The Indian Army is deploying six new assault boats and 12 additional patrolling boats for swifter movement of troops on the disputed lake. The new bridge will soon be operationally available to the Chinese military

The Indian Army is busy strengthening its defences along the disputed Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh in the wake of China constructing a new bridge—thought to be capable of moving heavy military machinery—on the lake. The Indian Army is deploying six new assault boats, along with 12 additional patrolling boats, for swifter movement of troops to counter potential aggression by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The bridge is near completion and will soon be operationally available for the PLA.

In May, satellite images had revealed that the Chinese military was building a second bridge—bigger and wider than its first one—on the 134-km-long scenic lake, which is 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 extends for about 1,600 km.

The satellite images suggested that the under-construction bridge was being primed for faster movement of not just troops and military vehicles but even tanks. The bridge, 10 metres wide and about 450 metres long, is coming up despite concerns raised by the Indian government with China. Analysts believe the Chinese military will be aiming to complete the bridge before the onset of winter this year.

The Pangong Tso and its surroundings are part of the region that sparked the military stand-off 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—had claimed the lives of at least 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of PLA troopers. Both sides have stationed thousands of troops, artillery, tanks and other heavy weaponry in the region since the stand-off began.

Indian military observers believe the new bridge will cut down the distance between China’s Rudok—the PLA’s main base servicing its deployments in the Pangong Tso area—and Khurnak in eastern Ladakh to 40-50 km. Otherwise, the road distance between Rudok and Khurnak is over 200 km. Military observers say construction of the bridge points to China’s strategic intent vis-à-vis the Pangong Tso.

Indian military planners have emphasised on the need to build a similar bridge on the lake, but with official approval awaited, the Army is working to beef up its presence in the area with new equipment. The boats being deployed include the indigenous Landing Craft Assault (LCA). These can carry 35 troopers at a time and reach any area of the lake in a short span of time. Built by Goa’s Aquarius Shipyard, 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 frontier with Pakistan. Besides LCA, the army is also getting 12 new and bigger patrolling 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 extends between India and China, and over two-thirds of it lies in China. The lake has a sprawl of over 604 sq km and is 6 km wide at its broadest point. India has made the Pangong lake accessible to tourists over the last decade, but the ongoing military stand-off with China has turned this area into a fraught zone. A brawl in the lake area in 2020 left soldiers on both sides with serious injuries.