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March 23, 2012

China 'warns' India with border drill

(Times of India) : China is back to flexing its muscles close to the Indian border. The People's Liberation Army has conducted a major "live fire" exercise, testing its multi-role J-10 fighters armed with laser-guided and other bombs, in the high-altitude Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Chinese official media on Thursday described the exercise as "the first operation of its kind" on the 3,500-metre high plateau, which saw the fighter jets being fuelled and loaded with bombs for ground attack missions during sub-zero temperatures.

The rare publicity given to the exercise comes at a time when China is getting ready for a change of guard, including the election of a new president and secretary general of the Communist Party.

It's also meant as a strong signal to India, which has belatedly taken to strategically counter China's massive build-up of military infrastructure all along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control over the last two decades.

This is, of course, not the first time PLA has undertaken combat exercises in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), having tested its Sukhoi-27UBK and Sukhoi-30MKK fighters as well as rapid reaction forces and airborne corps there over the last two-three years.

But China-watchers in the Indian defence establishment say the latest exercise, with fighters conducting both day and night sorties, seems to be "several rungs higher" than the ones conducted in the past. It comes barely five months after another major PLA exercise, involving air force, tanks and artillery, was held in the region.

"China usually deploys fighters in TAR only during summers from March onwards because of the thin air and tough operating conditions there. But last year for the first time, PLA kept the J-10 jets deployed at Gongar (Lhasa) throughout the winter," said a senior officer.

China, apart from nuclear missile bases in Qinghai province that unmistakably target India, has built five fully operational airbases at Gongar, Pangta, Linchi, Hoping and Gar Gunsa, an extensive rail network and over 58,000-km of roads in TAR.

This makes it possible for PLA to move around 30 divisions (each with over 15,000 soldiers) to the LAC within 30 days to outnumber Indian forces by at least three-is-to-one. The Chengdu military region and the PLA airbases in TAR are mainly tasked for an anti-India role, as earlier reported by TOI.

India, in turn, has based its most potent fighters Sukhoi-30MKIs, which can go deep into China, at Tezpur and Chabua in Assam, apart from planning to deploy six C-130J "Super Hercules" strategic airlift aircraft in the eastern sector.

"We have a slight advantage over China in the sense that its TAR airbases are located at an average height of 10,000 to 12,000-feet. This restricts the weapon loads their Sukhois and J-10s can carry. PLA Air Force, of course, is almost triple our size" said an IAF officer.

India is also now upgrading eastern sector ALGs (advanced landing grounds) like Pasighat, Mechuka, Walong, Tuting, Ziro and Vijaynagar as well as several helipads in Arunachal Pradesh. This comes after the reactivation of western sector ALGs like Daulat Beg Oldi, Fukche and Nyama in eastern Ladakh.

Moreover, Army is now planning a mountain strike corps (70,000 soldiers) after raising two new mountain infantry divisions, with 1,260 officers and 35,011 soldiers, in Assam and Nagaland. There are also plans to base Akash and BrahMos missile regiments in the North-East for conventional deterrence against China.

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