You dont have javascript enabled! Please enable it!


Since the comprehensive reforms initiated in 2015, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China has significantly shifted its focus towards preparing for modern combat in the “Information Age.” The reforms aim to integrate various services, arms, and systems into a cohesive, network-centric fighting force capable of conducting joint operations.

A critical component of this strategy is the PLA Western Theater Command (WTC), which has been proactive in securing China’s southern and southwestern borders, preparing for diverse warfighting scenarios, and acclimating its personnel to the challenging terrains of Xinjiang and Tibet.

Given India’s strategic significance as a principal operational direction for the WTC, it is imperative for India to thoroughly assess the WTC’s operational structure, training mandates, and warfighting priorities, particularly its focus on multi-domain integrated joint operations (MDIJO).

The WTC invests heavily in combat training and simulation exercises, which provide insights into both strengths and weaknesses. For instance, in August 2018, an anti-aircraft artillery unit of the Xinjiang Military District conducted a live-fire exercise in the Tian Shan mountains to enhance integrated combat capabilities. The exercise tested the interplay between Command and Control (C2) and ground-based air defense units. Despite the rigorous training, the evaluation revealed significant failures, such as many anti-aircraft positions being destroyed in a surprise attack simulation. Such assessments offer valuable information for the Indian security apparatus, highlighting potential weaknesses in the WTC’s preparedness.

The challenging terrains and complex environments of the WTC’s operational area necessitate a strong focus on aerial dominance. A comparative assessment by the Belfer Center indicates that as of 2020, the ground forces deployed by both India and China in the region are similar in numbers (over 205,000 troops each). However, Indian fighter jets outnumber Chinese ones, with a balance of 250 to 157. This aerial advantage is critical for India to maintain.

To bolster its air defense, the WTC has attached four air defense brigades to the Xinjiang and Tibet Military Districts and the 76th and 77th Group Armies. The WTC air forces also have long-range surface-to-air missile installations, enabling a robust combination of air and ground defense systems. In response, India is enhancing its own air defense capabilities by investing in indigenous Very Short-Range Air Defense Systems (VSHORADS) and Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS).

Transportation in high-altitude and rough terrains presents a significant challenge for the WTC. To address this, the WTC employs unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for last-mile delivery of food and essentials to active personnel. The induction of the Xi’an Y-20 “Kunpeng” heavy-transport aircraft, capable of flying winter gear to border troops within seven hours, further enhances logistical capabilities.

Evidence of UAV utility comes from a November 2020 drill conducted by the logistics departments of the PLA army and the Tibet Military District. During the drill, a drone delivery unit successfully transported hot food, water, medicine, and other urgent aid to personnel in the mountains, demonstrating the critical role of UAVs in overcoming transportation challenges. The PLA logistics department is preparing to expand drone delivery to include armament and ammunition supplies to active last-mile locations, underscoring the importance of agile and responsive logistics in modern warfare.

Given the WTC’s comprehensive approach to combat readiness, terrain acclimatization, and aerial and logistical capabilities, India must carefully assess these developments. Understanding the WTC’s operational structure, training practices, and strategic priorities is essential for India to develop effective countermeasures and enhance its own defense preparedness. By investing in advanced air defense systems, improving logistical support for high-altitude operations, and maintaining aerial superiority, India can ensure its strategic advantage in the region.