NEW DELHI: Two days after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a brutal clash with Chinese troops in Galwan Valley, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria made a low-key visit to Ladakh to review the Indian Air Force’s preparedness in the sensitive sector where the IAF is operating its fighter jets and new attack and heavy-lift helicopters, people familiar with the development said on Friday on condition of anonymity.
Apart from Sukhoi-30s and upgraded MiG-29 fighter jets, the IAF is operating Apache AH-64E attack helicopters and CH-47F (I) Chinook multi-mission helicopters --- both imported from the United States --- in the sector that has been the focus of current border tensions with China, said one of the persons cited above.
The IAF chief visited the forward airbases --- Leh on Wednesday and Srinagar on Thursday --- at a time of increased Chinese military activity across the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) where Indian and Chinese troops have been caught in a tense confrontation for over seven weeks and efforts to de-escalate have failed.
“In these times of heightened alert, the movement of air force assets is to be expected and hence basing of fighters and helicopters upfront is but normal and should not lead to any extreme deductions,” said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
The Chinese deployment in its so-called “depth areas” or areas within its side of the LAC includes more than 8,000 troops, tanks, artillery guns, fighter bombers, rocket forces and air defence radars. Satellite imagery has revealed a Chinese buildup in the Galwan Valley and fresh inputs also suggest heightened Chinese activity in the Finger Area (a cluster of strategic features) near Pangong Tso where new Chinese positions and observation posts have come up in the last six to seven weeks, said the second person cited above.
“The Finger Area is sensitive and the armies need to disengage there,” said Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd), a former director general of military operations. He said both sides had hardened their positions along the LAC but talks were on to resolve the border row.
Bhadauria visited the Ladakh sector at a time when the Indian armed forces are on the highest state of alert to deal with any threat to national security following the significant escalation of the border conflict with China.
The Chinese PLA is fully deployed in Xinjiang and Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) with air, artillery and missile support, and the PLA Air Force has activated its bases in both Xinjiang and TAR with fighter aircraft making a show of strength in Aksai Chin area, as reported by Hindustan Times on Friday.
The army has strengthened its posture across the length of the LAC --- from Ladakh to Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh --- where reinforcements have been sent and the IAF also has kept its contingency plans ready, the officials said.
Tensions have surged between India and China after the June 15 Galwan skirmish that marked the first Indian casualties in a border clash with the People’s Liberation Army since October 1975 when Chinese troops ambushed an Indian patrol in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tulung La sector and shot four soldiers dead.