Troop buildup near Doklam increased in November-end, fresh satellite images show. ThePrint’s Shekhar Gupta and Manu Pubby discuss why there is a buildup of troops in the region

by Vinayak Bhat

A Chinese buildup of troops and military infrastructure near the contentious Doklam plateau has gained pace in November, with fresh satellite images showing new mortar positions, hardening of gun positions and evidence that more than 5,000 troops could be deployed within 5-10 km of the conflict point.

The buildup can be seen in latest satellite imagery of 3 December that has been accessed by ThePrint. The deployment seems to have increased since the resolution in August when both Indian and Chinese troops backed off from a road construction site in Doklam after a tense standoff that lasted more than two months.

The significant buildup is visible at several locations southwest of Yadong town, all within a 5-10 km aerial distance from the spot where Indian and Chinese troops had faced off earlier this year. This presence of almost nine battalions is in addition to the troops that China has deployed just 50 km behind in the Chumbi valley, as reported by ThePrint in October.

Over 300 heavy duty trucks, fresh tunneling into the mountains to set up gun positions and creation of several buildings to accommodate troops indicate a Chinese resolve to stay ready for action even through the winter.

Satellite images confirm that work is progressing at a feverish pace even in the winter. The images show at least nine three-storey buildings that are occupied and almost 300 large vehicles, suggesting that almost one division of troops are located in areas ahead of Yadong town.

Infrastructure Developments

The People’s Liberation Army or PLA continues to develop infrastructure on a large scale in this area south and southwest of Yadong town.

The platoon and company posts have accommodation for more than a battalion of troops. The single-storey barracks have been replaced by massive three-storey buildings with possible underground and/or camouflaged parking.

The signal centre has been greatly improved with an earth receiving station, four large dish antennae, two huge aerials and a solid-wall fencing. It also has a slightly raised platform, possibly for future deployment of vehicle-based radars

Roads and tracks are being widened and developed all around. Large cranes, earth moving equipment and construction material can be seen almost everywhere. Certain areas defiladed from Indian defences are being leveled, probably for future constructions.

Troop Buildup

There is also a massive buildup of troops just below the conflict area of Doklam. A large number of vehicles are seen parked near the riverside. In some areas, vehicles are seen hidden under camouflage nets. A number of tents have also been observed under camouflage nets.

A number of vehicles, including many small vehicles, are seen around the three-storey buildings, suggesting these buildings are also occupied.

Improvement of Defences

The satellite images suggest that a continuous improvement of defensive positions has been on since June 2017. All previous posts and also the new positions have been connected with a maze of well dug communication trenches.

Most of the important positions have been afforded the protection of wire fences. Some posts can be seen to have infantry mortars positions.

At two places, mountain sides have been cut large enough to make gun positions, possibly for howitzers and/or multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRLs).

Hardening Gun Positions

The old gun position has been improved to harden the shelters for guns. The shelters have further been provided with a layer of compressed earthen protection. Moving into the gun pit or scooting from the gun position would now be very easy. A second position is being constructed, albeit at a slow pace, possibly not to give out the direction of fire.

The satellite images confirm that work is progressing at a feverish pace even in the winter months. An additional infantry mortar position has been created in the second half of November. A comparison of November and December images also suggests that the troop buildup increased at the end of November.