Should a limited but high-intensity border conflict break out between China and India over the next five years, how exactly will the battles be fought? And where? The most likely answers to these two questions came from none other than Beijing’s People’s Daily Online, which on November 15 last year, while commenting on the Indian Army’s China-centric future force modernisation-cum-expansion plans due for implementation in the 12th Defence Plan, stated: “In an era when precision-guided weapons are developing rapidly, everyone with common sense knows that concentrated troops could be eliminated easily”. Translated for the layman, it means that A) the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will realise its tactical objectives on the ground by resorting to massed fire-assaults delivered by a numerically superior deployed force comprising tactical non-line-of-sight battlefield support missiles (NLOS-BSM) and long-range multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRL) capable of firing rockets equipped with sensor-fuzed munitions (SGM), and B) such rocket artillery-based weapons would be employed in tactical areas that are ideally suited for deployment of such weapons, i.e. the flat, locational deserts around eastern Ladakh and the foothills opposite Uttarakhand State. And it is exactly in these areas that, for the second year in a row, the PLA Army and the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) last year conducted Brigade-level live-fire exercises on the foot of the snowcapped mountains on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at an altitude of more than 5,000 metres. Though the exercises, dubbed as Integrated Joint Operations (IJO), were conducted under the command of the Tibet Military District, which comes under the Chengdu Military Region (MR), a few select field artillery and armoured formations belonging to the Lanzhou MR also took part in the combined arms exercises, which got underway last July and lasted till last October.
Weapon systems deployed by the PLA for the very first time in the exercises included the NORINCO-built 300mm PHL-05 MBRLs, Type 90 122mm MBRLs, PLZ-07 122mm tracked self-propelled howitzers, Type 95 PGZ-95 self-propelled air-defence artillery systems, Type 96G main battle tanks, Type 86G tracked infantry combat vehicles, Type 704 weapons locating radars, FN-6 MANPADS, and Mi-17V-5 assault helicopters capable of transporting special operations detachments. PLAAF elements deployed this time at Shigatse air base between last August and November included six Su-27SKs and Su-30MK2s and three J-10 combat aircraft. Shigatse is now being upgraded into Tibet’s first all-weather air base capable of sustaining high-intensity offensive air sorties, and is now protected by the HQ-12/KS-1A MR-SAM air defence system and a combination of FN-6 MANPADS and SmartHunter low-probability-og-intercept radars. And in another first for the PLAAF, a detachment of four J-10 MRCAs from the Chengdu Military Region began a two week-long deployment at Shigatse starting January 21, during which tactical airspace dominance exercises were conducted in coordination with the PLAAF’s ground-based airspace surveillance radar stations deployed within the Tibet Military District.
Also deployed for exercises were the PLA Army’s NLOS-BSMs, which have been stockpiled in both Xinjiang and Aksai Chin. To date, 13 tunnels dug into the mountains have been built at Xiadulla, 98km from the Karakoram mountain pass between Ladakh and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, while another similar NLOS-BSM storage facility is located at Qizil Jilga, 40km off the LAC in eastern Ladakh near the Western Tibet highway. It is believed that the NLOS-BSMs located in these areas will be employed against the Indian Air Force’s existing air bases and Advanced Landing Grounds in both Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand.
NLOS-BSMs for the PLA Army have been developed two state-owned entities: China National Precision Machinery Import & Export Corp (CPMIEC), and Aerospace Long-March International Trade Co Ltd (ALIT). The latter’s latest product is the P-20, which has been exported to Pakistan, where it known as the Hatf-9/Nasr. Capable of striking targets between 70km and 270km, the all-weather capable M-20, with a Mach 3 cruise speed, comes armed with both a 200kg unitary high-explosive (HE) blast-fragmentation warhead for engaging high-value and time-sensitive targets, as well as a sub-kiloton yield tactical nuclear warhead. Two P-20s housed inside cannisters are mounted on an 8 x 8 transporter/erector/launcher (TEL). For navigation purposes, use is made of a ring laser gyro-based inertial navigation system (RLG-INS) coupled to a GPS receiver (for receiving high-accuracy navigational updates in secure PY-code from China’s ‘Beidou’ constellation of GPS satellites), and an infra-red sensor for terminal homing that gives the missile a CEP of less than 10 metres. CPMIEC’s 2-tonne B-611M missile is designed to attack supply lines, warehouses, ballistic/cruise missile launch sites, SAM batteries, command-and-control centres, air bases, road/railway transportation hubs, and area targets in urban surroundings. Armed with a 480kg HE warhead, the B-611M has 280km range. Up to two cannister-mounted B-611Ms can be carried by a wheeled TEL. Another NLOS-BSM from CPMIEC is the P-12, which made its public debut in November 2006. Up to two P-12s are carried in an enclosed compartment mounted on a 6 x 6 TEL. The P-12 has a range of 150km, and it comes armed with either a 300kg HE blast fragmentation warhead, or a cluster warhead containing 19 anti-armour sub-munitions. Both the B-611M and P-12 have a CEP of about 2 metres when using a RLG-INS coupled to a GPS receiver, plus an optronic sensor for terminal homing. CPMIEC’s latest NLOS-BSM offering is the vertically-launched joint attack rocket & missile (JARM) system, which can fire both the 280km-range BP-12A and the 200km-range SY-400 from a common launch platform. The JARM, which made its public debut in November 2010, makes use of combined GPS-RLG-INS navigation systems to achieve a CEP of 3 metres A typical JARM Battery comprises ten 8 x 8 TELs housing either 80 SY-400s or 20 BP-12As, or a combination of both.
These NLOS-BSMs and MBRL rockets armed with SFMs are all equipped with micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) developed by China’s Kotel Micro Technique Co Ltd. The set of components manufactured include up to three SAK01-03 acceleration switches that interactively operate with one another and provide pressure and acceleration data that are then fed into the flight-guidance system, FKZD-01 vibration sensor, and the INS-M100 MEMS, operating at an RS422 bit-rate, measuring only 120mm x 120mm x 120mm, and using GPS data for its targetting system. This same company also supplies optronic terminal guidance sensors for the Fei Teng (FT)-1 and FT-3 precision-guided bombs developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), and for the Leishi (LS)-6 extended-range glide bomb and the (Leiting) LT-2 laser-guided bomb developed by the Luoyang Optical-Electronic Technology Development Centre (LOEC). In addition to such components, China’s NLOS-BSMs also reportedly make use of MEMS-based guidance equipment supplied by Norwegian electronics manufacturer, Sensonor. One such piece of hardware, the STIM202 Butterfly gyro, is a 55-gram miniature module that replaces previous-generation fibre-optic, ring-laser and mechanical gyros. The STIM202 is based on single-crystal silicon technology, can be configured in one-, two- or three-axis capability, and offers 24-bit resolution plus an RS422 bit-rate. The STIM202 is so small and light that the designers of a missile system can use two of the modules to provide the weapon’s on-board guidance module with back-up redundancy, which was never a possibility with previous-generation guidance components.
In addition to deploying NLOS-BSMs and MBRLs in greater numbers, the PLA Army is also increasing the deployed strength of its main battle tanks (MBT) and infantry combat vehicles (ICV) that are attached to select formations within the PLA’s Chengdu and Lanzhou Military Regions (MR). In early March last year, the 1st Tank Battalion of the 348th Mechanised Infantry Regiment of the 37th Motor Infantry Division of the 13th Group Army in Chengdu commissioned the Type 96G MBT into its ORBAT, marking it the third Type 96G MBT-equipped unit in the western mountainous region opposite northeastern India. The first two units are the 149th Mechanised Infantry Division and the 52nd Mountain Brigade, all presently based in southeastern Tibet. Earlier, on March 17, 2010 the PLA had for the first time in its history deployed MBTs in the Tibet (Xizang) Military District, these too being Type 96G MBTs, accompanied by Type 86G ICVs (improved Turret), which are with the 12th Armoured Division of the 21st Group Army under the Lanzhou MR. The Type 96G MBT, built by NORINCO’s First Inner Mongolia Machinery Factory, weighs 42.8 tonnes, has a three-man crew complement, is armed with 125mm smoothbore cannon, comes powered by a 1,000hp diesel engine, has a power-to-weight ratio of 21hp/tonne, and has a range of 600km. The Type 86G ICV with a 30mm 2A72 automatic cannon has a three-man crew, is amphibious, is powered by a 6V150 4-stroke water-cooled diesel engine with a standard power of 292hp, carries 40 rounds (20 HEAT and 20 HE) in the turret, and has an infra-red searchlight, periscopes, and sights for night operations. A rail launcher for the NORINCO-built 3.6km-range HJ-73 wire-guided ATGM is located above the gun.
The Chengdu MR comprises the Chongqing-based 13 Group Army (GA), Kunming-based 14 GA, and the Tibet Military District. 13 GA comprises 2 Army Aviation Regiment in Chengdu (flying Mi-171s, Mi-17V-5s, S-70C-2 Black Hawks, & Z-9Was), 37 Motorised Infantry Division, 149 Highland Mechanised Infantry Division at Emei in Sichuan, one Artillery Brigade, one Armoured Brigade, one AAA Brigade, one Special Operations Group (‘Falcons of Southwest’), a Combat Engineering Regiment, a Signals Regiment, and one EW Regiment. 14 GA comprises 40 Motorised Infantry Division and its 18 Artillery Regiment, 31 Mechanised Infantry Division and its 4 Artillery Brigade, one Armoured Brigade, one NBC Defence Regiment, and the People’s Armed Police’s 38 & 41 Division. The Tibet Military District commands formations like the 52 Mountain Brigade, 53 Mountain Brigade, 54 Mountain Brigade, a Signals Regiment, plus the 9 Border Defence Regiment, 10 Border Defence Regiment, 11 Border Defence Regiment and 12 Border Defence Regiment, all spread over the Military Sub-Districts of Shannan, Shigatse and Nyingchi. The Yunnan Military District commands and controls the 9, 10, 11 and 12 Border Defence Regiments. PLAAF elements falling under the Chengdu MR include the Chongqing-based 33 Fighter Division (95661 Unit) with its 97, 98 (Su-27SKs & UBKs at Chongqing-Baishiyi AB) and 99 Air Regiments; Mengzi-based 44 Fighter Division with its 130, 131 (based in Luliang with J-10) & 132 Air Regiments, and the Lhasa Command Post (39177 Unit).
The Lanzhou MR comprises two Group Armies (Baoji-based 21 GA and Lintong-based 47 GA), plus two People’s Armed Police (PAP) formations--7 Division and 63 Division—deployed throughout Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu and Shaanxi, and lastly, formations of the Xinjiang Military District. 21 GA comprises the 61 Infantry Division, 12 Armoured Division (84701 Unit at Jiuquan in Gansu), 19 Artillery Brigade, an AAA Brigade, one Special Operations Group (‘Tigers of the Night), a Signals Regiment, an EW Regiment, a Combat Engineering Regiment, and a NBC Defence Regiment. 47 GA comprises the 55 Mountain Infantry Brigade, 56 Mountain Infantry Brigade, 139 Mechanised Infantry Brigade, one Armoured Brigade, one Artillery Brigade, one AAA Brigade, one Signals Regiment, and a Combat Engineering Regiment. The Xinjiang Military District controls formations like 4 Highland Motorised Infantry Division (and its 52 & 53 Mountain Infantry Brigades), 6 Highland Mechanised Infantry Division, 8 Infantry Division, 11 Highland Motorised Infantry Division in the trans-Karakoram Tract, 1 Independent Regiment, 2 Independent Regiment, 2 Artillery Brigade, one AAA Brigade, 3 Helicopter Regiment, and 9 Engineer Regiment. PLAAF elements falling under the Lanzhou MR include the Yinchuan AB-based 6 Fighter Division with 16 (Su-27SKs and Su-27UBKs), 17, 18 & 139 Air Regiments; Wulumuqi AB-based 37 Fighter Division comprising 109 (J-8Fs at Changji), 110 (Urumqi South) & 111 (with J-11s at Korla-Xinhiang) Air Regiments; and Wugong AB-based 36 Bomber Division with its 106, 107 (Lintong) and 108 (Wugong) Air Regiments, and the 93942 AAA Missile Brigade.—Prasun K. Sengupta