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.


  1. Rohit there is one more thing. Even after heavy equipment gets onto the G 219 it still has to cover the "last mile" to the LAC. The "Last mile" is 120 km as the crow flies. There appears to be only one motorable road - the one I have marked in green in my map in another post. That makes the journey from the G 219 to the LAC more than 200 km - that is up to the area adjacent to DBO.

    Clearly there are some logistical issues.

    The other thing is that even if PLA troops use pressurized cabins it will be of not mush use. It is acclimatization that matters and not simply travel in pressurized cabins. Acclimatization takes 15 days minimum.

    I suspect that if China is planing an offensive we will have waring, but there will have to be a robust response once the Chinese build up their forces. But all in all this area cannot be easy for the Chinese either.

    I am still searching for other road connectivity and will later mark out airfields too.

    1. If you compare the situation in eastern and western theater, the PLA has relatively better presence in eastern theater. This could be more due to the need to manage and control the political center of gravity in Lhasa. Plus, they have the rail connectivity to help move troops ASAP. And Lhasa serves as the rear base to support operations in entire eastern theater.

      But no such luxury as far as west is concerned. I think this is the reason that Chinese want to enter into agreement(s) to freeze troops level in this region. There is no firm base to support operations in this area - whether Aksai Chin or areas to South.

  2. i would like someone to study the terrain on both sides of LAC.. somehow there is a impression that chinese side is like table top and suddenly on the indian side of of LAC its craggy mountains !! which makes road building so difficult !! let someone do it sector wise...when i do a cursory look of LAC in say AP on google earth, i see the chinese side being more rugged and with the width of mountain belt being much more than on indian side !! for india the plains are just 250 km away from the LAC atleast in AP...

    1. In AP, we are worse off in terms of geography. While the plains of Brahmaputra river valley may well lie 'only' 250 kms from the LAC, the gradient covered in these 250 kms is very steep. One goes from <200 mtrs at Assam Valley (Tejpur) to 2500+ meters by the time one reaches place like Tawang. On Chinese side, once the Chinese are on Tibetan Plateau, they are on a level plain.

    2. with due respects, i argue only as a layman getting educated here on this forum. What do i make of the mountainous terrain ( atleast when i see it thru google earth) on the chinese side of the LAC? which is much much more than 250 kms. i do understand your point abt gadient on indian side. The point i am making is 'arent the chinese also funneled into narrow valleys in AP due to the mountainous terrain and there are possibly few axes of movement?? arent the chinese also facing the challenges of mountains to their road building efforts?? the so called east west connectivity exists but its at a considerable distance away from LAC?? Your comments...

    3. While you're right about north-south orientation of valleys (on Chinese side of LAC) and funneling effect of same on PLA as well, the real clincher is the presence of a major east-west road in the rear of PLA positions. This road runs along the Brahmaputra valley and provides the much needed lateral connectivity. In fact, there are couple of such east-west valleys which provide the opportunity of lateral movement.

      Also, the valleys along Indian side are very narrow and steep without any width to speak of. Indian positions are on the ridges and slopes adding further to the gradient issue.And we have not luxury of east-west oriented river valleys to provide lateral connectivity. Please give me couple of days time - I'll put together a primer on the topic.

      In the meanwhile, please explore the map linked below:,Tawang&gl=in&ei=Od6kUc6zBIrUkAXvn4HoBA&ved=0CJwBELYD

      The main road on the Chinese side are clearly shown. And if you zoom in, you can make out series of lateral valleys and roads therein.

      Use the terrain feature of Google map to explore the geography and gradient angle on both side. Another important thing that you'll notice is that north-south valleys on Chinese side run right up to the border and these have very little variation in gradient. So, the movement of troops and weapons from Chinese side to a point below the ridge forming boundary with India is easier.

  3. In 1962, Mao sent in 100k troops, not millions and acclimatised them for 6 months before the attack. Indian commie leaders knew about the coming attack.

    Without Pakistan, it is very difficult for China to contain India along the LAC. Once airpower gets into the picture, it is even more advantageous for India. The main Indian need is the Titanium light weight field artillery and helicopters and mini-airfields.

  4. maybe the cabins also ensure some kind of acclimitization... i mean the cabins could be at a lower air presure ..?? who knows..knowing the chinese i am sure they are not duds...

    what is most needs is political will and building up of capabilities ASAP...

  5. The cabins postpone acclimatization. They are not pressurized. they are oxygen enriched, that's all.

  6. IIRC the most effective altitude acclimatization technique is the one practiced by the IA. The soldiers are gradually moved up in altitude and made to perform routine activities at each altitude for two or so days before moving to the next altitude.

    This technique was not followed in the panic after the discovery of the intrusion in Battalik by Saurabh Kalia's lost patrol and the results were terrible.

    When cooler heads prevailed, the regimen was put back into place and the troops fared better much better.

    The PLA will have to implement a similar procedure if it is to deploy large numbers of people in the Aksai Chin area.