China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) dispatched fighter jets and soldiers to a Pakistani airbase near the Indian border on Monday for a bilateral drill aimed at preparing both China and Pakistan’s militaries for “actual combat,” the Hindustan Times reported on Tuesday.
“The Chinese air force’s troops set off on December 7 for the Pakistani Air Force’s air base in Bholari at Thatta District in Sindh, northeast of Pakistan’s Karachi to participate in the China-Pakistan Joint Air Force Exercise Shaheen (Eagle) – IX [sic],” China’s national defense ministry announced in a press release on Monday.
“The joint air force exercise … is a project within the 2020 cooperation plan of the two militaries,” the statement read.
“It will promote the development of China-Pakistan mil[itary]-to-mil[itary] relationships, deepen practical cooperation between the two air forces and improve the actual-combat training level of the two sides,” the statement added.
The press release did not disclose additional details of the drill but noted that it will conclude in late December.
China’s western Xinjiang territory hosted the last Shaheen-IX drill in September 2019, the Hindustan Times recalled on Tuesday. It was the largest bilateral military drill orchestrated between Beijing and Islamabad at the time “with nearly 50 warplanes from the two countries taking part in it.”
The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) has reportedly deployed fighter jets close to the border with India as part of the drill, taking place near Pakistan’s border with India’s western Gujarat state.
“Twitter handle @detresfa, a satellite imagery expert, tweeted Monday evening that … a ‘#China AirForce (PLAAF) Y20 Heavy lift plane was spotted descending into #Pakistan near Bholari Airbase, along with it was spotted another unknown aircraft (suspected PLAAF) following the same route Aircraft are suspected to be in support of a joint exercise,'” the Hindustan Times noted.
Earlier today, a #China AirForce (PLAAF) Y20 Heavy lift plane was spotted descending into #Pakistan near Bholari Airbase, along with it was spotted another unknown aircraft (suspected PLAAF) following the same route
Aircraft are suspected to be in support of a joint exercise pic.twitter.com/W4r0w5xTzw
— d-atis☠️ (@detresfa_) December 7, 2020
China and India are currently engaged in a border standoff along their unmarked boundary in the western Himalayas following a skirmish between the two countries’ border regiments in the north Indian state of Ladakh this past summer. The June 15 clash killed 20 Indian soldiers and an estimated 40 Chinese troops and was the deadliest military conflict between the two Asian neighbors in 45 years. In July and August, the PLA conducted live-fire drills in the “middle section of the Himalayas” despite officially claiming to have “disengaged” from the border standoff.
The Indian Army has been working to bolster its Special Frontier Force (SFF) to secure its border with China according to reports in September. The SFF is an operational unit founded by India during its border war with China in 1962. It is comprised almost entirely of ethnic Tibetan soldiers.