(This was originally posted in Times Of India by Rajat Pandit)
Seventeen months into the military confrontation in eastern Ladakh, China continues to build more troops shelters along the frontier as part of its ongoing overall consolidation of military positions and upgrade of air bases facing India. Latest surveillance and intelligence reports show the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has constructed new modular container-based accommodations for its soldiers in at least eight more forward locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) opposite eastern Ladakh, say sources.
The newly-constructed troop shelters range from Wahab Zilga near the Karakoram Pass in the north to Piue, Hot Springs, Chang La, Tashigong, Manza and Churup as one goes down south along the LAC. “Each location has 80 to 84 containers arranged in seven clusters,” said a source. These fresh shelters are in addition to the many more such habitats constructed by the PLA since the military stand-off erupted in April-May last year, clearly demonstrating that China has no intent to de-induct troops from the frontlines for the foreseeable future.
“We may be feeling the heat of combat deployments at Ladakh, but we have also forced the PLA to go in for prolonged forward deployments and extensive constructions,” said a senior officer. “Apart from costing money, it has affected the morale of the PLA troops. While our troops are used to operating in the harsh mountainous terrain, Chinese soldiers are not,” he added. Both India and China continue to maintain around 50,000 soldiers each, backed by howitzers, tanks and surface-to-air missile systems in the “immediate depth areas” along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.
Amidst the uneasy calm, both armies have been regularly rotating their troops due to the harsh terrain and oxygen deprivation in the high-altitude area, while deploying aircraft and drones to keep tabs on each other. China has also developed several new airstrips and helipads all along the 3,488-km LAC, stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, apart from upgrading its major air bases like Hotan, Kashgar, Gargunsa (Ngari Gunsa), Lhasa-Gonggar and Shigatse to base additional fighters and bombers, as was reported by TOI earlier. The PLA has also deployed two Russian-origin S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries, apart from several other anti-aircraft systems, to tackle any air strikes by India. “It is also currently testing a `Big Bird’ phased array target acquisition radar associated with the S-400 systems at Gargunsa,” said another source. India, incidentally, is also slated to begin getting deliveries of five S-400 squadrons by this year-end, under the $5.43 billion (Rs 40,000 crore) contract inked with Russia in October 2018.