Mig-29 UPG
PC: IAF/Guarding India

Recent satellite imagery of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Thoise Air Force Station in Ladakh shows that India has deployed MiG-29 fighters at the base to counter the increased presence of the Chinese air force at its bases on the Tibetan Plateau across the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The satellite imagery, posted on Twitter by open-source intelligence handle @detresfa_, shows at least thee MiG-29s at the Thoise airbase. However, the number of aircraft deployed at the base could be larger.

Apart from the MiG-29 fighters, satellite imagery also shows under-construction structures at the airbase. The IAF could be upgrading the infrastructure at this frontline airbase to cater to an increased presence due to the tensions along the LAC with China in eastern Ladakh.

Thoise Air Force Station in Ladakh (@detresfa_/Twitter)
Thoise Air Force Station in Ladakh (@detresfa_/Twitter)

On Air Force Day earlier this month, Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari had awarded Chief of Air Force’s citations to three units — all of which were operational in eastern Ladakh last year.

One of these was the 116 Helicopter Unit, based in Thoise. It is equipped with the weaponised version of Advanced Light Helicopter, called Rudra.

In the citation, the IAF said that in May 2020, “after the Galwan skirmish, the unit was deployed for offensive operations at a high-altitude airfield in the Ladakh area” and “quickly established the first-ever high-altitude Attack Helicopter Detachment in the region and executed day and night operations, including air-to-ground weapons delivery at high altitudes”.

The airbase has also been used for the induction of troops and equipment during the ongoing standoff in eastern Ladakh and supports logistics operations to sustain troops deployed on the frontlines.

China, too, has deployed fighters on its side of the LAC. At the annual presser ahead of the Air Force Day, the Air Chief had revealed that China continues to maintain increased presence at three airbases on the Tibetan Plateau.

Although he did not name the air bases and the regions they are in, the dual-use airport at Nagri Gunsa is likely to be one of them. The base is located only 200 kilometres away from the Pangong Lake.

Satellite imagery from October 2021 shows that China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force or PLAAF has deployed unmanned aerial vehicles and fighter jets at the Ngari Gunsa airbase.

China’s Ngari Gunsa air base. (@detresfa_/Twitter)
China’s Ngari Gunsa air base. (@detresfa_/Twitter)

Earlier this year, satellite images from February 2021 showed that China is building hardened aircraft shelters at the base.

Hardened shelters, also known as blast pens, are reinforced hangars used for shielding fighter jets from enemy missiles and bombs.

At least 12 hardened shelters are under construction at the airbase.

China’s Ngari Gunsa air base. (@detresfa_/Twitter)
China’s Ngari Gunsa air base. (@detresfa_/Twitter)

In May 2020, during the standoff, rapid construction activity was seen at the PLAAF base. As reported earlier, satellite images from April and May 2020 showed construction in a large area parallel to the runway.

Large-scale earth work, ongoing from April 2020, was seen in a satellite image dated 15 May, next to the 4,500-metre runway of the airbase.

Back then, reports said it could be a “second taxi-track or a secondary tarmac”.