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Pros and cons of having Mountain Strike Corps

The proposal to set up a mountain strike corps along the China border seems to be reaching the implementation stage with the Defence Ministry giving its clearance finally after almost two years of back and forth of the policy decision. The plan involves setting up of two new army divisions which would mean an addition of approximately 80,000 soldiers and 500 officers. The idea is to permanently place these men and material in bases in the northeast of the country to enable Indian armed forces to retaliate against any major Chinese Kargil-type ingress into India by swiftly and aggressively moving into Tibet. The principled decision, taken in 2011 after the proposal had been mooted in 2010, had evoked adverse comments as it meant a shift from the country’s traditional defensive posture to aggressive mindset. The traditional view was evolved in fear of a possible Chinese provocation. Those opposed to the proposal were of the view that it would push the country on an arms race with China whose resource base was much larger compared to India.

In the aftermath of 1962 border war with China, through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and even 1990s, the Indian armed forces largely stayed away from the border by restricting itself to a self-imposed ‘Limit of Patrolling’. Initially in the 1980s and then more in later years, the Indian army gained some confidence and some time touched Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Later security experts, defence analysts and China watchers monitoring closely Beijing’s expansion of its armed forces and adding to its inventory of weapon system new and lethal weapons and defence technologies warned that the country was becoming increasingly more prone to a surprise attack from its biggest neighbour.

India has an almost 4057 kms long LAC with China that runs into three sectors. In the western sector in Ladakh, China’s People Liberation Army (PLA) controls most of the area that Beijing claims as its own. The central sector, at the UP-Tibet border, does not have much problem. The eastern sector is the most contentious one as here China claims Arunachal Pradesh as its own and India is in control of the area. Sikkim also falls in this sector. China claims 90,000 sq kms of territory here in this sector which belongs to India. It is here for this area, India is planning a mountainous strike corps.      

In 2009 during the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s taking over reins of power, the strength of China’s military was revealed at 22.55 lakh troop against India’s 13.25 lakh military personnel. Not only this, Chinese military is equipped with better weaponry and modern technologies compared to Indian military whose modernisation programme has faced many a hurdle in the past and continues to face systemic delays.

In terms of air forces of the two countries, Beijing has 9,000 aircrafts with 2,000 fighter planes while New Delhi has 3,000 airplanes with 790 fighter planes. Chinese Air Force has equipped itself with stealth technology which would prove a mighty handicap for the Indian sky operations in case a need arose.

In terms of naval strength too, India decisively lags behind China. China has a fleet of 285 vessels and has added an aircraft carrier. Indian Navy, though the world’s 8th largest, has a fleet strength of 145 vessels. Undoubtedly, India has more experienced Navy but China’s rapid naval expansion in recent years has created a big difference between the two navies.

In the area of strategic nuclear defence technologies and delivery systems, China is much ahead. Though exact figures are not available but experts estimate that Chinese Army has between 200-400 nuclear warheads compared to India’s 50-70 which means a big disadvantage.

While China had a yield of four megatons when it tested its warhead, India has not gone beyond an yield of 0.05 megatons. China has multiple warhead capability while India is still trying to develop it. Even in terms of range of respective ballistic missiles, China is far ahead.

In this background, a decision was taken to raise two additional divisions for the defence of Arunachal Pradesh, as well as a strike corps. But the proposal was sent back in 2012 with instructions for a relook by all three service chiefs so that there was no over lapping and a common plan could be drawn up.

It took the Chiefs of Staff Committee roughly six months to undertake a review of the plan. It also happened because a new chief of the army staff replaced the old General V K Singh after the latter’s retirement. Though it would not be easy to have the required funds in the light of the current economic slowdown and when the finance ministry is asking all ministries to cut down their budget but one is sure that the government would find ways to raise the necessary resources as the country would not accept another 1962 defeat.

Yes, this should not hamper the present efforts to improve relations with China as the political and defence leadership of both countries are keen to build up the bilateral ties further. It must be remembered that being ready for any eventuality is the best form of defence. The raising of a mountainous strike corps needs to be seen by Beijing not as an aggressive posture but only a sign of alertness to a possible misadventure after all China has been constantly  arming itself. (IFS)
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