China-India border dispute: PLA looks to private innovators to give troops the edge

Liu Zhen
·3-min read

The Chinese military has extended its supplier list to include private hi-tech companies to meet the special equipment needs of border troops in the Himalayas during China’s stand-off with India.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Tibet military district, which oversees the east and middle sections of the disputed border with India, has invited 22 Chinese manufacturers of intelligent products to potentially supply its armed forces with unmanned smart weapons and other specialised equipment, state television CCTV reported on Thursday.

These companies have developed products for a high-altitude, low-temperature plateau environment, including reconnaissance and strike drones, transport drones, drone jammers, auto-heating clothing, portable oxygen generators and even automatic bread makers, the broadcaster said. Private suppliers took part in a display to the PLA to show how their innovations worked and might fit PLA strategy.

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“These … could effectively improve the unmanned warfare and logistics support in the Tibet region,” CCTV reported.

The PLA pays great attention to developing its capacity for unmanned operations, and in particular how drone technology applies to the southwest border contest with India where the environment is extremely harsh.

The fixed-winged and rotor-winged drones made by civilian developers, although smaller and with lower firepower than the PLA’s large military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), were tailor-made for the plateau and the border troops’ needs, such as supply delivery, border patrol and surveillance and armed reconnaissance in the rugged mountains, it was reported.

These suppliers had also developed several devices to counter an enemy’s drones, such as an electronic gun that could detect, locate and jam small drones that were low flying and slow.

The China-India border dispute: its origins and impact

This year China and India engaged in their worst stand-off in decades, tension that continues today. As a result, it seems that for the first time in many years they will keep their troops in position throughout the bitter winter.

As winter approaches, both sides are investing in improving logistics for the soldiers who have to endure temperatures down to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit), on the 5,000m high elevation where oxygen in the atmosphere is about half that of sea level.

The PLA was shown a vest made of graphene that could smartly heat according to outside temperature, CCTV reported. It would be an addition to the PLA’s latest Type 20 winter gear, comprising sheepskin boots, a down feather sleeping bag, cotton-padded tops and bottoms, a long coat and snow camouflage, kit that was urgently developed and distributed to the soldiers in the outposts.

India’s army has reportedly urgently asked the United States for 11,000 sets of an “extended cold-weather clothing system” that could keep a soldier warm in minus 40 degrees. But the order falls well short of the 35,000-50,000 Indian troops deployed along the friction spots, including Pangong Lake and Galwan Valley.

The Tibet military district also looked at portable solar chargers, portable oxygenators and a multifunctional dining vehicles, CCTV reported.

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