Hugely expanded troop accommodation within 100 km of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector, long-range artillery and missile systems, upgraded air defense systems, expanded airstrips, and hardened jet pins to house fighter aircraft – these are some of the major upgrades that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army ( PLA) for its part in the past two years since the start of the deadlock in eastern Ladakh, according to intelligence input.
“In the western sector over the LAC, the accommodation capacity was 20,000 troops in 2020 before the stalemate started. That has now expanded to 1.2 lakh batons – in terms of infrastructure and accommodation,” said an official source on condition of anonymity, citing intelligence input. “They have also set up in-house solar and small hydel power projects along the LAC. This increases their ability to provide for the winter,” the source said, adding that this is separate from the model villages they have along the LAC. to build.
The source said this is within 100km on the Chinese side of the LAC. Four PLA divisions under the Xinjiang Military District are rotated on their side facing eastern Ladakh. In 2020, when the stalemate started, the 4th and 6th Divisions were deployed, which were turned into the 8th and 11th Divisions in 2021. This year, the 4th and 6th Divisions have been redeployed as part of the rotation. “All these divisions are being transformed into Combined Arms Brigade (CAB). The equipment upgrade is nearing completion,” the source said.
On the weapons upgrade, sources said that the 4th Division, which has one armored regiment, has inaugurated the ZTQ 15 (Type 15) third-generation modern light tank, replacing the ZTZ-88 first-generation tanks in service. The 6th Division serving the second-generation Type 96 A tanks will remain the same. Regarding technology upgrades, sources said the tanks’ fire control systems have also been improved.
Similarly, two mechanized brigades operating wheeled armored personnel carriers (APCs) upgraded the ZBL-08 to the latest ZTL-11 APCs. They also introduced the CSK series of assault vehicles akin to the US military’s Humvees. The 11th Division remains a medium CAB, sources said.
After the Kailash mountain range clashes on the south bank of Pangong Tso in August 2020, when India and China installed tanks on the mountaintops at more than 15,000 feet, the Indian military also launched a tender for the procurement of light tanks.
Similarly, air defenses and air bases closer to the LAC have been upgraded, including blast pens and extended runways, an official source said. They have significantly improved their air bases everywhere, another official stated. The source said the PLA had developed heliports in Shigatse and Rudok and upgraded air bases with extended runways and explosives in Gargunsh, Lhasa, and Guangzhou.
Regarding long-range firepower, the PLA has upgraded its artillery by replacing the towed howitzers with truck-mounted howitzers with a range of 50 km. Officials noted this allows for better mobility, faster firing-acting capabilities, and less deployment time. In addition, the PLA has deployed the PHL-3 Multi-Rocket Launch Systems (MRLS) with a more than 100 km range and is better targeted than previous versions. This is a Chinese version based on the Russian Smerch MRLS, of which three regiments are in service with the Indian Army.
In the eastern sector, facing Arunachal Pradesh, China has moved artillery cannons within 50 km of the LAC, the first source said. In air defense, the older systems have been replaced by HQ-17 surface-to-air missiles, and the long-range HQ-9 has been deployed to Chip Chap Ridge, state input. The HQ-9 would be based on the Russian S-300 missile system with a 100 to 300-km range.
Since the standoff, India has also significantly expanded its military capacity and developed infrastructure on its side of the LAC. For example, India has also deployed Smerch MLRS and BrahMos cruise missile systems in Arunachal Pradesh, closer to the LAC. Each side deploys more than 50,000 troops in eastern Ladakh as the process of withdrawal from areas of friction and de-escalation remains incomplete.
As previously reported by The Hindu, China has also significantly expanded its Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) network and used in areas close to the LAC, employing various tasks from intelligence, surveillance, and target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities and logistical support. Flight operations are coordinated from a unified command center and are extensively monitored for further improvement.