What does China's deployment of stealth fighters near Sikkim mean for India?

Shigatse, the location where the Chinese J-20 has been observed, is situated less than 290 km from Hasimara in West Bengal, where India houses its second squadron of 16 Rafale jets.

Top Indian News Desk
Follow us:

Satellite images gathered on May 27 revealed that China has deployed its most advanced J-20 stealth fighter jets within 150 kilometers of the Indian border in Sikkim. These images were reproduced with permission from All Source Analysis, a firm specializing in Geospatial Intelligence through satellite imagery.

The images show six Chinese Air Force J-20 stealth fighters on the flight line at Shigatse Airport, a dual-use military and civilian facility serving the second-largest city in Tibet. The airport, at an altitude of 12,408 feet, is among the highest in the world. Additionally, a KJ-500 Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft was also visible at the site.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) acknowledged awareness of the J-20 deployment but refrained from commenting further. According to a Vice President for Technology and Analysis at All Source Analysis, the J-20 fighters, typically based in China's eastern provinces, being positioned at Shigatse marks a significant deployment near the Indian border.

Countermeasures and Strategic Positioning

India counters China's J-20 with its fleet of 36 French-built Rafale fighters. Currently, eight Rafales are participating in advanced air combat exercises with the United States Air Force in Alaska. Notably, Shigatse is less than 290 kilometers from Hasimara in West Bengal, where India bases its second squadron of 16 Rafales.

Historical Context and Capabilities

This deployment in Tibet is not the first instance of the J-20 being positioned near India. The jets were previously observed in Xinjiang's Hotan prefecture between 2020 and 2023. This recent deployment, however, is believed to be the largest observed via commercially available satellite imagery.

The Chengdu J-20, introduced in 2017, is China's most advanced stealth fighter, with reports suggesting up to 250 units may be operational. The twin-engine stealth fighter, known as the Mighty Dragon, is equipped with advanced sensors and air-to-air missiles like the PL-15, capable of striking targets up to 300 kilometers away.

Regional Military Build-Up

Sim Tack, a military analyst, noted that China has been steadily enhancing its air power capacity in Tibet and regions near India over the past five years. This includes constructing new airbases and upgrading existing infrastructure. The deployment of aircraft such as the J-20 and H-6 nuclear-capable bombers in these regions, even temporarily, signifies China's strategic focus on its borders.

India's Defensive Measures

In response, India has been upgrading its airbases with hardened shelters and expanding its surface-to-air missile defenses. This includes deploying the Russian-built S-400 long-range missile system in eastern India, which is designed to track stealth platforms and deter Chinese offensive maneuvers along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

This strategic military positioning by both nations underscores the ongoing tension and the importance of maintaining robust defense capabilities in the region.