For decades, the Indian military and its defence posture were structured to ensure "deterrence" against Pakistani adventurism on the western border, and "dissuasion" against China in the north and east. Put simply, that meant being able to wage, and quickly win, a punitive war against Pakistan; while also being able to hold off a Chinese attack for a short time. With China having rattled sabres on the Sino-Indian border (the Line of Actual Control, or LAC) to distract India during the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, New Delhi is clear that it must continue to defend the LAC, even through a war with Pakistan.
The operational scenario along LAC is also governed by the weather and seasonality - one good point in our favor is that the windows for all-out war are mutually exclusive in case of China and Pakistan. The preferred window of operation on western front is post monsoon towards Q3-Q4 of calendar year - during this period, the eastern front is blocked due to snow and operations will be restricted. This factor, along with operational scenario, has allowed India to move up to three divisions to western front.
But what has been a relatively light presence on the China border is now being strengthened dramatically, as India's military prepares itself for what the Indian Army chief in 2009, General Deepak Kapoor, termed a two-front war. This apprehension was also voiced by his successor, General V K Singh. China's emergence as a global powerhouse that pursues its national interests and territorial claims unapologetically has forced New Delhi to rethink its basic security calculus. This could have enormous implications on Indian defence spending, procurement and the emerging defence industry in the country.
Chinese have to be the most stupid people on God's earth - they could have kept quite without creating high-profile situations on the border as they went by upgrading their infrastructure. The Chinese actions on the border along with nonsense of stapled visas and stuff like that created a alarmist situation;inspite of the peace-nicks and China apologists that occupy the NSAB and CSG, GOI was forced to react. The news items released into the media further forced GOI hand. So much for Chinese real-politic prowess.
As the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China has modernised; created quality road and rail infrastructure in Tibet that permits rapid build-up and switching of forces between sectors; and conducted annual manoeuvres involving the rapid build-up in Tibet of divisions from other theatres, New Delhi too is shifting gears on the LAC. After years of deliberation and debate, the Indian military has added defensive muscle and is transforming an exclusively defensive strategy into one with a significant offensive element.
Chinese forces in Tibetan Plateau are not even 20% of Indian forces - on eastern front, Chinese would be hard pressed to muster two Category A Divisions. They rely on infrastructure to bring in troops and their perception of defensive GOI foreign and defense policy to bully India and raise the ante if required.
"China spends nearly one-fourth of its (estimated $120 billion annual defence budget) in the borders with India and is reflected in over 30 military exercises conducted in and around Tibet in the last two years," notes Srikanth Kondapalli, Professor in Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
PLA is slowly building up capability for large scale conflict with India -till now, it has all being bluster. The final indicator of this development would be placing more troops - something like a Group Army with full compliment - on Tibetan Plateau. As of now, Group Armies controlling formations in Western and Eastern front are all located outside of Tibetan Plateau.
India's counter to China's growing strength started with the raising of two mountain divisions (some 40,000 troops), during the 11th Defence Plan (2007-12), which have already beefed up defences on the McMahon Line, the border between Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet.
Before this raising happened, 4 Corps has three divisions while 3 Corps had only one division. Each Corps has received one of the new raised division. Further, IA transferred 2 Mountain Division from 4 Corps to 3 Corps. Now, the Area of Responsibility (AOR) is divided as eastern AP along Myanmar with 3 Corps and Central+Western AP (including Tawang and eastern India-Bhutan border) with 4 Corps.
3 Corps - 2 MD, 56 MD and 57 MD (new division)
4 Corps - 5 MD (Tawang), 21 MD and 71 MD (new division)
Today four Indian corps defend the LAC - 14 Corps holds Ladakh; 33 Corps defends Sikkim; and 4 Corps and 3 Corps safeguard Arunachal Pradesh. The ten divisions under these corps have roughly 220,000 troops. But that may not be enough, says Professor Kondapalli. Across the LAC in the PLA's Chengdu and Lanzhou military regions, are 400,000 troops of the 13th, 14th, 21st and 47th Group Armies (the equivalent of corps).
This is the problem with Indian defense analysts - they take numbers and figures at face value. And apply them without any thought.
PLA has cut down the size of its Group Armies drastically to make them more agile and maneuverable. So, before one talks about 400,000 troops, one needs to understand the development with respect to each Group Army in question. Further, these Group Armies also consist of armored brigades, mechanize brigades and armored divisions - what good are these formations against India in eastern theater?
My guess is that Indian formations optimized from day-1 for mountain warfare are more infantry and manpower heavy as compared to their PLA counterparts. For proper analysis, we need to compare brigade level (or, infantry battalion level) troop strenght. Along with support arms like helicopter and artillery assets.
To partially even out this mismatch, India is raising a "mountain strike corps" during the 12th and 13th Defence Plans (2012-22). Analysts like Brigadier (Retired) Gurmeet Kanwal estimate that the strike corps will have 90,000 troops and raising it will cost Rs 64,000 crore over the next seven years. But more than the numbers, India's decision to raise a strike corps is a decision to raise the ante with China. It is a statement from New Delhi that any war that China initiates will not be fought just on Indian soil. The strike corps is tasked to launch attacks across the LAC, taking the war to China.
Along with this unprecedented army build-up, the Indian Air Force (IAF) too is turning its attention to the LAC. Sukhoi-30MKI squadrons have been located in Tezpur and Chhabua, in Assam. Jorhat, Guwahati, Mohanbari, Bagdogra and Hashimara air bases are being strengthened too. Eight old ALGs (Advanced Landing Grounds) have been refurbished so that they can support light aircraft and helicopters. The multi-billion dollar acquisitions of ten C-17 Globemaster III heavy lift aircraft, six C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft and the impending procurement of the CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter will further strengthen capabilities on the LAC.
This remarkable force accretion, India's largest since the 1962 war with China, could have a potentially galvanising effect on the country's defence industrial base. The growth of local industry could be catalysed not just through direct procurement of arms and equipment, but also through industrial partnerships with global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), who would be discharging offset liabilities arising from billions of dollars of procurement. Furthermore, there would be opportunities for Indian companies to participate in the maintenance, repair and overhaul of the equipment being procuring for India's on-going force expansion and modernisation.
Besides equipping tens of thousands of soldiers, the major new acquisitions that could arise include 400-450 ultra light howitzers (ULH) for seven new artillery brigades - one each for the four new mountain divisions, and three directly under the strike corps. Negotiations are already under way for 145 pieces of BAE Systems' M-777 155-millimetre, 39-calibre howitzers for up to $885 million. If the army is satisfied with this weapon, it could purchase as many as 900-950 more for the artillery regiments of 15 more mountain divisions. In that case, the MoD would press BAE Systems hard to shift production of the M-777 to India.
Two very important points here:
(1) Four new mountain divisions - Only two mountain divisions have been raised so far. I explained that earlier. If AS's report is correct, Indian Army is looking to add another 2 x Mountain Divisions. With eastern front being beefed up already, it might well be right to guess that Central Sector (Uttarakhand) and Eastern Ladakh are going to see addition of 1 x division each.
If people remember the news about raising of new independent infantry bdes, 1 x (I) infantry bde was sanctioned for Central Sector. Along with existing (I) Mountain Bde in the sector, this would have taken the number to two (I) infantry bdes. Now, it is quite possible that IA wants to do away with multiple (I) Infantry Bdes and raise a new division.
Eastern Ladakh has been witnessing beefing up of troops and a new infantry division would make eminent sense. Will help rationalize the AOR of 3 Infantry Division in Leh.
(2) MSC - till now, all we have heard is that the MSC will have 2 x Divisions under it. This is the first time I' hearing of MSC with 3 x Divisions. Now, I don't know how easy or difficult would it be to manage such a large formation (the Command & Control would present immense challenge) but this puts the MSC in a totally different light. I'm pretty sure that IA has worked out some unconventional deployment philosophy for this Corps.
So, taking into account 3 x divisions each under 33, 3 and 4 Corps, we will have 12 x Divisions in Eastern Command.
Surprisingly, no one is talking about the Artillery Division sanctioned for Eastern Command.
Also, the number of M-777 required for seven artillery brigades works out as (a) 4 x regiments per brigade with 18 guns = 504 (b) 5 x regiments per brigade with 18 guns = 630 guns.
Additional 15 Mountain Divisions would be 9 x existing divisions under Eastern Command and balance 6 x divisions under Northern Command. As I had said some time back - given our overall mountain warfare requirement, don't be surprised if we surpass USA as the largest operator of this gun. And manufacture it in house.
There is also a growing requirement for helicopters to airlift troops on "vertical envelopment" missions to capture heights in the enemy's rear and flanks. India is negotiating to buy 15 CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopters, an order that could well be expanded. The tried and tested Russian Mi-17 V5 helicopter that the IAF has already ordered in large numbers could potentially see additional demand.
This is the most important aspect - the 64K Crore price tag is without fail because of very strong organic helicopter component. Chinook requirement arises from aspects - existing air-maintenance responsibilities plus those contingent on the new offensive war-fighting philosophy for mountains. That is why IA is asking for control/induction of Mi-17 class of helicopters.