Assessing strength: India should be prepared to counter China's ambitious moves

Conventional wisdom would suggest that demolishing China’s dug-in positions along the Line of Actual Control would deter, disperse and dissuade the People’s Liberation Army from carrying out its emerging policy of territorial aggrandizement all along its periphery at carefully selected moments.

It appears that at the moment China believes that it is auspicious and appropriate to exert its territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea group of islands. The effect of such a policy could also embroil India given that Indian companies are helping Vietnam (one of the disputants of the Chinese maritime claims) explore offshore oil much to Beijing’s disapproval.

It needs to be understood that China has prepared for the moment of its expansionism with great care and military thought. Central to that thought is the avowed intention that being confined to static defence is not how it will attain its objectives.

A breakout is what its neighbours, especially India, will have to prepare themselves for. Slamming the ground defences of underground bunkers and tunnels will not deter the follow-on forces that are designed to leapfrog their own positions and confront the opponent with wave upon wave of human bodies-up to 30 Divisions per sector-to ensure ingress through the forward edge of battle which will constantly be pushed forwards.
Demarcating border

To stop the Chinese, the first perquisite would be to be clear about where India would like the Line of Actual Control to be. The first thing that needs to be eradicated is the “perceptional differences” that exist in Indian military minds that allows the Chinese to either extend their control or, conversely, deny India access to ever-expanding areas, especially in the barren, undulating, bolder-strewn flatlands along the UP, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh borders.

There have been intrusions in their hundreds and area denial operations where Chinese troops have prevented civil engineering work on the “Indian side”, knocked down “old bunkers” and signs of Indian control demolished. Where India has stood its ground, as in Nathu La in 1987, the Chinese did not dare exert any additional claims and that should be the enduring lesson in dealing with them.

And we should stop making excuses on their behalf. If there is a perceptional difference then you have had more than five decades and fifteen rounds of official level talks to clear them up.

The fact that there has been very little progress beyond the status quo as established in 1962 and the new Chinese Prime Minister saying that a solution to the border problem is too difficult to resolve should be warning enough for India.

These are clear evidences that the Chinese want to keep India unbalanced and under constant threat. An India reassured about the situation along its northern border is not what suits the Chinese; more especially the possibility that assured peace on the border would enable India to scale down its deployment and expenses for creating costly defensive infrastructure in mountainous terrain. Especially, if that posture makes things easier for its “all weather friend”- Pakistan.

By now India should have prepared clearly demarcated “zero tolerance zones” where no ingress will be allowed under any circumstances. That there are wide gaps left in India’s defences became crystal clear during the Kargil conflict and we still have the main Pakistani culprit General Pervez Musharraf claiming that having made a fool of India, irrespective of the military outcome of that misadventure, that itself was a “victory” worth cherishing!

The zero tolerance zones where no intrusion should be allowed is the whole of the Arunachal Pradesh border especially the Tawang tract where the Buddhist monastery is located, Sikkim in particular the Chumbi Valley that hangs like a dagger between it and Bhutan and gives access to lines of communication to the whole of the North-east.

How this is done needs to be practiced during peacetime.

Using airpower

The use of air power and how effective it can be has to be assessed in advance and we should not be caught by surprise at the limitations in the deployment of aircraft in mountainous terrain as happened to us during the Kargil war.

The most potent employment of air power would be on the other side of the Himalayas on the Tibetan plateau where again the intention should be to break up troop concentrations once they step out beyond their bunkers and engage Indian forward posts.

Once contact is made it would be difficult to give close air support for fear of endangering own troops. Hence fire-power, both from the air and by ground based artillery should be so designed and executed that cohesiveness between the main attacking Chinese force and the follow-on troops is disrupted.

Therefore we should be able to hit them with both high-trajectory howitzers and air power about one kilometer in front of our own defences. This will automatically take out the bunkers and forward Chinese defences for which no specific effort will need to be made if the saturation per square kilometer of hot metal is high enough.

What does India need to be able to stop the Chinese in their tracks in locations considered most vulnerable to penetration?

The lack of proper infrastructure has made it difficult to bring up heavy artillery to the battle zone. India will have to resort to dismantling guns like the Bofors howitzer, the Indian Field Gun and the Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher, airlifting the parts to prepared locations and reassembling them.

In this manner it can create killing zones where, because of the terrain, the Chinese will have to concentrate to try and make a breakthrough.

These killing zones will have to be dominated by the Indian weapons as per their range tables-the high trajectory but shorter range mortars (120 mm) to dominate the forward edge of battle; with the longer range Pinaka multi barrel rocket launchers covering the area between 10-20 km; the Bofors howitzers with a range of 30 km; the indigenous Prahar missile and the Russian Smerch rockets covering 80 to 100 km stretch with the Prithvi bringing up the rear can make an effective kill zone all along the Himalayas.

The Indian Air Force aircraft can be used as a barometer of escalation of Indian response, taking care of all kinds of static defences in the forward areas as well as lines of communications well behind enemy lines.

Appropriately deployed as per their intrinsic ranges India can create a wide zone, conforming to the width of the land between the Himalayan foothills and the southern bank of the Brahmaputra river where the enemy can be decimated by a constant barrage of metal.

Beyond that the axis enabling the People’s Liberation Army from bringing in reinforcements can also be dominated by missiles placed well behind the lines.

What will have to be ensured, however, is the possibility of the kind of outflanking maneuvers that the Chinese adopted in 1962 to surround and take prisoners newly inducted Indian troops whose knowledge of the terrain was limited at the very start of the war.

The Indian Army of today is not the same as that in 1962. It knows the lay of the land and should be able to lay ambushes and disrupt any Chinese attempt to penetrate as deep as they once did.

While taking care of what lies immediately in front of the infantryman’s gun sight and denying the Chinese the possibility of a massive buildup anywhere along the Line of Actual Control, an Indian defensive posture can underscore what military textbooks have long maintained that the attacking force will need to be three times the strength of the defenders to be able to make a breakthrough.

The Chinese cannot afford to be seen to be confined to their foxholes and bunkers. For them it would be an ignominious defeat.