5 November 2012
Skies Over Laddakh
The incident caused a fair amount of heart burn inside Chinese military. In spite of being stretched to the limit by Uighur and Tibetan rebels, PLA still had formidable offensive firepower at it’s disposal and Mission Controller onboard Indian Phalcon AWACS was first to notice it when Chinese launched a large salvo of their much hyped DH-11 long range cruise missiles. Phalcon’s radar had detected the missiles while they were still 7-8 minutes away from Leh and the crew was sending out warnings frantically.
Mission controller aboard Indian Phalcon AWACS was shouting in to the mouthpiece, ” Lima this is Eagle Eye, we have 16 confirmed DH-11 inbound right at your position. I repeat, 16 DH-11 inbound at your position. Take cover immediately.”
In what could be considered a mixed bag, All of Chinese missiles were launched from a single location. Sabotage by Tibetan rebels, while not entirely successful had still affected Chinese military significantly. In ideal conditions, Chinese would have launched a larger number of missiles from a wide encircling arc, confusing the defenders and saturating their air defense assets. But owing to shortage of missiles and safe places from where to launch, they were forced to launch all missiles from a single location. Although it made the job of tracking these missiles somewhat easier, it also meant that the air defenses in that particular corridor will be overwhelmed and atleast some of the missiles will pass through unscathed.
Although important, such thoughts were hardly going through any body’s mind on the besieged base. Instead they were working furiously to meet the attack head on and save whatever they could before launching a counter attack. The base was operating at war level and all the civilian traffic was already stopped. The runway was being used exclusively by military transporters and fighter jets which immediately scrambled in to air within a minute of the warning. The planes which could not take to air were moved to underground bunkers and rest moved as far away from the base as possible. 6 more Mig 29s fully fuelled and armed joined 4 others which were already on CAP duty. All this while crews of air defence wing waited tensely for the Chinese missiles to come within their kill radius. Owing to it’s high strategic value, Leh airbase had received some serious defence upgrades consisting of multiple Akash and SPYDER SAMs placed all around as well as inside the base. It was going to be the first trial in combat for both of the systems.
An Akash battery placed in Chapo, nearly 110 Km forward of the base was first to acquire a lock on incoming bandits. 12 SAMs arose almost simultaneously to intercept first of DH-11 which were flying just 10s of metres above the mountain peaks
Of the 12 missiles launched at 7 different cruise missiles, 4 found their targets while the rest missed. Some failed as they lost lock on target amongst mountains, while the rest exploded harmlessly after their target was destroyed by another missile. By the time crews could reload the launchers, remaining DH-11s were already out of their kill zone or passed by without ever coming in range.
Another Akash battery placed in Arganglas took out another 5, but that still left out 7 DH-11s which moved on to their terminal phase as they neared their designated targets. People still left in the city now watched as 7 white streaks came in from the north. Short ranged SPYDER missiles rose to intercept these and managed to knock out 3 before first of the cruise missiles found it’s target and hit the runway. The warhead consisted of runway denial explosives and damaged it enough to stop all aircraft landings and takeoffs for hours if not days. Another missile probably targeted at the helicopter wing missed it’s aim and crashed in to the War Memorial just a few meters north of it. Although the helicopter hangars suffered some damage, losses were not high as most of the equipment and personnel were already away from the area. Third missile was hit by the radar guided AAA fire and crashed outside the airport in a civilian populated area causing dozens of causalities. Last of the missiles escaped all the last ditch AAA fire and hit the underground pens of Mig 29s. But the structures were made to handle exactly such kind of hits and the damage was minimal.
Considering the amount of firepower launched to take it out, the base had escaped virtually unscathed. Only serious damage was to the runway which was put out of order for a few hours. None of the aircrafts and other vital assets were damaged. Four Mig 29s which were on CAP duty earlier were starting to get a bit low on the fuel and were diverted to Srinagar.
While Indian personnel in the base worked to repair the damage, others elsewhere started on their missions to inflict at least equal if not more pain to Chinese for yet another attack. Work on a counter attack had begun as soon as the warnings of incoming missiles had come in. By the time last of the Chinese missiles had been cleared out of skies, Indian missile crews were ready with their own reply. Although Chinese had a seemingly overwhelming quantitative advantage over Indians, civil war inside two provinces and escalating conflict with Taiwan-US and tensions with Russia had stretched their resources to the limits. Thus providing Indians with a fighting chance if they planned their moves right.
India had already declared it’s willingness to go nuclear against China in face of any more provocations and thus replied back in a way that few people anywhere had ever expected.
Within minutes of Chinese attack, Indians had launched their own Shaurya hypersonic cruise missiles. Although Chinese too had fairly robust air defense systems in form of S300 ABM, sheer scale of attack overwhelmed their defenses, helped in no less deal by the uniqueness of a hypersonic cruise missile. Of 19 missiles launched, 13 found their targets. Unlike Chinese, Indians had spread their choice of targets on multiple bases and the effects on Chinese military capability in those areas were crippling. Most of their military bases north of J&K; in Tibet were hit with conventional explosive warheads, except for 4 which were annihilated with nuclear bunker busters. Those bases were suspected to be store Chinese nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.
Chinese military assets in Aksai Chin were given special attention. Two whole Chinese Rapid Reaction Force divisions had been mobilized in to the region to thwart any Indian offensive and these took brunt of the damage. Chinese edge in armoured part was more or less neutralised, first by three conventional missile strikes, then by bombing raids by Jaguars which followed minutes later.
The disproportionate response by Indians dealt a crippling blow on Chinese ability to wage war in Laddakh-Tibet sector and they needed to move fast in order to capitalize on it. Compared to Aksai Chin, Shaksgam Valley area was lightly defended. One reason was it’s previous border with ally Pakistan and another was it’s difficult mountainous terrain. Anything needed to maintain strong defensive positions in the area was prohibitively expensive and difficult like hell. For Indians, biggest hurdle in Shaksgam Valley was weather and terrain. On the other hand, comparatively flatter terrain of Aksai Chin was more conductive to troop movements and pitched battles both by armour as well as infantry. Both India and China had strong military presence along this border. Although Chinese had better roads and were numerically stronger, precision missile and air strikes had neutralized much of their offensive capability.
After near complete destruction of Pakistani military, Indian armed forces were feeling confident enough to move most of their Pakistan centric defenses towards the China border, thus strengthening their position vis-a-vis Chinese.It was only 2-3 hours after the Chinese cruise missile attack that the first of Indian soldiers entered the Indian territory illegally held by China.