Monday, 24 December, 2007


China Doctrine;On a visit on December 2 to the Sino-Indian border, Union defence minister A.K. Antony gave voice to a concern that has been getting reiterated for long by his country's military. "It's an eye-opener," said a shocked Antony, as he toured forward posts in Nathu La. "There is no comparison between the two sides. Infrastructure on the Chinese side is far superior. They have gone far in developing their infrastructure," he told journalists who had flown in with him on the trip.

Even as Antony was expressing his shock and dismay, the Indian army was putting the finishing touches to a new operational doctrine, also known as the conventional war-fighting doctrine, which has made a dramatic new assessment of Chinese capabilities Prepared by the military along with the Integrated Defence Headquarters in consultation with various institutes of the Indian army, the document gives a fair idea of how military India's posture needs to be shaped to take on the new Chinese challenges.

A significant
departure from earlier assessments has been made vis-a-vis China's military capabilities and its ability to mobilise troops. So far, Indian military planners were of the view that it would take the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) at least "two seasons" (three to four months) to fully mobilise for a war against India. While this would mean a "high-intensity conflict" that could involve strategic weapons, the conventional wisdom was that India had the edge in terms of manpower on the border.

But moving away from the "two seasons" build-up theory, the new doctrine concludes that the Chinese could mobilise in just thirty days.This capability is the result of decades of meticulous planning and strategic perception of the Chinese leadership. It built roads and a strategic railway across the Tibetan plateau. The 1,140-km Qinghai-Tibet line, considered the highest railway in the world at 16,640 ft, A depleted eastern command is one of India's worries. Also, most fighting units are stationed in Kashmir.

has come as a wake-up call for military planners in Delhi. The Qinghai-Tibet link with its capacity to carry over 900 troops—that's a battalion strength—in each train has reshaped the way the Indian military looks at Chinese capabilities.

India's planners have always based their estimate of the mobilisation time required by China on the Taiwan factor. China has all along concentrated the bulk of its forces against Taiwan and kept itself in readiness for any "superpower intervention"—that is by the US. Should there be any large-scale operation against India, it would have to divert its troops from Taiwan. The improved infrastructure—roads and the railway line—have rendered earlier Indian estimates outdated. The Chinese can deploy its troops faster than ever before.

Says Brigadier Arun Sahgal (retd), a long-time China-watcher and presently deputy director of research at Delhi's United Services Institution: "As per our estimates, the PLA has over 40 divisions, out of which seven are armoured divisions. Of these, we expect China will be in a position to deploy 20 to 22 divisions against India in quick time." In addition, China has been building up its rapid reaction forces along with its airborne corps. "The greater strategic mobility capability of the Chinese in terms of rapid reaction forces as well as build-up of special forces is what we have to look at very closely," says Sahgal.

The Chinese military has traditionally divided its military into seven designated military regions (MRs), of which two are of concern for India. The Chengdu MR, which primarily faces Arunachal Pradesh, the sensitive Siliguri corridor, Nepal and Bhutan, has nearly 1,80,000 troops on the borders. In the west, the Lanzhou MR faces India's Jammu and Kashmir, and controls Aksai Chin, under Chinese occupation since 1962.

This region has nearly 2,20,000 troops. Both MRs have been strengthened by the modernisation drive of the Chinese military and have added rapid reaction forces as well as specialised units known as the Quantou and Kuaisu units which can launch deep attacks into enemy territory.

Points out Srikant Kondapalli, a professor of China studies at jnu's School of International Studies: "So far India has managed to retain a conventional troop superiority that ranges from 5:1 in certain sectors to as high as a 10:1 ratio." He is quick to point out that this "conventional superiority" is mostly on paper and can be quickly nullified by quick troop mobilisation and with China's missile strength. "The Chinese artillery has a considerable strategic as well as tactical arsenal. However, China does have a "No First Use' policy, and in the event of hostilities, it is likely to replace its nuclear warheads with conventional warheads. Either way, this could prove to be to our disadvantage," he feels.

However, with the coming of the new doctrine, Kondapalli feels that the Indian military has taken a significant step. "A decade ago, the Indian military's doctrine was built around deterring Pakistan and merely dissuading China. With the new doctrine, it has taken a significant step towards deterring China. The success of the Agni-III missile programme has added to this new posture significantly and the sooner we operationalise the missile, the better," he says.

But while the Indian army has conventional superiority on paper, there are other worrying factors. Under the Calcutta-based Eastern Command, the army has three corps which are severely depleted of troops. Most fighting units have been moved to the Kashmir sector over the last 15 years. "In 1990," an army official told Outlook, "we had finalised the Dual Task and Relocation Plan for our fighting formations and decided that it would be relevant for only ten years. But it has been there for nearly two decades. This needs to change." This means that the Kalimpong-based 33 Corps, Tezpur-based 4 Corps and the Dimapur-based 3 Corps will have to increase their troop strengths.

At present, most of 3 Corps is tied up in counter-insurgency operations, while the 27th Division is just returning to the 33 Corps. This division was moved out for Operation Parakram and has been in Jammu and Kashmir ever since. Similarly, the 8 Mountain Division that was moved out in early 1990 continues to be in Kargil as a part of the Leh-based 14 Corps.

While these deployments have to be reconsidered, the new doctrine is a critical update on where the army must position its firepower and its troops. On the whole, it is now left to the ministry of defence to operationalise the doctrine and ensure that India's borders with China are adequately fortified.

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