|J-10 stationed at Lhasa Gongkar Airport|
More information has come on the military use of one of these airports. According to Open Source Imagery Intelligence (OSIMINT), the latest satellite imagery release from Digital Globe shows a new flight of aircrafts at Lhasa’s Gonggar [or Gongkar] airfield in Tibet.
The website says: “This time a flight of J-10s have appeared further reinforcing prior analysis.”
Three months back, OSIMINT had confirmed that some J-11, the Chinese version of the Su-27, were deployed at the Lhasa airfield. At that time, OSIMINT contradicted Indian news reporting suggesting that these deployments were ‘new’ or related to the events in Ladakh.
OSIMINT says that ‘historical’ imagery shows a J-10 flight as far back as 2010 and argues that the fighters usually do yearly rotations.
However, older imagery does not show any IL-78 refueling aircraft, at the Gonkar airfield (as it was claimed by the IBN in its report), says OSIMINT which also asserts that some other imagery (dating of June 11, 2013) demonstrates that there is no deployments of surface to air missiles (SAM) on a site located less than 2 miles from Gongkar.
In May, India’s IBN Live had affirmed that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) had deployed Su-27 (J-11) fighters at the Gongkar airfield to 'put additional military pressure' on India and as a direct answer to the Indian Air Force (IAF) stationing Su-30MKI fighters in Chabua and Tezpur in Assam, “these fighters [the Sukhois] can hit targets deep in Tibet and mainland China”, had said the news channel.
The IBN report added: “Due to the altitude, the fighters can take off only with less weapons payload or fuel. China has probably solved the problem by stationing an aerial refuelling aircraft at Gongkar or nearby. This will increase the range and endurance of the Su-27s”.
It had made a link with the border tensions in Ladakh and the ‘new’ deployment: “China has been engaged in a deliberate upping of the diplomatic and military pressure on India, probing for weaknesses, testing India’s resolve with the expectation that India will blink and back down.”
For OSIMINT, “the narrative painted by IBN and its related sources appears to be far off the mark. Firstly, the statements suggesting hardened positions such as underground aircraft hangars at Gongkar, is a complete fabrication. Likewise, are the statements suggesting China has positioned air-to-air refueling aircraft at Gongkar or nearby airfields”.
|J-10 at Gongkar Ariport|
In May 2013, OSIMINT did not believe that the J-11, then deployed in Gongkar, was a response to Su-30MKI at Chabua and Tezpur: “that notion even seems ludicrous considering that one small flight is hardly a match against two entire Su-30MKI squadrons in Assam.”
Apart from the above controversy, it is a fact that the Gongkar Airport near Lhasa comes under the Chengdu Military Region (MR) while Ladakh functions under Lanzhou Military Region.
Developments in Chengdu MR are a priori not linked to happenings in Lanzhou MR.
|Gongkar is also a civilian airport|
There are seven MRAF headquarters which comprise the second tier, Allen says: “Each MRAF is organized according to its missions and battlefield environment. Thus, no two MRAFs are organized exactly the same way. However, each MRAF has subordinate air divisions, SAM brigades or regiments, and antiaircraft artillery (AAA) regiments, as well as radar brigades and regiments, communications regiments and companies, and support units and subunits.”
It would be strange to reinforce the airfields in a Military Region [Chengdu] to support another MR [Lanzhou].
But that it not all, ‘things’ have been happening in both Lanzhou’s and Chengdu’s MRAFs.
In December 2012, I wrote on this blog: “China is prepared to any eventuality. A Chinese military website recently reported that China's Air Force (PLAAF) staged one of its largest-ever drills.”
At that time foreign commentators had linked the drills with the tensions with Japan and China's southern neighbors over territorial claims, though according to The People's Daily the exercises were conducted in Xinjiang (Lanzhou MR): the "air combat exercises involving more than 100 pilots were held over 11 days last month in the vast northwestern region of Xinjiang. Pilots practiced engaging in dog fights and countering electro-magnetic interference."
I had asked: “why to organise the drills in Xinjiang, which part of Lanzhou Military Region (MR) bordering Central and India (Ladakh/Aksai Chin), if the exercises are meant to improve the preparedness for an eventual conflict in East China Sea.”
The report had mentioned: “Aircraft taking part came from 14 separate units and included China's most modern jet fighters, the J-10 and J-11, along with older models and two-seater Sukhoi Su-30s purchased from Russia. The exercises are a vivid demonstration of China's vastly improved military capabilities that have unnerved other Asian nations and spur a renewed U.S. focus on the region.”
Also in December 2012, China Military Online announced that the PLAAF "recently conducted a comprehensive support drill for multi-types of aircraft on double-runway under information conditions at an airport in southwest China. Nearly 100 fighters of over 10 different types open the curtain of the base-oriented transformation of the combat support mode of the PLA Air Force."
This time it was in the Chengdu Military Area Command (MAC) of the Chengdu Military Region which borders Arunachal, Bhutan and Nepal.
China Military Online asserted that the aircraft took off and landed on the double-runway for 12 sorties within 10 minutes, adding: "At the same time, more than 200 support vehicles of various types and hundreds of officers and men were making preparation before aircraft's taking-off and carrying out maintenance after aircraft's landing for various types of aircraft on the parking aprons on the east and west sides of the airport."
A few words about the Chengdu J-10 (J-10 Vigorous Dragon) aircraft:
It is a multirole combat aircraft, manufactured by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation in Chengdu, Sichuan. It was inducted in the PLAAF in 2005. More 270 planes are said to have been built till date; the cost of one plane is being about 28 million US dollars.
Apparently the project started in 1988, in response to the Mikoyan MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-27, then being inducted in the Soviet Air Force. The aircraft was initially designed as a specialized fighter, but later became a multirole aircraft capable of both air to air combat and ground attack missions.
The first pictures of the J-10 appeared in January 2007, when photographs were released by Xinhua. Some sources said a J-10 prototype had crashed during flight test. This was denied by The PLA Daily.
The last test flight programme and live firing of air-to-air missiles, was carried out in December 2003.
During the Musharraf’s days, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) would have signed a contract for 36 planes, making it the first export contract for the J-10.