Sunday, September 20, 2020

Accelerated Lhasa heliport development poses a new threat to India

New Delhi: Satellite imagery has captured an ominous Chinese military initiative near Lhasa that could have a direct bearing on the situation in eastern Ladakh. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has established a helicopter transport unit in Lhasa which can be used to insert soldiers into battle in short order.

In mid-2015, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) decided to raise a separate aviation arm called Xizang Luhang Brigade or Tibet LH Brigade at Lhasa. The project to construct a heliport began on the mechanised brigade near Lhasa railway station which continued slowly till 2017.

It suddenly picked up pace during and after the Doklam standoff of 2017. The first deployment of a lone Mi-17 helicopter after completion of the heliport was observed in satellite imagery during November 2018.

The historic satellite images from 2018 indicate 24 large shelters of 25mx32m size. More surprising was the brown camouflage colour scheme observed on these shelters.

The PLA has deployed 24 Mi-17V-7 transport helicopters at this heliport since 2018 and 22 of them have been positively identified with pennant numbers.

The ground pictures indicate a complete transport unit of Army Aviation that can helilift one infantry battalion with battle load.

The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) has also been observed on the heliport undertaking repair jobs, suggesting that it possibly provides the technical support to these ground force units.

19/09/20 Col Vinayak Bhat (Retd)/India Today

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