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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Assessing Latest PLAAF Air-Defence Activities In TAR

This year’s series of annual PLAAF exercises within that portion of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in Tibet Military District (TMD) that faces the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control (LAC), which commenced in late March 20016 and are still continuing, have witnessed significant accretions, with the most notable among them being the introduction of a solitary KJ-500 turboprop-powered airborne early warning and control (AEW & C) platform, plus the deployment of LY-80 MR-SAMs in place of the HQ-12 ADK-12 KS-1D MR-SAMs.
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-10As 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) twice every year during summertime and wintertime 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--are equipped with the HQ-64/LY-60D E-SHORADS, and HQ-12 ADK-12 KS-1D MR-SAMs. The latter were deployed at fixed launch-sites located at Lhasa Gonggar and the dual-use Shigatse Airport.
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-6 VSHORADS/MANPADS launchers, Type 73 anti-aircraft guns and 18 PG-99 ‘Giant Bow’ anti-aircraft guns.
As for airspace surveillance radars, there is one JL-3D-90A L-band 3-D airspace surveillance 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, Qamdo Bangda Airport, and at PLA SIGINT Stations north of Bum La.
The PLAAF’s Air-Defence Reporting Centre for monitoring TAR’s air-defence identification zone (ADIZ) is located at Ganba La.
In future, the PLAAF will also begin making use of dual-use airports immediately north of Arunachal Pradesh, these being Qamdo and Linzhi.
Going hand-in-hand with these developments are increasing efforts by both the PLAAF and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to undertake joint air campaigns that since 2011 have been rehearsed under the ‘Shaheen’ series of joint exercises. It may be recalled that the ‘Shaheen’ series of bi-annual exercises commenced in 2011 when, for the first time ever as part of EX Shaheen-I, a PLAAF contingent with four Su-27UBKs from the 8th Flight Academy (also known as ‘Blue Army Aggressors’) deployed to Rafiqui air base in Shorkot, Pakistan. 
This exercise, lasting for over two weeks starting March 11, saw the PAF fielding its Mirage VEFs and F-7PGs executing various various air-to-air and air-to-ground combat scenarios. The PLAAF’s 8th Flight Academy operates Su-27UBKs and Su-30MKKs that simulate enemy air force tactics during dissimilar air combat training exercises. The PLAAF possesses three such ‘Blue Army Aggressor’ squadrons (the first of which was raised in June 1987), with the other two flying J-10A M-MRCAs and J-7E light interceptors. All three squadrons operate under the PLAAF’s Canzhou-based Flight Test and Training Base in Hebei province.
The second joint air exercise—EX Shaheen-II—was conducted between September 3 and 22, 2013 at Hotan air base in the Hetian Prefecture of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. For this, the PAF flew in its F-7PGs and Mirage-IIIEPs. This was for the first time in the PLAAF’s history that a foreign air force had conducted a joint exercise inside China’s airspace. Participating PLAAF assets included J-10As of the Hotan-based 109th Brigade, JH-7As of the Urumqi-based 37th Air Division Division’s 110th Brigade, J-8Fs from the Hotan-based 109th Brigade, and Su-27SKs and Su-27UBKs from the Korla-based 111th Brigade.
The third such bilateral air exercise—EX Shaheen-III—was held at the PAF’s Rafiqui air base in the northeastern province of Punjab between May 5 and 28, 2014. The PLAAF sent four J-10A/B M-MRCAs along with a detachment of air-defence controllers and ground-support crew, while the PAF deployed up to eight of its JF-17s and Mirage-VEFs. EX Shaheen-IV was conducted at the Yinchuan air base in the Southern Command (previously part of Langzhou MR) between September 12 and October 4, 2015. During these exercises, three different types of frontline combat aircraft from each of the two air forces were fielded—this being a first. In addition, the PLAAF for the very first time deployed one of its KJ-200 turboprop-powered AEW & C platforms, while for the PAF this was the first time that it went for air exercises outside China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (which falls under the Lanzhou Military Region).
The PLAAF’s combat aircraft assets taking part in the exercises included J-11A heavy-MRCAs and Su-27UBKs belonging to the Shizuishan-based 6th Air Division’s 16th Air Regiment, J-10As from the Mengzi-based 44th Air Division’s 131st Air Regiment (based in Luliang) and a detachment of JH-7A bombers from the Urumqi-based 37th Air Division Division’s 110th Brigade. The PAF sent two JF-17 Thunder light-MRCAs, two Mirage-IIIEP tactical interdictors and two F-7PG light interceptors, which were accompanied by an IL-78MKP aerial refuelling tanker.
EX Shaheen-VI began on April 9, 2016 and lasted till April 30. During this exercise, the PAF for the first time deployed its ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle AEW & C platforms (from which the KJ-500 is derived) for airborne battle management missions. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

NORINCO-Built Medium/Main Battle Tanks Explained & How They Stack Up Against India's India's T-72CIA Medium Battle Tanks

There exists considerable confusion about the design lineage and technologies of medium and main battle tanks developed and produced over the years by NORINCO of China.  The slides below will help clear several confused narratives that have been circulating over the past two decades. Point to be noted is that so far, no one in China has been able to develop water-cooled diesel engines for armoured vehicles that generate more than 780hp. The consequent reliance on air-cooled diesel engines of Ukrainian origin makes it virtually impossible for any NORINCO-built medium/heavy battle tank to be used for high-altitude manoeuvre warfare anywhere within the area of operations of Tibet Military District, especially in eastern Ladakh and Aksai Chin.

Type 85 Medium Battle Tank
Type 90II Al Khalid Medium Battle Tank
Type 90II VT-1A Medium Battle Tank
Type-96A Medium Battle Tank
Type-99A Medium Battle Tank
Type-99B Main Battle Tank
ZTQ-105 Medium Battle Tank

India’s military posture against China in Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh is to maintain full strategic defence with minor tactical offensive capabilities. Given the politico-operational compulsions, difficult terrain, and the PLA’s track record, it is clear that the Indian Army (IA) was, until the previous decade, was doing an onerous task. For instance, Sikkim has an area of approximately 8,000sqkm, measuring 113km north to south, and 64km from east to west with heights rising up to 28,000 feet. Militarily, the state is divided into north and east Sikkim. Due to a central massif, north Sikkim is further divided into the Muguthang Valley in the west, the Kerang Plateau in the east, and north-east Sikkim. The Lachung, Lachen and Muguthang Valleys in north Sikkim prevent any lateral movement. 
Of the 14 passes along the 206km-long Sikkim-TAR border, six are all-weather, implying that these are open throughout the year. Three each of these passes are in north and east Sikkim, these being Kongra La, Bomcho La, Sese La, Nathu La (at 14,438 feet in east Sikkim), Batang La and Doka La. Unlike the passes in north-east and east Sikkim, the passes on the watershed border in north Sikkim are fairly wide and motorable. Being windswept, they remain relatively free from snow and are open throughout the year. The watershed and the adjoining Tibetan Plateau are devoid of any cover. 
The terrain in north and north-east Sikkim is more difficult, rugged and formidable, with the altitude rising suddenly and steeply (one can travel from 5,000 feet to 14,000 feet in just about 60km) than east Sikkim, where surface communications are better developed due to its proximity to the northern West  Bengal plains. India’s 435km-long border with Nepal includes a 125km border between Nepal and Sikkim, of which about 50km is most inhospitable. Consequently, the only available area with existing land and air transportation networks that can host armoured/mechanised/tactical aviation/UAV assets is northern West Bengal, from where they can be swiftly deployed  to bolster the IA’s positions opposite Bhutan’s Dolam Plateau. Any PLA move into Dolam means that India’s border with China gets distorted at Sikkim’s tri-junction with Bhutan. It also means that the PLA moves a few kilometres south from where they originally were. It brings them closer to northern West Bengal’s Siliguri Corridor. China has always laid claim to Dolam. On the east the Dolam Plateau is skirted by the Amo Chhu stream that flows north-south from the Chumbi Valley to Bhutan and then enters West Bengal at Jaldhaka where the state government has a hydel project. The tri-junction is roughly equidistant from the two Indian Army posts at Doka La (bordering Bhutan) and Batang La (bordering China). Dokala overlooks Dolam, which is at a lower altitude. The Dolam Valley is a largely-barren 20 sq km plateau that is ideal for armourted manoeuvre warfare, just like the terrain in eastern Ladakh.
In Ladakh, the IA has since mid-1999 witnessed persistent PLA transgressions-in-strength at the Depsang Bulge, Trig Heights, Spanggur Gap and Chip Chap Valley in northeastern Ladakh. During wartime, the PLA’s probable intention would be to enter from the south of the Karakoram Range and cross the Shyok River from the east. The PLA has also moved motorised forces into Charding Nalla since 2009 and they could eventually threaten the Manali-Leh route. 
China thus is estimated to want to push Indian control to the left of Shyok River in the north and left of the Indus River in the east, possibly to establish both rivers as natural boundaries. In Chushul, the aim is to reach Luking to take control of the entire Pangong Tso Lake. This three-pronged strategy would make India defenceless both in the Indus Valley and the Nubra Valley.
In mid-2009, India’s Ministry of Defence approved the IA’s plans for raising three independent armoured brigades (each inclusive of two tank regiments with T-72 Combat Improved Ajeya medium tanks and one mechanised infantry regiment with BMP-2K Sarath ICVs). While each tank regiment has since early 2014 been equipped with 58 T-72CIAs, the mechanised infantry regiments each possess 70 BMP-2Ks. Of these three new Independent Armoured Brigades, one is located in Ladakh (under the Leh-HQed XIV Corps), another in Uttarakhand and the third in Kalimpong under the XXXIII ‘Trishakti’ Corps  that is HQed in Sukna near the city of Siliguri. The Brigade in Ladakh is responsible for the protection of passes like Lanak La, Kongka La, Rezang La, Chang La and Jara La. In Uttarakhand, the Brigade is responsible for securing the passes in Mana, Niti, Kungri Bingri, Darma, and Lipulekh. In Sikkim, the third Brigade is responsible for securing the Dolam Plateau. These formations are being supplemented by a string of Advance Landing Grounds (ALG) capable of accommodating the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) C-130H-30 Super Hercules transport aircraft, newly-built Army Aviation Corps bases capable of housing LUHs and Rudra helicopter-gunships, plus a string of rear-area MALE-UAV air bases operated and owned by the IA. 
Also, new border roads/bridges and railway lines are being built not just for facilitating the movement of armoured/mechanised formations (transported mostly by wheeled transporters), but also field artillery howitzers like the soon-to-be-acquired LW-155/M-777 ultralightweight howitzers that will be used for providing indirect fire-support for 99 Mountain Brigade, which is part of the 6 Mountain Division, the formation that is in charge of protecting India’s borders in Uttarakhand with China. For securing the Shipki pass in Himachal Pradesh, an existing mechanised infantry battalion has been deployed there and will come under IX Corps, headquartered at Yol in Himachal Pradesh.
The IA’s independent armoured brigades in Ladakh, northern West Bengal and Uttarkhand will thus be supported in wartime by not just ISTR assets like MALE-UAVs (numbering more than 50), but also by at least 45 Rudra helicopter gunships armed with PGMs like the HELINA, an equal number of LUHs, and 145 LW-155/M-777 UFHs, with air-maintenance of rear-area logistics networks being provided by the IAF’s C-130H-30s, CH-47F Chinooks and Mi-17V-5s. 
For localised air-defence, both the IA and IAF have since 2011 deployed their respective stocks of manportable air-defence radars to forward locations along the Sino-Indian LAC to keep track of the PLA’s routine airspace transgressions—something that should have been done as far back as 2008. While the IAF’s DRDO-developed and Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL)-built S-band Aslesha three-dimensional radars have been deployed at Nyoma, Chushul and Fukche, the Army-specific Bharani manportable radars have been deployed at Demchok and Pangong Tso in Ladakh, as well as at two locations in Uttarakhand and Sikkim. 
The Aslesha, which weighs 250kg, uses low-probability-of-intercept frequencies to look out for terrain-hugging tactical UAVs and helicopters over mountainous terrain out to 50km. The IAF has to date ordered 21 of them, and first deliveries took place in January 2008. On the other hand, the Bharani is a two-dimensional L-band gapfiller system now in series-production for the Army. It has a range of 40km and can track up to 100 airborne targets. To date, 16 Bharanis—meant to be used in conjunction with SHORADS like the SpyDer-SR—have been delivered.
For theatre-wide deep surveillance across the LAC, the IAF already possesses EL/M-2060P pod-mounted synthetic aperture radars, as well as the first two of 11 Bombardier 5000 jets equipped with belly-mounted SAR sensors and ELINT sensors—all of which have given the IAF far superior ISTR capabilities when compared to those available to the PLAAF.

New Tank EX Avatar?
(to be concluded)