Surface Forces: Seeking Himalayan Naval Supremacy


September 2, 2021: For over a decade there has been a major naval arms race in Asia and now that competition has spread to the highest and longest lake in Asia. Pangong Lake is 134-kilometers long with most of it in China, but 45 kilometers of it extends into the Indian Ladakh region. For over a decade China has been increasing its military forces along the Tiber-Indian border and Pangong Lake. For years China had a few Type 928B river patrol boats patrol duties on its portion of the lake. As the military confrontation with India near the lake intensified, China responded by sending some of their new Type 928D Assault Boat models to transport troops rapidly to different portions of the lake. While the 928B was just for patrol and armed only with a heavy machine-gun, it had a steel hull that can still be used while the lake is icing over for a few months each year. In 2019 China increased its patrol boat force by sending an improved 928 type boat, the 928C. A year later the Type 928D Assault boat version showed up on the lake. The 928C and D models have lightweight armor.

The Type 928 boats are fast (70 kilometers an hour) and standard armament is an RWS (Remote Weapon System) using a 12.7mm machine-gun plus two or more smaller (7.62mm) machine-guns that can be mounted on pedestals elsewhere on the boat and operated by one of the ten sailors on board. On the 928D model there is also seating below deck for up to twenty troops.

India has smaller boats patrolling its portion of the 4,200-meter-high lake, except for the few months when the lake is frozen over. That began to change in 2021 when India began flying in 29 steel hulled patrol and assault boats using their C-17 air transports and heavy trucks to bring the boats to the lake. The Indian boats are smaller than the Type 928s but armed in a similar fashion. Twelve of the Indian boats are for patrol and 19 for carrying troops. Before the new patrol boats arrived the only Indian boats were smaller and had aluminum or non-metal hulls and that made them vulnerable to Chinese “accidental ramming”. This is a tactic the Chinese frequently use in contested fishing waters along their ocean coastline or more distant waters, like the South China Sea and even farther afield. The Chinese will often claim that the smaller and lighter-hulled boat being rammed was actually at fault. China has a better road and rail network close to their side of the border and can move more boats in at less cost.

China completed its first passenger/freight rail line from lowland China into Tiber in 1984. Over the next three decades that railroad was expanded further into Tibet, including near the Indian border. These extensions of the rail network are useful mainly for the military buildup. India is still trying to catch up in that category.




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