The Indian army is busy strengthening its defenses along the disputed Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh following China’s construction of a new bridge – believed to be capable of moving heavy military machinery – across the lake . The Indian Army is deploying six new assault boats, along with 12 additional patrol boats, for faster movement of troops to counter possible aggression from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The bridge is nearly complete and will soon be operational for the PLA.
In May, satellite images had revealed that the Chinese military was building a second bridge – bigger and wider than the first – across the scenic 134 km long lake, located close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The 3,400 km long LAC is the poorly demarcated and disputed border between India and China. In Ladakh, it stretches for about 1,600 km.
Satellite images suggested that the bridge under construction was prepared for faster movement not only of troops and military vehicles, but even tanks. The bridge, 10 meters wide and about 450 meters long, is being built despite concerns raised by the Indian government with China. Analysts believe the Chinese military will aim to complete the bridge before the onset of winter this year.
Pangong Tso and its surroundings are part of the region that sparked the military standoff between India and China in May 2020. A month later, a violent clash in the Galwan Valley, located only a few kilometers from the Pangong Lake, claimed the lives of at least 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of PLA soldiers. Both sides have stationed thousands of troops, artillery, tanks and other heavy weapons in the area since the clash began.
Indian military observers believe the new bridge will reduce the distance between China’s Rudok – the PLA’s main base serving its deployments in the Pangong Tso region – and Khurnak in eastern Ladakh to 40-50 km. Otherwise, the road distance between Rudok and Khurnak is more than 200 km. Military observers say the construction of the bridge indicates China’s strategic intent vis-à-vis the Pangong Tso.
Indian military planners have stressed the need to build a similar bridge across the lake, but with official approval pending, the military is scrambling to bolster its presence in the area with new equipment. Deployed craft include the native Landing Craft Assault (LCA). These can transport 35 soldiers at a time and reach any area of the lake in a short time. Built by the Aquarius shipyard in Goa, the LCAs are maintained by the Indian Army Corps of Engineers. The army plans to deploy similar boats in the Sir Creek area on the western border with Pakistan. Besides the LCA, the army is also receiving 12 new larger patrol boats for its duties on the Pangong Tso. These boats, built by Goa Shipyard Limited, can carry about 30 men.
The boomerang-shaped Pangong Tso stretches between India and China, and more than two-thirds are in China. The lake covers over 604 km² and is 6 km wide at its widest point. India has made Pangong Lake accessible to tourists over the past decade, but the ongoing military clash with China has turned this area into a tough spot. A scuffle in the lake area in 2020 left soldiers on both sides seriously injured.
At the ninth round of military commanders’ meetings last year – a total of 16 meetings have been held so far in an attempt to resolve the impasse – India and China agreed to withdraw some of their first-line troops. line and their arms from the lake region. But since then, both sides have been back to a buildup around the lake.
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