As India and China negotiate a complex disengagement process to pull back their troops and weapons from friction points in eastern Ladakh, the air forces of both countries remain to be deployed in the theatre just as they were when the border row was at its peak last year, people familiar with the developments said on Tuesday.
“There has been no change in the posture or the deployment of the Indian Air Force in the Ladakh sector. Nor have we noticed any change in the deployment of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF),” said one of the officials cited above.
India and China have held 10 rounds of military talks so far to resolve border tensions that began last May. The 10th round of talks between corps commander-ranked officers of the two armies took place on February 20 after the completion of disengagement on strategic heights on both banks of Pangong Tso.
As India and China prepare for those, little is likely to change for the air force deployments, said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retd), director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
“IAF’s air defence assets, unmanned aerial vehicles, transport and helicopter fleets will continue to be on station in Ladakh. Our fighter airbases within 350 km of eastern Ladakh will remain on standby. Same will be true for China. The situation will change only after some political settlement is reached,” said Chopra. Apart from deploying fighter jets at bases in the Ladakh-Tibet theatre, PLAAF has also positioned a large number of radars and missiles in the sector, a second official said.
IAF has projected its capability to carry out day-and-night, all-weather combat missions in the Ladakh sector, with front-line fighter jets, attack helicopters and multi-mission choppers deployed there. It also deployed its new Rafale fighter jets in sector as part of India’s overarching plan to strengthen its military posture in the region.
The air force’s MiG-29 fighter jets, Sukhoi-30s, Apache AH-64E attack helicopters and CH-47F (I) Chinook multi-mission helicopters are among the platforms that have operated in the Ladakh sector.
At a marathon 16-hour meeting between senior commanders on February 20, the Indian and Chinese armies agreed to resolve outstanding issues at friction points on the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) in a “steady and orderly” manner. They were also unanimous that the Pangong Tso disengagement provided “a good basis” for resolving pending problems and decided to take forward the military dialogue to stabilise the ground situation in eastern Ladakh.