Even as the stand-off between the armies of India and China continues, the Chinese side has intensified its work on the lengthening of the runways at its air bases along the Line of Actual Control in Tibet. The Chinese side has been gradually working on developing its infrastructure in the region for its forces.
According to sources, the Chinese have been working on increasing the length of the runway in Tibet since 2017 following the Doklam incident and this is being done to increase the presence of its Air Force in the region.
New airports builts in Tibet and Xingjian region
Closer to the LAC almost 37 new airports and heliports are built in Tibet and Xingjian region. Out of those, 22 are meant for dual usage which means they can be used for civil and military operations.
In 2020 itself the Chinese side increased the pace of work on 7 new facilities and 7 airbases. The airbases China has built are expected to enhance its airborne surveillance capabilities, and also help in strike and counter-strike from additional platforms of the PLA. Since 2017, five airports are upgraded and there are new hangars built, terminals and new runways.
Shighaste Tingri Airport 60 km away from Indian border
Three out of the four new airports are near the Indian borders. These include Shigatse Tingri, Lhuntse, and Ngari-Burang Airports; they are just 60 kms away from the Indian border. With these new facilities, the Chinese PLA Air Force is removing the shortcomings that it was facing due to the absence of an airbase in this area.
Chinese PLA’s Surface to Air Missile Complex Upgraded
And this is not all. The Chinese have also built 5 new heliports in Tibet and 2 old heliports have also been upgraded and developed.
Similarly, China has upgraded 15 airports in Xingjian province since 2017, of which 7 are made for dual use. Hotan Airport is the most important, which is simply 240 kilometers away from LAC, and a replacement runway has also been prepared at this airbase. The length of the old runway is 2700 meters and therefore the length of the new runway is being increased to around 3500 meters. Just 5 km from this airport, the Chinese PLA’s Surface to Air Missile Complex has also been upgraded in order that it can be kept safe from the fighters of the Indian Air Force during the war. The length of the runway of Lhasa Ganger is about 4000 meters and it’s been made ready for dual use. On the opposite side of Arunachal Pradesh, Lunge County, Nigachi Airbase are included. The length of the Nigichi airstrip is 3000 meters which is being extended by another 500 meters.
No experience of fighting in a high altitude area
According to reports, on the other side of Arunachal Pradesh, China is continuously preparing a replacement runway of 4.2 km i.e. 4200 meters in Lunge County. For this the concrete surface is being prepared. Together with this, a road is additionally being prepared parallel to this runway. During this entire construction, 22 small bridges have also been prepared. Some 20 airports and heliports in Tibet and the Xingjian area are located at an altitude of more than 3000 meters above sea level. In these, the high elevation facility has either been upgraded or is absolutely new. From such a high altitude, it is difficult to fly fighter jets with full load because the air density in the atmosphere is low and it decreases as the day progresses. In such a situation, to fly a full load aircraft from a short runway is difficult, explained a senior officer.
Therefore, the length of the runway should be increased to make the take-off with full load easier at a high speed. And once airborne, air operations are often carried out through refueler tankers for a long time.
However, the operation activity during peacetime and wartime are going to be completely different. The Chinese fighters don’t have any experience of fighting in the high altitude area yet. Therefore, it is a bit difficult to say right now how much benefit China will get from all this.