Learning a lesson from the devastating defeat in the Chinese hand during the 1961 India-China war, a modernization drive has been initiated for the military by the Indian government.
However, the Chinese too are adding muscle to their military as the rapidly expanding economy is providing it with lots of resources and power to do so. The recent shift in India’s act east policy and repeated incursion by the PLA is signaling something sinister.
2014 Chumar Incident was just a teaser, The future incursions in this particular region will be just like a slap but the feisty blow will come from Yunnan which covers the “Eastern Sector” of the Order. And, let us be clear about one thing – India may raise couple of mountain strike corps in a short period of time but a deficiency induced air power capabilities will break India’s defensive lines as well as offensive dreams. The Order of Next War between India and China, will be decided in the thin mountain air’s of Aksai Chin and Tibet. Is India really prepared?
Multiple Spark Points : Chumar, Ukdungle, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldi
On 15 April 2013, a platoon-sized contingent of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) set up a camp in Raki Nula, 30 km south of Daulat Beg Oldi near the Aksai Chin-Ladakh Line of Actual Control (LAC).Chinese and Indian patrols in this disputed area are common, but both Chinese and Indian military forces have avoided establishing permanent bases and fortifications in the region. Indian forces responded to the Chinese presence by quickly establishing their own encampment 300 meters away. Negotiations between China and India lasted nearly three weeks, during which the Chinese position was reinforced and supported by trucks and helicopters. The dispute was resolved on 5 May, after which both sides withdrew.
The Chinese claim that DBO area is part of Xinjiang, while the Indians believe that this area is part of Jammu and Kashmir. China and India signed two agreements, in 1993 and 1996, in order to establish protocols to resolve potential disputes in the region. These protocols included the mutual recognition of a “Line of Actual Control” (LAC), but disagreements continue between the two governments about where the LAC lies over a roughly 20 km-wide swath in this sector. India first claimed that the Chinese encampment was 10 km on their side of where they view the LAC, later revising that to 19 km. Despite the disputed area being an “unpopulated and desolate wasteland”, it is strategically important to China because of the presence of a highway that connects Pakistan to Tibet and Xinjiang.
The 2014 stand-off in Chumar-Demchok area in Ladakh region appears to have been resolved without loss of face on either side. The 2013’S incident in Depsang Plains and the last one almost 250-km South in Demchok and Chumar has some similarities and some differences. In both cases the PLA/People’s Armed Police Forces personnel in sizable strength had intruded into the territory controlled and claimed by India. Both the incidents lasted more than two weeks each during which the assertiveness of the Chinese troops was on full display.
In the case of DBO-Depsang incident, there were reports of an armored division being present at Shahidullah and the intruding troops being in communication with this force indicating that the Chinese were ready to escalate the conflict. Interestingly, there was no concentration of Chinese troops in the near vicinity of Chumar-Demchok area. Last year’s intrusion was termed as ‘accidental’ by China and their Foreign Ministry expressed ignorance about the incident – at least in the initial stages.
The Permafrost : The Necessary Evil
Permafrost is permanently frozen ground that occurs when the ground temperature is 32 °F (0 °C) or colder for two or more years. It is continuous in the arctic military operating environments but sporadic in the subarctic and nonexistent in temperate regions. The thickness of permafrost varies from a few feet to over a thousand feet in depth. Disturbance of the tundra increases the thawing of permafrost.
In the Aksai Chin-Ladakh and Tibet, permafrost is generally encountered round the year. In this area, the ground never fully thaws. This can be one of the trickiest areas in which to stage mechanized military operations. The most suitable time for conducting ground operations is from mid-winter to early spring before the breakup period. During this period, the ground remains frozen allowing greater mobility. Care must be taken with operations in the late spring or in the fall. They should only be undertaken when day time thaw and night time freeze leave only a thin layer of mud on deeply frozen ground. Vegetation varies from barren lands to moss and lichens. Forests are usually found closer to the temperate zone. Moss and lichen are usually found in permafrost areas. In summer in permafrost areas, vegetation may mat together over a pool of water. This is called a bog. The matted vegetation may support a man but will not support any type of vehicle. These areas can be extremely dangerous.
Now, if we look at the Chinese PLA’s Incursion Patterns:
2013 DBO- Depsang Plains Incident – April 2013 : Early Spring
2014 Chumar Incident – September 2014 : Fresh Himalayan Winter
It is evidently proved, China tested its forces readiness and effectiveness on technical grounds in these two primary incursion points by considering the Himalayan Permafrost factors. Results are crystal clear.
Western Sector Assessment:
As per the International Institute of Strategic Studies’s Report, Lanzhou Military Region, which faces Ladakh, has 220,000 troops, including an armored division and two motorized infantry divisions. The Chengdu Military Region, opposite India’s north-eastern states, has some 180,000 PLA troops, including two armored brigades and four motorized infantry divisions.
According to Late Mr. B. Raman, an ex-RAW official – the two primary factor which has emerged in Chinese’s military strategy against India, for timely deployment of assets.
China’s increasingly emphasizing on the role of the helicopter-borne operations. China has been searching for alternative means of taking India by surprise; particularly in Southern Tibet. And, the completion of G219 highway is going to be the primary feeder to that surprise.
China’s fine-tuning of integrated Army-Air Force role in defending Tibet from external threats and in asserting their will trans-Himalayas. There has been an increase in the number of Air Force exercises in Tibet, to get all the elements acclimatize with high altitude warfare tactics.
Logistically, Tibet is a nightmare for troop movement and sustenance. Lack of ground communication facilities rather than shortage of troops have been the limiting factor for military operations on the entire Tibetan plateau. Before the railway was constructed, the principal route into Tibet was the 1160 km long Qingzang highway (National Highway 109) which connects Tibet to the neighbouring Qinghai province. It was built in the 1950s and has limited load carrying capacity, apart from numerous bottlenecks. The travel time on this highway between Golmud to Lhasa via Nagqu is 72 hours. The other important land route is the National Highway 318 (connecting Linzhi and Lhasa) which is in fact the southern section of the Sichuan-Tibet Highway (Chuanzang Highway). In the event of war or future large-scale riots in Tibet, this highway will be the key passageway for combat troops from the Chengdu Military Region (CMR) to enter Tibet.
Analysts point to the military implications of the railroad, saying it could be used to beef up China’s already heavy military presence in Tibet, including the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. In 2001, Jane’s Intelligence Digest reported that ‘the PLA considers it necessary to build up a network of roads and mule tracks to bring military hardware and troops to the forward areas of the disputed border (with India).’ According to defence expert William Triplett: ‘With even a single line, the PLA could move about 12 infantry divisions to central Tibet in 30 days to meet up with their pre-positioned equipment.’12 Most of the military experts agree with this assessment that in military terms, this rail link gives China the capability to mobilise up to 12 divisions (approximately 12,000 men make a Chinese division) a month.
Up North in the Qinghai province, Golmud, the start point of the QTR, has now been turned into a major military base with rail connectivity. It is located strategically to cover both the unrestprone provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang. Further, the Lanzhou Military Region (LMR) with its headquarters at Lanzhou in Qinghai province is also in proximity of Golmud and connected with Golmud by rail on the Longhai Line, the major East-West railway of China. LMR covers a vast area covering the Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, and Shaanxi provinces. In Indian context, LMR is responsible for the Aksai Chin and the other Chinese areas in Xinjiang across the Eastern Ladakh. The International Institute for Strategic Studies attributes the Military Region with an estimated 220,000 personnel including the 12th Armoured Division (Unit 84701) at Jiuquan in Gansu province. The movement and rapid deployment of this equipment-intensive division will be greatly facilitated by the QTR.
Eastern Sector Assessment:
In any future military confrontation with India, the Chinese will most likely to use their Air Force in Tibet for defense, but simultaneously will deploy forces in Yunnan and mobilized in a military offensive. If we consider the proximity of Myanmar’s Kachin State and Yunnan, both the regions are very important in trans-Himalayan military strategy, but disappointingly, India continues to neglect these two important regions in their intelligence coverage.
The geographical peculiarity of Arunachal Pradesh is that the river valleys and the mountain ranges in the State run more or less in a North-South alignment. Between the Kameng sector in the West and the lower Subansari, in the center, there is a vast swathe of land that is unassailable. The major rivers east of Kameng sector are Kameng, Kamla, Kurang, Subansari, Shyom, Siang, Dibang, and Lohit. These rivers have their source in the North in the glaciated regions along the watershed and some north of the watershed too. Geo-morphologically, the rivers have a huge drainage basin and are fed by numerous turbulent tributaries. The volume of water and the current of these rivers, particularly in the monsoon season is awesome. As a consequence these rivers have created deep gorges along their course down to the plains.
The Indian Army already has plans to build a lateral road from Kameng to Lohit half way up on the road axis from the plains leading to the LAC, traversing up and down the valleys and the mountain ranges running on either side of the river valleys. That would, in rough terms, mean going up and down 16 mountain ranges and crossing eight major rivers. As such this proposal has not progressed beyond an expression of a ‘desire’. A similar lateral road alignment nearer the LAC would entail equally formidable engineering challenges. The additional ones being those that are posed by the altitude which would be greater, the river gorges encountered would be more numerous and requiring innovative solutions. Also, overall, the resources required would be enormous.
In 1989, when a major unrest occurred in Tibet and the curfew was imposed in Lhasa, the 149th Division was the first PLA combat unit to arrive on the scene. The 149th Rapid Reaction Motorised Division of No.13 Group Army of the CMR is located at Leshan/Emei in Sichuan province. At that time, the army troops entered Tibet via the Sichuan-Tibet highway which imposed considerable delay. However in March 2008, within 48 hours of the start of the riots in Lhasa, T-90/89 armoured personnel carriers (APC) and T-92 wheeled infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) of the 149th Division appeared on the streets. This is indicated by the fact that the PLA soldiers on the T-90/89 vehicles on the streets of Lhasa were all wearing the “leopard” camouflage uniforms specifically designed for mountain warfare operations. These uniforms have appeared in the video footage of the 149th Division during exercises. This rapid arrival of the Division using QTR relieved pressure from the troops of the No. 52 and No. 53 Mountain Brigades, which are located comparatively closer to Lhasa at Linzhi and Milin respectively for quicker response in case of unrest.
Presently, China also has 14 military airfields and 10 missile bases in Tibet. In TAR itself; according to the Dhramshala based Tibet’s government-in-exile,18 called the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), there are six sub-military districts, having two independent infantry divisions, six border defence regiments, five independent border defence battalions, three artillery regiments, three engineers’ regiments, one main signal station and two signal regiments, three transport regiments and three independent transport battalions, four Air Force bases, two radar regiments, two divisions and a regiment of para-military forces (referred to as Di-fang Jun or ‘local army’), one independent division and six independent regiments of People’s Armed Police (PAP). In absence of any Indian threat as such, many of the regular army formations, particularly the rapid reaction divisions were stationed primarily to quell any rioting in Tibet. The two mountain infantry units of the Xizang Military District, which forms the Tibet garrison, are also used for internal security. However, the recent movement and deployment of PLA units for internal security was very rapid, wiping out any Tibetan hopes for any sustained armed uprising. The use of QTR meant that there was minimum requirement of air support from the 2nd Army Aviation Regiment, based at Fenghuangshan in Sichuan province. Therefore, the recent improvement rail infrastructure on the Tibetan plateau has thus greatly assisted China in maintaining its grip over Tibet and gaining moral ascendancy over the disaffected Tibetan groups. Further extensions of QTR may permit the PLA troops in Tibet to handover the internal security tasks completely to PAP and focus their attention on India.
The QTR also features prominently in the operational plans of the PLA’s Rapid Reaction Forces (RRF) which forms a core of mechanized infantry tactics. The PLA has established a regiment-level Army Special Force (ASF) in every Military Region (MR) as an RRF unit, directly under the MR headquarters command. The total strength of ASF may be as high as seven regiments and twenty-four battalions, or approximately 25,000 personnel. The RRFs are meant to be quickly deployed in the conflict-prone peripheral areas of China, such as Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan, and the South China Sea. The PLA has conducted various exercises since 1995, concentrating particularly on long-range and intraregional rapid mobile deployment. To this end, RRF combined exercises were carried out in 1995 and 1996 in the Gobi desert, the Tibetan and Xinjiang highlands, and in the south-western tropical forests to enhance the RRF’s adaptive survival capabilities.15 It is learnt that in the LMR, a 1000-mile railway transport rapid-deployment exercise was held in August 1996. The purpose of the railway transport based exercise was to enhance mobile deployment capability15. Post completion of QTR, the operational readiness as well as the deployment timings of RRFs (ASF) in LMR and CMR have been further boosted.
The Role of Air Forces
By late 90s, PLAAF was operating over 3500 combat aircraft comprising mainly the J-6 (MiG-19 equivalent) and the J-7 (based on the MiG-21). A deal with Russia saw the induction of 100 Su-27 fighters. PLAAF also had in its inventory the H-6 (Tu-16 based) bombers. China had no precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and only the Su-27 was BVR compatible.
Modernization of the PLAAF has been propelled by China’s astounding economic growth. The 21st century has witnessed the acquisition of 105 Su-30MKK from 2000 to 2003 and 100 upgraded Su-30MKK2 in 2004. China produced more than 200 J-11s from 2002 on-wards. The PLAAF also bought a total of 126 Su-27SK/UBK in three batches. The production of the J-10 combat aircraft began in 2002 and 1200 are on order. The H-6 bombers (Tu-16 Badger) were converted into flight refueling aircraft. In 2005, the PLAAF unveiled plans to acquire 70 Il-76 transport aircraft and 30 Il-78 tankers to significantly upgrade strategic airlift capability and offer extended range to the fighter force. The US Department of Defense has reported that Su-27 SKs are being upgraded to the multi-role Su-27 SMK status.
Recently China unveiled its fifth generation fighter, the J-20 and J-31 which represents a significant step in the evolution of the Chinese aerospace industry. The new aircraft displays stealth features and indicates a determination on China’s part to shape new military capabilities in the period ahead. China is determined in developing modern military aerospace capabilities.
Compared to Pakistan, IAF has an edge. But, the speed in which PAF is modernizing, with current aircraft-pilot ratio, The edge will not last long Now, when the same plight is compared to China’s PLAAF – It’s simply pathetic. According to the Standing Committee on Defence, the sanctioned squadron strength for Indian Air Force was 42 but at present it has 35 active squadrons. It is also noted that there are plans for the induction of Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft and indigenous Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas, along with a Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft project with Russia. Committed also commented – “Even if all the procurement fructifies, IAF is likely to achieve the authorized strength of 42 squadrons only by the end of the 15th Plan, or in 2032.”
The Role of Navies:
In June 1994, the Japanese-language Sankei Shimbun claimed that, in addition to constructing a radar station on Great Coco Island, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) had also installed a radar on nearby Little Coco Island. The smaller island was across Alexandra Channel to the south, and thus even closer to India’s North Andaman Island. Beijing had reportedly “leased” both Burmese islands from the SLORC. According to the same news story, the intelligence collected by these facilities was to be shared with the Burmese, to help in “strengthening future cooperative military ties between the two countries”.27 The source of all these claims was given as a former senior official of Japan’s Defence Agency, in turn quoting “a British military intelligence official”.
At first, the main purpose of the Great Coco Island facility was reportedly to monitor regional military activities, especially air and naval movements in the Bay of Bengal. Before long, however, journalists and academics began claiming that the base was also established to conduct surveillance of India’s strategically important tri-service facilities at Port Blair, on South Andaman Island. Some suggested that the Chinese, and their Burmese allies, were monitoring submarine activity around the Indian Navy’s base at Visakhapatnam (Vizag) in eastern India. In an elaboration of this theme, a number of commentators claimed that the Great Coco Island base was built and equipped by the Chinese to analyze telemetry from Indian missile tests. These included flights by ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles over the Bay of Bengal from ranges in eastern India. The electronic intelligence gathered, it was suggested, was shared with Pakistan to help it develop counter-measures against new Indian weapon systems
To counter balance the Chinese maneuvers, India took an unprecedented step 14 years ago by setting up a joint theater operational command for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANC). As of 2015, the command includes 15 ships of the Indian Navy, two Navy Sea bases, four Air Force and Naval Air bases and an Army brigade. The Andaman and Nicobar Command is India’s first and only joint tri-service command, with rotating three-star Commanders-in-Chief from the Army, Navy and Air Force reporting directly to the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Described as the `sentinel post’ for the east and south, the command was created to bring about a qualitative difference to operations and surveillance in that region through multiple Indian military assets.
In the case of escalation of any conflict between India and China, Myanmar’s 2,276 km long coastline in the Bay of Bengal has the potential to provide the ‘second coast’ to the latter by giving the direct access to Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. Especially transportation military logistics to the ‘second coast’ from landlocked south west Chinese provinces like Yunnan have both military and economic benefits.
“Short Border Wars” between India and China is inevitable. India has reinforced its position in Arunachal with more boots on the ground, new missile defenses and some of the Indian air force’s best strike craft, new Russian-made Su-30 fighters. After decades of focusing its army against perennial western threat from Pakistan, India is tacitly realigning its military east to face the long-term challenge of China.
According to IDSA New Delhi, that China could make a targeted territorial grab, “for example, a bid to take Tawang.” Further west along the LAC, another major flash-point lies in Kashmir. China controls a piece of largely uninhabited territory known as Aksai Chin that it captured during the 1962 war, a suitable collection of spark points which provides all possible scenarios to launch multiple surgical incursions.
The threat of coordinated action by China and Pakistan under Pincer strategy – an alliance built largely out of years of mutual antipathy toward India is a one mooted scenario. Pakistan, either with its own forces or terrorist, insurgent proxies, would “make diversionary moves” across the blood-stained Siachen glacier or Kargil, site of the last Indo-Pakistani war in 1999, while a Chinese offensive strikes further east along the border. But, at the same time United States and others will deploy there heavy geo-strategic muscles over Pakistan to stay out of the conflict by all means. In short, Pincer strategy is possible only during peace time, but not feasible during war time.
Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan would likely be treated as a neutral “Switzerland”, while Nepal, a country of 40 million that entertains both Beijing and New Delhi’s patronage, is more or less assured that neither of its big neighbors would risk violating its sovereignty in the event of war.
On other hand, India needs to put in place a well-coordinated approach to secure the maritime and land neighborhood of the Bay of Bengal and Northeast India. This would include strengthening naval and coastal patrol assets in the littoral waters off the Andaman and Nicobar islands as well as enhanced strategic assets at the Northeastern borders opposite the ‘second coast’.
Indian Air Force’s role will be very decisive. Currently, It’s the only force among Indian Armed Forces which lacks all kind of tactical and strategic edge over PLAAF and PLA Army Aviation.
As India strengthens it Asian alliances and improves its defence capabilities steadily, the current huge asymmetry in military power between the two will be partially redressed. If China wants to try any strong-arm tactics against India, it has to do so using the narrow window of time when the military skew is against us. After 5-10 years of economic and military build-up by India, China’s capacity to act against us will fall dramatically.
Source: Defence News