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22 Sep 2017, 06:04 HRS IST
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  • Chinese Army conducts live-fire drills in Tibet plateau

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19:38 HRS IST

(Eds: Updating with fresh inputs and quotes of experts)

By K J M Varma

Beijing, Jul 17 (PTI)
China's military today said it has conducted live-fire exercises in the remote mountainous Tibet region to test its strike capability on plateaus, amid the standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in the Doklam area in the Sikkim sector.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) conducted the 11-hour long live-fire exercises at an altitude of 5,000 meters on the plateau in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, aimed at improving the combat capability on such locations, the military said.

The exercise was conducted by a ground combat brigade of the PLA Tibet Regional Command this month and involved scenarios such as rapid deployment, multi-unit joint strike and anti-aircraft defence, state-run China Daily quoted a PLA press release as saying.

The exercise effectively tested the brigade's joint strike capability on plateaus, according to the press release.

The brigade that conducted the drills was from the PLA's Tibet Military Command and is one of China's two plateau mountain brigades.

The PLA Tibet command guards the Line of Actual Control (LAC) of the India-China border along several sections connecting the mountainous Tibetan region.

Analysts believe that the drill are an apparent attempt by the military to reassure the Chinese public about the combat readiness of its troops.

"Showing an opponent that you are combat ready is more likely to prevent an actual battle," Wang Dehua, South Asia studies expert at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said.

Broadcasting the drill on CCTV was also likely designed to keep the public happy, he said.

"It could also reassure the Chinese people that a strong PLA force is there, capable and determined to defend Chinese territory," Wang told Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

The CCTV report did not disclose the location of the drills but said the brigade responsible for frontline combat missions has long been stationed around the middle and lower reaches of the Brahmaputra (Yarlung Zangbo in Chinese) River.

Brahmaputra flows into India from Arunachal Pradesh border.

"The PLA wanted to demonstrate it could easily overpower its Indian counterparts," Beijing-based military commentator Zhou Chenming told the Post.

The Chinese force that took part in the drill is stationed in the Lizhi region of eastern Tibet, close to the stand-off, the Post said.

India has nearly two lakh troops stationed in the areas it disputes with China, outnumbering its neighbour s forces by as much as 15 or 20 to one, it said.

Nonetheless, China has a clear advantage in terms of speed of movement, firepower, and logistics, Zhou said.

"[By staging] a small-scale drill, China wants to control the problem and lower the risk of shots being fired," he said.

Today's drills included the quick deployment of troops and different military units working together on joint attacks.

Video posted online showed soldiers using anti-tank grenades and missiles against bunkers and howitzers for artillery coverage.

The video also showed radar units identifying enemy aircraft and soldiers using anti-aircraft artillery to destroy targets, the report said.

Separately, Tibet's mobile communication agency conducted a drill on July 10 in Lhasa, capital of Tibet, where members of the agency practiced setting up a temporary mobile network to secure communications in an emergency.

Earlier reports said the PLA units exercised in Tibet with several modern weapon systems including a new light battle tank being manufactured by China.

Qin Zhen, executive editor of Ordnance Knowledge magazine, said that the recent exercises have displayed the strong combat capability of the PLA's plateau units.

He said that in recent years the Chinese military developed a number of lightweight weapons such as a wheeled infantry fighting vehicle and a new light tank to meet requirements of mountain operations.

Xiao Ning, editor-in-chief of Weapon magazine, said the new light tank features strong firepower, advanced armor and good mobility, so it is suitable for deployment on plateaus.

China and India have been engaged in a standoff in the Dokalam area in the Sikkim sector, where Indian troops stopped road construction by Chinese soldiers on June 16.

China claimed that they were constructing the road within their territory and has been demanding immediate pull-out of the Indian troops from the disputed Dokalam plateau.

New Delhi has expressed concern over the road building, apprehending that it may allow Chinese troops to cut India's access to its northeastern states.

India has conveyed to the Chinese government that the road construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for it.

Doka La is the Indian name for the region which Bhutan recognises as Dokalam, while China claims it as part of its Donglang region.

Of the 3,488-km-long India-China border from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, a 220-km section falls in Sikkim.

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