By Maj. Gen. P.K. Chakravorty (retd)
India and China have a border dispute which has remained unsettled despite numerous meetings and protracted discussions. China has resolved its land border dispute with Russia and Vietnam. However, with India she is not relenting on her decision to not recognise the McMohan line and India has her compulsions. It is difficult to forecast as to the timelines for this settlement.
Presently, China has become more assertive and has made numerous border incursions particularly in eastern Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. Further, China has objected to Oil and Natural Gas Commission’s (ONGC) exploration activities in areas permitted by Vietnam in the South China Sea. China has been issuing stapled visas to people of Arunachal and refused permission to an Indian Air Force officer to accompany a military delegation as he belonged to the state of Arunachal.
China is also assisting Pakistan in her nuclear programme and acquisition of missile technology. The friendship between Pakistan and China is India-centric. China and Pakistan have extended their defence relationship to the three services. The two armies have jointly built a tank al Khalid, the navies are giving finishing touches to the port of Gwadar and the two air forces have developed and manufactured for Pakistan the JF-17, a low-cost multi-role light weight fighter that hosts modern avionics and represent a step up from the Chinese MiG-19/21 derivatives and French Mirage-3/5 fighters. The obvious issue is: ‘Will there be a full spectrum conflict between India and China?’ The answer is, there exists a possibility as conflicts take shape suddenly and in this case China often goes to war to teach a lesson as she did in 1979 with Vietnam. Therefore, it would be prudent to prepare and modernise for an unforeseen contingency.
Recently, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) conducted in end March a major live fire exercise with artillery firing and testing its multi role J-10 fighters armed with laser guided bombs in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau region. The Chinese official media described the exercise as the first operation of its kind on the 3,500 metres high plateau, which witnessed firing by land platforms as also fighter jets being fuelled and loaded with bombs for ground attack missions at sub zero temperatures. The rare publicity given to the exercise comes at a time when China is getting ready for a change of guard at the highest level. Possibly, it is a strong message to India which has recently taken steps to strategically counter China’s massive build up of military infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control.
China has the capability of launching an offensive and is currently equipped with conventional systems as well as nuclear tipped ballistic and cruise missiles. Ever since the advent of military conflict, war quintessentially comprised of two ingredients: firepower and manoeuvre. Conflicts with China would be confined to the mountainous region of Tibet where space for manoeuvre will be restricted and asymmetries of firepower will cause victory.
The mainstay of firepower for the Chinese is their strategic assets of the Second Artillery, the 155mm, 52 calibre Norinco Gun and currently the J-10 multi role fighter. In terms of strategic assets the Chinese have their silo based DF-5A (CSS-4) with a range of 13,000km, the road mobile DF-21 A (CSS-5, Mod 2) with a range of 2,150km, DF-31A (CSS-X 10) with a range of 11,270km (plus) and the submarine launched JL-2 (CSS-NX4) with a range of 8,000km plus. Cruise missiles held by China comprise the DH-10 with a range of 4,000km, HN-3 with a range of 3,000km, CJ-10 with a range of 2,200km, HN-2 with a range of 1,800km, CF-2 a range of 800 km, HN-1 with a range of 600 km and CF-1 with a range of 300 km. All variants have been made capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Further, DF-31 has Multiple Independent Re entry Vehicles (MIRV) which is capable of engaging independent targets. India is fully covered by Chinese missiles.
India is gradually gearing up to the challenge of facing a two-front war. Her focus is on the northern and north eastern border where she has commenced steps to build up her defence infrastructure. On the firepower assets, India has the 155 mm (39 calibre) Bofors gun with the army; air force has deployed its frontline fighter Su-30MKI and our strategic assets have been strengthened with the successful development flight of Agni V in April this year. Our ballistic missiles comprise Agni I, II, III, IV, and V with the maximum range of 5,000 km being achieved by Agni V. The Prithvi has a range of 350km and carries a warhead of 1,000 kg. Thereafter, we have BrahMos which is a cruise missile with a range of 290km capable of being launched from land, sea and development is progressing for launching from the air and sub surface. It is pertinent to note that while Agni and Prithvi are nuclear tipped, BrahMos carries a conventional payload and is inducted in the Services unlike Agni and Prithvi which are a part of the Strategic Forces whose employment will be controlled at the national level.
Utilisation of weaponry
The usage of weapons during a conflict would depend on the stated doctrines of India and China. As late as 30 April 2012, Cheng Jingye, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations stated that China would continue to adhere to the policy of No-First-Use of nuclear weapons. Similarly, India has stood by its stated doctrine of No-First-Use of nuclear weapons. In such an eventuality, nuclear missiles of China and India would be used only after either side has fired the first nuclear warhead.
Viewing issues in perspective, a conflict between India and China would be initiated by conventional weapons and there is little likelihood of the conflict entering the nuclear domain. Therefore, while developing our nuclear deterrent capability the primary focus should be on the conventional arena. Victory will be attained in such conflicts by asymmetry of conventional firepower.
Therefore, our nation has to focus on precision weapons with conventional warheads to decimate a Chinese offensive with about 30 divisions. Currently, we would have about 10 divisions to match this force. Our force ratio would be adequate if it is backed by qualitatively intense firepower. The need would be for 155mm guns replacing 105mm firing precision weapons, adequate numbers of Sukhoi-30MKI to match the J-10 and supersonic cruise missiles with proven steep dive capability at the ingress points of Kameng, Rest of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, UP-Tibet border and Eastern Ladakh. This would result in accurate engagement of the Chinese thereby dissuading them from offensive operations.
Issues of strategy need to be rationalised correctly to arrive at pragmatic deductions. While there is a need to develop nuclear deterrence, our focus should be in the realm of 155mm guns, Su-30MKI fighters and BrahMos cruise missiles which would break the will of our adversary to fight a sustained battle thereby paving the way for victory.