New Delhi: China has been constructing new infrastructure in Tibet for more than two decades, and although Beijing claims the purpose is civilian, there could be military implications for India as well.
The construction of roads, railways and bridges was hastened after the Doklam stand-off in 2017; the roads around Doklam near the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction were upgraded along with other structures.
ThePrint had reported China’s big focus on rail and road infrastructure in areas bordering India in October last year, and now takes another look at satellite imagery to analyse the progress since.
A high-speed expressway is being constructed from Tibet’s capital Lhasa to Shigatse city. It is likely to be completed by mid-2020, if not earlier. Satellite images suggest that the expressway is progressing very well.
This expressway, when connected with the Beijing-Xining-Lhasa high-speed expressway, could make it easier for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to move forces very quickly in this command theatre.
Construction of a new Terminal 3 at Lhasa’s Gonggar airport was observed recently and reported on 29 August 2019.
Three months on, satellite imagery indicates the airport is likely to have a third airstrip, which could serve as a second runway, while the oldest airstrip could become the taxiway.
Areas north of the third airstrip/second runway are being cleared, and some kind of grading work is under progress. It is likely to be 4km long, and as wide as the previous runway.
This implies that the Gonggar airport could soon witness dual take-offs/landings simultaneously from both runways, as observed at Qionglai air base near Chengdu. This would give China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) a big boost in capability in the Lhasa zone.
There had been an increase in air activity at Shigatse airport after the Doklam incident.
Latest imagery indicates the construction of a new hangar, possibly for airborne early warning aircraft, in addition to a new additional airstrip, possibly for unmanned aerial vehicles, which has been observed and reported earlier.
There is also a small piece of ground prepared for vehicle training. This ground could also be used for deployment of surface-to-air missiles during emergencies.
30 Mile Battalion
The unit called 30 Mile Battalion, located about 95km north of the Karakoram Pass in Ladakh, is a very important unit of the PLA, and now seems to have been upgraded to a brigade-level formation.
This area has been traditionally used for the Iron Fist Division’s training needs, but satellite images indicate it was upgraded after the Doklam incident.
The unit now has a heliport with a PLA Aviation unit stationed there. The hangars probably provide space for at least half a regiment of helicopters.
New barracks have been constructed, indicating that this area could be used for accommodating troops during transit.