. Logistically, the LMIC has a small footprint. All ammunition consumed by the LMIC does not require material handling equipment to move, and can thus be internally loaded within helicopters. Fuel consumption for an entire LMIC during a 450km march is estimated at a modest 225 gallons (846 litres) of diesel. Resupply of an inserted LMIC is easily accomplished via medium-lift utility helicopters like the Mi-171E, which is routinely capable of carrying two 242-gallon (915 litre) internal fuel tanks for ferry-flight purposes and these fuel-tanks can be re-configured for refuelling vehicles.

All these advantages make the LMIC a superb tool for executing the lightning fast air-assault raids. While dismounted air-assault forces traditionally land on their objective, the added mobility of an LMIC allows it the option of being inserted a terrain-feature away from the objective. By inserting the LMIC away from the defenders instead of on top of them, the most vulnerable phase of an air-assault operation is thereby avoided. Land, unload, form up, orient leaders, and then advance toward the objective is the typical sequential mission protocol that’s followed. While some surprise may be lost, the tremendous tactical mobility of the LMIC adds an element of deception as its actual objective is not obvious.

Regarding TAR’s land-based transportation infrastructure, over the past five years, China has poured more than US$10 billion into TAR for financing 188 infrastructure projects. Presently, all counties within TAR are already connected with the existing network of national highways, with the road networks being increased to 58,000km. Plans to increase black-topped roads by another 70,000km are now on the anvil. In addition to these, a 1,080km oil pipeline between Gormo and Lhasa (Qinghai-Tibet), built by the PLA’s General Logistics Department (GLD), has a designed capacity to deliver 5,00,000 tonnes of oil annually, but currently transports 1.25 million tons per year, given the limited demand within TAR. The electrified 1,142km railway line between Gormo and Lhasa that was completed in June 2006 has 34 stations. Its assessed capacity is eight trains (one-way) per day and 3,200 tonnes of cargo per train. In November 2009, the Lanzhou MR completed its first digital survey and GIS mapping of all the railroads within and leading into TAR (from the Chengdu and Lanzhou MRs), which involved the surveying and mapping by satellite for 518,000 basic points and 110,000 key points along the 1,142km-long track line. To undertake this mission, the PLA’s surveyors had developed a temperature-preserving and wind-avoiding satellite-based surveying and mapping track vehicle, which was used to realise the dynamic measurement of the altitude, longitude and latitude along the railway route. The error in measurement precision was only 0.3 metres. Soon after that, the PLA’s surveyors successfully tackled more than 50 technological difficulties, innovated 12 operational methods, and accomplished the accurate measurement of 518,000 sets of 3-D coordinates and 110,000 sets of key-point data. Once this was done, the GLD moved in to equip all railway stations within TAR with military transportation facilities aimed at enhancing the PLA’s strategic power projection capabilities. The facilities included materials loading and unloading infrastructure and construction of customised military platforms.

In addition, two new railway lines connecting Lhasa to Yatung (a major trading town just about 30km from the LAC) and to Linzhi (about 80km from the border) will be completed by 2017. Yatung is situated at the mouth of the Chumbi Valley and is connected to Sikkim via the Nathu La pass. Work on two other railway lines from Lhasa to Khasa near the China-Nepal border and Kashghar above Jammu & Kashmir will begin soon. The rail link to Khasa will be aligned with the Friendship Highway from Shigatse to Khasa, and further on till Kathmandu. Work has also begun on building six new railway tracks that include one from Lhasa to Nyingchi (directly above Arunachal Pradesh, with the 253km-long extension costing about $2 billion), one from Lhasa to Shigatse (half of this line, or some 115km will be laid in tunnels or on bridges, and the ultimate goal is to extend the railway line to Dali in Yunnan province), three tracks that will originate from Golmud in Qinghai province and run to Chengdu in Sichuan province ( due to be built over an eight-year period at a cost of $7.9 billion and spanning 1,629km, 650km of which will be in Sichuan, with the trains due to travel at a maximum speed of 200kph and will taking only eight hours to reach Lhasa), Dunhuang in Gansu province, and Kuerle of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The last railway track will link Xining, capital of Qinghai, with Zhangye in Gansu province. The Lhasa-Nyingchi-Dali route is sig