Indian experts say development not alarming, but long-term implications need to be kept in mind given China is beefing up security in the region.

New Delhi: The Chinese military has equipped its troops stationed in the Tibet Autonomous Region with new vehicle-mounted howitzers to boost their high-altitude combat capability, Chinese state-run Global Times reported Monday.

The report, which quotes an article released by the WeChat account of the PLA Ground Force, said the mobile howitzers are aimed at boosting the troops’ high-altitude combat capability to improve border security.

The equipment was used in an artillery brigade in Tibet during the 2017 India-China Doklam standoff, it said.

The development comes after the recent induction of the lightweight battle tank in Tibet by the Chinese military.

‘Not alarming’

Indian Army sources said the new vehicle-mounted howitzers will give the Chinese troops an increased flexibility while operating in the rough and mountainous terrains of the Himalayan plateau.

While the development is not exactly worrying, long-term implications must be kept in mind, said sources.

“The Chinese are enhancing their capability along the Tibet border. While it may not be a cause for concern today, we have to keep the long-term implications in mind, more because they have got an excellent road and rail network and also improved weapon systems,” said an Army source who did not wish to be named.

Asked if China will get an increased edge over India in the region as China beefs up security, the Army source said that keeping in mind their penchant for surprise and aggression, rapid deployment of troops with better equipment could be a game-changer in any subsequent Doklam-like crisis.

Jayadeva Ranade, a security expert and president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, said the development is not alarming.

“It is a new induction. They are beefing up security, but it is not alarming,” he told ThePrint.

Psychological operations

Defence sources also said that China is known to have had these howitzers for a long time and this report is understood to be more of a psychological operation in the wake of India inducting the K9 Vajra and M777 howitzers in November.

The first regiment of the much-anticipated M777 lightweight howitzers and the K9 Vajra is set to be operationalised this year, adding to the Indian Army’s artillery firepower.

The Global Times report mentioned other instances of the Chinese military enhancing its capabilities in Tibet region.

Quoting Zhao Gancheng, director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, the report said that the PLA troops stationed in Tibet need to improve their combat capabilities in plateau areas and strengthen their willpower in extreme weather as they are primarily responsible for the border defence against terrorists and foreign invaders.

Citing a August 2018 statement by China’s Ministry of National Defense, the report added that the PLA built oxygen stations for its troops in Tibet in 2015 for medical purposes, but are now also being used regularly in training.

It added that in August, an armoured infantry of the Tibet Military Command conducted a drill on a plateau 4,800 metres above sea level.