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New developments along the Line of Actual Control July 26, 2013

Posted by nishankmotwani in : By contributor, By country, Future Directions International, Guest authors, India , trackback

Daniel Barnes

Controversy over repeated incursions by Chinese soldiers into disputed territories has provoked an Indian reaction. India’s government has given approval for a new mountain corps for offensive warfare to be based near the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Background

Chinese “transgressions” and “insensitivities” in recent months have helped prompt the creation of a so-called China Strike Corps, which is to be headquartered in Panagarh, West Bengal. This is the official culmination of a process that began six years ago. It was given a boost by an in-principle approval by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2010, but with the proviso that the three military services work together to strengthen India’s capabilities. The stated goal of this development is for India to achieve military parity with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) along the border, a situation it has long desired.

Comment

India has been reinforcing its border with China for some years now; the creation of a new “mountain strike corps” is only the latest development in response to Chinese capability along the LAC. Some argue that India is playing “catch-up” to Chinese infrastructure and military investment, as reports indicate that China has five fully operational airbases, an extensive rail network and 58,000 kilometres  of high-quality roads near the border. The implication is that this gives China a decisive advantage, as it would allow it to move 30-34 PLA divisions (around 15,000 soldiers each) to the LAC in short order, which would outnumber the current Indian forces three to one.

The new Indian mountain corps would raise an additional 45,000 soldiers, in three divisions over four phases. Two of the divisions would be high-altitude, rapid reaction forces. The new corps would be equipped with special lightweight howitzers, Bofors 155mm artillery and attack helicopters; also expected to be available are 290km-range BrahMos cruise missiles. The focus on mountain warfare is the main improvement, as existing border troops are equipped to fight traditional land battles. As part of this development, in 2009-10, India raised two new infantry divisions at Lekhapani and Missamari in Assam, which are operationally tasked to defend Arunachal Pradesh.

A proposal for the new divisions was reportedly signed by Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony after returning from his maiden official trip to Australia and Thailand on 6 June. It was approved by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Cabinet Committee on Security on 17 July, after clearance by the Finance Ministry. Once completed, the speculation is that India will be able to launch offensive operations over the LAC and into areas such as the Tibet Autonomous Region. Reportedly, however, such action would only be taken in the event of Chinese aggression.

Further elements to the new proposal, include two armoured brigades for Ladakh and Sikkim and one infantry brigade for deployment in Uttarakhand. India has also moved to increase its missile and air force capabilities, including the deployment of low-level radars along the LAC, while deploying additional fighters to renovated bases in the northeast. Indian Air Force bases at Jorhat, Bagdogra, Hashimara and Mohanbari are being upgraded, while Su-30MKIs have been posted to Tezpur and Chhabua. This would bring the number of new personnel to 90,000 in total. The total cost is expected to be between Rs. 62,000 to 90,000 crore (US$10-15bn) and the expansion will take about six years to complete, spread over the 12th Plan period (2012-17), perhaps longer.

The Indian-Chinese LAC has become more contested in 2013, with many incidents occurring in the high-altitude area of Ladakh, within Jammu and Kashmir. For example, China has demanded that India dismantle its surveillance infrastructure in Chumar, near the Ladakh-Himachal Pradesh border, where the Indian military can look into Chinese territory and observe China’s Western Highway. The area is inaccessible to the PLA, whereas Indian troops have a road up to the LAC that can carry military loads. Most incidents are cases of Chinese soldiers “vandalising” Indian observation posts by cutting wires and removing surveillance equipment.

Tensions remain, despite ongoing discussions on a border defence co-operation agreement between the two countries. On 11 July, in the same area, PLA helicopters were reported to have violated Indian airspace, but the Indian military played-down the incident and denied the violation occurred. It is possible that such brinkmanship is deliberate on Beijing’s part, as it tries to secure a favourable outcome during the negotiations before India can reinforce its border. As an earlier report detailed, however, Indian infrastructure near the border is generally poor in quality and subject to damage during the monsoon season. A Rs. 26,155 crore (around US$4.5bn) plan to develop infrastructure along the LAC is already underway, but is not expected to be finished until 2020-21. Even if the Indian military reinforcement is completed on schedule, in the event of hostilities it would still be hampered for some years by difficulties with resupply and reinforcement.

Daniel Barnes is a Research Assistant in the Indian Ocean Research Programme at Future Directions International.

This post first appeared on Future Direction International on 24 July 2013.

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