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Chinese Incursion: EXPOSES ARMY’S (UN)PREPAREDNESS, By Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva (Retd), 29 April, 2013 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 29 April 2013


Chinese Incursion


By Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva (Retd)


Is the Chinese incursion into eastern Ladakh “a non-issue for the UPA Government”, as claimed by the BJP? Many defence experts may well be in agreement as the incident of April 15, refuses to ebb, as a belligerent China refuses to pay heed to New Delhi’s overtures. Worse, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement: “...We do not want to accentuate the situation....It is a localized problem...” gives no hope of India wanting to take the bull by the horns. 

The Chinese, as always are in a denial mode, despite a Platoon-strength contingent (50 men) of People's Liberation Army coming 10 km inside the Burthe in Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector at 17,000 ft altitude, on the night of April 14/15 and set up a tented post. Troops from Indo-Tibetan Border Police too have established camp approximately 300 m opposite the location, setting the stage for a so-called face-off.   


DBO lies at the easternmost point of the Karakoram Range in a cold desert region in far north of India, just 8 km south of the Chinese border and 9 km northwest of the Aksai Chin Line of Actual Control between China and India. Other than the Siachen Glacier military bases, it is India's northernmost built-up area. The nearest inhabited town is Murgo to the south, which has a small population of Baltis, who primarily depend on apricot farming and yak rearing. Way back in 2001, the Government had announced plans to construct a motorable road from Leh to its end at DBO but failed to do so. Clearly, a lackadaisical attitude towards defence and national security issues!


Temperature plummets as low as -30 C in winters and weather further deteriorates with frequent strong icy winds lashing much of DBO, which has very little, if any vegetation or wildlife. Communication is possible only through INMARSAT (satellite) phones. The Indian Army maintains helipads and a gravel airstrip here, the highest in the world. Routine sorties are carried out using An-32 aircraft to provide relief and supplies to the troops stationed nearby.


The base was established during the Sino-Indian conflict in 1962, with the first landing by Squadron Leader CKS Raje. It was operated with American-supplied Fairchild Packets from 1962-1966, but had to be closed down suddenly when an earthquake caused loosening of the surface soil, making the area unsuitable for fixed-wing aircraft. Work was undertaken to make the airfield operational again, and was marked on 31 May 2008, when an Indian Air Force AN-32 landed.


According to the Government, the recent Chinese incursion was due to differences on alignment of Line of Actual Control and was a “localised event” in a sector where there are differing perceptions on LAC. It sees “this as a face to face situation between border forces” of both countries and has asked China to maintain status quo ante before the incursion.

But that’s about it. The Centre is going only as per the rule book. Article 4 of the Confidence Building Measures which states if the border personnel of both sides come to a face-to-face situation on the alignment of the LAC, they shall exercise self-restraint and take all necessary steps to avoid an escalation of the situation. And so far, New Delhi underlines that the border continues to remain peaceful and that a brigadier-level meeting was held at DBO. However, it has precious little else to offer as the flag meeting was inconclusive without any results.

On its part, the Chinese are stuck to their position i.e. they were within their side of the LAC. Its Foreign Ministry Spokesperson has asserted: “China's frontier troops have been abiding by the agreement between the two countries and abiding by the LAC agreed by the two countries”.  Is this acceptable?

Psychologically, New Delhi still fears the Chinese after the 1962 crushing defeat. It is sad that even after having been whipped in war, India is whining for peace with China. This despite the fact that despite having “taught India a lesson” in 1962, and having subdued Tibet with a brutal occupation, China feels challenged today from both sides of the McMahon Line — the disputed border in the Eastern Himalayas between Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh. Tibetans are protesting against the Chinese occupation with tide of protests since 2008. 


In contrast, India’s restraint and sensitivity and reluctance to use military force makes it to be a soft State scared of Chinese might, a fact well known to Beijing. How long can this absurdity carry on?   


Keep in mind that India’s military has made a convincing case for raising four new divisions to defend the eastern sector, including two divisions that will be part of a proposed mountain strike corps. The two defensive mountain divisions are already functional, while the mountain strike corps and an armoured brigade are currently being cleared.


But no amount of soldiers can provide a foolproof defence along 4054-km of rugged mountain terrain. And in raising division after division of defensive troops, India risks falling into the Pakistan trap: getting involved in a competitive military build-up against a giant neighbour that has far greater resources of money and military power.


Instead, the Indian Army needs to rethink its strategy, relying on local partnership. This must involve a four-fold action plan: firstly, recruit at least 20 army battalions from local tribes, which will defend their homeland fiercely against the Chinese, rather than relying on regular army battalions that are posted into these unknown areas from their bases thousands of kms away. These local battalions must form the first line of defence.


Secondly, rather than committing the bulk of our regular army battalions into defensive deployments aimed at stopping the Chinese at the border, reorganise these formations into mobile offensive strike groups that are geared, trained and equipped to retaliate against any Chinese incursion with counter-incursions into Tibet. 


Thirdly, create the infrastructure of roads and railways in Arunachal and Assam that will be needed to mobilise the offensive strike groups and transport them to the border fast enough to pre-empt any Chinese counter-deployment. This is perhaps the most essential step needed, since it will serve both a military and civil purpose. In providing road connectivity to villages along the McMahon Line, we are providing a lifeline that ties them to India.


Fourthly, Defence Ministry must fill up the acute shortage of 14,500 officers in the Armed Forces by making the Services more attractive so that the youth opt for preserving the sovereignty and integrity of the nation against outside aggression. The best of Armed Forces with the best of weapons cannot defend its country unless you have a motivated junior leadership, which the country needs to fulfil at the earliest. The Chinese intrusion is yet another warning-- there is no more time to lose. --- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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