China’s PLA has recently undertaken helicopter patrols over Pangong Tso lake, part of which lies in the Tibet region, amid reports of redeployment of troops and fresh military build-up along the disputed border with India.
Open-source intelligence Twitter handle @detresfa_ says the area where the helicopter drill took place is approximately 86km east of Finger 4 mountainous spur on the north bank of Pangong Tso.
It’s worth mentioning the PLA’s aggression on Finger 4 on May 5, 2020, had sparked off the military tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the subsequent border standoff.
The two countries have just concluded nine rounds of military-level talks but there has been no breakthrough yet.
PLA helicopters Z-10, Mi-171, and Z-20 conducted patrols from Ngari Heliport over Pangong Tso, Chinese state-owned Global Times reported.
— d-atis☠️ (@detresfa_) February 8, 2021
The army aviation brigade Tianshan Eagles, affiliated with the PLA Xinjiang Military Command, is responsible for the defense of nearly 7,000 kilometers of China’s western borderline, ranging from snowy mountains to deserts.
The patrols were part of the series of combat-oriented exercises, such as low-air defense penetration, undertaken by PLA Xinjiang Military Command’s army aviation troops. Earlier this month, the PLA had conducted combat training with T-15 lightweight tanks near Rutog, 107 km southeast of Finger 4 at Pangong Tso.
Xinjiang Command Inducts Z-20
The recent helicopter patrols have suggested that the PLA’s Xinjiang Military Command has commissioned China’s newly developed, plateau-capable utility helicopter, the Z-20.
The helicopter first appeared in public at the National Day military parade on October 1, 2019, in Beijing. Considered a clone of the US H-60/S-70 Black Hawk, the Z-20 is a medium-lift utility helicopter with “powerful and domestically-developed engines”.
The helicopter has been subjected to scrutiny due to its design similarities to the US-made Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. However, the Chinese claim it has a maximum takeoff weight in the range of 10 tons (22,000 lb) and can operate from locations above 13,000 ft in altitude.
It is equipped with rotors built with anti-icing and de-icing technology that allow it to fly despite low oxygen levels at high altitudes and harsh cold, media reports have suggested.
Reports suggest the choppers used by the Xinjiang Military Command have engine exhaust openings facing upward, which means that these helicopters were optimized to reduce disruption between different equipment to provide better performances.
The modification will also reduce their infrared signatures so the helicopters gain survivability as they would be less likely to get locked on by hostile anti-aircraft fire, according to Chinese experts.
Chinese President has asked the PLA to be on high alert ahead of the spring holidays fearing an attack by Indian Air Force. The PLA has reportedly deployed air defense systems and anti-aircraft guns at various locations in the Tibet Autonomous Region.