Friday, December 08, 2017

BrahMos test-fired from Sukhoi: India’s emerging tactical cruise missile triad sparks Chinese apprehensions

This article was previously published on the Indian news website Firstpost.com.

A Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft of the Indian Air Force successfully test-launched the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile's air-launched version on Wednesday. The missile was tested over the Balasore test-firing range against a sea-based target in the Bay of Bengal. With this test, India has commenced the drive to complete its tactical triad of the sea, air and ground-launched cruise missiles. The air-launched BrahMos will be tested for another year in a series of tests and inducted in the year 2019.

Sukhoi-30MKI launching Brahmos missile (New Indian Express)
After Nirbhay subsonic cruise missile's launch this month, this test was the second successful test-launch. The importance of these successful tests in terms of the range, speed and impact of India's deterrence is enormous. In the last few decades, a stand-off precision-strike weapon has become crucial to warfighting.

Globally, the number, detection range and capability of air-search radars and fire-control radars of surface-to-air missiles have grown exponentially. The air-defence cover of major powers has become too dense to pierce, even for stealth fighters. In addition, airborne warning and control assets, over the horizon radars (OTHR) and satellite-based monitoring have brought a decisive shift in the air warfare methods. Accordingly, stand-off weapons, unmanned combat vehicles and lasers are emerging as crucial weapons of the future.

With a 1200-1500 kilometre combat range of Sukhoi-30MKI aircraft, the BrahMos can hit any target within the range of 1500-1800 kilometres around India. In addition, BrahMos' range is being extended to 600-900 kilometres, after India joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in 2016. A BrahMos-ER (extended range) was finally tested in March 2017 to a range of over 400 kilometres and the 900 km one is due for testing by 2019. Moreover, the hypersonic BrahMos-2 is another version under development.

Brahmos Misile

As a result of these developments, Indian capability for stand-off precision war is substantially expanding. BrahMos and Nirbhay may emerge as India's carrier-killer missiles in the naval domain.

A couple of squadrons of BrahMos-equipped Sukhoi-30MKIs, deployed each in the Andaman and Nicobar Command and the Indian west coast, will help to ensure a peaceful Indian Ocean. In addition, the threat of saturation strikes of these air-launched cruise missiles will neutralise naval ambitions of any Indian adversary in the region.

Regionally, BrahMos has an important place in the Chinese discourse over India's missile capabilities. Chinese media has been regularly highlighting its supersonic performance characteristics, penetration ability, anti-interference features and resistance to anti-missile interception capability.

It is also argued in China that if BrahMos is equipped with nuclear warheads then India's capability for air-launch of nuclear weapons will increase considerably. A United States report, which argued that a total of 64 BrahMos missiles could destroy a carrier battle group, has experienced frequent mention in the Chinese discourse.

Therefore, Chinese defence experts recommend that China counter India's tactical missile capability augmentation in three ways. First, they argue that core components and intellectual property rights of this missile are still in Russian hands. Moreover, most of cutting edge weapon platforms of Indian Armed Forces have some Russian role.

Therefore, if China increases its proximity with Russia, with strong linkages, it can prevent or restrict Indian access to Russia's cutting-edge weapons. If the Russian bear gets a large jar of Chinese honey and assurances of future refills, the Russian option can be minimised.

Second, even though India can extend the range of the BrahMos missile to 600-900 kilometres, a crucial component to ensure a successful hit is the long-range precision-guidance capability. Chinese experts argue that Indian capabilities in airborne-early detection and warning systems, mid-course guidance systems and long-range radar coverage are limited. The satellite-based guidance system also suffers from faulty atomic clocks and a limited number of satellites. Hence, as long as these capabilities do not improve, the threat of this missile will remain local.

CJ-10 LACM (Airpower Australia)
Third, in terms of ground war, most of the Indian airbases are close to the India-Tibetan border. Therefore, China will be able to damage Indian air capability far more than India can with its limited range BrahMos. Indian BrahMos attack will certainly invite a Chinese response with CJ-10 long-range cruise missile which can even reach Delhi. Additionally, the mountainous terrain and dense coverage of HQ-9, HQ16A and other close-range air defence missiles will help neutralise the BrahMos threat for China.

In the naval domain, China believes that any combat will be a system based operation. Therefore, a combination of YJ-12 anti-ship supersonic cruise missile (KH-31 missile's Chinese version), HQ-9, HHQ-16, FL-3000 and CIWS guns will be used for China's fleet defence. Moreover, the advantage in detection capability and the defensive radius of the Chinese Navy will be crucial. Another strategy would be to either detect its heat signature or strive to destroy the launcher before the missile is launched.

Even a cursory study of the reports in the neighbourhood over the BrahMos missile reflects the unease, apprehension and a grudging acceptance of India's advantage in a no-contact war. An extended-range, air-launched BrahMos with a capability to hit any target to nearly 2,000 kilometres would usher in a paradigmatic shift in the India-Pacific's security architecture.

However, India would need to increase the number of delivery platforms, as only 36 or 50 modified Sukhois will not be enough. The enhancement of long-range guidance capability is another major area that needs attention. The continued augmentation of tactical cruise missile triad makes India's adversaries uncomfortable. India should do it more.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Xi Jinping's demand of loyalty from PLA betrays Communist Party of China's insecurity over its dominance

This article was previously published on the Indian news website Firstpost.com.

On 26 October, 2017, Chinese president Xi Jinping declared in a military gathering that the Chinese military will be a 'world class force' by year 2050. He further affirmed that in the last five years, the Central Military Commission (CMC) has strived to build an army that upholds the Communist Party of China's (CPC's) absolute leadership over the People's Liberation Army (PLA). He added that by the year 2020, the mechanisation of PLA would be achieved and by 2035, the modernisation of armed forces and national defences would be in place.


Xi Jinping meets PLA Officers 2017 (China Daily)

This modernised force would consistently innovate military strategy, promote civil-military integration and be governed by military laws. To achieve these targets, Xi reaffirmed that senior PLA officers must be loyal and obedient to the CPC, be smart at combat, strict in discipline and efficient in their command. They must improve their political education, combat training and push forward towards excellence with high spirits and diligence.

Most of these points in Xi's speech were reiterations of Political Work Report presented in the 19th Party Congress on 18 October. Nevertheless, his demand of loyalty and obedience from the PLA's senior staff stands out. In the last five years, almost every CPC leader of substance has appealed to the PLA to ensure that the party maintains its absolute control over the military.
Xi Jinping delivers the report to 19th PCC - 2017 (China Daily) 


Sun Zhengcai (Diplomat)
This frequent assertion betrays an insecure feeling of the party about its dominance over the PLA. Moreover, the president of a country demanding his senior military officers to be loyal and obedient is a unique feature of authoritarian states. No one expects the Prime Minister of India or President of the US to seek loyalty and obedience of their military officers frequently. It indicates that the Chinese political leadership is facing a legitimacy crisis, especially after Xi used every stratagem possible to sideline his political and party rivals in a 'winner-take-all' power struggle leading to the 19th Party Congress.

Hu Chunhua (Business Insider)
He has consistently sidelined the China Youth League (CYL), one of the two major factions in the party and staffed the Standing Committee, Politburo, Central Committee and the CMC with his protégés and supporters. A sizeable chunk of these appointments have gone to the princeling faction. In addition, he has purged or demoted his prominent rivals, such as Sun Zhengcai and Hu Chunhua, while increasing his own status to the 'core leader', equal to Mao Zedong and that makes him considerably insecure. Consequently, the absolute loyalty of senior PLA officers is crucial to his political survival.


Additionally, Xi's timeline for PLA's coming out as a world class military needs a detailed examination. How capable is the PLA? Is it only good for national defence and peripheral conflicts or can it even conduct long-range power-projection operations successfully? In the last four decades, the PLA has achieved substantial modernisation of its capabilities. China has augmented significant capabilities in ballistic and cruise missiles, cyber warfare, small arms, ground-based long-range air-defence radars, electronic warfare and drones.

The mechanisation of ground forces has been yet another successful program. It began in 1980s, when Chinese troops had experienced terrible lack of mobility and logistical support during the Vietnam War. Soldiers had climbed above tanks and tied themselves with ropes for stability to reach the battlefield. When the Vietnamese guerrillas ambushed Chinese convoys, they killed a large number of these tank-tied defenceless soldiers. Consequently, the mechanisation became the rallying point in China and led to inductions of multiple new generations of APCs and beginning 1989, Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV).

China's civilian automobile industry, in collaboration with major global automobile manufacturers, further provided a boost to this mechanisation process. Chinese companies exported earlier generations of APC, IFV, tank and artillery guns to friendly countries and the lessons learnt from their use were incorporated in subsequent production. Accordingly, the latest Type-04A (ZBD-04A) IFVs are much improved in protection, firepower, mobility and networking. Similarly, China has been successful in developing better quality tanks, wheeled IFVs and self-propelled and rocket artillery. At the tactical and logistical level, multiple variants of fast mobility vehicles, all-terrain and light utility vehicles have become part of the PLA's mobility enhancement drive. Xi is expecting to complete this process by 2035, which seems attainable.

Type ZBD-04A Infantry Fighting Vehicle (Army recognition)

Further, Xi's appeal for modernisation of armed forces and the national defence refers to four modernisations in the PLA – of the military strategy, weapons and equipment, staff quality and organisational management. To achieve these, Xi demobilised 300,000 soldiers in 2015 and embarked upon the single largest reorganisation of the PLA's higher command structure, in the last four decades.

He eliminated four general departments of joint staff, logistics, political work and armaments and created 15 units under the direct control of the CMC for better accountability, efficiency and control. His avowed objective is to implement the joint warfare doctrine and prepare the PLA to conduct joint operations successfully in the digital age. He would also prefer that the PLA develops enhanced capabilities to conduct long-range power-projection operations successfully.

However, both capabilities to conduct joint and distant operations remain far from China's reach. Although China has inducted various types of latest military platforms and equipment, there are serious gaps hindering its transformation. It has achieved decent technological capabilities through its time-tested strategy of import-assimilate-re-innovate. Here, the PLA imports fully developed platforms and then its assimilation and incremental upgrade takes the Chinese industry to the next level. However, in the cutting edge military technology sectors, the science has been developing in gallops, leaving Chinese research and development sector behind.

Certainly, China has inducted multiple capable weapon platforms in its inventory. The PLA Air Force has continuously upgraded its fighter inventory with fourth generation fighter aircraft such as Russian Sukhoi-27 fighter along with its local variants, the J-10 fighter and is now inducting the J-20 stealth fighter.
J7 

The PLA's attack and transport helicopter inventory has experienced similar rapid growth with additions of Z-10, Z-11 and Z-19 attack helicopters. In addition, the PLA has imported copious numbers of Mi-17 transport helicopters from Russia, AS-365, AS-350 and EC-120 helicopters from France and even locally produced improved versions of the Z-8 (Aerospatiale Super Frelon) helicopter with better engines and avionics.


J8 Aircraft

Nevertheless, as per the latest military balance figures, the Chinese inventory of nearly 1870 fighter aircraft contains over 1075 antiquated ones, which will need replacement in a decade or two. China will have to induct a sizeable number of latest 4th and 5th generation aircraft to fill the vacuum after these vintage fighters are gone. The technological capability, production or import timeline and financial resources will be the two main features shaping China's future fighter aircraft inventory.
A5/Q5 Fantan Attack aircraft

In addition, China's lack of capabilities in propulsion and sensor technologies is critical. The PLA has been developing its indigenous WS-10 jet engine and its variants. However, these engines have low mean time between failures (MTBF) and are therefore, not economical to be deployed at a large scale. 


JH7A Attack aircraft
In addition, China has launched a mission-mode project to develop a jet engine similar in the capability to the Russia imported 135 kN AL-31 FN engine which propel most of its 4th generation fighters. In comparison, the global engine manufacturers are developing higher thrust engines in the 180-190 kN ra
nge and even the adaptive engines are in the pipeline. Therefore, the gap between the Chinese and the global engine technology would remain in place, hampering the growth of the entire fighter aircraft sector in China.

In addition, the academic dishonesty is rampant in China. This year itself, hundreds of Chinese scientists retracted their published research papers from international journals after other researchers were unable to replicate their findings. This betrays an impression of academic fund waste, fraud and doubt over Chinese claims in the cutting-edge research programs.

An example of this gap between claims and capabilities exists in China's sensor and radar technologies. Despite China's tall claims of developing Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars, none of them has so far been deployed on any Chinese aircraft and the PLA Air Force and the Navy fighters are managing with Passive Electronically Scanned Array (PESA) radars.

Y-20 (Reuters)
Finally, the PLA Air Force is facing an acute shortage of force multiplier aircraft. Its air-refuelling capability, airborne early-warning and control capability remain work in progress and the inventory of heavy-lift military transport aircraft is grossly inadequate for its air-transport requirements. This situation may improve with the induction of the Y-20 transport aircraft however its capabilities and technologies are unknown and unproven in the rigour of battle. Its use of Russian engines is a further shortcoming.


In the naval domain, China considers the Command of the Oceans as crucial for China's comprehensive national strength. The rise and fall of the Chinese state is deemed to be critically dependent upon it, especially in the nearby seas. Accordingly, China aims to holistically develop maritime supremacy, step wise, in the next few years.

First, China wants to improve its people's low marine awareness and focus the national attention in the maritime direction. Second, Beijing needs to develop strength in all marine industrial sectors, including the merchant shipping. Third, China aims to build a strong naval fleet with focuses on high-sea protection and long-range power projection. Thus, China aims to build an informationised navy to conduct 'intelligent local wars on the seas'. As Chinese national interests are expanding globally due to its expansion in trade and Belt and Road Initiative, the capability to conduct far seas operations is deemed to be critical for the PLA Navy in the future.

Therefore, to safeguard its economic and security interests, the PLA Navy has been inducting warships and associated weapons platforms on a phenomenal scale. China's advanced ship manufacturing industry has played a key enabling role in warship production. Nevertheless, these seemingly advanced warships have also experienced regular failure of air‐compressors, toilets and electro‐mechanical machinery during their deployments to the Gulf of Aden. The failure rate was fairly high for domestically developed systems, which explains why countries such as Thailand and Myanmar, who imported Chinese warships, chose to equip them with western sub‐systems.

In addition, Chinese submarines have faced problems in noise reduction, inferior sub-systems and sensors. Chinese navy also faces serious lack of experience in anti-submarine warfare capability. Moreover, since a majority of Chinese sub-systems have Russian origin and even the Russian technology has lagged a generation behind the western technologies, Chinese military capabilities face double disadvantages.

Besides the weapon system inductions, there are multiple issues on the human side that hinder the PLA's drive to be the world class military. Foremost is the corruption in the PLA, even after Xi and Wang Qishan's iron hand policy against it. The problem has persisted even though two major sources of corruption, the purchase of military license plates and the purchase of promotions have become discreet and less frequent.

Second, the man-machine interface in the PLA remains sketchy at best. Although, the PLA has been insisting on following the realistic training with live ammunition, its large size with attendant inertia makes any transformation sluggish. The lack of an active battle experience is another major issue limiting common soldier's experience of the 'Fog of the War'. The predominance of ground force is a major handicap in promotion of service equality and jointness.
PLA Veterans protesting in China (Tuidang.com)

The demobilisation and anti-corruption drives have further created dissatisfaction among the PLA ground force officer corps which makes the CPC anxious. Finally, the lack of effective interoperability in interconnection, intercommunication and combat equipment is another major shortcoming that limits China's drive towards world class military.

In sum, China has achieved a respected level of military advancement in the last four decades. Its capabilities in some domains are at world class but in crucial high-tech areas and operational efficiency, it lags behind the West. Its rivals are also augmenting their military capabilities at a rapid pace whereas China faces the military embargo from the West. Therefore, whether it will be able to resolve these limitations by 2050, especially under a shaky economy, remains an open question.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Y-20 Aircraft Will Transform China’s Strategic Combat Capability

Executive Summary
China’s PLA Air Force inducted its first two Y-20 strategic heavy-airlift transport aircraft (out of probable 400 more) in July 2016 to provide a considerable boost to China’s expeditionary and long-range power-projection capability.

Y-20-1 in PLAAF Service (Pic- haohanfw.com)

Introduction 

Y-20-2
On 6 July 2016, the Chinese Air Force inducted its first two Y-20 transport aircraft into the active service at Chengdu-Qionglai Air Base. Made by the Xi’an Aircraft Corporation, Y-20 is the largest transport aircraft built in China. It is a four-engine, high tail cargo aircraft with maximum take-off weight of 220 tons and can carry 66 tons of payload to about 4500 km. This all-weather aircraft can take off from short runways and can be deployed to transport heavy equipment and troops during military assault, peacekeeping and humanitarian assault/disaster-relief missions. 


Y-20 Design Inspirations (Pic - news.cn)
Yunshuji-20 or Y-20 (nickname ‘Kunpeng’) is a long range heavy transport aircraft which China has been developing indigenously. The idea to develop a heavy strategic transport aircraft was considered during the 10th Party Congress of China in 2004, when the PLA decided to transform its air force into a ‘Strategic Air Force’. Therefore, the need for air superiority and long range strike capability, beyond 100 miles, required the development of a suitable airlift aircraft. Consequently, China started the Y-20 development programme in 2005, which evolved into an urgent requirement after the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. The earthquake and China’s lack of adequate airlift capability turned into a major embarrassment for the Chinese regime. During the post-earthquake relief programme, American C-17 aircraft and Russian IL-76 aircraft transported hundreds of tons of relief material into Sichuan earthquake zone while Chinese Air Force lacked suitable airlift aircraft as well as adequate number of trained pilots to fly into the disaster-struck region. In the aftermath, the Y-20 development program received phenomenal support from the Chinese government. Finally, the Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation (an AVIC subsidiary) produced the first prototype aircraft by December 2012 which flew in 2013. The prototype was a result of indigenous technological development, coupled with substantial external design help from Ukraine

Recent Developments 

Rep Image - Future Y-20 Tanker
At the 2016 induction ceremony, the PLA Air Force Spokesperson Shen Jinke marked the induction as a crucial step for improving China’s strategic power projection capability. It is here that this aircraft’s unique role in the PLA’s modernisation programme becomes crucial. The aircraft can not only perform suitably as a heavy airlifter but it can eventually be configured to perform as an airborne-early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C), aerial-refueller, electronic warfare aircraft, drone mothership and other force-multiplier missions. These are missions where Chinese capability is severely limited due to the lack of a large transport aircraft. 

Y-20 Glass Cockpit (pic-Focus)
The PLA Air Force has less than two dozen Russian IL-76/78 in its inventory at present. A larger order to induct 30 additional IL-76 and 8 IL-78 aircraft was cancelled in 2008 due to the failure of price renegotiation between Russia and China. After the 2008 earthquake, however, China decided to procure ten used IL-76 aircraft from Russia which was delivered starting 2013. Even so, these two dozen heavy airlifters are inadequate for transporting requirements of a two million strong PLA. In addition, due to the western embargo, China is unable to purchase an airlifter which is equivalent to American C-17 or C-5 aircraft. 

Y-20 FLIR (Pic - Sina.com)
Y-20 HUD (Pic- CCTV-4)
Thus, China had no other option but to develop an indigenous aircraft for the purpose. The Y-20 aircraft uses fairly modern technologies in terms of ‘supercritical aerofoils, integrated avionics, glass cockpit, head-up display, FLIR and composite materials in the fuselage’. Although, Y-20 has been using Russian D-30KP2 engines so far, a drive to develop Chinese aviation engine for the aircraft, named WS-20, is in the process. The Y-20’s 66-ton payload capability will provide China a capability to move majority of its combat and support platforms to the battlefield, including its heaviest tank, the 58-ton Type-99A2. The aircraft can haul lighter loads such as paratroopers to more than 10,000km, while at 40-ton payload, it can reach 7,800 km. Additionally, the aircraft is capable to take-off from short runways and dirt-strips which opens access to various remote battlefields. Additionally, Chinese scientists are studying possibilities to launch 200-kilogram satellites in low earth orbit from this aircraft. 


 
ShenLong under H6(Pic - Tiexue.Net)
Y-20 Cargo Hold (Pic- Focus)









Chinese experts expected in 2007 that the development phase of Y-20 aircraft will conclude in about 8-10 years and large scale deliveries would begin in 2017. The development program has so far maintained the schedule. Chinese experts expect that the PLA requires anywhere from 400 to 100o Y-20 aircraft for long range power projection and strategic airlift. However, the final production of Y-20 aircraft may remain in single digits for a foreseeable future. China has embarked on the development of four transport aircraft simultaneously, namely, Y-20, Comac C919, ARJ-21 and Y-9 aircraft. A large number of skilled personnel are required to run these simultaneous manufacturing programs, which is not available in China. It is possible that China would prioritize one or two of these aircraft, however that would depend upon the demand and possibility of sale of civilian transport aircraft in the market. 

Conclusion 

Y-20 Cargo Hold (Pic - Focus)
The induction of Y-20 transport aircraft is a significant event for China’s logistics support capability. From tactical, China is embarking towards the build-up of a global combat logistics capability. The induction of hundreds of these aircraft into the PLA Air Force will provide it a strategic support capability in terms of air transport, air-refueling, electronic warfare and intelligence support. This aircraft will become crucial in sustainment flying missions at Djibouti, Gwadar and others in future. China can further export Y-20 aircraft to friendly nations such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and many other countries in Asia and Africa. If Y-20 can be built at cheaper prices than Russian IL-476, then China can sell the aircraft to many other countries. In sum, Y-20’s induction in the PLA Air Force will increase the range of its strike aircraft and extend China’s reach into global battlefields.

Y-20 Induction Ceremony (Pic -Weibo.com)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sichuan-Tibet Railway: Growing Connectivity in PLA’s Western Theater Command

Originally published on 20 June 2016 on ICS Blog.


On 27 January 2016, Losang Gyaltsen, Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government, announced in the TAR’s Tenth People’s Congress that his government would accelerate the construction of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway in the 13th Five Year Plan (2016-20) period. His government promised to start a preliminary survey and research to build the Nyingchi-Kangding railway section, in the current year. Yin Li, the acting Governor of Sichuan, sent out similar messages a week earlier at the Sichuan People’s Congress. These statements from the top leadership of both provinces reflect the importance of this rail project.


Second Rail-Link

China built the first rail route to Tibet (Qinghai Tibet Railway–QTR), connecting Lhasa with Golmud in Qinghai province, in 2006. This rail route significantly enhanced China’s access to its southwestern province and created enormous scope for tourism, commerce, governance and military logistics. Nevertheless, Lhasa remained relatively isolated due to the lack of a rail connection with either Chengdu or Urumqi, its traditional trading destinations. Both Lhasa and Chengdu are connected with the Sichuan-Tibet Highway (part of G318), however, the road trip (2,149 km) takes three-four days and passes through some of the highest snow-covered mountains in the world. The current train journey, a circuitous one through Qinghai, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces, takes about 44 hours covering 3,070 kms. In contrast, the new rail line, which is expected to be built by 2025, will reduce this journey to less than 15 hours. In addition, as Chengdu has been declared the Joint Command Centre for the newly-formed Western Theatre Command, after the recent military reorganisation, it also makes military sense to build a rail connection between both these cities.

This rail connection will be an elevated corridor and hence, it has been termed as the second ‘sky road’ to Tibet after the QTR. The 13th Five Year Plan termed it a key construction project on which, the planned speed would be 160 kmph. The distance of this entire route is 1,629 kilometres, out of which, about 1,000 km is in Tibet. Each kilometre of rail construction on this route will cost US$15.87 million.

Map 1

Source: Tibettravel.org


The project has been divided into three sections: Lhasa-Nyingchi, Nyingchi-Kangding and Kangding-Chengdu. Work on the western portion is in full swing and the eastern section’s construction has also started. Only the middle section awaits the preliminary survey and research. In addition, the rail route will navigate through high mountains, major rivers and seismic fault zones, at an average of 2,000 meters above the sea level. Chinese construction workers on the sites have complained of low oxygen, high altitude and complex geography related dangers.

Significance
The rail route is quite important for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI/OBOR) as this rail line can be extended to connect the Chinese mainland with Europe. Chengdu is a key node on the Yixin’ou Railway Corridor that intends to connect China’s Pacific Coast with Europe. Initial travel was done by a train that left Yiwu in December 2014, reached Madrid and returned to China in 2015, after completing a 26,580 kms journey on this corridor. Therefore, China has justified this new rail-link as crucial in the economic upliftment of its backward western region.

Map 2Red line – Existing route, Blue line – Rail routes yet to be constructed

Source: created by author

Additionally, the Chinese government has dismissed all claims of potential environmental damage and cultural danger to ethnic Tibetans, due to this upcoming rail line. Sonam Dorje, a director of the Tibetan Regional Committee in the CPPCC reiterated that the rail line would help boost tourism and economic growth of this region. He argued that Tibet has enormous deposits of solar power, hydropower, wind power and geothermal power but only one percent has so far been developed. Therefore, Tibet requires development not protection of its resources.

Furthermore, the rail route has significant military importance as the link is crucial for the PLA, which is undergoing major organisational transformation at present. With the Western Theatre Command’s Joint Command Centre in Chengdu and the army command in Lanzhou, a rail connection will facilitate rapid mobilisation of troops from Chengdu, for suppressing internal disturbances, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions and for potential military action on China’s southwestern borders. Keeping in mind the Chinese tactical military principle in Tibet of “lighter in the front, heavier at the back”, the rail route can be extremely helpful in the movement of motorised combat units and artillery units including China’s rocket forces. Additionally, this railway line would, in logical certainty, be followed by a rail connection between Lhasa and Urumqi. That would connect Chengdu to Urumqi through Lhasa, amplifying Indian security concerns because this could well run parallel to the border with India or even through Aksai China.

Finally, the construction of this rail line will facilitate the extraction of raw materials from Tibet to the industrial heartlands in east and south China, which would further encourage the demographic shift of Han people to sparsely populated but culturally sensitive southern Tibetan highlands. Therefore, the Sichuan-Tibet railway line and other major infrastructure projects on Tibet’s permafrost will likely transform the Himalayan strategic landscape and South Asia’s ecological balance.