Photos of China’s J-10 and J-11 fighter jets at an airfield in western China were posted by the Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times on Tuesday. The newspaper, published under the auspices of the official state mouthpiece People’s Daily, also quoted a Chinese military expert as saying the increased aerial activity was necessary to counter a military threat from India.

China is upgrading its Western Theater Command in order to confront any threat from India, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told Global Times.

The photos were originally released on Friday by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) during the Spring Festival holiday. Some of the photos published on the PLA website also show J-10 and J-11 fighters conducting air combat training exercises in the high-altitude plateau in western China — which is one of the closest points to the Indo-Chinese border. The command sector is said to be mainly responsible for mountain warfare at China’s border area with India.

Song told the newspaper that it’s significant for China to strengthen its control of airspace over the mountainous region.

“Strengthening the 3.5-generation fighter jets or even stationing more advanced fighters in the Western Theatre Command has been urgent for the PLA,” Song said, adding that such fighter upgrades are usually conducted first in south and east theatre commands.

Considering that India possesses 3rd-generation fighter jets, China’s stationing of its 3.5-generation jets would be able to deal with any current threat from India, Song reportedly said. “With India importing new jets, China will continue strengthening its fighter jets in the Western Theatre Command,” Song added.

Satellite photos show build-up

China and India were involved in a tense border stand-off at Doklam last year. Doklam is situated at a tri-junction area between India, China and Bhutan.

Stratfor, a US geopolitical risk consultant, said in a recent analysis of satellite photos of two Chinese and two Indian airbases in the area that a “strategic build-up has accelerated” since the crisis was resolved through negotiations on August 17 last year. Stratfor said the build-up was particularly noticeable on the Chinese side.

The analysis says satellite images of western China show a significant deployment of fighters and a noticeable increase in helicopters at two nearby bases. China is also said to have made airfield upgrades at Shigatse Peace Airport, which is 225km from Doklam. It includes construction of a new runway in mid-December.