Recent satellite imagery has revealed that Chinese forces have embarked on a significant construction project in the Aksai Chin region, east of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a territory historically claimed by India.
The images, obtained by NDTV from Maxar and analysed by international geo-intelligence experts, depict the construction of reinforced tunnels and shelters carved into a hillside along a narrow river valley, around 60 kilometres east of the Depsang Plains in Northern Ladakh.
Experts have identified at least 11 portals or shafts that have been bored into the rockface on both sides of the river valley. The construction activity, which has been ongoing for several months, is believed to be an effort to provide protection to soldiers and heavy weaponry, shielding them from potential Indian airstrikes and extended-range artillery attacks.
Damien Symon, a prominent satellite imagery expert at The Intel Lab, suggests that China's actions in Aksai Chin appear to be driven by a desire to counterbalance the current advantage held by the Indian Air Force in the region.
"By establishing underground facilities and developing subterranean infrastructure in such proximity to the border, Chinese strategists seem to be aiming to counterbalance the current advantage held by the Indian Air Force in Aksai Chin," he was quoted by NDTV as saying.
The CEO of NewSpace Research & Technologies, Sameer Joshi, points out that since the Galwan clash, the Indian Army has significantly enhanced its offensive capabilities, particularly in terms of long-range tube and rocket artillery. Joshi asserts that China's decision to construct these underground facilities is a direct response to India's increased offensive potential.
"The Chinese decision to carve into hillsides, Mr Joshi says, is directly linked to greater Indian offensive capability," the report says.
"The massive construction activity, including hardened shelters, bunkers, tunnels, and the widening of roads is being done to mitigate this clear and present danger which the Indian Army has imposed on the Chinese deployment doctrine in Tibet," it quotes Joshi as saying.
The Indian Air Force maintains several key airbases along the Ladakh front, with Srinagar and Avantipura being traditional frontline fighter bases.
However, reports indicate that the Indian Air Force is also considering extending the runway at the Air Landing Ground in Nyoma, situated at an altitude of 13,700 feet near Pangong Lake. This extension would bring fighter aircraft within a proximity of less than 50 km from the LAC with China in eastern Ladakh.
As tensions continue to rise in the region, Sim Tack, Chief Military Analyst at Force Analysis, a conflict and defence policy analysis firm, suggests that China's construction of reinforced positions and underground storage facilities indicate a clear strategy to strengthen its military presence in Ladakh. These measures are aimed at bolstering China's ability to sustain operations and minimise attrition in the event of a full-scale military escalation in the region.
The developments in Aksai Chin come as both India and China maintain a wary eye on each other's military movements, raising concerns of a potential escalation in a long-standing territorial dispute.
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