DAY 9 + 0440 HRS (L)
CENTRAL MILITARY COMMISSION
MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEFENSE COMPOUND
“And where is our fleet now?” Chairman Peng asked the PLAN commander Admiral Huaqing. The bald, old man latter was standing in his service’s new digital combat fatigues patterned similar to the US Navy. It was his personal symbol of connection with the Rear-Admiral commanding the naval flotilla as it steamed into harm’s way. This sentiment was echoed by Generals Chen and Wencang, the air-force commanders as well as the Army commanders. By comparison, the party leaders in the room were in their standard coats and ties.
As Huaqing walked over to the large wall map of the Indian Ocean region, Chen leaned back in his chair as he considered the environment. Well lit and with large red ornaments galore, the large conference room epitomized to him the distance that existed between the leaders of this country running an empire and living like emperors while the common soldiers were dying at that very moment thousands of kilometers away at the periphery of the said empire. He found himself momentarily disgusted seeing what existed around him. He saw his peers from the Army sitting around him, listening to the Admiral as he outlined where the fleet was and what the plans were. Chen knew the credentials of the men around him. Very few had reached here on the basis of their skills as combat leaders and competent field commanders. Most had thicker files on charges of corruption than their career-service-vitae. Most had amassed vast wealth as a result of the military-industrial empire that each ran in his domain. And every single one of them had that one thing in common: they were loyal party followers to the core.
Why else would they be here? No. The correct statement was: how could they have come here otherwise?
For that matter, why am I here? I should have been shot! Stripped of my command in the middle of war: was there anything more disgraceful? Perhaps it was indeed better to be shot!
And yet, I find myself in the company of these men with a ringside view as the war spirals out of control. Well, at least if I have to die, I will have one last pleasure of seeing many in this room accompany me…
And many indeed had. Chen noticed the replacement Generals on the Army side of the military that had taken place in this room in the last week of the war. War had a cleansing effect on the CMC. Most of the peacetime money-launderers and party dogs had been tested in combat, failed as expected against the professional Indian military forces and paid for it with their lives. The ungrateful party leaders had not shed a tear for them either. They had to go and the party had to survive. The fate of so many in this room now depended on professionals like Chen and Feng and others to ensure that they still held on to power when the war ended.
But the problem was that such replacements during war came at a price. Losing battles at weed out incompetent commanders was about as expensive a way to do so as possible. And China could not afford such lost battles. Chen understood the sentiment of the party leaders on this. His own air-war had been pulled from under his feet by his subordinate commander at Kashgar, Major-General Zhigao, during the first two days of the war before Chen had been forced to take over command and install Colonel Feng in to try and recover the damage. Zhigao was typical of the senior Generals in the Chinese military that had never fought a war in their lifetime and had more experience dealing with milking the existing military-industrial money making machine rather than sharpening the edge of the military combat assets under their command.
So he had been relieved.
And shot…on personal recommendation of Lt-General Chen and with willing endorsement from General Wencang at the Junwei Kolgjun…
The same went for General Jinping, a close relative of the former CMC chairman. He had been held responsible for the devastating reversal of the air war and had paid the price for it with his life. Unlike Major-General Zhigao, however, Jinping’s demise had been hidden from the public out of consideration for his past party credentials and also his high rank inside the CMC. So General Wencang, the deputy commander under Jinping, had taken over the PLAAF as acting commander.
Chen leaned back in his chair and looked past the line of Army Generals sitting across the table from him, their heads pointed away towards the Admiral and his talk. He wondered whether the reason Wencang had brought him here was because he needed real combat leaders advising him now, or whether he needed someone who would show him the loyalty he needed in return for pulling Chen away from the sights of a firing squad.
Perhaps a little of both…Chen speculated. And certainly in the current atmosphere of reversals on the battlefield, it would not take much for Wencang to find himself facing an execution squad on the same bloody floor tiles where his predecessor’s blood had drained just a little while ago. The party leaders were turning to their real selves under these trying times, and their outlet for their frustration lay on the military commanders…
But how were commanders in this room expected to make the right decisions under these stressful conditions? When they did not know whether the next bullet would come from the enemy or from an execution squad made up of their own soldiers?
The answer to these questions was difficult at best, as Chen realized. But as his gaze moved down the line of Army officers to where the three senior commanding Generals of the 2ND Artillery Corps sat, stoically listening to the discussion on Naval operations, Chen realized that those three officers had survived the purifying wartime purges suffered by the army and air-force officers. Not that they were any cleaner than the rest, just that they remained untested in combat thus far. Chen shuddered internally to think of what combat experience meant as it applied to that particular Corps of soldiers…
By the time anyone found out that their plans did not work, everybody would long be vaporized in a flash of fire and gravel. So perhaps that is where the confidence of the men from the 2ND Artillery came from. They knew that theirs was an endgame force. If they won, they would be honored for their victories and the other Generals in this room chastised for their failings in conventional combat. However, if they failed, there would be no-one left to complain about it…
“…and what of the losses we suffered when the Indian ships sank our commercial ships? How did that happen? Who is responsible for that embarrassing defeat?” Peng asked the Admiral as Chen pulled himself out of his thoughts and leaned forward at his end of the table to listen in. He saw Huaqing visibly lose blood from his cheeks as he speculated on the answer to that question in his mind.
“And is it also not true that not only have the Indians sunk our commercial shipping convoy, but are now going further up the Arabian sea to find and destroy individual ships as well? What is the naval task-force we sent to the Bay of Bengal doing about it?” another party official asked pointedly at Huaqing. Wencang gave a look to Chen as both men realized the isolated position the navy commander found himself in. Nobody else in this room would dare say anything to support him for risk of losing their own heads in the process.
“The naval task-force is maneuvering to engage. We received communications from the commander that he is being trailed by Indian long-range patrol aircraft from the south. Our satellites confirm that the bulk of the Indian naval force centered on their single aircraft-carrier is now about to enter within range of the supersonic missiles onboard our fleet combat ships. Once they lose their carrier, we will take their naval force apart,” Huaqing finally said. Somehow Chen and the others found the statements devoid of conviction.
But who can blame the poor ba$tard… Chen thought. Besides, what else was he going to say? What could he say? That our ships are going to get slaughtered in combat just like the two supposedly state-of-the-art Frigates we lost with the commercial convoy? That the only reason the Indian fleet commander has not engaged is because he is luring our force into a combat setting of his choice and conditions and not the other way around?
That despite everything, our navy is still not suited for long-range expeditionary combat?
The man may be have lost all the hair on his head, but not his willingness to live.
Or his sanity for that matter…
“Admiral, I certainly hope you are right for all our sakes,” Lt-General Liu, the commander of the 2ND Artillery Corps, stated authoritatively. “If our navy cannot secure our maritime lines of commerce, we will be left with little choice but to force an end to this war while we still have control…”
“Surely we are not in as dire a situation as losing control of this war, General? I mean, fo…” the vice-party chairman was stopped in mid-sentence by Liu with a raised hand:
“I meant control of this country, comrade. Not the war. For now the people are listening to our broadcasts and news and our control of the external media availability within the borders of China has been effective. Do not expect that to continue when the people find out that their supplies of oil, gas and other commodities is being cut back or reduced. If that were to happen, we would have riots throughout the countryside and a revolt outside this building within hours, not days!”
“What are our reserves for fuel and other imported commodities? For the war, I mean,” Peng asked the room.
“The armed forces are sufficiently armed and equipped with quantities of fuel for another thirty days of combat given the declining rate of combat intensity at the border and the corresponding usage of fuel-oil as well as accounting for attrition of our reserves in the Tibet region to Indian air attacks,” one of the PLA Generals in the room read out from his papers. Liu grunted his retort as he leaned forward on the table:
“This war will not last days, forget about weeks! Fact remains that incompetency on behalf of many in this room has left us little hope for victory at this time and we must accept this fact! And the thirty days of fuel for the PLA comes from taking it away from local reserves as well as strategic economic reserves. We may have enough fuel for ninety days for our economy to run, but it takes a lot longer to replace the vast commercial ships that are being picked off by the Indians as we sit here and discuss and glorify tactical advances that are meaningless! Meaningless!”
Chen saw everybody in the room in uniform shift uncomfortably in their seats on hearing General Liu’s words. But Liu was not finished…
“We have now committed eight more divisions of men to the land war in the Tibet region. Tibetan rebels are already nipping at our heels, sensing our weakness. So are the nationalists on that accursed island that is like a thorn embedded within our skin that will not heal. And what of the Americans and the Japanese: how long before they sense our weakness and begin taking actions in support of the nationalists? Make no mistake: our neighbors stand waiting for us to become weak before they take advantage of it. We must not allow it to happen. The Indians have begun to wage total war on us by attempting to destroy our post war economy by sinking our commercial fleet. Either we must do the same to their fleet by taking control of the seas or ensure that their commercial fleets have no use when their entire industry has been burnt to ashes!”
Wencang put his pen down and looked straight at Liu, finally having heard enough of a tirade against the conventional force commanders.
“And what of the Indian response, Liu? Do you think the Indians will simply stay quiet as we nuke their cities and their economy to rubble? If I remember my last intelligence update from your men, the Indian strategic forces units were already deployed for combat, were they not? When they see our missiles heading for the sky, what do you think they will do? Our human intelligence suggests that these units are now equipped with their nuclear payloads and also that the Indian Ballistic Missile submarine is no longer visible at their docks! Presumably it’s already on patrol under the seas armed with nuclear-tipped missiles for which we have no counter simply because we cannot find them. Our submarines have not been able to break the Indian control of the Malacca straits to allow any threat to their nuclear submarine. Would you rather we lose everything we have built over the last sixty five years to be lost just so that we can do the same to the pathetic Indian economy? I am sorry, comrade, but I value our country and its economy far more than I do theirs. It will not be a worthy trade. Ever!”
“You have a better plan, Wencang? If you and your worthless predecessor had done their jobs correctly, we wouldn’t even be in this situation right now! You lost control of the skies above the battlefield that contributed directly to the reverses we have suffered in the week since!” Liu shouted back.
“I do have a plan! I have already shown you it works! Give me control of the rest of the missile stocks being held back in reserve by your 821 Brigade and I will take care of this once and for all. Only nine missiles have been used so far and we have already disabled two major Indian airbases and stalled their plans for a ground offensive into our territory in the autonomous region. Give me the rest of that Brigade and I will terminate Indian aerial presence over the battlefield once and for all when I take away the rest of their strategic airbases. Without those, their land forces will have to fight without decent air cover just as our eight fresh Divisions hit them right in the face!”
“Don’t forget the Pakistanis…” Chen reminded Wencang and Liu. Wencang nodded and then turned back to face Liu:
“Ah yes! Those fools! What the hell are they waiting for? Call them up and get them to start mobilizing their ground forces. They have enough forces to ensure the Indians can’t bring in too many reinforcements to any given front to force a breakthrough. Let the damned Indians fight a two front war! Let’s see how long they last under that pressure after we have already terminated a good portion of their strength in the air and on the ground. This is what the Pakistanis have always wanted, haven’t they? Fine! Get them into the fight then! Why should they get to sit this one out while we shed blood on the battlefields? Those ******** have leeched from us long enough. Time for them to return the favor! You wanted my plan, Liu: this is my plan!”
Wencang said and leaned back in his chair as he grabbed a bottle of water from the table. Liu’s face reflected a mask of pure anger. His eyes told Wencang there would be consequences to this tirade when the dust had settled down. Wencang was not intimidated, however. For now, both men realized they had to get along else both of them would find in trouble with the only man commanding more authority than them in the room: Chairman Peng.
“Well, General Liu? Do you have an objection to this?” Peng asked calmly.
“As much as I admit I appreciate General Wencang’s thoughts and candor, I have to say that I cannot give him the rest of 821 Brigade. It is an essential part of our first strike missile force and is indispensable. Even the launchers and missiles we ended up using are causing us to reevaluate our strike options,” Liu said finally.
“If the plan works, we will not need that strike option, General,” Peng reminded the commander of the 2ND Artillery Corps.
“Believe me, comrade chairman. If General Wencang’s plan succeeds, we will need our first strike capability more than ever. The Indians will only be pushed so much before they, and not us, are forced to resort to the nuclear option. And then, we will be caught flat footed,” Liu said and looked over as Wencang leaned forward yet again:
“Am I expected to believe that with more than two hundred missiles deployed and ready in Tibet, sucking up my precious remaining airborne radars and fighters to protect them, you still cannot guarantee a sufficient deterrent against an Indian attack? Am I hearing this right?”
Liu’s face flushed with anger and Chen saw the danger of pushing him into a corner, but he could not visibly restrain Wencang now. They had to present a unified front else their argument would stand no chance…
“You can hear whatever you like! I am telling you that we will be tasked to launch a crippling first strike sooner rather than later, regardless of whether we take out the Indian airfields or whether we get the Pakistanis to start a ground war along their border with India.” Liu responded back instantly.
But the conversation was terminated as Chairman Peng leaned back into his seat and expressed his thoughts on the matter…
“That is quite enough! We must fight the enemy in his house, not bring the hate into our own. We will do what we must to ensure that China as a nation must survive. And for that to happen, we must survive. All of us, in this room must continue to maintain control to allow a sense of unity to prevail over the people outside of this room and through to the vast reaches of China. General Wencang, if General Liu is unable to give you control of the 821 Brigade, I am sure he has his valid technical reasons as I am also sure that you will find an alternative to achieve the results you desire with other resources available to our military. We have the utmost confidence in your abilities to do so. As far as Pakistan is concerned, I agree that it is time for them to enter this war. If nothing else, they will weaken our enemy and allow us to deliver a final blow to reverse the course of this war on the battlefields.
"As is often the case, for the queen to survive, the pawns must fall…”