Logistics: China Builds An Iron Road To Victory


July 21, 2008: Two years ago, China completed the first rail line into Tibet. India saw this as a military threat of the first order, and for good reason. The 1,956 kilometer long rail line is the highest railroad in the world, with 80 percent of it at least 12,000 feet high, and one pass that is 16,640 feet high. This line can move about 13,000 tons of cargo, or military equipment, a day. This has India worried, because it enables China to quickly move ground forces into Tibet, should there ever be another war on their mutual border. Before the railroad, there were several highways into Tibet, but these would wear out the mechanized units that used them. By the time they got to the Indian border, many, if not most, of their vehicles would be in need of maintenance of repair, and many would be stranded, where they broke down, along several thousand kilometers of road.

The railroad eliminates most of this "road fatigue" for China's mechanized infantry divisions. These units contain 600 armored vehicles, plus several thousand trucks. Moving long distances is not that hard on the trucks, but it is hell on the armored vehicles, since most of them run on tracks (like a bulldozer).

Some mechanized divisions are designated as "rapid reaction" units, and are kept at a higher state of readiness (repairs on made on vehicles promptly and fuel and other supplies are kept on hand so some portions of the division can be sent off within hours of getting the order. These units also have a third or half their 350 tracked vehicles (BMP clones) replaced with T-90 wheeled armored vehicles (like the U.S. Stryker). These survive long road movements better than tracked vehicles, they are still heavy (15 ton) vehicles, and some will break down when covering long distances.

A typical mechanized division weighs about 15,000 tons. So it would take less than two days to move a division into Tibet over the railroad, and there would be little wear and tear (most from moving a hundred kilometers or so to the railroad).

There are some problems with the Tibet railroad, however. Special diesel engines, modified to operate at high altitudes (where the air is thinner) are normally used. There are not enough of these engines to run the Tibet railroad at full capacity. Ordinary diesel engines could be used, but they would not operate at full capacity. Another potential problem is attacks on the railroad, especially the tunnels and 675 bridges. But overall, the Tibetan high line is a military plus, although that angle was rarely mentioned during the decade or so it took to complete it.


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