China is constantly upgrading its military preparedness since the standoff with India began in eastern Ladakh in May. The latest changes are being observed through satellite imagery at Hotan in occupied East Turkestan, now Xinjiang, which is one of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF) major fighter airbases.
Latest satellite images show the construction of an underground automated command and control centre at Hotan, China’s nearest base to eastern Ladakh. For the first time, a Y-20 strategic transport aircraft has been observed at the airbase, indicating a probable deployment of additional troops.
India Today had first reported about the deployment of China’s fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighters at Hotan airbase in July and August 2020, albeit for a short period.
Located 250km north-east of Karakoram Pass, the Hotan airbase can pose a serious threat to Indian forces, especially around Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh.
The satellite images over Hotan indicate that air activity at this airfield increased in October this year.Although the construction work that began on the runways in June has slowed down, the operational work is progressing steadily.
India Today’s OSINT team investigates air activity at this important PLAAF airbase through the high-resolution satellite images.
Underground command and control centre
To prepare the Hotan airbase for any eventuality, the PLAAF has started underground constructions.
The high-resolution satellite images of October 26, 2020, clearly show that the additional constructions for more troops are probably of the PLAAF or PLA Rocket Force (PLARF).
The size of 15m x 6m with other signatures suggests that these three underground deeply buried structures are going to be possible headquarters and operations rooms of the PLAAF and PLARF.
The constructions observed in October this year strongly indicate that this could be a command control and intelligence center (C2I) likely to be connected soon with the C4I grid of the PLAAF and PLARF.
The underground construction of these modules strengthened with semicircular steel rebars indicates they will be difficult to destroy unless special earth penetrating bombs are used.
The latest satellite images covering Hotan clearly show that the grading work for two new airstrips and taxiway which began in June 2020 is progressing at a very slow pace.
The slow progress of grading work suggests a possible resource crunch in the PLAAF.
Deployment of strategic transport aircraft & UAVs
A high-resolution image of October 26 shows a lone strategic transporter Chubby Girl Y-20 aircraft parked askew at the main apron.
The deployment of specialised aircraft two AEW KJ-500 and two High New 4 ECM remains the same as before.
These are observed throughout the month of October parked at almost the same place. These UAVs could be used for the live coverage of Indian forces in eastern Ladakh.
These additional ground control systems and satcom vehicles indicate strongly that UAV activities from this airbase for recce and monitoring of Indian forces in eastern Ladakh has increased manifold in October.