The activities of Chinese ground forces significantly increased after the brutal clash with the Indian Army in June last year. Satellite images reveal new road construction, fortified positions as well has new posts near the Naku La border in Sikkim.
Earlier this week, the Indian Army confirmed a minor face-off on January 20 in the region, maintaining that it was “resolved by local commanders as per established protocols”.
The area to the north of Naku La in Sikkim, first witnessed increased Chinese activities during the 2017 Doklam standoff. However, analysis of satellite images post the Ladakh standoff suggest a sense of urgency on part of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
A comparison of satellite images from June 2020 and September 2020 clearly shows new roads constructed in the Chinese territory near Naku La.
Construction of fortifications are also observed in the area closer to the border in the images. Experts believe that these spots are large enough to set up temporary shelters and park the military vehicles.
China also seems to be building a large military post at a distance of about 30 km in the north-east from Naku La.
Development of this facility was first picked up by US-based geo-intelligence firm Hawkeye 360, which mapped radio frequency (RF) signals from the ground back in August 2020.
Chris Biggers, an analyst with Hawkeye 360 told India Today TV that the initial deployment in the area likely started in July 2020, although this location became active since Doklam standoff.
High-resolution satellite images taken by space firm Planet Labs in November 2020 provide vital details about the site. A possible battalion level deployment of the PLA armoured vehicles has also been observed further north.
Deployment of artillery near the campsite has also been observed in these images. “We were able to spot self-propelled artillery at the site among the tarped and camouflaged equipment, the site remains occupied as of January 2021,” Biggers told India Today TV.
Another set of satellite images (not shown here) closer to Naku La border taken September 2020 shows increased Indian presence on the top of the mountains, suggesting a precautionary Indian counter deployment.
The estimated heights of some of these locations are around and above 5,000 meters, making it an extremely hostile location to guard.
Another set of satellite imagery covering an area about 20 km in north from Naku La towards the Gamba County suggests new structures built during the same period. However, due to unavailability of high-resolution images of this facility, determination of the exact utility of this facility was not possible.
India and China have been engaged in multiple level talks over the standoff in eastern Ladakh and it is not yet clear if the increased Chinese activities near the Sikkim border have come up during these discussions so far.