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SOURCE: INDIA TODAY

The Kashgar airbase in China’s Xinjiang region, barely 475 km from Karakoram Pass, has seen hectic activity recently. India Today OSINT team had earlier analysed Chinese deployment of H-6 strategic bombers at the airport.

The dual use Kashgar airport has been in the news since the beginning of the Indo-China standoff. The first two H-6 bombers observed here in June were part of a non-permanent deployment with an eye on Indian forces in Eastern Ladakh. Latest satellite images of Kashgar airport reveal that the missiles loaded on the first two H-6s were KD-63 missiles. These are air-launched land-attack cruise missiles, providing precision strike capabilities.

India Today had also reported the arrival of another six H-6 bombers at Kashgar. However, recent satellite images suggest that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has increased the strength further and made new deployments for longer duration and in more forward positions than previously known.

The new deployments come in the wake of increasing tensions and agreements to stop inducting additional troops in Western Theater Command (WTC). The OSINT team analyses latest high-resolution satellite images to understand the possible air assault strategy behind PLA activities in WTC.

A new deployment of at least four and possibly eight H-6s has been noticed at Golmud airbase in central China, which again is a dual use airbase. Latest satellite images suggest that H-6H bombers seen at Golmud airbase were not armed as of August 26.

However, both the deployments at Kashgar and Golmud are possibly from the PLAAF’s 108 Regiment under 36 Air Division located at Wugong. The Wugong deployment is known to specifically cater to emergencies that may arise keeping India in mind.

PLAAF’s latest acquisition the Y-20 strategic transporter was earlier observed parked at the western end of Kashgar runway in June. This temporary deployment, reported by India Today, was assessed to be a trial for use in extreme weather conditions, possibly testing the load-carrying capacity.

The deployment of Y-20 strategic transporters was observed for more than 15 days from August 14 to September 3 at Golmud airbase.

The different locations the Y-20 aircraft were observed on satellite images during this deployment strongly suggest that they were trialling various types of loads prepared especially for an air assault, including artillery, air defence and infantry.

Heli assault

The high-resolution satellite images show a deployment of 18 helicopters parked in a Russian-style temporary heliport. The temporary heliport prepared at the eastern end of Golmud runway also has a small helistrip created in 09/27 direction.

A special forces combined arms unit with its complete paraphernalia is seen practicing deployment in an occupied environment with proper entry system complete with vehicle barricades on the road.

The unit has a large operations room, storage, cookhouses and living tents. A large number of support vehicles are seen parked nearby. The complete facility seen on satellite imagery indicates possible quick deployment practice, prepared as per helicopter loads.

The equipment, depicting artillery and air defence systems, with possibly Special Forces or infantry units, are possibly prepared as per Y-20 strategic transporter loads. A temporary kerbside pump is prepared for fuel oil and lubricants (FOL) distribution. There are at least five pumps, suggesting it will be a fast distribution system that can be connected with any FOL depot in minutes.

All these imply that China might be practising for a possible brigade-size air assault deep inside Indian territory to capture vantage areas to facilitate PLA advance. The brigade-sized force as observed on satellite imagery indicates preparation for the occupation of land much beyond the Chinese claim line.