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India set for major air exercise near Tibet border amid rising China threat perceptions

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(TibetanReview.net, Jan22’23) – The now 32-month-old Sino-India military standoff along Tibet’s southern and India’s northern Ladakh border is nowhere near being resolved. During this period, India has responded in kind to China’s frantic buildup of troops, arms, and infrastructure across the length of the Tibetan side of the border. China has also strongly kept publicizing the endless succession of air and ground military drills it has been carrying out close to the border. And now India is to conduct a major air combat exercise with frontline fighters, helicopters, other aircraft and drones in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and other northeastern states early next month, according to Indian media reports Jan 21.

The “command-level” “Exercise Pralay” will witness the Eastern Air Command, which has its headquarters in Shillong, test its operational readiness from Feb 1 to 5, reported the timesofindia.com and the ANI news agency.

“It will include all assets in the eastern sector, including Rafales and Sukhoi-30MKI fighters flying from air-bases like Hasimara, Tezpur and Chabua.”

The Indian Air Force (IAF) had also conducted a two-day exercise in the northeast last month soon after the physical clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers at Yangtse peak in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh on Dec 9. But “the forthcoming exercise will be bigger in scale and will include a variety of platforms, including C-130J ‘Super Hercules’ aircraft, Chinook heavy-lift and Apache attack helicopters, among others,” the report quoted a government source as saying.

Besides, the IAF has deployed and activated the S-400 air defence squadron in the area which can take on any enemy aircraft or missile from a distance of up to 400 km, said the ANI report.

The timesofindia.com report noted that in eastern Ladakh, China continues to forward deploy over 50,000 troops and heavy weaponry along the frontier for the third successive winter, and has so far refused to discuss troop disengagement at the strategically-located Depsang Plains and Demchok areas.

It added that, simultaneously, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had increased force-levels along the 1,346-km stretch of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The PLA, for instance, has kept two additional ‘combined arms brigades’ — each has around 4,500 soldiers with tanks, artillery and other weapons — forward deployed across the eastern sector even during the ongoing winter.

The report noted that the IAF has also had to scramble Sukhoi fighters as precautionary air defence measures on detecting Chinese aircraft coming close to the LAC in the eastern sector in recent months.

The report said the heightened Chinese air activity all along the 3,488-km-long LAC has been taking place after China upgraded all its major airbases facing India like Hotan and Kashgar in Xinjiang and Gargunsa and Shigatse in Tibet with extended runways, hardened shelters and fuel storage facilities for additional fighters, bombers, drones and reconnaissance aircraft over the last two years.

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