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Secret Airfields On The Chinese Border
by James Dunnigan
May 12, 2011

It was recently revealed that India has quietly built and put into service (last year) an airfield for transports in the north (Uttarakhand) near their border with China. While the airfield can also be used to bring in urgently needed supplies for local civilians during those months when snow blocks the few roads, it is mainly there for military purposes in case China invades again. Uttarakhand is near Kashmir, and a 38,000 square kilometer chunk of land that China seized after a brief war with India in 1962. This airfield, and several similar projects along the Chinese border are all about growing fears of continued Chinese claims on Indian territory.

India is alarmed at increasing strident Chinese insistence that is owns northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. This has led to an increased movement of Indian military forces to that remote area.

India has discovered that a buildup in these remote areas is easier said than done. Moreover, the Indians have discovered that they are far behind Chinese efforts. When they took a closer look, Indian staff officers found that China had improved its road network along most of their 4,000 kilometer common border. Indian military planners calculated that, as a result of this network, Chinese military units can move 400 kilometers a day on hard surfaced roads, while Indian units can only move half as fast, while suffering more vehicle damage because of the many unpaved roads. Building more roads will take years. The roads are essential to support Indian plans to build more airfields near the border, and stationing modern fighters there. Once the terrain was surveyed and calculations completed, it was found that it would take a lot more time, because of the need to build maintenance facilities, roads to move in fuel and supplies, and housing for military families.

All these border disputes have been around for centuries, but became more immediate when India and China fought a short war, up in these mountains, in 1962. The Indians lost, and are determined not to lose a rematch. But so far, the Indians have been falling farther behind China. This situation developed because India, decades ago, decided that one way to deal with a Chinese invasion was to, well, make it difficult for them to move forward. Thus for decades, the Indians built few roads on their side of the border. But that also made it more difficult for Indian forces to get into the disputed areas.

The source of the current border tensions goes back a century, and heated up when China resumed its control over Tibet in the 1950s. From the end of the Chinese empire in 1912, to 1949, Tibet had been independent. But when the communists took over China in 1949, they sought to reassert control over their "lost province" of Tibet. This began slowly, but once all of Tibet was under Chinese control in 1959, China once again had a border with India, and there was immediately a disagreement about exactly where the border should be. ThatÂ’s because, in 1914, the newly independent government of Tibet, worked out a border (the McMahon line) with the British (who controlled India.) China considers this border agreement illegal, and wants 90,000 square kilometers back. India refused, especially since thus would mean losing much of the state of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India, and some bits elsewhere in the area.

Putting more roads into places like Arunachal Pradesh (83,000 square kilometers and only a million people) and Uttarakhand (53,566 square kilometers and ten million people) will improve the economy, as well as military capabilities. This will be true of most of the border area. But all the roads won't change the fact that most of the border is mountains, the highest mountains (the Himalayas) in the world. So no matter how much you prepare for war, no one is going very far, very fast, when you have to deal with these mountains.

India is moving several infantry divisions, several squadrons of Su-30 fighters and six of the first eight squadrons of its new Akash air defense missile systems to the Chinese border. Most of these will initially go into Assam, just south of Arunachal Pradesh, until the road network is built up sufficiently to allow bases to be maintained closer to the border.

All this is another example of the old saying that amateurs (and politicians) talk tactics, while professionals talk logistics.

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