India is keeping a close watch on China’s military mobilisation in the Depsang Plains region, a major hotspot after Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley and Hot Springs areas, which can conceivably threaten a vast swathe of Indian territory in north-eastern Ladakh.
Army chief General M M Naravane, during his trip to forward areas of eastern Ladakh over the last couple of days, directed further strengthening of patrolling to the 65 points on the Line of Actual Control to plug all gaps, while reviewing the operational situation in all sectors from Daulat Beg Oldie-Depsang in the north to Demchok-Chumar in the south.
The Indian Army has also counter-deployed an adequate number of acclimatised troops and heavy weaponry in order to prevent any further Chinese ingress.
‘IAF conducting regular air patrols over Ladakh’
India has also counter-deployed an adequate number of acclimatised troops and heavy weaponry to prevent any further ingress after a sizeable number of Chinese troops intruded deep into Indian territory in the strategically important Depsang Bulge area located at an altitude of over 16,000 feet.
In a show of strength, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has also deployed over 10,000 troops, with tanks and artillery guns, from its 4th Motorised Infantry Division and 6th Mechanised Infantry Division within its territory near the Line of Actual Control (LAC), sources said.
The Army has already inducted three additional divisions (each has 10-12,000 soldiers) into Ladakh, along with more tanks and artillery guns, while others are being kept on standby. “Additional battalions of Ladakh Scouts and IBTP have also been deployed in eastern Ladakh. Enhanced preparations are in place for any eventuality, with our troops trained and geared for mountain warfare. Indian Air Force (IAF) fighters are also conducting regular combat air patrols over Ladakh to send a signal,” a source said.
But the new front opened by the PLA in Depsang Plains, after Pangong Tso, Galwan and Hot Springs, is considered critical because it obstructs the two available routes through the tabletop plateau to the logistical hub and airstrip at DBO and the critical Karakoram Pass in the north. PLA troops, now camping near the ‘Bottleneck’ area in Depsang, have effectively been blocking Indian patrols to the LAC in the region, sources said.
China has never been happy about Indian reactivating the DBO airstrip, which overlooks the Karakoram Pass and is just about 7km from the Line of Actual Control and the China-occupied Aksai Chin region beyond.
The IAF has been regularly conducting flights of AN-32 and C-130J ‘Super Hercules’ aircraft to the DBO advance landing ground, which is the world’s highest such airstrip at an altitude of 16,614 feet. It was also the DBO sector and nearby areas that bore the brunt of the Chinese attack in the western sector during the 1962 conflict.
The last major troop face-off in Depsang took place in April-May 2013 after PLA troops intruded 19 km across the LAC. Though it was resolved after 21 days through hectic diplomatic negotiations, China has always coveted the Depsang area, just about 35 km south of the Karakoram Pass, which in turn is at the tri-junction of the China-Pakistan-India border.
Indian troops deployed on the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro Ridge region, in fact, prevent Pakistan from the west and China from the east joining forces through the Karakoram Pass to threaten Ladakh. China is also fast expanding its footprint in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.