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China’s recent infrastructure developments in Tibet have raised eyebrows in India, particularly the expansion of air bases near disputed border regions. These developments, coupled with comments from a Chinese test pilot, suggest China might be testing new technologies for operating advanced aircraft at high altitudes.

State media in China quoted Li Gang, a J-20 fighter jet test pilot, highlighting ongoing improvements to the J-20’s capabilities. This coincides with reports of China’s focus on air bases near the borders with India, including Shigatse, Lhunze, and Burang. Notably, the Shigatse base is strategically located close to the Doklam plateau, a recent flashpoint between Indian and Chinese troops.

These bases hold significance beyond civilian purposes. Their proximity to disputed borders suggests a potential military role. The high altitude of the Tibetan plateau presents logistical challenges for military operations, but these bases could serve as launchpads for troop and supply deployment.

Operating aircraft at such high altitudes presents a unique challenge. Thin air reduces available thrust, limiting payload capacity. China’s focus on the J-20, a reputedly mass-produced stealth fighter, combined with Li Gang’s comments about “perfecting mission systems,” hints at potential advancements in high-altitude aircraft technology.

The J-20 boasts features like stealth, speed, maneuverability, and advanced avionics. While details remain unclear, China’s focus on this fighter and its deployment near India suggest a strategic intent to modernize its air force capabilities, particularly in high-altitude regions bordering India.