Dr Bhagwati Prakash Sharma
Recent returning back of a 2010 proposal of the army for raising a new mountain strike corps, on the pretext of adjusting the requirements of three forces within the available budget, by the UPA government, is most unfortunate at a time when China is heavily investing to build asymmetric capabilities, vis a vis India and the whole world, including the US. The government has wasted almost two years, just for a decision to refer, the proposal back to the ‘Chiefs of Staff Committee’ (COSC) in the name of eliciting the requirements of the Air and Navy and size them all into the limited available budget.
The decision of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to send the proposal back to the COSC is quite strange at a time when the army deployment is highly over-stretched, throughout the northern border. Just to counter the muscle flexing of China by entering Bhutan, through Chumbi Valley, in 2008, 40,000 troops had to be withdrawn from Jammu & Kashmir, under heavy stress, to deploy in Siliguri, Darjeeling, as the protection of 30 km wide stretch called Chicken’s neck, connecting the north-east and the rest of India is most vital for the territorial integrity of the country. India had to relocate the 27 Mountain Division and 27 Artillery Brigade from Naria in Rajouri to Kalimpong in Siliguri under the Eastern Command based in Kolkata. The 27 Mountain Division was looking after the counter insurgency operations in Rajouri sector. This shifting of troops from J&K to north-east, in the aftermath of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, has led to fresh turbulence in J&K leading to unabated stone pelting there and also prompted China to misadventure in Leh-Laddakh in Jammu. This stone pelting alone had prompted the Manmohan Singh government to appoint the interlocutors, who had given an altogether anti-India report on J&K.
Therefore, the government should no more postpone the army’s long-awaited requirements. Moreover, under such tense and turbulent situation such to and fro shuttling of the two year old proposal, for the first ever such badly needed ‘mountain strike corps’, would further cause inordinate delay to control the situation, as raising of it (the mountain strike corps) and deploying the same would require much longer a period. How long would we play ‘hide and seek’ to check the Chinese by shuttling the same troops from west to east and back?
Indeed the army headquarters had moved this proposal, only after the Prime Minister (PM) himself had explicitly shared concern with the Army top brass. The proposal for raising this first ever mountain strike corps along with two independent divisions (total of 60,000 men) to be posted against China at Pannagarh in West Bengal, along with positioning of two armoured regiments at Nathula in Sikkim and Fukche in Laddakh respectively, and also to deploy an additional infantry brigade in Barahot plains in Uttrakhand was moved only after the PM had explicitly assured to meet with such a demand, when brought forward.
This assurance was given by the PM only after a presentation of the Army top brass, wherein he was appraised fully well, about the overwhelming capabilities being built by the People’s Liberation Army along the border with India. It is no more a secret that India has been extremely defensive ever since the humiliating show-down of 1962 with China in the Nehruvian era with a deliberate decision, not to provoke China by developing border infrastructure, even ignoring the fact that China has developed impressive border infrastructure and capability, to mobilise almost 5,00,000 troops in a matter of 3-4 weeks on the Line of Control with India, for which India would require 12-14 weeks or even more under the present state of border infrastructure.
Therefore, immediately after the assurance of the PM in April 2010, the Army had sent the proposal to the Ministry of Defense (MoD), to put it to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for approval, with a projected expenditure of Rs. 12,000 crore for the entire proposal. But, despite the PM’s assurance, MoD had sent the file back in mid 2011 (after almost an year) to the Army Headquarters questioning the high capital expenditure, ignoring the well known fact that the modern weaponry and armaments are quite costly and any delay would further lead to cost escalation. Army was again very prompt and is said to have sent its reply with all justifications in the mid 2011 itself. But, the CCS has again took one year to return it back to the COSC to size the Army’s proposal to accommodate the demands of all the three wings of armed forces (Army, Airforce and Navy) within the limited budget.
Such ill treatment to the defence-related matters in a shuttle like manner, to kill time by raising austerity issues is most unfortunate, at a time when Chinese border incursions are exceeding over a hundred per year, the Chinese forces are tactically occupying Indian territory inch after inch and its helicopters have even misadventured to destroy bunkers of the Indian army deep into our territory in the Leh-Laddakh region. It is also being alleged that the Nang-Tsang area, now under Chinese occupation was under Indian Control till 1984, the Nagkung was under Indian domain till 1991 and Lugma was under Indian Control till 1992. Chinese have occupied these areas by persistent and gradual incursions. Now, they are said to be setting their sight on another area the ‘Dokbugh’. Army deployment has to be very effective to curb frequent incursions and their occupying of Indian territory by an inch by inch movement.
Postponement of urgently required military expansion and sizing of defence needs to fall within the falling budgetary allocations is most worrisome at a time when China is spending almost four times our defence budget and has been displaying double digit growth in defence expenditure since last two decades. Indeed the actual spending of China is underreported, as it does not include several sub-heads of defence spending in its defence budget including the R&D expenses. Most defence magazines of the world, give an estimate of $160 billion on the Chinese defence. Indian defence expenditure in real terms is less than $40 billion. Moreover, Indian defence outlay has been declining in real terms inspite of a numerical growth in the budget. In 1987-88, India used to spend 3.8 per cent of its GDP on defence, which has now gone down to 2.5 per cent of GDP due to lower tax GDP ratio under the Manmohanomic economic reforms. India has to take early cognisance of the growing military power and political assertiveness of China against India, and also a host of other countries including Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and US as we are its adjacent neighbour with long unresolved border dispute.
Further, it is to be noted that ever since the passing of “the Taiwan Anti–Secession Law” by China in 2005, it (China) has acquired the capability even to lock American access into a region, that was being declared of vital security interest by every US administration since last one century from Teddy Roosevelt’s tenure between 1901-1909. By doing so it (China) has been successfully weaning off the US, the entire South East Asia, which hitherto relied heavily upon the US support against likely Chinese aggression. But, now with the growing Chinese clout in the area they (South East Asian nations) no more feel secure and have begun to tread closer ties with China to buy peace even at a cost, though in vain. The Taiwan Anti-Secession Law of 2005 of China commits it (China) to a military response, should Taiwan ever declare independence or even if the government in Beijing thinks all possibility of peaceful unification has been lost. China is reported to have almost more than readied its military forces to repel any US intervention there, in case of a US military intervention, in Taiwan. China is well on its way to deter American aircraft carriers and aircrafts by an anti-access/area denial strategy. This strategy of China is said to comprise deploying thousands of accurate land based ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced jets with anti-ship missiles, a fleet of submarines, long range radars and surveillance satellites, in addition to cyber and space weapons intended to blind American naval access. Its new ballistic missile is said to be able to put a maneuverable warhead onto the deck of an aircraft carrier, even beyond 2,500 km out at sea. Another surprise is its first ever anti-ship missile of the world, capable to move by skimming the sea water along with successful testing of an anti-satellite missile.
Thus, with the worlds’ largest military buildup, it has now also revised its security doctrine from “no first use” to “striking first if it must”. India still sticks to its doctrine of “no first use coupled with minimum nuclear deterrence” given in the NDA regime. It was the NDA which deserves all the admiration, as it had alone cared to declare the first ever security doctrine of the country, of having ‘minimum nuclear deterrence’, after almost five decades of independence, that earned considerable esteem and enhanced bargaining power for the country, to be used on all international fora. But, now India has to rethink of it, in light of the revised doctrine of China which speakes “Strike First If It Must”. They had further substantiated it (this doctrine) by a formal statement of doctrine, published in 2005 in the Peoples’ Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) Science of Military strategy by stating “…………….. active defence is the essential feature of China’s military strategy….. if an enemy offends our national interest in such a case the PLA’s mission would be to do all we can to dominate the enemy by striking first”. The PLA’s behaviour in the South and East China seas is reflective of this new doctrine of their, wherein, clashes had been reported in last one and a half years’ between Chinese vessels and ships of Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Philippines. Chinese navy is also reported to have confronted the Indian Naval Ship ‘INS Airavat’ as well, in the South China Sea in late July 2011. Recently, in June this year also they had floated an international tender for oil exploration, in the western part of South China Sea, where India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) is exploring oil for Vietnam. Exxon Mobile of US and Gazprom of Russia are also there and operating for Vietnam. In fact, of late the Chinese statements have been appearing very pugnacious with respect to their rights over South and East China Seas.
Such aggressive postures of China further need a closer scrutiny. For instance in an editorial of their State run Global Times in last October, sometime later after confronting the INS Airavat, and similar other incidents, China had warned, though without naming a specific country, but, very harshly in such words that “if these countries don’t want to change their ways with China, they will need to prepare for the sounds of canons. We (i.e. China itself) need to ready for that, as it may be the only way for the disputes in the sea to be resolved”.
So, India needs to take a cue from this revision of the Chinese neo-security doctrines and their aggressive postures. A deterrent defence potential needs to be built, to wean them away from any misadventure against India by stepping up of our Naval and Air defence preparations along with that of the Army. Therefore, any further delay in approving the Army’s proposal, for a new mountain strike corps be avoided, that too, on the pretext of sizing the requirements of the three forces (Army, Navy and Airforce) within the limited allocated budget is unwise in light of the changing geo-strategic realities.