- Earlier images indicate bunkers not there in December 2019
- Imagery shows road access bunkers to Sinche-La pass
- This is then connected to road that stretches across Doklam plateau
Satellite imagery accessed by NDTV shows the construction of what appears to be military-grade, hardened ammunition bunkers, 2.5 kilometres away from Sinche-La pass on the eastern periphery of the contested Doklam plateau near the border between Bhutan and China in the area.
Military observers say these fit the description of ammunition storage facilities and their location, just 7 kilometres from Doka La, the site of the 2017 face-off between Indian and Chinese forces, could indicate an enhanced level of military preparedness by Chinese forces.
"The construction of new ammunition storage bunkers is likely aimed to reinforce the Chinese troops at these bases, allowing them to fight more efficiently if a conflict were to develop at Doklam," says Sim Tack, a leading satellite imagery expert and military analyst at Force Analysis. "This is a concerning development, especially following the recent discovery of the Chinese village across the border in Bhutan, and could point to renewed tensions in the Doklam area."
Earlier images of the same site accessed by NDTV indicate that construction of these bunkers had not started in December 2019. Recent images of October 28, this year, indicate that construction is almost complete. "These appear to be hardened storage shelters," says Lieutenant General HS Panag (retired), a former Northern Army commander. "This is most likely an ammunition dump."
The construction of these facilities comes at a time when India and China are in the midst of their most serious standoff since the 1962 war. Tens of thousands of soldiers from either side have hunkered down for a winter stand-off in eastern Ladakh that began in early May this year.
High-resolution images from Maxar Technologies indicate road access from the site of the bunkers to the Sinche-La pass, which is then connected to an all-weather road constructed by Chinese workers that stretches across the 5 kilometre-wide Doklam plateau.
The presence of these new bunkers, black-topping of the road on the Doklam plateau post the 2017 stand-off, the construction of a 'village' and 9-kilometre track adjacent to the plateau are clear signs that China has no compunctions in carrying on with construction activity in territory Bhutan considers its own. India has historically backed Bhutan's claim.
The construction of the new hardened bunkers appears to be an effort at militarily reinforcing the larger Doklam region and the Chumbi Valley, Chinese territory, that lies to its North.
A September 2020 study by STRATFOR, the world's leading geopolitical intelligence platform, says the 2017 Doklam crisis "appears to have shifted China's strategic objectives, with China more than doubling its total number of air bases, air defence positions and heliports near the Indian border over the past three years."
The precise location of these facilities has been spelt out by the satellite imagery expert Detresfa.
Following this exclusive around #Doklam, here's an expanded area visual that covers not #China's encroachment into #Bhutan but also allows a greater understanding of how the sector has been reinforced over time to ensure the PLA's ability in maintaining its "territorial claims" https://t.co/9VSb0T1BrTpic.twitter.com/z8Glw5Cfes— d-atis☠️ (@detresfa_) November 22, 2020
On Sunday, NDTV highlighted satellite images of a Chinese village called Pangda that lies 2.5 kilometres within the territorial boundaries of Bhutan, as defined by official maps from its National Statistics Bureau.
The satellite images also show the presence of a 9-kilometre road that stretches beyond this village and could, potentially, be part of a plan to access the Zompelri ridgeline from the east.
Access to this ridge, China's original objective during the 2017 crisis, would enable its troops to have a clear line of sight to the "Chicken's Neck", the narrow expanse of land that connects India's north-eastern states with the rest of the country.