India is planning to build multi-purpose tunnels in border states to store land-based short-range tactical missiles.
The development comes as India's rocket force, which has been in the works for some time now, is beginning to take shape.
India is building a rocket force
Reports say that Indian armed forces could soon acquire the Pralay short-range tactical ballistic missile. The missile, tested in December last year, has a stated range of 150 to 500 kilometers.
It will allow Indian forces to target Chinese force concentrations along the Line of Actual Control and dual-use infrastructure in Tibet.
However, to reach Chinese bases in the interiors of Tibet, Pralay missile batteries will have to be located close to the Line of Actual Control.
The tunnels, when built, will be used for storing these missiles. The tunnels will also safeguard the missiles against preemptive Chinese attacks and allow quick deployment during a crisis.
India is building an integrated rocket force not only to deter China but also bring existing missile assets under a singular architecture and doctrine.
The People's Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF), formerly known as the Second Artillery Force, has the world's largest ground-based conventional missile force. Its evolution from the Second Artillery Force of the PLA to PLARF, which makes it a service like the army, navy and air force, and the 33 per cent increase in size in three years between 2017 and 2019, indicate China's increased reliance on the rocket force.
In the event of a conflict with India, China would use the rocket force to hit key operational targets like command and control centers, air bases, force concentrations, logistics nodes, and other critical infrastructure in the initial stages of the war to degrade India's ability to fight.
India has ground-launched missiles to respond to such an attack, but the options are severely limited compared to China and under the command of different services. Both the Indian Army and the Air Force have ground-based BrahMos missiles, but the lack of joint operations or joint capabilities means they can't be used optimally.
With an integrated rocket force, India would achieve more efficient economies of scale and concentration of mass firepower.
Satellite imagery shows that China is constructing tunnels on the plateau to allow it to store missiles and ammunition.
For instance, recent satellite images show that China is constructing a large underground facility within a small mountain formation. The underground facility is coming up close to the dual-use Shigatse Airport, which is an important logistics center and air base for China in the region.
"The intended purpose of this UGF is unclear, but the Chinese military has long utilized UGFs as a means of securing and concealing military assets. Over the years, the PLA has been known to house command and control and logistics facilities, nuclear and conventional missile systems, and even strategic naval forces within UGFs," a report by the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says.
China is also working on a rail line around 2 km from the air base. The rail line could be used for transporting the equipment landing at the base or stored at the underground facilities near it to the frontier with India.
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