China, India clash again, with PLA back in Eastern Ladakh - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 13 July 2021

China, India clash again, with PLA back in Eastern Ladakh


Heavy Chinese build up, with Russian S-400 missile systems that can shoot down aircraft up to 400 km away


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 14th July 21


After a winter lull, Chinese troops have again crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh at several places, government sources say. And there has been at least one clash between the two sides, say sources operating in that sector.


The altercation allegedly took place on the Galwan River, close to where 20 Indian soldiers were killed on June 15 last year. It is not known whether any casualties occurred this time. 


Like in the June 2020 clash, there was a confrontation when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers set up a tent at the bend in the Galwan River, near PP14. India demanded it be removed, as it was in the buffer area that both sides had agreed to.

The army has denied that any clash took place.


During winter 2020-2021, the PLA had thinned out or withdrawn from many of the positions it had occupied on the Indian side of the LAC in the summer of 2020.


But then, the freeze of winter gave way to renewed confrontation in the first week of April 2021, when Chinese drones began entering Indian airspace in large numbers, say Ministry of Defence (MoD) sources.


In May-June, Indian patrols in Demchok and Chumar, in Southern Ladakh, reported an increased presence of PLA men in civilian clothes.


In mid-May, without Indian provocation, the PLA began re-occupying many of the positions that had been vacated, boosting tensions and triggering counter deployments by the Indian Army. With the two armies again facing off at multiple points, there is apprehension of renewed clashes.


Military sources say the PLA has deployed at least one, and probably two, regiments of S-400 air defence missiles, which would drastically erode India’s superiority in air power. 


These potent Russian missile systems have the capability to shoot down aircraft up to 400 kilometres away, which means they can shoot down Indian aircraft anywhere in Ladakh.


Pangong Lake sector


There is increased PLA troop activity and deployment of modern equipment and artillery in the north bank of Pangong Lake (NBPL), especially at Sirijap. Indian assessments suggest there are three PLA battalions stationed here. About three dozen new artillery pieces have also been spotted here.


The PLA has apparently flouted the February 2021 demilitarisation agreement, which had envisioned a mutual withdrawal of troops in the Pangong sector. However, in traditional PLA modus operandi, it has sent back troops to re-occupy key positions.


Indian ground reports say that, in the year since June 2020, China has strengthened several of its positions, especially Rutog, which is just south of the eastern tip of Pangong Lake. 


The PLA has deployed radar on tactically dominating positions, and constructed helipads, sites for surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and places for armoured vehicles. This area is well connected with roads to Ngari prefecture.


Deeper inside China, troop accommodation, including underground bunkers, has been constructed for the PLA at several locations along G-219, including Xaidullah, Kangxiwar and Dahong Liutan. Each significant PLA location has a helipad and several helicopter units have been seen.


Depsang – Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO)


A big build-up of Chinese soldiers is in the Depsang – DBO sector, located at the foot of the Karakoram Pass – India’s northern tip. This sector was patrolled by Indian soldiers until spring 2020. But since April last year, the PLA has blocked Indian troops from going to their Patrolling Points (PPs) 9, 10, 11, 12 & 13.


New Delhi assesses that Depsang is the central Chinese objective. It provides Indian soldiers with a route to Road G-219 – China’s sensitive Western Highway that connects Tibet with Xinjiang. It also provides the PLA and the Pakistan Army with complementary thrust lines on which they can simultaneously advance and link up. This would cut off India’s northern tip, including the Karakoram Pass, DBO and the Siachen Glacier sector.


China holds the trump cards in Depsang. The PLA has built motorable roads from the Aksai Chin, extending deep into Indian territory. In any race to build up forces, the Chinese would win, since Depsang is India’s remotest sector, reachable only after a long journey on the newly-built Darbuk – Shyok – DBO (DSDBO) road.


To outnumber and outgun India’s troops in the DBO sector, the PLA is holding positions 15 km deep inside India’s border. The PLA has already brought up its newest and most modern tanks, artillery and air defence systems on its own side of the LAC.


Galwan River sector


In the Galwan River sector, the terms of disengagement, which the two armies negotiated on June 30, 2020, regard the LAC as running through the so-called Y-Nallah Junction. This is actually a full kilometre inside India, compared with the LAC’s historical alignment next to PP-14, which the Indian Army has patrolled for decades. Now PP-14 effectively falls inside China’s “buffer zone”.


By measuring all distances from the Y-Junction, rather than from the traditional LAC alignment west of PP-14, the Y-Junction has been effectively regarded as the LAC point.


Gogra/Hot Springs


In the Gogra/Hot Spring sector, South of Galwan, the PLA has refused to withdraw since the time it crossed the LAC here in May 2020. Chinese troops remain deployed in the vicinity of India’s sensitive Gogra Post and are still deployed in numbers near PP 17A, half a kilometre inside Indian-claimed territory.


There is a massive Chinese build up across the LAC from Gogra, extending from PP17 to PP23. These Chinese troops, artillery, air defence weaponry and heavy vehicles can move deeper into Indian territory at very short notice.


Pangong Lake sector


The PLA has withdrawn to the east of Finger 8, and the area between Finger 4 and Finger 8 remains demilitarised. However, this could rapidly change, since the PLA has a large concentration of troops and weaponry in Sirijap, just east of Finger 8.


Indian Army sources say that, given the roads that the PLA has constructed on the north bank of Pangong Lake from 1999 onwards, its combat units that are part of the large build-up can quickly advance westwards to reoccupy areas they had vacated between Fingers 3 and 8. The bunkers that the Chinese had built last year have not been dismantled and can be used by the PLA if it decides to move back into the Indian side of the LAC.


On the South Bank of the Pangong Lake, Chinese troops have reportedly reoccupied the positions on the Kailash Range, such as Black Top and Helmet, which they had vacated. This pre-emptive step has made it extremely difficult for the Indian Army to re-occupy the dominating positions it held on the Ladakh Range.


  1. Nice article with basic mistake, chinese S400 dont have missile ranging 400 km , they have the capability to shoot only 250 km .

  2. If the Modi Bhakts read this... Mass suicides

  3. PLA withdrawal from South Pangong was a "Victory". See link (before elections in four States in April)

    Wait for more such Victories before Bihar Polls. Godi hain toh Mumkin hain !! ��

  4. Fake news, Ajai! CDS has said with a little adjustment India-China can compromise in Ladakh. How can CDS be wrong? :) This obviously is the Chinese starting adjustment!! Has anyone told CDS that as of 2020 China is claiming the east bank of the Indus as its territory, and has also laid claim to Baltistan and Gilgit. Another small adjustment that will bring them to the north bank of the Indus with Pakistan's help!!

  5. Fake news..India troops started the incursion and provocation first into Chinese territory then claimed it was otherwise to incite national aggression against China. Take a look around India as India cannot get along with all its neighbours. So who is the aggressor?


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