(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Sutirtho Patranobis)
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has for the first time inducted the army’s air defence units in its air force command chain in a region that borders India to form a combined air defence system. The new joint system is part of the western theatre command’s (WTC) focus on war preparation and exploration of the establishment of a joint air defence system, the PLA’s mouthpiece PLA Daily reported on Tuesday.
The WTC is responsible for the border with India and continues large-scale deployment in the region – despite partial disengagement – amid the year-long border friction with India in eastern Ladakh. The mouthpiece called the new formation “a solid step… taken in the joint combat and joint training”.
The new system was tried out at a drill in the western theatre, the report said without sharing details of the location. The high-level exercise was a drill for checking combat readiness of the army’s air defence forces, but the orders, during the drill, were given by the PLA air force command stationed in the area – a likely first for the PLA.
According to a senior officer of the Air Force dtaff headquarters of the WTC, more than 10 army air defence force units have entered the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) command chain in WTC to share early warning information, to test combat readiness, to participate in major exercises, and to form a “preliminary alliance”.
“The integration of air defence across services and arms is a solid step to deepen joint operations,” the PLA Daily article said. The WTC’s air force took the initiative to implement joint operations and organised troops from ground defence, radar and communications to “work together with army commanders to tackle key problems, unify information interfaces, and formulate relevant standards and specifications”.
The formation of the joint command is in line with a military training order issued by President Xi Jinping, who also heads the Central Military Commission (CMC), in January. The order said that military training this year will focus on actual combat training to raise combat readiness, joint command and joint specialised training, new equipment and force training, and operational system of systems integration training.
Xi had then said the PLA must be ready to “act at any second” as the armed forces had kicked off the year’s military training and drills in January. “(The PLA must) increase the integration of new equipment, new forces and new combat realms into training and combat systems,” Xi was quoted in reports as saying.
Following the formation of the new system, the changes in training modules have enabled the joint combat and joint training at all levels to be launched and improved simultaneously, Tuesday’s PLA Daily article said. In the final analysis, whether an army can win modern wars is determined by the level and effectiveness of joint training, it added.
Last week, state media reported the PLA had deployed advanced rocket launchers with an artillery brigade stationed above 17,000 feet in the WTC. The front-page article published in PLA Daily said the brigade is located 5,200m above sea level in the Xinjiang region, but did not share the exact location.
India and China have held several rounds of diplomatic and military talks to resolve the nearly year-long friction along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh. The 10th meeting of senior military commanders was held on February 20 after the two sides completed the withdrawal of frontline troops with armoured formations and artillery from the banks of Pangong Lake.
But the two sides were unable to make progress on efforts to disengage from other friction points such as Gogra, Hot Springs and Depsang Plains. The 11th round of military talks held on April 9 failed to resolve the differences. At the end of the talks, Beijing said the Chinese military will maintain diplomatic communication with its Indian counterpart to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the border region.