Saturday, September 5, 2009

China’s military advantage over India vanishing, says analyst


Last month, India's Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee and Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta, speaking on National Security Challenges at the National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi admitted that India neither has the “capability nor the intention” to match China’s military strength. He added, “Common sense dictates that cooperation with China would be preferable to competition or conflict, as it would be foolhardy to compare India and China as equals... Whether in terms of GDP, defence spending or any other economic, social or development parameter, the gap between the two is just too wide to bridge and getting wider by the day.

An analyst, however, claims that China's military advantage over is vanishing.

Such OpEd pieces may be soothening to the ears of many, but this is not the reality. The reality of the situation may be hardhitting. What is needed at this hour is a realistic assessment of the kind of capabilities that exist on both sides of the border and beyond. Such a reality check may help India prepare better for the future.



The infrastructure on the Indian side is quite deplorable. Indian military and political establishment appears to have believed for a long time that if it undertakes major infrastructure development, it would actually enhance the Chinese ability to move into Indian territory. However, the Indian government has recognised, of late, the need to upgrade the general infrastructure in the region. In June 2006, the Indian Cabinet sanctioned a series of infrastructure projects along the border. These projects include the building of 72 roads, three airstrips and several bridges in the border areas along the undefined LAC that would enable the Indian military to move troops quickly into the region.

In terms of forces, India has about twelve mountain divisions capable of swift offensive operations in the mountainous areas. Two of these were reportedly created in February 2008, specifically for combat in Arunachal Pradesh. Two additional such divisions are estimated to become operational by 2015-16, at a cost of around INR 14 billion (USD 358 million). These will be reinforced by air power, including possibly, AWACS, and fighter jets. There have also been reports of India’s plans to procure 140 ultra-light 155mm artillery pieces, as also a large number of heavy lift and combat ready helicopters, all of which would have special utility in mountain warfare. Although India has tested a number of intermediate-range missiles, including the Agni-3 capable of hitting both Beijing and Shanghai, these missiles are still not operational. Additionally, India has recently deployed two army divisions and two air force squadrons in Assam. With this new deployment in Assam, India’s troop strength in the region will cross more than one hundred thousand. Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force (IAF) announced (June 2009) that it will deploy two squadrons of advanced Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft in Tezpur, Assam. Though only four fighters are deployed now, there are plans to increase it to its full complement in a gradual manner. Additionally, India has acquired three Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), which also potentially has uses on the Eastern border. In addition, India is also undertaking upgradation of airstrips and advanced landing stations along the Northeast, including at Tezpur (Assam), Chabua (Assam), Jorhat (Assam), Panagarh (West Bengal), and Purnea (Bihar). If the AWACS are deployed to the northeast, it could be significant as it is a potent force multiplier capable of monitoring the movement and activities of troops and aircraft on the Chinese side. The state of Arunachal Pradesh is also planning to raise a 5,000-strong force, comprising of local populace, to supplement Indian Army efforts during a crisis. This is being modeled on Ladakh Scouts that proved useful during the 1999 Kargil War with Pakistan.

On the other hand, the infrastructural developments that China has undertaken in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as well as on the India-China border is remarkable. It provides the potential to the PLA Army to mobilise forces and equipment in a much shorter span of time. It would enable China to quickly mobilise large forces by train and by road onto Indian borders. Earlier this exercise not only took a long time but also was impossible during periods of snow. The new rail line into Tibet, and expressways, have changed the scenario totally. Besides, it is believed that China has about 160,000 troops in Tibet, and with improved infrastructure, it will be able to amass another 100,000 troops from the central reserve in a span of six weeks. Indian military planners have also noted that China has vastly improved its air force capability in the region, with multiple air bases and forward airstrips near the border. The PLA Air Force is also believed to have improved its command and control structures. China can also deploy heavy-lift planes in Tibet, though they may not be able to land and take-off fully loaded because of altitude restrictions. Besides the positioning of intermediate range ballistic missiles such as DF-4 and DF-21 in Tibet, it is reported that they could also deploy DF-31 ICBMs in bases such as at Delingha, near Tibet.

This is in essence India's defence as far as China is concerned. How is the military balance favoring India?

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