Developments in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), including the Navy (PLAN) and the Air Force (PLAAF) will be driven by the strategic competition with the United States will transcend to and supplement contested relations with India the sharp edge of which will be sustaining engagement on the Line of Actual Control (LAC)/International Border with probability of escalation at select points.
A New Era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics outlined by General Secretary, Chairman of the Central Military Commission and President – Xi Jinping includes importantly two facets related to national security which are significant (1) strengthening national defense and the armed forces and (2) safeguarding national security as was highlighted by Xi Jinping in his explanatory remarks on the 6th Plenum statement in November 2021.
Expanding commitment of the PLA to the Communist Party of China (CPC) and to Xi Jinping, is a sine qua non. Rise of commanders loyal to President Xi are expected to facilitate consolidation over the PLA.
National Security Strategy (2021-2025) has also indicated that “No concession will be made on issues concerning China's core interests and national dignity. The country's sovereignty, security, and development interests should also be resolutely safeguarded.”
Point wise summary of projections for the PLA in 2022 are covered as given below
On the India China Border cum Line of Actual Control
Sustain standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) until the objective of acceptance of new alignment by India as a defacto if not a de jure reality.
Maintain high level of operational readiness including winterisation and high altitude sustenance and rapid deployment capabilities exploiting interior communications in Aksai China
Retain option for escalation in the Central and Eastern sectors. Transgressions and face offs to keep the Indian Army and Indo Tibetan Border Police off guard.
Expansion of infrastructure in border areas particularly in Aksai Chin and sectoral road and rail linkages to facilitate rapid mobilisation of PLA intra and inter theatre. Progress on the 1,629km Sichuan–Tibet high-elevation railway line connecting Chengdu to Lhasa can be anticipated.
Mobilisation exercises to validate redeployment of reserves.
Consolidation of bases in the intermediate tier such as G 219 highway as forward staging areas after and in case of de-escalation from the front line in Aksai Chin. This will facilitate rapid forward deployment when operationally essential
PLA Air Force expanding deployment at forward airfields in Tibet, upgradation of airfields and combat training.
Militia groups based on local troops raising in Xizang or Tibet. This will be a follow up of, “compulsory recruitment drive” for locals in Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan in 2021.
Expansion of communications infrastructure including 5 G networks to enable informationised conduct of operations on the LAC.
Sustained logistics and administrative support development for troops deployed in forward posts for survivability in high altitude and winters.
Expansion of dual purpose villages on the Border and Line of Actual Control with India as per China’s latest policy of reinforcing the borders through settlements and simultaneous expansion of claims.
China Bhutan boundary - work on formalising and settlement of boundary dispute expected to commence as per the MOU signed by the two countries in 2021.
Modernise and expand nuclear forces along with diversification in terms of land, sea and air based nuclear delivery platforms, supporting infrastructure as well as capacity to produce plutonium through fast breeder reactors and reprocessing.
Consolidate nuclear triad with air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) and improvement of its ground and sea-based nuclear capabilities.
Possible adoption or progression towards Launch On Warning [LOW} or “early warning counterstrike” posture
PLA Rocket Force could test or field “operational hypersonic weapons system, the DF-17 hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) capable medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM)” and expand gains made through “fractional orbital bombardment system” [FOBS].
Increase in the number of silos for housing ICBMs.
Indian Ocean forays including acquisition of bases and airfields is expected to continue apace. Consolidation of presence in the Indian Ocean Region by PLAN including possible expansion in Gwadar and possible Hambantota (with civilian face) can be anticipated.
China’s civilian fishing armada will continue to foray in the Indian Ocean region, glibly camouflage for the PLA Navy.
Survey of South China Sea, Indian Ocean Region can be anticipated deploying frontline ships as research ships of the Xiang Yang Hong (‘Facing the Red Sun’) class.
PLAN ship building and launch will continue apace. An estimate by the United States think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS] states that China could launch the third high tech aircraft carrier Type 003. This will add to the Navy’s heft which as per New York Post is the world’s largest navy
To sum up keeping the overall goal of completing modernisation goals and be a regionally dominant force, the PLA in 2022 is likely to sustain trajectory on lines charted above, this will provide a measure of what the Indian armed forces should expect in the year ahead on the India China front.