Beijing: China is building three big airports in close proximity to the Indian border. While the airports are civilian ones, the move is expected to bolster China’s air power against India substantially as Chinese airports are equipped with dual use capability, allowing both civilian and military operations.
On June 8, the Tibet Civil Aviation Administration took the decision to build three airports in Lhunze, Shigatse, and in Burang. The three airports are to be completed before 2022.
The airports can aid the Chinese military by acting as launch bases for support of troops as well as replenishment of supplies, very critical in the backdrop of operational limitations due to high-altitude in Tibet.
It is difficult for aircraft to take off from the 4 km high Tibetan plateau because of the rarefied atmospheric conditions due to which aircraft cannot acquire full thrust resulting in payload limitations.
Comparatively, it is easier for Indian Air Force (IAF) planes to operate as the Indian side is much lower in height than the Chinese side.
Moreover with the entire Indo-China border in the north running on the high-altitude inner Himalayas, it is not an easy area for land forces to operate in and air power stands greater chance of dominating the heights.
The airport being set up in Lhunze will be just across the border, a few kilometres from Arunachal Pradesh’s upper Subansiri district. This location made global headlines recently after China moved in enormous quantities of men and material to undertake gold and silver mining in a mega gold mine valued at about $60 billion.
The new airport besides helping military operations will also aid the gold mining effort in the remote area.
The airport in Burang will be located in the tri-junction in China’s Tibet, bordering Nepal and Pithoragarh in India’s Uttarakhand while the airport in Shigatse city (or Xigaze) will be closest to the Doklam plateau, near the tri-junction between India’s Sikkim, Bhutan and southern Tibet. Doklam was the site of the 73-day standoff between Indian and Chinese troopers in 2017. At present, Tibet has five big airports.
China is already building roads and railroads to these areas in the lofty Himalayas on a war footing. Major railheads are already being set up in Burang and Yatung (which is again near Doklam) even as a third link is being built to Gyirong, a settlement across the Nepal border with China.
All these railheads will originate at Shigatse which is connected to Lhasa, Tibet’s capital.
India is also ramping up the road and air linkages in the north and Northeast region bordering with China. Besides roads, the IAF has already activated several advanced landing grounds (ALGs) at Ziro, Along, Mechuka, Pasighat, Tuting and Along in Arunachal Pradesh.