Force Magazine

The Invisible Power

China’s PLA has amply equipped itself with latest weapons for any offensive air-mobile campaigns

Prasun K. Sengupta

This year’s series of annual People’s Liberation Army (PLA) exercises within the portion of the Western Theatre Command that includes the Tibet Military District (TMD) and Xinjiang Military District (XMD) — facing the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control (LAC) — which commenced in late March 20016 and are still continuing, have witnessed significant accretions. The most notable among them being the introduction of a solitary KJ-500 turboprop-powered airborne early warning and control (AEW & C) platform of the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), plus the deployment of LY-80 MR-SAMs in place of the HQ-12 ADK-12 KS-1D MR-SAMs, and lastly, the air-dropping of a Regiment of ZBD-03 airborne infantry combat vehicles (ICV) along with ‘Pathfinder’ elements drawn from the PLAAF’s XV Airborne Corps at two distinct locations: at the base of the Kunlun mountain range under XMD’s jurisdiction, and at a firing range southeast of Lhasa but north of the Yarlong Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) River.

This year’s exercises have also revealed unmistakable signs of the PLA’s Western Theatre Command’s efforts to develop two staging areas for offensive air-mobile campaigns: one in Qionglai air base in western Sichuan that will become the fourth permanent base for the PLAAF’s XV Airborne Corps; and Feng Huang Shan helicopter base to Army Aviation Brigades equipped with Z-19WZ ‘Black Cyclone’ tandem-seat light attack helicopters (LAH), plus Mi-17V-5 and Z-8K utility helicopters for ferrying the PLA Army’s Battalion-sized light mechanised infantry regiments (LMIR, or kuaisu fanyin budui, also known as Resolving Emergency Mobile Combat Forces, or REMCF) whose principal role will be to seize and hold the string of advanced landing grounds (ALG) and gapfiller air-defence radar stations belonging to the Indian Air Force (IAF) in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.

Airpower Developments
It may be recalled that the PLAAF has since 2010 been deploying Su-27SK/Su-27UBK/J-11A heavy-MRCAs belonging to the Shizuishan-based 6th Air Division’s 16th Air Regiment, and J-10A MMRCAs from the Mengzi-based 44th Air Division’s 131st Air Regiment (based in Luliang) out to the dual-use airports at Lhasa Gonggar (facing Sikkim and northern West Bengal) and Ngari (facing Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir, plus Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand) twice every year during summer and winter for two-week-long deployment periods. These used to be accompanied by corresponding deployments of the HQ-12 ADK-12 KS-1D MR-SAMs of the PLAAF’s Chengdu-based 11th Anti-Air Artillery Brigade (Unit 95607), which has three Regiments — 21st, 22nd and 23rd — equipped with the HQ-64/LY-60D E-SHORADS, and HQ-12 ADK-12 KS-1D MR-SAMs. The latter were routinely deployed at fixed launch-sites located at Lhasa Gonggar and the dual-use Shigatse Airport until now.

Since late 2012, the 651st Independent Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade, based at Nyingchi, began taking over from the HQ-12 ADK-12 KS-1Ds of the 11th Anti-Air Artillery Brigade’s 22nd Regiment. The 651st comprises a regiment of LY-80 70km-range MR-SAMs (containing 16 TELs each loaded with six MR-SAM vertical launch-cells), a Regiment of 18 tracked PGZ-04As (each armed with four FN-6 VSHORADS launchers missiles and four 25mm cannons), a Regiment of FM-90 SHORADS, and a composite battalion that has 108 FN-6 VSHORADS/MANPADS launchers, 24 Type 73 towed 37mm anti-aircraft guns and 18 towed twin 35mm PG-99 ‘Giant Bow’ anti-aircraft guns. Also included are LIMAN ground-based jammers, JY-27A VHF-band anti-PGM volume-search radars as part of the LY-80 MR-SAM regiment, YLC-18 S-band 3-D acquisition radars for the FM-90s (now replacing the older LSS-1/Type 120 L-band 2-D low-altitude acquisition radars), YLC-6 S-band 2-D low-level air-defence radars for the FN-6s, Type 73s and PG-99s. For airspace surveillance, there is one JL-3D-90A S-band 3-D radar operated by the PLAAF at the Ganba La radar station southwest of Lhasa, plus another one north of Shigatse Airport. These are joined by three Army-operated YLC-2V 3-D S-band acquisition radars located around Ngari Airport and Qamdo Bangda Airport, and these are supported by SIGINT stations located in an arc stretching from the Depsang Bulge in Ladakh all the way up to Walong in Arunachal Pradesh. The PLAAF’s Air-Defence Reporting Centre for monitoring the TMD’s air-defence identification zone (ADIZ) is located at Ganba La. A new radar station was commissioned in June 2016 in the western Sichuan plateau at an altitude of 3,996 metres.

Air-droppable mechanised and artillery systems of the PLA
Air-droppable mechanised and artillery systems of the PLA

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