On balance, the prospects of Sino-Indian conflict remain. What appears certain is that China’s aggressive stance and the initiation of conflict will be aimed at undermining India’s status as a regional power. If India fails to respond adequately, she will be projected as a ‘Soft State’ susceptible to coercion. Simultaneously, the Chinese aim would be to keep India embroiled in fighting internal/regional conflicts. In doing so, China may be expected to virtually abrogate any agreements such as Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement and Confidence Building Measures and BDCA leading to incremental build up and conflict.
Lack of development of border infrastructure on the Indian side is the main reason why the Chinese could intrude freely…
A decade ago the US Department of Defense (DoD) and the global strategic community had warned that China would begin flexing muscles 2010 onwards and that India should settle the border disputes with China before this; but little was done to even plug gaps in our defences. Improvement of border infrastructure has not really taken off despite colossal Chinese military upgrades in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) including nuclear missile deployments and massive exercises by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and Chinese Airborne Corps in proximity to the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Chinese aggression has been on the rise, nibbling away at Indian territory consistently. The gap between the capabilities of the PLA and the Indian military has been widening. There is a need to take stock and rapidly institute a tiered border defence against China to safeguard our territorial integrity and meet the challenges of the mounting threat.
Current Scenario: Border Defence
With unity of command having been compromised, our border defence has been woefully inadequate. Reportedly, some 400 sq.km. of territory has been lost in Ladakh over and above the Aksai Chin. Responsibility of border defence is divided between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), with the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) deployed in sensitive areas without placing them under the command of the Army. This facilitates smuggling of narcotics, fake currency, goods and even illegal immigration with indicators that some of these activities are institutionalised. Chinese goods are being smuggled into India also through the India-Myanmar border. Not only is the ULFA hierarchy located at Ruli on Chinese soil but China is also pumping in weapons and communication equipment through the Kachen rebels in Myanmar to the PLA in Manipur and onwards to the Maoists in India. Deployment of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) in sensitive areas of Ladakh without placing them under the command of the local Army formation is a folly that has been capitalised by the Chinese who have made deep intrusions without qualms.
Despite the Border Road Organisation (BRO) being directly under the MoD, border infrastructure has been severely neglected. In February 2014, NDTV reported that out of the 26 border roads sanctioned in recent years, only one has been completed. China, on the other hand, has developed excellent infrastructure that permits quick mobilisation and vehicular movement. This includes construction of a ten-kilometre road in Pangong Tso area. In 1970, at Nathu La, the Chinese could ply a five-tonne vehicle vis-à-vis a one-tonne vehicle of ours. Today, over four decades later, the status remains the same. Lack of development of border infrastructure on the Indian side is the main reason why the Chinese could intrude freely and our security forces are unable to react effectively and in time.
China’s focus in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) remains a cause for concern…
Similar is the story with our poor response to Chinese intrusions. Criticism and shame had to be faced in wake of deep intrusions such as the one at Raki Nala in Depsang during April 2013 when even the MEA admitted that the intrusion was five to seven kilometres beyond the line of Chinese claim. It is a wonder how a 1.2 million strong army could permit 20 Chinese soldiers to sit 19 km deep inside Indian territory for 25 days. Ironically, Chinese troops had reportedly intruded into the same area on earlier occasions albeit this time the media got wise.
Such intrusions have been occurring at many places along the LAC despite the 1993 India-China Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas, Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas, 2005 Protocol on Modalities for the Implementation of Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in India-China Border Areas, and the 2012 Agreement on Establishment of a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs.
Now, even after signing the China-drafted Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) in 2013, the Chinese intruded into Depsang and Chumar on December 19 and 20. Then, in the first week of January 2014, intrusions took place in the Takdip area where incursions had been spotted in December 2013 as well. Now, China has proposed a Code of Conduct to be introduced along the border. Obviously China wants to play at signing agreement after agreement without changing her aggressive stance. Chinese occupation of the Depsang plains in conjunction with her presence in Gilgit-Baltisatn would threaten India’s deployments in Siachen and sever the approach to Karakoram Pass. India has also lost substantial territory in the India-China-Myanmar tri-juncture area; China is also staking claims to the Tatu Bowl, loss of which would enable the Chinese to easily roll down the plains. POK is already a strategic objective of China that provides her access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, to Afghanistan and the CARs.
The simple fact is that China will not hesitate to take physical action against India…
Prospects of Conflict
Much has been talked of about the possibilities of future Sino-Indian conflict from the Chinese gameplan to place India in the vice-like grip of a python to gobble up what the former wants, active defence to short swift offensive even using tactical nuclear weapons to force India to surrender territory, acupuncture warfare and the like. China’s ‘active defence’ doctrine is a transformation from Mao’s large scale people’s land-centric war to high intensity, short duration localised war under informationised conditions. In this context, the chances of conflict remain.
Despite the progressing economic relations, China’s focus in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) remains a cause for concern. China has been making every possible effort to find her way to the Indian Ocean through Myanmar and Pakistan along the land routes. Her strategic interests clash with the US and her allies in the Asia-Pacific; China desperately needs another oceanic front and a strong India is hardly to her liking. Besides, for Chinese Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs) to operate effectively in the IOR, China needs land-based air and missile support. This is one reason why China is deploying missiles in the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan and developing or planning to develop ports in countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Seychelles in the IOR.
Not only has China colluded with Pakistan on a conventional and nuclear front but also in the sub-conventional field by waging a collusive asymmetric war against India including through irregular forces and proxies. With China’s aggression on the rise, the collusive China-Pakistan threat has multiplied exponentially with both countries following a policy of ambiguity, denial and deceit, what with repeated Chinese intrusions, claim to entire Arunachal Pradesh as “South Tibet” and now demanding a Code of Conduct for forward troops, indicating the futility of the recently signed Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA).
In the prevailing environment of global conflict, the first tier of defence must necessarily be deep inside enemy backyard…
On balance, the prospects of Sino-Indian conflict remain. What appears certain is that China’s aggressive stance and the initiation of conflict will be aimed at undermining India’s status as a regional power. If India fails to respond adequately, she will be projected as a ‘Soft State’ susceptible to coercion. Simultaneously, the Chinese aim would be to keep India embroiled in fighting internal/regional conflicts. In doing so, China maybe expected to virtually abrogate any agreements such as Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement and Confidence Building Measures and BDCA leading to incremental build up and conflict.
Should the US get more involved in the Middle East or in new and likely hotspots such as Ukraine and the CAR, Chinese adventurism in India can be expected to escalate. The US may have announced the Asia Pivot in recent months but China already has in place a globally deployable military force with nuclear/non-nuclear allies/proxies in North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria as a countermeasure even if one discounts China not resorting to the employment of large scale nuclear force.
The simple fact is that, if and when it suits her national interests, China will not hesitate to take physical action against India such as opening multiple land routes to the Indian Ocean to cater to her long term energy requirements. This is likely even while China’s power projection in the IOR remains constrained in the absence of credible air cover till aircraft carrier groups with accompanying airpower can be deployed. For the time being, her power projection in the IOR will, in all likelihood, be under the guise of what may be termed as ‘military operations other than war’.
India needs to ensure that she does not present a weak front anywhere along the LAC…
Some Western strategists even feel that to shock India into territorial concessions, the PLA may consider a savage campaign including limited nuclear exchange. Although crossing the nuclear rubicon may be unlikely, we certainly cannot rule out the possibility altogether. What we should be ready for is the opening of multiple fronts as it has occurred before. Land-based enveloping actions of yesteryears will be replaced by vertical envelopment through helicopter-based RRF. Physical activation of the LAC will be preceded by full spectrum satellite surveillance, cyber attacks on the military, non-military networks and critical infrastructure, laser and plasma attacks. Conflict may be simultaneous at the operational, strategic and tactical levels that maybe intense but short with the use of PGMs to maximum effect.
Defence Against China
To advocate a tiered defence against China is no surprise as tiered defence is probably most effective against anything. In World War I, even the Maginot Line had obstacles thrown in ahead besides artillery barrages to stop the advancing enemy. The term ‘offensive defence’ has been in vogue since long. Besides the most simplistic explanation could well be that one cannot defend one’s house by simply barricading it, and that there must be elements outside to patrol the streets. The second issue is that of employing asymmetric approaches particularly in cyberspace and employing proxies in the sub-conventional segment of the conflict spectrum.
It is well known the PLA has invested in border villages, making inroads through smugglers, agents and Special Forces personnel besides using its soldiers in the garb of civilians in development projects in countries surrounding India particularly Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar in proximity of the LAC. What is important in planning the tiered defence against China is to carefully develop each tier taking into account Chinese concepts and attack methodology, realities of warfare in the twenty-first century and optimising advancements in technology to help buttress defence.
Significantly, China flight tested its new hypersonic vehicle in January 2014, which travels at a velocity at least five times faster than sound. China favours a pre-emptive strike as an option to break the enemy will to fight with damaging strikes, increasing ground operations simultaneously. We need to bridge such asymmetries.
Reportedly, some 400 sq km of territory has been lost in Ladakh over and above the Aksai Chin…
In the prevailing environment of global conflict, the first tier of defence must necessarily be deep inside enemy backyard; application of asymmetric approaches in reverse of what China has been waging against us for many years, which China terms as ‘unrestricted warfare’. Chinese concept of unrestricted warfare does not just span the use of proxies but is based on the three main pillars of the Military (atomic, conventional, bio-chemical, ecological, space, guerilla and terrorist warfare), Trans Military (diplomatic, network, intelligence, psychological, tactical, smuggling, drug and virtual warfare) and the Non-Military (financial, trade, resources, economic aid, regulatory, sanctions, media and ideological warfare).
Divorcing conventional defence from these forms of ongoing warfare would be foolish. Our first tier of defence as a country against China should, therefore, be aimed at not only negating her aggressive moves in each of these segments but also optimising such moves in India’s favour. As far as sub-conventional conflict is concerned, China has numerous faultlines and her buffer provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet are on the boil. While China, in conjunction with Pakistan, has been using her advanced sub-conventional potential against India, the latter has been relying on rather ineffective diplomacy and conventional force. Basing a policy against sub-conventional threats on idealism as a stand-alone factor only provides an inward looking policy which is more expensive in the long run and adversely affects our national security and development. In coping with asymmetric threats, establishment of offensive cyber warfare, space warfare and electro-magnetic capability including Directed Energy Weapons are vital as well.
The second tier of defence would be at the LAC itself. India needs to ensure that she does not present a weak front anywhere along the LAC. There should be unity of command with everything placed under the command of the Army. Sensitive areas such as Depsang and Chumar in Eastern Ladakh should be held by Ladakh Scouts who are the ‘sons of the soil’ rather than the ITBP. Similarly, the same pattern should follow along the rest of the LAC in Himachal, Sikkim, Arunachal and Meghalaya.
Mountain-based operations are time consuming and more significantly, manpower intensive…
Existing levels of Scouts units in these regions need to reviewed considering the role they have in conflict across the LAC and subsequently fighting the enemy inside own territory cutting off the thrust lines, should such a need arise. The first tier must have continuous trans-border surveillance in place. This must consist of satellite cover, UAVs, MAVs and Unattended Ground Sensors (UGS). Comprehensive battlefield transparency must be in place integrating space, areal and ground equipment such as LOROS, BFSR, HHTIs, UGS, Surveillance cameras and NVDs.
Modern electronic surveillance involves detection of movement, and is largely based on seismic, acoustic, inductive sensors, and infrared sensors – all of which should be optimised. Considering the length of the unsettled border, construction of a border fence akin to the Indo-Pak border is not feasible. However, it would be prudent to cater for the laying of obstacles, mines and IEDs on imminence of hostilities but fire or aerially lay mines on axes of enemy advance, as required. The forces deployed along the LAC (as also subsequent tiers and offensive reserves) need to be provisioned with the wherewithal for information dominance and assurance, ability to paralyse the enemy’s C4I2 infrastructure, stand-off weapons to pre-empt enemy attack, adequate mix of DEW, PGMs and ASATs, ability to disrupt enemy logistics/sustenance and mix of hard and soft kill options. Fielding of the Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS) and Battlefield Management System (BMS) must be expedited. Development of border infrastructure needs to be fine-tuned to cater for all types of day or night movement.
This essentially comprises the second layer of units and sub-units in support of the troops deployed along the LAC. There would be requirement of scouts, home guards, civil defence forces operating in the gaps in addition to extensive network of army patrols. Obstacles can be laid ab initio or as required along the assessed and actual thrust lines of the enemy. Areas that the PLA could possibly use for third dimension aerial envelopment (between the second and third tiers and behind the third tier) would need to be identified and measures instituted to negate their use; obstacles, fire plans and earmarking of reserves.
There is no reason to be overawed by China’s economic and military might…
Mountain Strike Corps
Mountain-based operations are time consuming and more significantly, manpower intensive. In addition to the aerospace dimension, land-based conflict should be expected more in areas conducive to the deployment of mechanised forces; examples being Eastern Ladakh, North Sikkim and Chumbi Valley. Offensive operations essentially require uncommitted troops. To this end, there is a definite need to deploy an exclusive Mountain Strike Corps in Ladakh considering the collusive China-Pakistan threat including China’s strategic designs in the POK-Ladakh region. A second Mountain Strike Corps needs to be deployed to cater to Chinese claims to so-called “South Tibet” for appropriate response when required.
China is fast emulating Nazi Germany; her actions indicating her belief that she has achieved the level of CNP to extract whatever territorial gains she wants from her neighbours without challenging the US or daring it to intervene despite its declining economic strength. The 12 per cent hike in China’s defence budget points towards rising aggression. There is no reason to be overawed by China’s economic and military might but our forward infrastructure development needs to be undertaken on critical operational priority to ensure rapid mobilisation and switching of forces. In addition, we must strive to remove the asymmetry vis-à-vis China in aerospace, cyber and electro-magnetic domains as well as in rapid aerial deployments. The vital deterrent to irregular warfare must be established on priority. There is no reason that we cannot take on future challenges.