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Indian Army
Dragon on the Doorstep - August 2011

Worrying inadequacies of artillery and infrastructure on the China Front

By Lt. Gen. B.S. Pawar (retd)

While the aim of this article is to look at the inadequacies of the artillery and lack of suitable infrastructure for its move, deployment and employment on the China front, it is important to understand that the inadequacy extends to the overall holdings of the artillery both in quality and quantity. This is evident from fact that last major acquisition of guns was that of 400 pieces of ‘Bofors’ from Sweden in the mid-Eighties. Today, most of the guns held in the inventory of the artillery are either obsolescent or reaching obsolescence. The modernisation programme to replace these vintage guns with the state of the art 155mm calibre towed, self-propelled, mounted and ultra light howitzers has been rightly formulated, but its progress continues to stagnate due to some scandal or the other. This is likely to have serious repercussions on the security on our eastern borders especially in the light of current developments and needs to be addressed on priority.

Another important issue has been our fixation with our neighbour on the western borders, resulting in ignoring the infrastructure development in the east, especially Arunachal Pradesh. This lack of infrastructure (road networks) precludes any worthwhile deployment of artillery, even for a moment if we consider we had all the guns/howitzers needed to the counter the threat on our eastern borders.

Enhanced Threat

In the recent past China appears to have deliberately escalated tensions on the issue of Arunachal Pradesh and India’s administrative control over it. China’s fast paced military modernisation, aggressive infrastructure and military development in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), has created military capabilities that are usable only against India. China is out to squeeze India. Its overtures and interactions with our neighbours, especially Pakistan and the ‘String of Pearls’ policy — is a clear indication of its inimical moves. China has linked Pakistan with Tibet through the Karakoram highway. Most of the equipment in Pakistan’s inventory is of Chinese origin, including missiles. There are reports of plans to extend the railway line from Lhasa, Tibet to Gwadar port in Pakistan, in the Arabian sea for supply of oil from the Middle-East, as the Indian Ocean sea route would be vulnerable to interdiction by Indian Navy in case of a conflict. For China, Pakistan is a handy and inexpensive tool to tie down India locally.

The Indian defence and military establishment has now for sometime realised that China no longer respects the treaty of peace and tranquillity of the Nineties by embarking on a assiduous military infrastructure in TAR to improve their force posture along the 4000km long unsettled border better known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The statement of Ex-Chief of Army Staff, General Deepak Kapoor, when in office, that India needs to be prepared to fight a two front war is relevant. China’s policy keeps time on its side while we remain complacent. Turning a nelson’s eye to the implications of overall military capabilities of China or underplaying these may be convenient way out of this predicament but dangers are real.

It’s very axiomatic that despite this clear cut threat from China in the near future the government is allowing unnecessary bickering on sensitive issues like the operational control of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) on the Tibet border and the proposal of the home ministry to replace Assam Rifles deployment on the Myanmar border with Border Security Force. Such unnecessary turf wars should not be allowed to cloud the genuine security and operational requirements.


China: China is well on its way to achieve its aim to maintain military pressure on India, through its visible logistics build-up capability in TAR. China today is capable of launching a short duration war under high tech condition against India from TAR. The Chengdu military region and parts of the Lanzhou military region look after the India-China border. Logistics sustenance of a force for major operation against India through Tibet is a huge challenge. The Chinese are gearing up for this challenge by developing their rail, road, airfields, oil pipelines and communication network.

The Western, Central and Eastern highway in TAR have long been known to be laid out to build-up logistic support against India. With rail heads now available at Kashgar (Western), Gormo (Central) and Chengdu (Eastern) regions, mobilisation becomes so much easier. Activity to extend roads right up to the LAC is concurrently on.

Tibet has a good rail network to sustain operations from the mainland. The Qinghai-Tibet railway has changed the equation exponentially. Plans are afoot to build 8000km of new railway lines. The rail networks serve the dual purpose of enhancing troop and equipment mobility to the border and implying that rail mobile ballistic missiles like the DF31A can be moved closer to India, when required.

The Chinese Air force (PLAAF) has over 15 airfields in and around Tibet covering all sectors. Some of these have been upgraded already and the process is on to make others operational.

Large scale logistics nodes have been created at number of places to hold stocks and troops far in excess of local requirements. A large number of military camps have also been established over the years along routes leading to LAC. The new infrastructure allows the Chinese Army to amass upwards of two divisions on their launch pads along the LAC in 20 days, a development that can be ignored at our own peril.

India: The 1962 debacle led to a flurry of activity on our eastern borders resulting in the raising of additional formations as well as road construction in certain areas like the Kameng sector of Arunachal Pradesh. But soon with the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars the focus of both the government and the army shifted totally towards Pakistan, resulting in lowering of priority on the China front.

Subsequently, in the mid-Nineties the advent of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism against India and the Kargil conflict in 1999 further increased India’s fixation with our western borders. However, all this has changed now and the two front war is no longer a myth. Hence, it is of no surprise that compared to the Chinese developments in TAR; our infrastructure opposite Tibet is negligible barring Sikkim (both northern and eastern Sector) and the Kameng sector of Arunachal Pradesh. No worthwhile road exists anywhere else.

In fact, in some areas of Arunacha Paradesh, it takes anything from three to five days to reach the perceived LAC from the existing road heads. It doesn’t need a wizard to predict the nightmarish scenario with regards to mobilisation and logistics build-up in case we are forced to go to war with China in the near future. The comments of a senior bureaucrat from the home ministry while addressing a press conference on the subject, some years back, is worth noting. He came up with the theory that it was the army which dissuaded from building roads up to the border in Arunachal Pradesh, as it would provide easy access for advance to the Chinese military, in case of an aggression. Nothing can be further from the truth but the psyche evident.

Having realised the seriousness of the Chinese developments in TAR, the ministry of defence, under an ambitious project to bring connectivity to the Sino-Indian border has sanctioned Rs 57,000 crore, as part of the Long Term Perspective Plan (LTTP) under the Border Road Organisation. However, the movement on the ground is tardy. In March, this year, the defence minister A.K. Anthony himself acknowledged in Parliament that out of the 116 roads worth 3,765Km earmarked under Phase-I of the LTPP, only six roads with a combined length of 98Km have been constructed. He dwelt on the fact that the delay in environmental and forest clearance and non-availability of adequate air-lift efforts were reasons for the hold-up. This should not come as a surprise keeping in mind our track record in this sphere. The foundation stone for the Rohtang tunnel, for an all weather road was laid 10 years ago, but the work is yet to start.

There has been no addition to rail links in the Northeast during the last 50 years. The rail line to Leh is likely to take another 10 years, assuming no time overruns, and the railway line to Kashmir is no where near completion. The only silver lining seems to be the upgradation of older airfields and their operationalisation with front line jets and activation of a number of previously dormant Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) in the North East, especially Arunachal Pradesh.

Force Structure

Today, China possesses the largest combat artillery force in the world. Chinese howitzers are generally the copies of the Russian guns, but their production is indigenous. China also follows the Russian concept of massed artillery deployment. The Chinese artillery consists of the 152mm and 130mm guns in the medium range and the 100mm and 122mm field guns for assault role, along with a large number of light mortars. The 152mm howitzers can also fire the Chinese version of ‘Krasnopol’ laser-guided ammunition. They also have the formidable 300mm multi-barrel rocket launchers. As per reports the Chinese are also into the production of 155mm guns.

While the quantity and quality of China’s artillery pieces is not comparable to the state-of-the-art autonomous modern day gun systems available worldwide, the road network available right up to LAC permits their movement and forward deployment in large numbers, effectively covering areas well across the LAC. The logistics nodes established in TAR provide the maintenance back-up and sufficient quantity of ammunition availability in a conflict against India.

However, the major cause of concern is not the conventional artillery analysed above but China’s ‘Second Artillery Corps’, which consists of its offensive ballistic missiles capability. The Second Artillery has eight divisions with each division having two to three brigades. Brigades are divided into nuclear and conventional units. Mobile nuclear brigades are equipped with DF31 Inter Continental Ballistic Missile, DF4 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), DF21 IRBM and DF3 IRBM. The non-nuclear brigades are generally equipped with DF15 and DF11 Short Range Ballistic Missiles. This threat is very potent and viable especially with the improved rail and road network.

The Indian Army, till recently Pakistan-centric, is now shifting its focus onto the China front. The raising of two new mountain divisions in the Northeast is a step in this direction. The Indian Army is attempting to fill voids that have existed in the artillery formations in the eastern sector both in terms of equipment and organisations. However, the problem of inadequacy of artillery in quality and quantity remains. Even the two mountain divisions raised have no significant artillery with them. Most of the artillery equipment with the formations in the Northeast consists of 105mm field guns and 120mm mortars.

There is, in fact, no worthwhile medium artillery in this sector except for one or two units of Bofors, which are basically in Sikkim and Kameng sectors. Some rockets and missiles have also been moved to the eastern sector, however, the artillery resources are woefully inadequate and can’t even meet the requirement of fighting a defensive battle, offensive being a far cry. Even if the numbers were boosted up with resources from our western borders, how are they going to move and deploy, when no worthwhile road network exists.

With regards to surveillance and target acquisition, barring a few Heron UAVs and medium range BFSR’s, no worthwhile equipment is available. The only hope seems to be the likely induction of the US M777 ultra light howitzers (ULH) in the near future specifically meant for the mountains. The M777 is capable of being lifted under slung by heavy lift helicopters, like the Chinook of US and Mi26 of Russia. The process for acquisition of this class of helicopters has already been set in motion by the IAF. The entire process will take time, but it’s a step in the right direction. Conclusion

The Chinese fully understand our predicament and no doubt are adopting aggressive posturing. The damming activity on the Brahmaputra and the issue of stapled visas to the Karate team from Arunachal Pradesh are the latest provocations. While the Indian military is no pushover of the 1962 era, we still lack the wherewithal, both in terms of infrastructure and equipment, especially artillery on the China front.

The Indian military is in the process of a counter build-up but the speed of development is painfully slow. Despite the enhanced threat in this region, red tape and inter-ministerial bottlenecks continue to rule and is affecting the progress of infrastructural development. Indian security scenario is nightmarish to say the least. In any future conflict India will have to contend with a two-front war.

Modernisation of the Indian Army, particularly the artillery, can brook no further delay. Raising two new mountain divisions and reactivating a few forward air-fields, deploying two fighter squadrons (of Su-30 MKI) and a few missiles are positive steps but not enough, given the situation we are faced with. Time for action is now for the Dragon is breathing at our doorstep.

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