Post Doklam crisis, China has changed gears and shifted its strategic thrust, more than doubling its total number of air bases, air defence positions and heliports near the Indian border over the past three years.
The military infrastructure build-up includes 13 entirely new military positions, including three air bases, five permanent air defence positions and five heliports near the Line of Actual Control. In fact, construction on four of these heliports started only after the border standoff erupted in eastern Ladakh in early May.
Most of these details have been culled out of a yet-to-be-released report by Stratfor, a leading global geopolitical intelligence platform.
The report authored by security expert Sim Tack and released on Tuesday said China’s construction spree will see regional tensions with India spiking beyond the two countries’ recent standoffs. ‘‘The timing of the Chinese build-up along the border with India just prior to the ongoing Ladakh standoff suggests these border tensions are part of a much larger effort by China to assert control over its border regions,” says Tack.
“Significantly, China’s upgrade of its military infrastructure is far from complete.
“The expansion and construction of military infrastructure is in most cases still underway, so the Chinese military activity that we are seeing along the border with India today is only the beginning of a longer-term intent,” the report says.
The consequences of this for India seem clear. ”Once finished, this infrastructure will provide support for an even greater intensity of Chinese operations.”
The report said the recent procurement of the Rafale fighter aircraft by India has started to provide it some cushion, but it will be some time before indigenous production and foreign acquisitions truly rebuild the strength of India’s air force.
The report says China’s strategy aims at confronting India with an “insurmountable” challenge in territorial disputes by leaning on broad support capabilities that provide Beijing with a tremendous ability to mobilise forces into disputed border areas.
The report noted that such an approach is similar to China’s strategy in the South China Sea, where a build-up of permanent defense facilities supports Chinese localised military superiority and significantly raises the potential cost of military opposition to Beijing’s maritime claims.
The report outlines China’s military-infrastructure build-up through a detailed analysis of satellite images of military facilities that have a direct bearing on India’s security.
An analysis of open source satellite imagery shows that China has created a surface-to-air missile site on the banks of Mansarovar Lake in Tibet, and is developing similar facilities to cover sensitive stretches of the disputed border in the Doklam and Sikkim sectors.
A graphic included in the Stratfor report shows that China had only one heliport and one air defence site on the Tibetan plateau in 2016, and there was a substantial expansion and upgrade of its military infrastructure in the area since 2019.