As the standoff between China and India continues at Doka La, weíve been monitoring regional airbases on both sides of the border. Recent commercial imagery acquired in July of Gonggar continues to show the ongoing deployment of at least ten Shenyang J-11 fighter aircraft, a modified and licensed production of the Russian-built Su-27SK. Itís possible these may be an upgraded variant, though at present weíre unable to distinguish on imagery.
This most recent rotation of fourth generation fighters arrived between April and May 2017 taking the place of another batch of twelve J-11s which appeared in mid-December. Some Indian sources report these as† J-11A from the Shizuishan-based 6th Air Divisionís 16th Air Regiment, though the accuracy of the source reporting has been suspect in the past.
Overall, a review of historical imagery shows that the number of aircraft deployed to the high altitude airport continued to climb last year. Prior to the arrival of the J-11s, imagery now available in Google Earth shows at least sixteen Chengdu J-10s parked on the operations apron in December. Indian sources report these as J-10As from the Mengzi-based 44th Air Divisionís 131st Air Regiment.
Interestingly, fighters forward deployed in 2016 have also been sharing the apron with either a rotation of MI-17 or MI-171 HIP, the latter an improved variant. The HIPs were still observed on imagery throughout 2017 and up to eight were visible in recent captures.
As far as Gonggarís surface-to-air missile site, imagery from July shows that active elements were removed from the launch pads, either returning to covered storage or possibly jumped for exercises that were widely reported in the region. Interestingly, recent imagery shows China simultaneously deploying mixed units to the pads, fielding both the HQ-12 (KaiShan-1A), a truck-mounted derivative of the HQ-2, and the strategic HQ-9, a system modeled heavily on Russiaís S-300PMU tech. The HQ-12 functions in the medium altitude role providing point defense while the HQ-9 defends at longer ranges. Since we last reported on the site, China has erected several environmental shelters to deny partial EO observation.
Bottom Line - Imagery observations continue to support the notion that China is bolstering rotations at its border civil-military airports independent of any regional tensions.