New Delhi: Even as images emerged of a Chinese airbase near Ladakh with fighter jets on tarmac, there was frenzied activity in the national capital with PM Modi hobnobbing with the three service chiefs, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat.
In a preface, prior to the meeting with PM Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had met the three service chiefs. There is a good reason to be alarmed as the satellite images show that Beijing is expanding an airbase near Ladakh. According to NDTV, there is massive construction activity at the Ngari Gunsa airport in Tibet, located 200 km from the Pangong Lake the site of skirmishes between the Indian and Chinese troops earlier this month.
According to NDTVs news portal, the first image is dated April 6, 2020, while the second one, dated May 21, this year, shows the addition at the airport of what appears to be a secondary tarmac to position helicopters or combat aircraft. A third image reinforces the Indian sides worst fears and shows a close-up of the main tarmac at the airport with a line-up of four fighter jets believed to be either J-11 or J-16 fighters of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force.
According to defence journals, the J-11/J-16 are advanced, domestically produced variants of the Russian Sukhoi 27 and broadly match the capabilities of the Indian Air Forces Sukhoi 30 MKIs.
Media reports indicate that several thousand Chinese soldiers have either crossed or are very close to the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. Incidentally, there have been six rounds of talks between the Indian and Chinese troops since the first border skirmish on May 5 but these have failed to de-escalate tensions; rather, the two sides have maintained aggressive posturing in the disputed border areas.
The fact of the matter is that with the onset of summer, there is heightened patrolling on both sides. Also, both sides are engaged in development of infrastructure. According to TV channel News 18, China has pressed India to stop building infrastructure even on its own side of the LAC, a condition that is unacceptable to New Delhi.
It is understood that Rajnath Singh conveyed to the top military brass on Tuesday that there was no need for reviewing the implementation of any of the key projects along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand or in Arunachal Pradesh, in view of the aggressive conduct of the Chinese troops in several sensitive areas.
The Chinese side is particularly peeved at India laying a key road in the finger area of Pangong Tso Lake region, besides another road connecting the Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldie road in Galwan Valley. India, on the other hand, has asked Beijing to maintain status quo at the border. But the Chinese have refused to back off from India territory. Also, the transgressions are not of the kind seen every year as the snow melts; rather, there have been multiple forays by the Chinese troops which go beyond the usual games of brinkmanship.