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.
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).
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.
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).
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.