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Challenges to Combat Power Application in Eastern Ladakh

Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have been engaged in a standoff at multiple points on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh over the past two years or so.

The military objective of the standoff is to sustain claims over the LAC which have been challenged by PLA through multi point incursions establishing a new claim line.

This despite a series of agreements between the two sides to maintain sanctity till the issue is resolved through the mechanism of Special Representatives of the Prime Ministers which in the case of India is the National Security Adviser Mr Ajit Doval and for China State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Mr Wang Yi.

China’s objectives of establishing new factuals on the ground have been resisted by India strongly and the stalemate remains unresolved despite 14 Rounds of Senior Commanders [Corps Commanders] talks held over a period of almost two years.

One reason is prevalence of tactical and thus operational stalemate due to severe limitations of terrain, altitude and restricted approaches.

Combat power application which entails fire, maneouvre and establishing of blocking pivots remains one of the options that can create advantage for one side or the other.

By seizing the initiative and through deliberate violation of agreements made by both sides on maintaining peace and tranquillity on the LAC in April May 2020 – China used maneouvre to effect to establish blocking pivots and deny the Indian Army forward movement.

As lethal fire is not an option presently exercised by both sides and to that extent there is a degree of sanctity of the India China agreements, establishment of blocking pivots and maneouvre remain the way ahead to regain an advantage.

There is an inherent difficulty for maneouvre in the extreme high altitude terrain of Eastern Ladakh due to restrictions on movement, limited paths of ingress which are well covered by the opposing side and sheer limitations on human endurance and survival. For reaching is only half the task as sustaining presence on the lofty pinnacles.

On August 31, 2020, India Army using specially trained and acclimatised troops established a pivot on the Kailash Range in the South of Pangong Tso dominating the PLA’s base in Moldo as well as on a clear day the Highway G 219.

This led to China agreeing to pull back troops from the North and South of Pangong Tso in February last year.

Maneouvre was employed to effect and proved successful. Opportunities in other sectors of the standoff for such a maneouvre are however limited by terrain as well as a higher level of Chinese alertness.

Nevertheless as winter weather breaks in April, there could be fleeting scope for patrols moving up to positions of advantage. These however will have to be maintainable as else would be a vulnerability.

Would the two armies the IA and the PLA adopt such an option or are wary of the same and guard against the other side gaining an advantage only time will tell?

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