India-China Face-Off: PLA Readies High-Altitude Rocket Facility; Indian Army Sets MRO Unit At Dizzying Heights

There was a time when India hesitated to construct roads along the China border, fearing the People’s Liberation Army would use them to mount attacks on India. Fast-forward to 2024, and the Indian Army is setting up tank repair sights at dizzying heights to shorten deployment time as Beijing accelerates infrastructure close to the border.

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India-China ties have bottomed out in the past four years. This has seen both sides launch infrastructure building on their respective sides of the border. Most recently, India has constructed facilities at the frigid heights of the Himalayas to service its tanks deployed in the Ladakh sector.

This comes as news broke about China constructing a road through Shaksgam Valley that could threaten India’s position in Siachen Glacier, known as the highest battleground in the world.

The Indian Army has set up two tank repair facilities in Ladakh close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) along China. Both units are two of the highest tank repair facilities.

The two facilities are located in the north and east of Ladakh. The one in the north at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) is closer to the Shaksgam Valley, where China’s infrastructure construction has caused consternation in New Delhi.

The Shaksgam Valley, the 5180 square kilometers of Indian territory, was illegally ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963. The road is China’s attempt to link the Karakoram Highway to the Upper Shaksgam Valley, bordering Siachen Glacier. The completion of the road will mean that the Indian Army’s positions on the Siachen Glacier will have Pakistan forces in the South and the Chinese forces in the North breathing under its neck.

“To help sustain the armored vehicle operations in the region, we have set up these Medium Maintenance (Reset) Facilities at Nyoma and near KM-148 on the DS-DBO Road in the DBO sector. These are the two main areas where tank and ICV (Infantry Combat Vehicle) operations are focussed in the eastern Ladakh sector,” the Army officials told ANI.

India has stationed over 500 tanks and infantry combat vehicles in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). These armored fighting vehicles include T-90 tanks, T-72 tanks, and BMP-2 ICVs.

The T-90 is the main battle tank that India has deployed in the region. It is known for its firepower, mobility, and protection. The T-72 is another main battle tank used by the Indian Army. It provides reliable performance and has been in service for several decades.

The BMP-2 ICVs are tracked armored vehicles designed to transport infantry and provide fire support. They are equipped with a 30mm autocannon and anti-tank guided missiles.

Additionally, Indian-made Quick Reaction Fighting Vehicles (QRFVs) have been deployed in eastern Ladakh. These QRFVs enhance the Indian Army’s mobility and response time.

The armored vehicles operate in extreme environmental conditions. The mercury dips to -40 degrees Celsius, and low oxygen conditions impact the performance of tanks, such as their firing systems, hydraulics, and engines.

The repair workshops will ensure rapid maintenance of tanks at high altitudes to allow the continuation of forward deployments. Tanks are airlifted to forward areas in heavy transport carriers like C-17, C-130, and Il-76.

Recently, Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Pande visited forward areas along the LAC in Ladakh to review troops’ operational preparedness. He also visited the Medium Maintenance (Reset) Facility for Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV), established at a high-altitude area in Ladakh.

The Indian Army called it a unique maintenance facility that promotes enhanced serviceability and mission reliability of AFVs and keeps the combat fleet operationally ready even in rugged terrain and challenging weather.

The Strategic Importance Of DBO & Nyoma

The DBO has been one of the areas in Ladakh that saw a spurt in Chinese intrusions since 2013. In 2013, Chinese soldiers crossed the LAC and set up a remote camp at DBO in the Depsang Valley, 19 kilometers into the Indian territory. After 21 days of stand-off, both sides agreed to pull forces back to their earlier positions.

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DBO is strategically significant as it is close to the Siachen Glacier, the Karakoram Pass, and China’s Xinjiang-Karakoram highway. Its airstrip, at an altitude of 5064 meters (16,614 feet), is the world’s highest.

It was first activated in the 1962 war with China. It went out of use after being damaged in an earthquake in 1966. Following increased belligerence from China, DBO was reactivated in 2008 with the landing of AN-32.

The second repair site is at Nyoma, where the IAF is building a full-fledged fighter base. The black-topping of the 2.7-kilometre runway has been conducted. It is located around 46 kilometers from the LAC, with China at an altitude of about 13,700 feet. Till now, it was a dirt runway.

In 2020, as the tensions between the two countries were at their peak, the IAF deployed its Mi-17 medium lift, CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, and AH-64E Apache attack helicopters to Nyoma. This was done to support troops in forward areas and facilitate surveillance and intelligence gathering.

Once the new runway is up and running, heavier transport aircraft will also be able to operate from Nyoma, adding strategic depth to the Indian military. The IAF has been slowly, away from the spotlight, upgrading its infrastructure facilities in at least 20 air bases along China’s border.

These upgrades include the construction of new underground munition centers, hardened aircraft shelters, and taxiways, the upgrade of navigational aids, and the establishment of new radars and base defense systems.

India China clash
File: Clash between India and Chinese soldiers

China’s Construction Spree Along LAC

As reported by the EurAsian Times earlier, after suffering casualties in the Galwan Valley clash, China accelerated work on a new highway near the border with India, which will be a critical strategic change for India in the region since 1950, when China constructed its only highway, G219, in Ladakh. Earlier, the treacherous terrain in the region thwarted Beijing’s plan for infrastructure development. But not anymore.

In the Ladakh region, China has been apprehensive about the G219 (Akshai Chin) highway, which runs along the country’s entire western and southern border linking the regions of Xinjiang with Tibet; it is built on Indian land of Aksai Chin gifted to Beijing by Islamabad.

The sole highway has been vulnerable to the Indian military. And now China is close to eliminating its vulnerability by completing an alternate route known as the G216. In case of another episode like this, the Chinese troops will not solely depend on G219 now. The G216 will now help in mobilizing the biggest chunk of the Chinese forces.

“China has been investing in creating infrastructure, especially roads and railways in border areas ostensibly for the benefit of local people. However, in the absence of any sizable local population to justify such investment, it is apparent that such developments are for military purposes, General MM Naravane (retired) had told the EurAsian Times in response to a query about the realization of the second highway on the Chinese side.

Interestingly, not just India but even China is developing critical facilities in high-altitude regions. According to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), Asia’s largest high-altitude rocket test facility and China’s first vertical simulation test bench for rocket engines recently completed its ignition test. Developed by the 101st Institute of the Sixth Academy of CASC, this facility is expected to boost next-generation engines for China’s space program.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • The author can be reached at ritu.sharma (at)
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