Since the time the Indo-China border standoff began, the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) has been keeping the surface of Pangong Tso under surveillance through high-speed patrol crafts such as Type 305 and Type 928D boats copied from Swedish CB-90 boats But latest satellite imagery shows China is now tracking the depths of Pangong Tso as well through new techniques used for anti-submarine warfare by navies around the world.
On July 31, the India Today OSINT team had reported the presence of at least 13 boats between Finger 4 and Finger 8. The boat squadron was boosted by at least eight new boats from a major base at Rimutang to Kunrak Fort and Finger 5, barely 2.5 km from Finger 4 And now, latest satellite images from depth areas, especially Chinese military airports, show a trend not noticed before.
PLAAF sub-surface reconnaissance
The PLA Air Force has started closely monitoring underwater activities in Pangong Tso. It is using special aircraft attached with a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) boom at the tail end for reconnaissance of the lake These special aircraft, such as Y-8 GX6 or Shanxi Y-8 transporter’s Gaoxin-6 or High New 6 variant, are used for anti-surface as well as anti-submarine warfare by the PLA Navy.
The instruments onboard can detect minute variations in the Earth’s magnetic field, which is used to detect submarines, but also minerals and rare soil are hidden under the surface. These aircraft have been observed on satellite imagery at Hotan, Korla, and Wudun Latest satellite imagery of Wudun airport indicates that a Y-8 GX6 was parked there on August 24. This aircraft has a smaller MAD boom than previous versions. The aircraft is in yellow primer, indicating that it is still under trial. There are at least four aircraft with such new and shorter MAD booms at the Xian-Yanliang airbase where they are manufactured.
Chinese surface surveillance
Since the Doklam standoff, China has increased air activities along the Indo-Tibet border. In fact, surveillance along the border has increased in the last three years. China has been keeping an eye on Indian areas through unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) located at Lhasa, Shigatse, Hotan, Aksu, Wudun, and Uxxaktal.
China recently conducted an exercise to test the Wingloong 2 UAV under adverse weather conditions and communication outage. The rocket-powered hypersonic UAV was first tested from Uxxaktal airbase last year indicating very strongly that it was used against India.
The Indian Navy’s P8-I surveillance aircraft is also being used for detecting such underwater activities by China’s PLA in Pangong Tso and Spangur Tso areas in Eastern Ladakh. However, India needs to be more cautious of these sub-surface activities and keep monitoring them.