New Delhi: Even as China drags its feet on further disengagement at four friction points in eastern Ladakh, its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said it has deployed the latest range of advanced rocket launchers with an artillery brigade in the western theatre command, which looks after the borders with India.
A front-page article published in PLA Daily, Chinese army’s official newspaper, Monday said that the brigade is located 5,200m above sea level in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Though this is the first time the PLA has confirmed presence of rocket launchers, the report did not give the type or firing range of the weapon. But it said it was a system with a long-range rocket with precision strike capability and had entered service in 2019.
Referring to the PLA Daily report, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) Tuesday said the move by the PLA is aimed at reinforcing China’s border defence and acting as a deterrent to India.
“An artillery brigade stationed 5,200 metres (17,000 feet) above sea level in Xinjiang military district has intensified its drills using a rocket system during full-wing combat-ready training,” the SCMP said.
The PLA Daily report comes at a time when China changed its stand on further disengagement during the 11th Corps Commander level talks, as reported by ThePrint.
After the surprise breakthrough in February that saw both sides pulling troops and equipment back from the brink in Pangong Tso, China now wants the two armies to de-escalate or withdraw additional troops brought in as back-up to those in the front.
India, however, is insisting on disengagement from the remaining friction areas along the disputed Himalayan frontier first.
Sources in the Indian defence establishment said they are aware of the PLA report, but did not comment further.
PLA rocket move to act as a ‘deterrent’
Military commentator Song Zhongping, a former instructor in the PLA’s Artillery Corps, the predecessor of Rocket Force, told the SCMP that the new weapon system should be a long-range rocket launcher that can carry multiple 300mm [12-inch] or even bigger rockets with more than 100km of firing range.
“Only a long-range MLRS is powerful enough to act as a deterrent to India, as the Indian troops are also stepping up military deployment along the borders,” he was quoted as saying.
Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Tong said the long-range MLRS mentioned by PLA Daily was likely to be the most advanced PHL-16, or the Type PCL-191 which debuted in the National Day Parade in 2019.