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China tests its Sukhois at upgraded airfields in Tibet

September 7, 2010

Pranab Dhal Samanta
Indian Express
September 3, 2010

New Delhi -- Stepping up its military activities
in Tibet, the Chinese PLA has carried out a major
exercise there with its Air Force that for the
first time saw Sukhoi-30s being pressed into
action. By operating Su-30s, the Chinese military
was also able to test recently renovated airfields and runways.

As per Indian assessment, there are now seven
airfields in Tibet from where Su-30s can operate.
Two of these have been built recently.

While the exercise took place about two months
ago, details have begun to emerge only recently
and formed part of a detailed security review
undertaken by Defence Minister A K Antony a few
days ago. The Cabinet Committee on Security was
also kept informed. The armed forces were of the
view that there was no major cause for worry as
India was also upgrading its capabilities.

 From what is known so far, this was a
division-level exercise but was also ambitious
because the PLA had moved a mechanised formation
into Tibet for this purpose. This mechanised
outfit is essentially part of the Rapid Reaction
Force which have been developed by the PLA to
cope with future "small-scale, high intensity
regional combat and military operations."

The RRF formations are usually equipped with
hi-tech equipment, their personnel receive
special training and they are considered superior to regular formations.

The RRF along with the Air Force and a regular
mountain infantry division carried out what was
called a “joint defence and counterattack
exercise in frigid high-altitude mountain areas
and a complex electromagnetic environment”.

Since the beginning of the year, the PLA’s Tibet
Military Command has been quite active, holding
smaller exercises, testing the Tibet railway for
carrying military equipment and increasing the
frequency of regular drills. While much of this
went unnoticed, sources said, what caught
attention this time was the involvement of the Air Force and Su-30 operations.

India, on its part, is watching the developments
closely. While the Armed Forces see this as an
expected response to India improving its military
infrastructure in the Eastern Sector, including
upgradation of the Tezpur airfield for Su-30
MKIs, the larger political concern remains due to
the unpredictability of Chinese intentions.
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