Monday, June 17, 2013

DF-31 missiles near Aksai Chin

About 50 km north of Aksai Chin, but in Xinjiang is a large Chinese military base that shows at least two trucks carrying DF-31 missiles

This is the location as a kmz file

Here is an image of those trucks

Google earth kmz file of ALL Chinese roads, tunnels and military extablishments in the Aksai Chin region

OK folks, its done. It took me a while but the following is the link to a Google earth community post with a kmz file marking all roads, military posts and tunnels that I could find in the Aksai Chin region. Lots of things to say but I can only do it one by one, slowly. This file will serve as reference. Sorry about the silly road names and markers.!topic/gec-member-centric-locations/som2Lmm9dU0

Maybe I wil also upload the file elsewhere on a Google drive share in due course.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Chinese roads and military presence adjacent to Chushul

The overview map below indicates the location of names like Chushul, Leh and Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO). Aksai Chin is the "right horn" of J&K that the Chinese bit off in 1962. "Bit off" may be an inappropriate expression because the Chinese built their road via Aksai Chin (now marked as the G 219 highway in blue) in 1958 and if the Indian leaders found out they could not or did not do anything about it. Aksai Chin itself was thinly defended. The current LAC (Line of Actual Control) is marked in red. DBO is situated near the north of the LAC. Chushul is towards the south. In this post I will concentrate on the area within the black square in the map containing the names "Chushul" and "Spangur lake". These areas saw intense action in 1962 and Indian forces were pushed back to their current positions. But it is the layout of the Chinese roads and infrastructure that I will concentrate on in this post.

The map below is an enlargement of the area around Chushul. Chushul was the site of an airstrip (marked) which was in the news recently. It was apparently decided that the airstrip was not reactivated because of its proximity to Chinese positions. That seems to make sense makes sense because the airstrip is about 1.5 km from the LAC and 7 km from a prominent Chinese military position that is marked by a Chinese flag visible from the air on Google Earth satellite images.

Chushul, situated at 4,400 meters high lies about 13 km west of a Himalayan lake called Spangur lake or Spangur tso. India was in control of the western half of the lake till 1962 after which Indian forces were pushed westwards almost up to Chushul in some of the most intense fighting in the 1962 Indo-China war. 

To the north of Spangur lake is a much larger lake called the Pangong lake. The LAC runs though Panging lake leaving much of it within Indian territory, whereas all of Spangur lake is in Chinese control.

The Chinese have roads that run right up to the LAC situated to the north of Pangong lake and to the south of Spangur lake. Funnily enough the area between these two lakes occupied by mountains as high as 6000 meters does not appear to have much by way of infrastructure. The Chinese seem to prefer to end a "dead end" road at the LAC wiith a loop for vehicles to loop around and that is exactly what they have done with the road that ends at the LAC just on the north bank of Pangong lake.

There is a road running through the mountains from military positions south of Spangur lake up to the LAC  close to the southern bank of Pangong lake. I have marked this road as "insane zig zag road" because a 6 kilometer stretch of road has 106 hairpin bends probably making the actual distance over 30 km and unfriendly to heavy vehicular movement.

But all in all the Chinese maintain a strong military presence in the entire area adjacent to Chushul at the LAC, with roads right up to the LAC both north and south of Pangong and Spangur lakes.

Logistics in this area cannot be easy. The two major road links north of Pangong and South of Spangur do not have any way of linking up with each other each of these roads make their own separate ways to the east, running approximately parallel to each other to join up separately with the G 219 that is situated about 100 km away as the crow flies. But the actual driving distance may be one and a half times or more longer because of curves in the road not accounted for in the blue lines on the map.

Below is the picture of a Chinese military position at  33°33'54.68"N longitude and  78°47'52.53"E latitude showing the Chinese flag from a simulated altitude of about 4 km from the ground. The base itself is situated 7 km east of Chushul airstrip at an altitude of 4300 meters.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Chinese roads and military structures adjacent to Daulat Beg Oldi

In this post I have a map that shows some more detail of the same area that was seen in an earlier map I had displayed in a post entitled Chinese roads in Aksai Chin - 2 also Xinjiang.

The map below shows the Karakoram pass in the northwest corner (top left). The LAC is a red line and Daulat Beg Oldi is marked as DBO on the map. To the east of the LAC the Chinese appear to have a significant military presence. The road network marked is more extensive but the roads are predominantly tracks that are about 5 to 6 meters wide. A red index line indicates 10 km to aid scaling. These Chinese installations are all within 30 km of DBO.

On the road connecting the Chinese highway G 219 to this area are underground military complexes, and what appear to be tunnels. These are about 200 km from the G 219 (by road). Two roads go from these installations towards the LAC from here. Both these roads have a segment that runs parallel to the LAC for a few km. The road marked "two loop road" has a loop at either end that presumably allows patrolling vehicles to reverse direction and go back up or down the road. The other road too is a loop with one part parallel to the LAC. "two loop road" is less than 15 km from DBO as the crow flies, assuming that the LAC and DBO are marked accurately on Google earth.

I wonder what the purpose of these Chinese installations are. I was wondering about offensive intent  in which the Chinese could mount an attack on DBO and then work their way up to the Karakoram pass. But that terrain is mountainous and above 5500 meters high.

On the other hand the Chinese positions could be largely defensive where they are keeping an eye on the Indian side. This view is supported by the fact that the Chinese border roads run parallel to the LAC, "respecting", as it were, the LAC.

Supply chain issues in Aksai Chin

We have seen some very interesting posts about infrastructure in the Aksai Chin region on the Chinese side but this is only one part of the more complicated supply chain problem.

Very few people know the role that superior supply chain management in India played in Kargil and Siachen conflicts. Some people even go so far as to say that the real reason for America's global military supremacy is its superior supply chain management. A few years ago, the USDOD set aside a very large sum of money to work on supply chain issues. A large amount of money was subsequently funneled into applied math programs to work on global optimization problems.

For the purpose of fleshing out the supply chain problem, lets consider the case where India attacks China in Aksai Chin. The how and why are not relevant to the discussion of the supply chain problem. China now has to get materiel to the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA).

In order to do that - let's say China has 10 forward depots distant an average of 50 km from the FEBA. Let's say that there is reasonably good road infrastructure between the depots and the FEBA. Let us also assume that the supplies suffer only 50% losses to last mile problems, IAF interference, and poor intelligence on actual needs on the ground. This means that if the forward depots have about 2 days of warfighting supplies, then they will be empty after just one day of actual combat operations.

Now for arguments sake, let there be 5 reserve depots distant 100 km from the FEBA. These have say 5 days of warfighting supplies at each depot. These will begin shipping their material to the 10 forward depots, - that works out to shipping say 2.5 days worth of supply to each forward depot. Lets say that the supplies suffer only 20% loss due to the usual factors so each forward depot actually receives about 2 days worth of supplies. This means by day 2, the forward depots will have received enough supplies to keep the FEBA supplied for 1 more day - i.e. just barely enough to meet the immediate needs of their current combat operations. 

So far the loss in the chain has been about 1.5 days worth of supplies. This loss will add to the cost of losing anything else on the FEBA itself. If the loss is higher than this, it is likely that the entire PLA posture on the FEBA will collapse as their soldiers will run out of supplies.

This with just two tiers of depots. With more tiers, there will be additional losses, but as the depots get further and further away from the FEBA, the IAF's ability to interfere will decline and as long as critical nodes like Lhasa and Turpan are kept clear, there should not be serious last mile problems.

Now that is a nice static picture. It is a good way to get a rough sense of what the lay of the land will be like.

The real supply chain problem is much more dynamic and it is harder to understand. The key issue that complicates everything is that each shipment of supplies along each link will have a probability of disruption. From the perspective of each node in the supply chain, this probability will be either 0 or 1 for an individual supply packet. If the node is closer to the FEBA, the number will be 1 for a large fraction of the packages, and for a node far away from the FEBA, the number will be 0 for most of the packages. If you know the nodes, and the links you can create a computer program that simulates the supply chain behaviour under different disruption patterns. The output of such a simulation can then be used to create more nodes in the supply chain and carefully position reserves to mitigate points where the supply chain breaks in repeated simulations.

As long as the Indian war plan falls within the boundaries explored by the PLA supply chain simulations - the PLA should be able to resist an Indian attack. If the Indian war plan falls outside the PLA's simulation sphere, then the PLA might not be able to defend against an Indian attack - it all depends on how far outside the simulation sphere the Indian plan falls, and whether the existing distribution of resources along the supply chain is sufficient for the PLA to contain the Indian maneuvers.

Whatever the PLA can do with its knowledge of the supply nodes and infrastructure, the Indian Army can also do as a reverse analysis based on surveillance data. Indians are as good at maths and computing as Chinese people are so there is no limitation on that front.

What applies to an Indian attack on Chinese held Aksai Chin is equally applicable to a Chinese attack on India's position in the region.

So finally some real food for thought. Wars are not won by the bravery of the soldiers alone, the supply chain forms a critical part of each victory - if you out supply the enemy - your chances of victory are higher.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Distribution of PLA and Connectivity-1

Please find attached below a set of maps which show the spatial distribution of PLA formations which are part of Lanzhou and Chengdu Military Regions.

In addition to the same, I've also added a railway and highway network map of China;  the formations from these two MR are also marked the railway network map of China. The idea was to understand the means by which PLA would move troops into theaters in east and western Tibet. Most of the rail network especially in east-west direction broadly follows the highway alignment.

As can be seen from the railway map, all the formations are located on major railway nodes. This permits movement in east -west direction as well as towards Lhasa.

Map showing spatial distribution of PLA in Lanzhou and Chengdu MR

Map showing spatial distribution of PLA in relation to rail network

Highway network map of China

(A) Western Theater:

For Lanzhou MR, the nearest formation to our position in Aksai Chin is in Kashgar. Other formations are spread across other major town of the restive Xinjiang region with Urumqi holding substantial amount of troops. The spread of PLA in Xinjiang represent distribution of British Army in pre-independence India where the army was placed in strategic nodes to keep an eye on native population and safeguard all the major political and economic centers.

Another reason for this placement could be to prevent Red Army from breaking in towards Chinese heartland in coastal areas from former USSR Republics. These formations sit astride the main communication axis from erstwhile border with USSR to heartland of China.

National Highway 312 connects Lanzhou to Urumqi which is further connected to Kashgar through Highway 314. From Kashgar, Highway 219 provides connectivity with Lhasa. Similarly, a railway line connects Lanzhou with Urumqi and Kashgar.

So, if required, formations can be moved up till Kashgar by rail line and further through G219 to Sino-Indian border in Aksai Chin area and general direction of western Ladakh.

However, distance by road from Kashgar to area opposite Aksai Chin is close ~1000 kms and therefore, would require substantial time for PLA to deploy any large sized formation.

Bulk of main elements of Lanzhou MR (21 GA and 47 GA) are situated in general area of Lanzhou-Baoji City-Xian corridor. Distance from this corridor to Kashgar by train is ~3000 kms implying considerable transit time for the PLA without counting the actual process of loading and unloading the military stock fro trains. And considering that both 21 and 47 GA are mechanized to a great degree, the quantum of stock to be moved would be that much higher.

The above analysis begs a question - in case of quick shooting match on LAC in Aksai-Chin, where does the PLA plan to move its forces from to reinforce this sector?

(B) Eastern Theater

Tibetan Military District (MD) has limited number of troops which would amount to a division at maximum. The reinforcements consist of the following:

  1. 61st Plateau RR Motorized Division (21st GA, Lanzhou MR; at Tianshui, Gansui)
  2. 149th Rapid Reaction Motorized Division (13th GA, Chengdu MR-based in Chongqing)
  3. 15th Airborne Corps has conducted a divisional-level drop in Tibet

Both the 1st and 2nd formations are going to use the Golmud-Lhasa rail network to reach the eastern theater in case of a shooting match. Both these formations sit astride major rail nodes which have direct connectivity with origin of Tibet railways at Golmud. However, what remains to be understood is whether formations and military stores loaded in Tianshui/Chongqing can be moved as it is to Lhasa or would it be required to be shifted to flat-beads made especially for use on the Tibet Railways. For example, passengers traveling on Tibet railway do so in specially made and pressurized wagons to help them deal with issues related to high altitude. The PLA troops (considering they are not acclimatized) would either need to board such wagons from their parent station or switch to such wagons at Golmud. From military perspective, it makes sense for Rapid Reaction Units to have such wagons ready at their boarding points.

In terms of troop deployment during shooting match with India, one possibility, based on assessment of maps and spatial distribution of PLA, is that bulk of formations under Lanzhou and Chengdu MR will move towards eastern sector. However, this leaves western sector w/o much troops to go with and it is unlikely that PLA will completely denude the restive Xinjiang Region of PLA for massing them against India in western Ladakh. As it is, it will require much more than troops stationed in western China to take on IA in western Ladakh.

Another possibility is that since China knows that it is it which is going to fire the first shot in anger against India, it will move formations in east under Lanzhou MR (21 and 47 GA) to Ladakh sector. The rail network will allow their movement till Kashgar and thence through G219 to Indian border. As it is, on examination of satellite images of G219, one can see that the road is undergoing up-gradation to proper hard-top level.

Formations from other Group Armies can be moved into Eastern Sector along with formations from Chengdu MR.

Will further expand on this topic.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Chinese roads in Aksai Chin - 2 also Xinjiang

Using Google Earth I created this image in order to better understand the geography and location of the much touted Chinese road infrastructure.

My comments will be below the posted images
As listed by Rohit in a different post, there is the G 219 that extends from Tibet, parallel to the Indian border and goes north via Aksai Chin into Xinjiang. This road (G 219) is mostly at 5000 meters. The terrain all the way to the Indian border/LAC pretey much remains at 5000 meters, but the plain gets more mountainous towards India. The G 219 descends to 1200 meters in Xinjiang and goes into Yarkant city.

There are a string of cities in Xinjiang with Kashgar (1200 m) in the north west. The G 315 highway runs from Kashgar to Yarkant and then eastwards to Karakax city (1200 m)

The G 314 Highway is the Karakoram highway from the Kunjerab pass in PoK to Kashgar city. The altitudes marked on the map are indicative of the terrain, although Aksai Chin is pretty much a plain.

The Aksai Chin roads marked in green are enlarged and described below:

The roads in green are Chinese roads in Aksai chin and I have some more details below. The green roads seem run up to the LAC almost up to DBO (Daulat Beg Oldi). It is only in this area that the Chinese seem to have created a road that runs parallel to the LAC. Why would the Chinese build a road parallel to the LAC unless something is forcing them to recognize it as the LAC?  But it is pretty close to the LAC and this road marked in green goes all the way back and joind the G 219. This road would allow the Chinese to bring heavy equipment very close to DBO.

Friday, May 24, 2013

PLA Orbat against India

Summary of PLA strength in Lanzhou and Chengdu Military Regions

This summary is based on Concise World Armies (CWA) prepared by Ravi Rikhye of Orbat.Com and this version is from 2011 edition of CWA. The Group Armies under each MR are same as revealed by the latest White Paper on PLA by Chinese Government; the subordinate units are from CWA.

These two MR have been compiled here because in case of a shooting match between India and China, the first set of troops is likely to come from these regions. While nothing prevents PLA from sending crack formations from other MR like Beijing, one assumes that formations from these MR are equipped and trained for fighting in the demanding Tibetan terrain.

Another reason to assess the force levels in these MR is to check their peace time deployment locations. Much has been written about Chinese infrastructure in Tibet and consequently, its ability to move formations quickly into conflict zone(s) in Tibet across LAC. My preliminary assessment is that while roads on our side are not too great, the distance from peace time locations to forward areas is much shorter for India. So, while better roads may well allow PLA to move formations quickly, India will have sufficient warning and we can actually beat the PLA in dash to border.

Here is the detail of formations under each MR facing India. 

Map with various MR AOR marked:

The location of these formations will be marked separately on map for reference.


The Lanzhou Military Region directs all military and armed police forces in Xinjiang, Quinqhai, Gansu, Ningxia, and Shaanxi. The Ali area of northwest Tibet also falls under this Region. It is bordered to the south by the Chengdu Military region, and to the north by Mongolia, the Altai Republic, which is a province of the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan.. The district has the Uygur, Kazak and Hui peoples, composed of Muslim minorities.

Military Districts

§  Ningxia MD
§  Shaanxi MD
§  Gansu MD
§  Qing-hai MD
§  Xinjiang MD
§  2nd Artillery Corps has major units in the MR, but under national command.

Direct Control Units

§  Tactical Missile Brigade (unconfirmed)
§  “Tiger of the Night” Special Operations Group - Qingtonexia, Ningxi
§  Electronic Warfare Regiment - Lanzhou, Gansu
§  Antiaircraft Artillery Brigade
§  Artillery Brigade - Qinghai
§  NBC Regiment
§  River crossing Regiment
§  Transportation Regiment
§  Logistic Support Troops
§  Reconnaissance Unit
§  Reserve Logistic Support Brigade

Xinjiang MD (Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region)

§  11th Infantry Brigade (Urumqi)
§  4th Infantry Division (Kuqa)
§  6th Highland Mechanized Infantry Division (Kashi)
o   17th Mechanized Regiment (T92 IFV)
o   18th Mechanized Regiment (T92 IFV)
o   Armor Regiment (T96 MBT, T88B MBT, and T86 IFV)
o   311th Artillery Regiment (T2 SP 100mm)
o   Air Defense Regiment (T95 SPAD)
§  8th Mechanized Division (Qiaziwan, Shawan, Xinjiang)
§  1st Independent Motorized Regiment (Urumqi)
§  2nd Independent Motorized Regiment
§  2nd Artillery Brigade (Urumqi)
§  9th Engineer Regiment (Urumqi)
§  3rd Army Aviation Regiment (Urumqi, Changji, Xinjiang)
o   Mi-8
o   Mi-171, Mi-17-IV, Mi-17V-7, Mi-17V5,
o   S70C-2
o   Z9WA

§  Also:
o   7th PAP Division (Ili (also spelt Yli) City)
o   63rd PAP Division (ex 21st Army) (Pingliang City)

Shaannix MD

§  1 reserve AAA division
§  1 reserve infantry division
§  1 reserve infantry division

Gansu MD

§  1 reserve infantry division
§  1 reserve infantry division

Qingjai MD

§  21 GA (Shannxi) (RRU/offensive and defensive)(Baoji City, Shannxi Province)
o   12th Armored Division (Jinuquan, Gansu Province)
o   61st Highland Motorized Division (Tianshui City, Gansu Province)
§  19th Artillery Brigade
§  1 AD Brigade (Jinuquan, Gansu Province)
o   1Special Operations Group
o   1 Engineering Regiment
o   1 Pontoon Bridge Regiment
o   1 Communications Regiment
o   1 EW Regiment
o   1 Army Helicopter Unit
o   1 Logistic Support Troops
o   1 Reconnaissance Unit
o   1 Transportation Regiment
o   1 AT Regiment
o   1 EW Battalion

§  47th GA (Lintong, Shaanxi Province ) (Mobile Force, offensive and defensive)
o   55th Mechanized Infantry Brigade (Yaoxian)
o   56th Highland Brigade (Wuwei City)
o   139th Motorized Infantry Brigade (Weinan City)
o   1 Armor Brigade (Chengzhou, Shannxi)
o   1 AD Brigade (Pucheng, Shaanxi)
o   1 Artillery Brigade (Miaobaozhen, Tongchuan, Shaanxi)
o   1 Engineer Regiment
o   1 Communications Regiment
o   1 Logistic Support Troop
o   1 Reconnaissance Unit
o   1 Transportation Regiment
o   1 EW battalion


The Chengdu Military Region is a military administrative command located in the southwest of the People’s Republic of China, covering Chongqing, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, and the Xizang/Tibet Autonomous Region. It includes some of the area previously within the Kunming Military Region and has its headquarters in Chengdu. The region borders with Nepal, Burma (Myanmar), Laos, and Vietnam, thus making it responsible for a large segment of China’s sensitive frontier region. Internally, it is dedicated to maintaining the peace I the historically restive Xizang Autonomous Region which includes Tibet.

Direct Command Units
§  SF Units
§  1 reserve motorized division
§  1 SSM brigade
§  1 artillery brigade (motorized)
§  5 AAA battalions
§  2nd Army Aviation Regiment (Chengdu, Sichuan)
§  Mi-171, M-17-VS
§  S70C-2
§  Z9WA
§  Electronic warfare unit
§  Army Logistics Support Brigade
§  High Technology Unit (presumably a test/experimental unit)
§  Chemical Defense technical Group


§  38th Mobile Armed Police Division
§  41st Mobile Armed Police Division
§  22nd Logistics Sub-department
§  37th Logistics Sub-department
§  38th Logistics Sub-department

§  Chongquin Garrisons (equivalent to an MD)

o   1 reserve infantry division
o   1 reserve AAA division
o   1 reserve AAA regiment

§  Tibet (Xijiang) MD

o   Shannan Military Sub District
o   Nyingchi Military Sub District
o   Xigaze Military Sub District

§  HQ South West of Lhasa
Commander: Major-General
o   Unidentified tank regiment (T96G)
o   308th Independent Artillery Regiment
o   2nd Helicopter Regiment (elements)
o   52nd Mountain Brigade (Linzhi) (T92 wheeled APC; HJ-8/19 ATGM)
o   53rd Mountain Brigade (Milin)
o   54th Independent Mountain Regiment (Rapid Response)(Lhasa)
§  1st Battalion (truck)
§  2nd Battalion (truck)
§  3rd Battalion (T92 IFV)
§  4th Battalion (T89 APV)
§  1 heavy mortar (100mm) company
§  2 Air Defense companies (25mm)
o   1 Signals Regiment
o   1 Engineer Regiment
o   1 independent F-7 fighter regiment (Lhasa-Gonggar)

§  Railroads

o   Qinghai-Lhasa

§  11 trains per day capacity, each train 20 x 60-ton freight cars.

o   Lhasa-Gyantse-Shigatse

§  Construction began in September, 2010. Extensions planned to Naylam (opposite Nepal), and Dromo (opposite Sikkim/Bhutan). Extension proposed to Kathmandu, feasibility study underway but no announced plans to construct.

o   Lhasa-Nyangtri (Planning)

§  Nyangtri is southeast of Lhasa. A new airport has been constructed at Nyangtri that is capable of operating fighter aircraft and has ample expansion space for aircraft parking aprons.

§  Strategic Highways in Tibet

o   G 109, now hardtop, Lhasa-Beijing, 3855-km
o   G 214, now hardtop, Xining-Lhasa-Yunnan Province
o   G 219, Kashgar-Shigatse, (2342-km), primary Chinese lateral road opposite
o   India-Nepal. (Shigatse-Lhasa G 318.) It is likely the entire road is now two-lane hardtop, including the section through the Aksai China (Indian Ladakh, occupied by China
o   G 317, now hardtop, Lhasa-Chengdu (2043-km)
o   G 318, hardtop,Shanghai to Kathmandu (5591-km)
o   North-south highways have 2xx numbers, east-west have 3xx numbers. National highways carry the prefix G. All 1xx series highways lead to Beijing.

§  Reinforcements

o   61st Plateau RR Motorized Division (21st GA, Lanzhou MR; at Tianshui, Gansu)
o   149th Rapid Reaction Motorized Division (13th GA, Chengdu MR)
o   15th Airborne Corps has conducted a divisional-level drop in Tibet

§  Guizhou MD

o   1 reserve infantry division

§  Yannan MD

o   1reserve infantry division
o   1 reserve infantry division
o   1 independent Frontier Defense Regiment
o   1 border defense regiment

§  Sichuan MD
o   1 reserve infantry division (Chengdu)
o   1 reserve division (Leshan)

§  13 GA (Chongging) (offensive)
o   37th Motorized Division (Chongging)
o   149th Motorized Mountain Division (RDF) (Emei, Sichuan)
o   1 armor brigade (Pengzhou, Sichuan)
o   1 artillery brigade (Chongqing, Sichuan)
o   1 AD Brigade(Mianyang, Sichuan)
o   “Falcons of Southwest” Special Operations Group (Chengdu, Siachuan)
o   1 Signals Regiment
o   Other units

§  14 GA (Kunming, Yunnan) (offensive)

o   31st Infantry Division (Kaiyan, Yunnan) 40th Jungle Infantry Division (Regional RDF)
o   4th Artillery Brigade (Kunming, Yunnan)
o   1 armor brigade
o   1 AD Brigade (Kunming, Yunnan)
o   1 Engineering Regiment
o   1 Communication Regiment
o   1Reconnaissance Unit
o   1 Transportation Regiment
o   1EW battalion
o   1 NBC battalion
o   1 Engineer Bridge Regiment

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Air mobility options for the defence of the LAC in Ladakh

I am of the opinion that air mobility is critical to securing DBO.

DBO like  Fukche or Nyoma is an advance landing ground. The runway is a dirt track, you can't land anything there besides a propeller plane or helicopter. Even the fixed wing plane needs good ground clearance to avoid FOD issues. So far only the An32 has made a landing there. I don't know if the C-130s that India bought can actually land there.  There is no capacity for storing or servicing the craft. There is very little local weather prediction. If an aircraft sets down and something happens, the pilots simply have to wait for help to arrive from THOISE or Leh.

The time to fly from Chandigarh to DBO is about 50 minutes by An-32 - weather permitting. The average An-32 can carry up to 13 tonnes of cargo. Per ACM P. C. Lal's account, at the height of the hostilities in the area, An-32s and Fairchild Packet a/c were extensively used to move supplies to the area. There were as many as 15 flights would land in the area per day. It is unlikely that the IAF will achieve this in the present day unless there is some very serious SEAD activity to secure access. In 1962, the Chinese were able to infiltrate into the Chip-Chap valley and Indian forces had to retreat to DBO. The IAF had airlifted five AMX-13 tanks to the area and these tanks played a crucial role in stemming the tide of Chinese attacks.

A major complication with air-mobility in the region is that there is a weight penalty when taking off at high altitude or when flying over a mountainous feature. This issue somewhat more critical for rotary wing aircraft than it is for fixed wing a/c but it is problem that can't be ignored. 

For helicopters going to DBO, the safest route (in terms of likelihood of interdiction by the enemy radar/manpads) is to go up to Sasoma from THOISE/Leh and then go up to Saser La and come back down to Saser Brangsa, cross the Shyok and then go along the Chip-Chap. This is not a safe route from a weather perspective. There is a weather risk and there is a weight penalty (as Rohit pointed out earlier) when crossing the Saser La. Given what the Siachen Tigers have done before this is not very difficult but it is not easy.As Col. Ajai Shukla has described elsewhere an Mi-17 sortie over the Saser La is pretty painful.

For fixed wind a/c, there is no safe route as interdiction by enemy goes, regardless of how one gets to DBO- the a/c has to fly in view of Chinese formations in the Depsang plain and/or any Chinese radar (ex. Su-27k) that may be on at the time when it lands. That flight will be seen and it will be exposed to the risk of an enemy attack. There are some countermeasures one can think of but I suspect the concentration required to land safely at DBO is quite high and the distraction dodging a missile at the same time will so high that the a/c will surely crash.  I would hate to be the CO that has to ask his men to fly such a mission.

If one thinks of a "big push", I see an air train comprised of Mi-17s and An32s going to DBO in one or two major flights. I envision a flight of 4 Su-30MKI's flying top cover and AEW/C Embrarer keeping an eye out for trouble - but that is a very costly and serious amount of effort. I don't know if New Delhi is of the mindset to approve such an expense.   Plus whatever goes there by way of equipment is not coming back - so like the Bofors that were moved to Dzingrulma or Teram Shehr base - it is a one way trip for the equipment.

Absent the "big push" outlined above I feel the best options for "little push" actions is to use helicopters only. Travelling over the Saser La and down the Upper-Shyok-Chip-Chap alignment they can position supplies at reserve positions in the Chip Chap valley in relative safety as weather permits.  May be one can get a few of those new lightweight American howitzers up there without the Chinese getting wind of it.

India's knowledge of helicopter operations in the Siachen uniquely positions India to action on such a strategy.  Some way will have to be found to make sure that this new effort does not reduce the effectiveness of resupply operations on the glacier itself.

This should allow India to stage a sizable response force in the Chip Chap valley itself.  A small contingent of troops could be positioned astride DBO and the ITBP could occupy defensive positions to the south of the base. These forces would essentially at as tripwire forces and intimate the main response force of Chinese intentions. The response force will have many options in terms of potential actions.

In this fashion a conventional deterrent can be created against push-and-shove tactics or just plain old infiltration by the PLA in the DBO area.

I welcome your thoughts.