New Delhi: The Chinese military is reportedly constructing a surface-to-air missile site as well as other infrastructure on the banks of the Mansarovar Lake in the India-Nepal-China tri-junction area near the Lipulekh pass, new satellite images have indicated.
An image shared by an anonymous satellite imagery analyst, who goes by the Twitter handle @detresfa_, is understood to be showing a village where new roads have been built and suspected red tents have been put up for accommodation.
The image also shows a surface-to-air missile (SAM) site on the banks of the Mansarovar, which is considered holy in Hinduism. Media reports say China has mobilised a battalion strength of People’s Liberation Army soldiers near the Lipulekh pass in Uttarakhand.
The tri-junction area has been mired in controversy since India inaugurated a new road in May, called the ‘Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra Route’, which almost goes up to Lipulekh Pass at the India-China border, 17,000 feet above the sea level. An angry Nepal responded by issuing a new political map showing the areas of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura — which are the subject of an India-Nepal border dispute — as part of its own territory.
Closing gap for perceived aerial threats
Speaking to ThePrint, the analyst behind @destresfa said the surface-to-air missile site is an important discovery, as it indicates China is closing the gap for any perceived aerial threats in the region.
“Geospatial data collected over the last few months points to the construction of a SAM site, along with the possibility of troop accommodation in the nearby area,” the analyst said, adding that this development is around 100 km from the international border.
The analyst said other areas where SAM sites or upgrades have been noted include Rutog County (near Pangong Tso), Ngari Gunsa airport, Xigaze airport, Lhasa Gonggar airport and Nyingchi airport, all located in Tibet.
Defence sources said, usually, SAMs are used for the protection of vital areas or points. China’s move to set up these defences against an aerial adversary is unclear now, the sources said.
Reports suggest the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) holds one of the world’s largest inventories of advanced long-range SAM systems incorporated into SA-20 battalions imported from Russia and indigenously-produced CSA-9 (HQ-9) battalions.
ThePrint had earlier reported about Indian satellite images as well as those procured from friendly countries showing a large concentration of troops in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the use of possible tunnels to amass equipment.
Satellite images have also shown that barring some forward locations in Galwan Valley, Hot Springs and Pangong Tso areas, the Chinese presence in Ladakh has only grown since May this year, with more equipment and defensive structures such as trenches and berms being deployed at existing encampments.
Experts had told ThePrint that the satellite images could reveal an actual build-up or even posturing.
India and China have been locked in a stand-off at the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, prompting both sides to increase troop build-up along the entire LAC.
Despite multiple levels of diplomatic and military talks between the two sides, the situation has reached a stalemate, with the Indian military looking at a long haul lasting through the winters.
India and China are holding another round of talks Thursday under the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs to resolve the impasse.