China is constructing a bridge in Eastern Ladakh connecting the North and South Banks of Pangong Tso which would significantly bring down the time for People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to move troops and equipment between the two sectors, two official sources independently confirmed on Monday.
“On the North Bank there is a PLA garrison at Kurnak fort and on the South Bank at Moldo and the distance between the two is around 200 kms. The new bridge between the closest points on two banks which is around 500m will bring down movement time between the two sectors from around 12 hours to 3-4 hours,” one of the sources said. The bridge is located around 25 kms ahead of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the source stated.
Construction has been going on for sometime and it would reduce the overall distance by around 140-150kms, a second official source said.
Earlier, the PLA had to take a roundabout crossing the Rudok county but now the bridge would provide a direct axis, the first source said adding, the biggest advantage with the new bridge is the inter sector movement as the time comes down significantly. They need to build piers for the bridge which has been underway, the source stated.
The bridge is in their territory, and the Indian Army will have to now factor this in its operational plans, the source added.
India holds one third of the 135 km long boomerang shaped lake located at an altitude of over 14,000 feet. The lake, a glacial melt, has mountain spurs of the Chang Chenmo range jetting down referred to as fingers.
The North bank which has much higher differences in perception of LAC than the South bank, has been the initial site of the clashes in early May 2020 while tensions on South Bank had flared up later in August. Indian Army gained tactical advantage over the PLA on the south bank in end August by occupying several peaks lying vacant since 1962 gaining a dominating view of the Moldo area. On the north bank too, Indian troops set up posts facing PLA positions on the ridgelines of Finger 4.
In February 2020, as part of the first phase of disengagement both sides agreed for complete disengagement on the North and South Banks of Pangong Lake. Indian Army has a permanent position near Finger 3, the Dhan Singh Thapa post, while the PLA has a base East of Finger 8. The South Bank of Pangong leads to Kailash range and to the Chushul sector.
Since the August action China has taken up construction of alternate roads away from our line of sight, a defence official stated. As reported by The Hindu last June, China had intensified construction work behind the main confrontation points in Aksai Chin.
A satellite image of the area put out by an open source intelligence analyst with the Twitter handle @detresfa_ shows a bridge like structure between the closest points of the two banks.
In a separate incident of a video by Chinese media showing PLA soldiers with Chinese map in Galwan on January 01, an Army source said it is not in the location of the clash last year or the buffer zone set up after the first phase of disengagement. “It appears to be propaganda. The place (clash site) doesn’t have any markings as shown in the video,” an Army source said.