India is keeping a watchful eye as China continues to conduct military drills in Tibet, close to the Eastern Ladakh border where thousands of troops are deployed at forward positions in a border standoff that started over a year ago.
While there has been no escalation of tensions since both sides decided to disengage troops from the Pangong lake in February, the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) has carried out aerial drills in Tibet, involving over a squadron worth of fighter jets. The drills were conducted using recently expanded airbases in Tibet, work on which started after the border tensions in April last year.
The Chinese air exercise was closely monitored by the Indian side, with assets deployed at Ladakh to ensure the peace. All military exercises by the PLA in Tibet are being carefully analysed as China last year had diverted troops from a routine training drill to the border in Eastern Ladakh, sparking off tensions that led to a bloody clash at Galwan valley.
Sources said that at no time the PLA fighters violated protocols that include maintaining a safe distance from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and that J 11 and J 16 fighters were observed taking part in the drills. India has a strong presence of fighters in the Ladakh region, including MiG 29s and Su 30MKIs, besides a squadron plus strength of Rafale fighter jets based in Ambala that are primed for operations along the border.
Last month, the PLA carried out land exercises in Tibet as well, at their regular training grounds well away from the border. These drills – an annual affair – too were closely observed by India that has kept additional troops at standby in Ladakh to keep a check on any sudden moves. In August last year, China and Pakistan had taken part in joint drills from the Hotan airbase, located over 300 km away from the Ladakh border.
China has also been demonstrating its equipment in Tibet, with the latest being a video of its attack choppers conducting training operations at the Karakoram ranges. The video shows attack helicopters operating at a claimed altitude of 5,000m shooting down aerial targets and attacking ground based assets like tanks and armoured personnel vehicles.
India has already inducted its Apache attack helicopters in Ladakh, which have demonstrated strong capability for high altitude operations, while the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter (LCH) too has impressed with its ability to perform at extreme heights.