Within striking distance of its borders with India, China is constructing a massive heliport at Golmud in northern Tibet.
According to The Drive/Warzone, an online journal that focuses on defence matters, the gigantic heliport, which is rumoured to contain 63 hangars, is one of China’s largest and even bigger than another one facing the Taiwan Strait.
In an effort to reinforce China’s military posture in the region, Golmud’s enormous heliport will be one of several smaller bases in Tibet and helipads in Aksai Chin and Ladakh that extend all the way to the Line of Actual Control.
Helicopters can carry out a variety of tasks, including routine patrols and swift airlifting of troops and supplies to smaller outposts in need of immediate reinforcements. “A very large heliport here (in Golmud) would greatly enhance China’s ability to improve training or execute troop movements and rapid logistical operations towards any section of the Sino-Indo border if the need arises,” says The Warzone.
A sizable airbase exists in Golmud already. However, construction on the brand-new, independent heliport began in 2020 and is almost finished. Additionally, the heliport has its own barracks and infrastructure.
A network of smaller heliports is also being set up in different parts of Tibet like Rutog, Gerze, Nyima and Seni. Though these are much smaller than the new base at Golmud they are also quite substantial operations with around 18 hangars each, says The Warzone.
It adds: “These smaller heliports, in conjunction with pre-existing airbases, and the large master heliport in Golmud, when mapped, also spell out a clear aerial logistics network being realized across the plateau which could benefit military, armed police, and emergency work.”
Lhasa heliport, reports The Warzone, is one of establishments undergoing, “renovations and expansion activity”. It adds that Lhasa heliport is being reorganised to also make space for UAV launches.
At the other end of the network China’s also building small helipads in places like Aksai Chin and at key conflict points like Doklam. All these together, says The Warzone: “Stands to significantly enhance Beijing’s ability to quickly project power and sustain military operations throughout the tense region, even independent of runways.”
It adds: “These heliports would also greatly enhance troop movement for the Chinese forces allowing for rapid response and support in case of any future clashes. During a major conflict, they would be essential forward operating and resupply points.”
China now possesses helicopters with stronger engines and the ability to fly at higher altitudes, such the Z-20. In places like Ladakh, where even the valley floors are at an elevation of roughly 14,000 feet, helicopters require enormous quantities of power to function.
The HAL-produced Indian Prachand is also intended to function at altitudes up to 19,000 feet. In addition, we have a number of helicopters, such as the Mi-17, that can fly at heights.
In addition, the Indian Air Force has 22 powerful AH-64E attack helicopters, and the army has recently acquired six more. “An advanced multi-mission helicopter with the latest technological insertions, maintaining its reputation as the world’s greatest attack helicopter,” is how Boeing describes the AH-64E. Furthermore, 15 CH-47 Chinook helicopters owned by India are essential for operations in Siachin and Ladakh.
The Indian military forces realised they needed helicopters that could fly at Himalayan altitudes after the Kargil War.
In Ladakh, Aksai Chin, and the entire Tibetan Plateau, China is strengthening its airbases and transportation system. It is even constructing improved roads that will connect with isolated communities in Arunachal Pradesh that are close to the Sino-Indian border.
India is also taking steps to improve the Ladakh region’s airbase capabilities. It is modernising its base in Eastern Ladakh’s Nyoma, which is 50 km from the LAC. Additionally, it is being prepared for fighter operations.
We also have an airbase at Fukche and our tallest landing strip at Daulat Beg Oldi in addition to that. The contested Depchok territory is close to Fukche.
Helipads and air bases close to the actual LAC, however, run the risk of being hit by hostile gunfire or aircraft.