China expands airbase near high-altitude border amid standoff with India: Report

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China is expanding its high-altitude airbase near Ladakh, the site of some recent border skirmishes with India, India’s NDTV reported on Tuesday.

“Satellite images show massive construction activity at a high-altitude Chinese air base, located just 200 kilometers away from the Pangong Lake, the site of the skirmish between forces of India and China on May 5 and May 6,” the report said.

Several Indian and Chinese soldiers were injured in clash involving fistfights and stone-throwing at a remote but strategically important mountain pass near Tibet, the Indian Army said.

Read more: China-India border situation ‘stable and controllable now’: China FM spox

“Aggressive behavior by the two sides resulted in minor injuries to troops. It was stone-throwing and arguments that ended in a fistfight,” Indian Army Eastern Command spokesman Mandeep Hooda told AFP.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday that China would step up its preparedness for armed combat and improve its ability to carry out military tasks as the coronavirus pandemic is having a profound impact on national security, Reuters reported citing state television.

China's performance in fighting the new coronavirus has shown the success of military reform, Xi was quoted as saying, adding that the armed forces should explore new ways of training amid the pandemic.

 An Indian laborer carries a sandbag for a construction at the India-China trade route at Nathu-La on January 17, 2009. (Reuters)
An Indian laborer carries a sandbag for a construction at the India-China trade route at Nathu-La on January 17, 2009. (Reuters)

Two images dated April 6 and May 21, 2020 sourced by NDTV from the open source intelligence expert detresfa, show some of the ongoing construction activities at Ngari Gunsa airport in Tibet.

Located at 14,022 feet, Ngari Gunsa is a dual-use military and civil airport serving the town of Shiquanhe in the Ngari prefecture.

“[The images] show massive construction activity including the addition of what appears to be a second taxi-track or a secondary tarmac to position helicopters or combat aircraft,” the report said.

In addition, a third image shows a close-up of the main tarmac at the airport with a line-up of four fighter jets of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force.

“The useful endurance of Chinese J-11 or J-16 fighters deployed at such altitudes will not be more than an hour,” Squadron Leader Sameer Joshi (retired), a former IAF fighter pilot and Kargil war veteran, told NDTV. “The useful endurance of Indian Air Force fighters which deploy from multiple air bases in the plains could be more than three to four hours if air to air refueling tankers are used.”

There have been long-running border tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors, with a bitter war fought over India's northeastern-most state of Arunachal Pradesh in 1962.

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