China is turning Tibetan airport used for Regional Connectivity, into ‘Military Base’

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Infiltration by China into the Indian territory is on the rise, especially in past 12-18 months.

China’s has constructed underground bomb-proof shelters to house fighters at Lhasa’s Gonggar airport in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), as reported by Hindustan Times.

Gonggar airport is just 1,350 kms away from the National Capital, New Delhi and this has certainly got the commanding authorities concerned, said three officials familiar with the development who asked not to be identified. As per sources, the officials, all in the security establishment, claimed the airfield earlier meant to boost “regional connectivity” is being turned into a military airbase.

One of the officials told HT that a “taxi track” from the airstrip leads to blast- or bomb-proof hangers dug deep inside the mountains nearby. The facility, according to the three officials, can hold around three squadrons of fighters or about 36 aircrafts.

“You need blast- or bomb-proof hangers for fighters only if there is a possibility of hostilities. Fighters kept in the open are vulnerable to attacks during hostilities, therefore they are kept safe inside bomb-proof shelters. When required, they are pulled out of the shelters and launched,” the second official said, explaining the need of bomb-proof shelters.

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Lhasa’s Gonggar Airport

The People’s Liberation Army (Air Force) has such facilities along its border with Russia and the underground bomb-proof facilities along the India-China border in the TAR region is a “new development,” the third official said.

The Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) bases near some of the airfields that are being augmented and expanded along with helicopter bases, are adding to New Delhi’s discomfort, the officials said. For instance, the SAM base near the Shigatse airfield situated across Sikkim has also been augmented.

New state-of-the-art helicopter bases that allow helicopters to take off and land with full payload — in aviation parlance, this is called “in-ground effect take-off and landing” — have also been noticed by the Indian security establishment. Typically, when aircrafts take off from high altitudes, they need to decrease payload to account for the rarefied air that reduces drag and lift. Such bases have come up at Shigatse and Lhasa.

The officials confirmed that the security establishment in New Delhi has been informed about the bomb-proof hangars for fighters. They said,

“It appears that China is improving its defence infrastructure. India, too, should improve its defences and have built-in redundancies to cater for any exigencies,” said Lieutenant General S L Narasimhan, member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), a body of experts that advises the Union Cabinet and the National Security Council.

The news has come in the wake of improving ties between the two neighbours, following last year’s unprecedented Doklam crisis. In fact, PM Narendra Modi travelled to China’s Wuhan to take part in an informal summit with President Xi Jinping. The two leaders at the summit agreed to improve bilateral relations.

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Lhasa Airport Expressway

Last year India and China saw a stand off on the North eastern border of Dokalam, where troops of both countries were had to keep a close eye on each other’s capabilities.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China also reportedly crossed the Line of Control (LAC) almost three and a half to four kilometers into the central sector of Barahoti, in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand in August this year.

Media reports had confirmed that Tibet plans to build three new airports to promote tourism and economic growth. The airports will be in Shannan, Xigaze and Ali, according the regional government and the Civil Aviation Administration of China. Construction of the three airports, all above the altitude of 3,900 meters, are likely to begin in 2019.

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With inputs from agencies and Hindustan Times

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