China and India caught in a winter embrace in Karakoram

Both sides rotate troops frequently in order to endure punishing winter conditions

Things are heating up as winter approaches on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), in eastern Ladakh, according to media reports.

Amid the ongoing border tensions between India and China in the Karakoram region, state media outlet The Global Times reported that The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had conducted live-fire drills at high altitudes.

The report said the Chinese army had conducted training with equipment specifically designed for high-altitude operations. The PLA reportedly conducted “precision strike drills” in the Karakoram mountains.

Earlier reports claimed China had moved its deadly H-6K bomber along India’s border in a provocative action. The bomber was reportedly posted at Kashgar near Xinjiang which belongs to PLA’s Western Theatre Command.

Troops rotated

According to ThePrint, both nations have fully rotated their positions with fresh troops, as they beef up strong points for the grueling winter.

In this continuing game of international one-upmanship, sources said the PLA has carried out a full rotation, which means new troops were brought in rather than just a regular transfer of troops.

A usual rotation means soldiers posted at the front are moved back, and those in the second tier are deployed forward. The troops in reserve are sent in as second-tier protection. The cycle keeps repeating.

Sources said the Chinese have been rotating troops in a much shorter time-frame than the Indian Army, but refused to divulge information on when the latest rotation took place, ThePrint reported.

Moreover, almost all the soldiers deployed by the PLA at the forward points along the LAC for the winter are in their early 20s, a move seeking to ensure that they can take on the harshness of the climate, the sources said.

The current rotation of troops (new battalions) happened with all communication systems switched off to minimize the chances of tracking, added the sources. The PLA also laid huge emphasis on setting up medical infrastructure to ensure that the troops are taken care of as winter in eastern Ladakh can be punishing.

Last winter saw the PLA troops remain deployed in forward positions along the LAC in eastern Ladakh for the first time, ThePrint reported.

The Indian Army and the Air Force have also ensured huge logistics support for the nearly 30,000 troops that remain deployed in eastern Ladakh.

Stronger support

Sources said all specialized shelters that were made last year for the winter deployment have been beefed up, and logistics have been taken care of.

The logistics include rations, specialized fuel, and ammunition and other support systems.

As reported by ThePrint, it is not only the Army that is deployed at forward locations. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has its personnel deployed at multiple locations along the LAC for operating surveillance radars and air defense systems.

Indian and Chinese troops were involved in a clash at Galwan Valley in June last year in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed including four Chinese troops, however, reports claimed the casualties on the Chinese side were much higher, reported.

A US Department of Defense (DOD) report had said despite the pandemic and border clashes with India, the “PLA accelerated its training and fielding of equipment from the already fast pace of recent years.”

China’s Western Theater Command which oversees India “is geographically the largest theater command,” the DOD report said.

Army chief General MM Naravane had insisted that there can be “no de-escalation without complete disengagement” even as the Indian forces were handling China in a “firm” and “non-escalatory” manner, reported. 

New weapons

Among the new weapons possibly being tested at high altitudes:

  • An eight-wheeled armored vehicles which comes in different variations — some equipped with large caliber rifled guns, some with auto cannons, some with machine guns and some with howitzer systems.
  • A new-type of four-wheeled self-propelled howitzer, which was previously tested deep in the Karakorum Mountains at an altitude of 4,500 meters.
  • And a batch of new self-propelled heavy rocket launchers, which are highly mobile, fast-reacting, highly accurate, very deadly and jamming-resistant.

China has also developed new cold-resistant clothing and equipment for PLA high-altitude plateau operations.

Ten types of new clothing and equipment, developed by the Central Military Commission (CMC) Logistics Support Department, are being delivered to the border defense frontline, the PLA Daily reported.

Containing high technologies, these warm, lightweight clothing and equipment are tailored by military and civilian experts and renowned companies, and will provide strong logistical support for officers and soldiers who train and conduct missions in harsh environments, the report said.

Sources: ThePrint,, US Department of Defense, The Global Times, PLA Daily