Given lack of verified information on what exactly happened at Yangtse in the Tawang sector on December 9, capability requirement for meeting the immediate military challenge from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) must be based on generic review and assessment.
This implies usable capabilities across sub unit level posts on the India China border to include surveillance, survivability and communications with lethality, mobility providing the base to operate the same.
Information Backdrop of Assessment
The information paradigm adopted by the Government of India and the Ministry of Defence which guides the armed forces open source analysis will continue to be based on generics. While social media is rife with an explosion of expert comments and videos many of them fakes these may be dated given pace of developments on the India China border.
This will imply that the military will be the loser for lack of substantial inputs from the analytical community in India and abroad for whatever it is worth and unless there is a change in the system which is unlikely.
While Indian Army has created substantial capabilities for public information, it is apparent that this continues to be hunkered down in the basement of the South Block or whichever hole in the wall of the Ministry of Defence it is confined to.
With no signs of the government reviewing an open media policy in defence, analysts will have to depend on their own resources and experience to place incidents as that of December 9 in perspective.
Basis of Usable Capability Requirement
Against this backdrop an attempt to outline capability requirements of the Indian Army to meet the immediate challenge from the PLA is being discussed herein –
Firstly as the PLA will continue to hold the initiative in terms of actions to “redefine,” the Line of Control (LAC) including the McMahon Line sector of the same in Arunachal Pradesh from the tactical perspective the focus will have to be based on what capabilities can be generated in terms of actions as that at Yangtse.
Operational activities in Eastern Ladakh in the past two years denote that strategic surprise has been lost and thus actions may at least for now be dictated by gaining tactical advantages on the ground as the Army is keeping a close watch to avoid being upstaged on the LAC as in April May 2020. Yangtse action by the PLA was apparently on such feature of tactical advantage.
Secondly presently the PLA may not be prepared for full scale armed operations against India, thus the non lethal attempt to seize the Indian post at Yangtse surreptitiously at night foiled by the Indian Army.
Thus, capabilities will have to be based on meeting such a challenge in the future and preempting the same to avoid the clash of 09 December or the past ones supposedly in October this year and June 2020.
Usable Capabilities in Current Scenario
For such a contingency, surveillance and survivability assumes importance. Surveillance in terms of air and ground – air in terms of satellite imagery and drones operating at multiple levels including those operating at the battlefield level.
The Army is already foraying for such a capability with multiple Request for Information (RFI) issued in the last few months. Night capabilities will also have to be incumbent in such platforms if not already included.
Unit and sub unit level reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities are important for troops deployed at posts to include deep look night binos as LORROS primarily an artillery observation device as well as thermal imagers with shorter range.
Physical deployment of early warning and protective patrols provide the additional layer of surveillance. Survivability of these in the harsh environs would be essential apart from the defensive bunkers in the case of an escalation into lethal combat.
If timely information is obtained from the is generally known as ground and aerial surveillance grid a backward information flow can lead to flash communications to avoid a clash in case both sides are willing to do so. In such a scenario another Yangtse can be avoided.
Radio and line communication links for this purpose will be important not only from the front line to the HQs up the chain but also with the corresponding PLA HQs to defuse the situation. Decentralisation of decision for contacting the PLA will have to be provided to relevant commanders on the ground if Indian objective is not to escalate a likely contact.
Crossing the Capability Threshold
Thirdly once the PLA threshold is crossed and operations are launched with lethal arms and munitions may be initially with subunit level infantry weapons which may subsequently get upgraded if extrapolation is carried out from the escalation pattern on the Line of Control with Pakistan adequate arms and munitions need to be catered for.
For high altitude areas which includes much of the India China border habitat as an aid to survivability particularly in winters also assumes importance. Some reports indicate that the PLA has made substantial investments in such a capability with pressurized, heating arrangements for troops at high altitude, rapid acclimatization aids and quality thermal ware. Corresponding levels would be expected from the Indian Army.
Fourthly while much is being talked about Indian Air Force flying sorties, cyber attacks and the coincidence of the Agni V long range ballistic missile, these are supplementary to building combat capabilities which are usable now and can be build up later. Similarly while light tanks are important to relieve the medium tanks deployed at present being maintenance intensive as well, these will be essential in the second phase talked about above.
Tracking CMC Directions
Finally continue to look for markers when China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) headed by the Chairman and President Xi Jinping gives the green signal to the PLA to shift to lethal warfare.
India missed the signal in 2020 when the PLA quietly dumped the multiple agreements for maintaining peace and tranquility on the LAC and transgressed across it in Eastern Ladakh. Evidently the next time an error of judgement can prove far more expensive.