Chinese forces have started constructing reinforced shelters and bunkers for soldiers and weaponry by carving tunnels and shafts into a hillside in a narrow river valley, located sixty kilometres east of the Depsang Plains in Northern Ladakh.
The location mentioned in this report is situated in Aksai Chin, which is east of the Line of Actual Control and is currently under China's control, although it has been historically claimed by India, NDTV reported.
After analysing the images obtained from Maxar by NDTV for over a week, the international geo-intelligence experts have identified the presence of at least 11 portals or shafts that have been drilled into the rockface on both sides of the river valley.
The images reveal massive construction activity that has taken place in the past few months, presumably to provide protection for heavy weaponry and soldiers against potential Indian airstrikes and extended-range artillery.
In an interview with NDTV on Tuesday, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar dismissed China's recent attempt to claim Indian territory as its own. China included Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin in its new "standard map," but Mr. Jaishankar stated that this does not change anything.
He emphasised that the Indian government is clear about its territory and that making unfounded claims does not grant ownership of others' territories.
China's actions in Aksai Chin are reportedly viewed by experts as a desperate attempt to counterbalance India's advantage.
By establishing underground facilities and developing subterranean infrastructure near the border, Chinese strategists aim to offset the current advantage held by the Indian Air Force in Aksai Chin, according to Damien Symon, a leading satellite imagery expert with The Intel Lab.
According to Sameer Joshi, the CEO of NewSpace Research & Technologies, a prominent Indian drone start-up, the Indian Army has significantly increased its offensive fire capabilities since the Galwan clash.
Joshi states that the Chinese decision to construct on hillsides is directly related to India's enhanced offensive capability.
He explains that the extensive construction, which includes hardened shelters, bunkers, tunnels, and road widening, is being done to counter the threat posed by the Indian Army in Tibet.
The Indian Air Force has several frontline airbases along the Ladakh front, positioned against China.
While Srinagar and Avantipura have traditionally served as frontline IAF fighter bases, the Indian Air Force is also planning to extend the runway at the Air Landing Ground in Nyoma.
Located at an altitude of 13,700 feet near Pangong Lake, this extension would allow the IAF to host fighter aircraft less than 50 kilometers from the Line of Actual Control with China.
Sim Tack, the Chief Military Analyst at Force Analysis, a provider of data and analysis on armed conflicts and defense policy told NDTV that China is fortifying its military presence in Ladakh to prepare for potential artillery and airstrikes in the event of a full-scale military escalation.
Tack noted the presence of reinforced command positions and underground equipment storage facilities, which significantly enhance China's operational capacity and minimise attrition in the event of armed conflict in Ladakh.
The construction activity at the site, marked by multiple berms and revetments in December 2021, indicates its significance as a key staging point during the India-China faceoff in Ladakh.
This area, which witnessed multiple incursions by Chinese forces along the Line of Actual Control, has undergone massive transformation through ongoing construction.
The recent images, dated 18 August, reveal the presence of four reinforced personnel bunkers constructed along the valley face.
Additionally, three tunnel areas with two and five portals or tunnels at each site have been carved onto the hillside.
Heavy earth-moving machinery was seen in multiple locations, and a primary road cutting across the valley has been significantly widened.
The images also reveal that the earth has been raised around the personnel bunkers to provide extra protection against direct attacks.
The entry and exit areas feature a distinctive fork design, which helps dissipate the impact of pressure from bombardment. Moreover, raised earth berms are present in these areas.
According to Brahma Chellaney, a prominent observer of China in India, the construction of permanent bunkers and fortifications in Aksai Chin aligns with China's overall intransigence, with no sign that it is willing to climb down to some extent to end the extended military standoff with India.
This construction activity in Aksai Chin mirrors China's creation of permanent military structures in other border areas, ranging from eastern Ladakh and the middle sector to the Arunachal-Tibet frontier, according to Chellaney.
Despite multiple bilateral attempts to de-escalate the crisis along the Line of Actual Control through the establishment of no-patrol zones, the high-altitude Depsang plains remain a significant concern for New Delhi.
Chinese forces continue to prevent Indian soldiers in the area from accessing their pre-2020 patrol routes.
China's decision to invest in fortified military complexes near the Line of Actual Control suggests that it is preparing for a prolonged conflict, despite the damage it has caused to its relationship with India and the challenges it faces with its economy, rivalry with the US, and disputes in the Western Pacific.
Beijing seems determined to pursue a more aggressive strategy in the region, according to Jeff Smith, director of Asian Study Centre.
The clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers in May 2020 resulted in the most violent confrontations since the 1962 war.
In the Galwan Valley, 20 Indian Army soldiers, including a commanding officer, lost their lives in hand-to-hand combat.
Reports indicate that the number of Chinese casualties was much higher than the official count, with at least 38 Chinese soldiers believed to have been killed.
Following the 2020 clashes, India has expedited the construction of roads and tunnels in the Ladakh region and is modernising high-altitude airfields.
One significant development is the completion of the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road, linking Leh to the sensitive Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) post near the Line of Actual Control.
This road has significantly reduced travel time, allowing for easier maintenance and transportation of troops in the area. Additionally, a new tunnel is being constructed along this route.
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