Sources said fighter aircraft including Rafales and Su 30MKIs have been operating with enhanced frequency from Leh and Thoise air bases for the past few days, even as the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has activated its air defence network and is conducting a large-scale exercise involving its combat jets.
On the Indian side, night flying is being undertaken with enhanced frequency, as there have been instances of Chinese fighter jets probing areas close to the contested zones in eastern Ladakh. In an instance, Chinese fighter jets flew close to a contested area at around 4 am in late June, triggering a response from the Indian side. The incident did not escalate into a bigger crisis as the Chinese combat jet did not breach the border, but a formal protest was lodged by India as per the established border talks mechanism.
Sources said the Chinese air defence network across the border, which includes the latest S-400 systems procured from Russia and locally manufactured HQ-9 systems, has been activated, and combat jets deployed at bases facing the Indian border are carrying out increased sorties. China has also moved several of its advanced J-20 fighters to an airbase close to the Indian border.
Since the Galwan crisis in 2020, when the Chinese army diverted a large group of ground forces that were conducting a routine exercise to the contested areas in eastern Ladakh, Indian forces have been on high alert for any unusual activity. At the height of the crisis in 2020 and early 2021, the Indian Air Force had moved several assets to the Ladakh border, including frontline jets, combat helicopters and a range of air defence systems.