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Deterrence by Detection on the India China Border

The blame game so to say in various faceoffs and clashes on the India China border for the past few years has created a rift in border management between the two countries, the primary powers in Indo Asia Pacific.

As per many analysts in India, strategic rivalry between India and China is expected to manifest into armed confrontation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the times to come even as the escalation ladder has moved from verbal duels at faceoff sites through 2013 to 2017 to clashes employing non lethal weapons as clubs with nail protrusions and staves in 2020 [Doklam] and 2022 [Yangtse].

Presently the intention on both sides is to establish claims and/or dominance on the LAC without employment of lethal force. This may change in the times to come and thus the developments need to be carefully observed.

The present period is of dissipation of trust but with continued confidence building measures [CBM] at the military level implies that this is a period of consolidation of firm bases for furtherance of wider operational objectives.

This is indicated most recently by the 17th Senior commanders meeting of India and China on 22 December. The Joint Press Release on the occasion issued by the Ministry of External Affairs as well as Defence in Delhi highlighted the main developments and said, “ The 17th round of India- China Corps Commander Level Meeting was held at Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on the Chinese side on 20 December 2022. Building on the progress made after the last meeting on 17 July 2022, the two sides exchanged views on the resolution of the relevant issues along the LAC in the Western Sector in an open and constructive manner. They had a frank and in-depth discussion, keeping in line with the guidance provided by the State Leaders to work for the resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest which would help in restoration of peace and tranquility along the LAC in the Western Sector and enable progress in bilateral relations”.

“In the interim, the two sides agreed to maintain the security and stability on the ground in the Western Sector. The two sides agreed to stay in close contact and maintain dialogue through military and diplomatic channels and work out a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest,” the release added.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs in response to a query during a weekly media briefing on December 22 confirmed that there have been incidents in the past on the Line of Actual Control without giving specific locations where Indian Army stood firm. He said, “Yes, there have been incidents or locations in the past where we have stood firm, you're aware of that, and we've been emphasizing that our soldiers will stand firm to guard our frontiers. So I don't want to say anything beyond that, because I think that clarity has been issued and if you are looking at from a military perspective, I would refer to the MoD. I am not going to speculate here on why which specific locations”.

Sectoral Compartmentalisation of LAC

Amidst these developments compartmentalization of the LAC between sectors and addressing each sector separately has become the norm. While talking in one sector – the Western – consolidation in the other – Eastern is evident.

Thus, the aim of the People’s Liberation Army [PLA] unarmed assault, for that is what a force of 300-500 as per various open source information denotes was to possibly secure the vantage point of Yangtse. Once the Indian Army blunted the assault the issue was resolved through border personnel meetings at the local commanders level in Bum La the traditional meeting point.

These developments in the Western as well as Eastern Sector denote that the overall objective appears to be not to escalate beyond the level of tolerance a political parameter that may have established tacitly or through a dialogue at the highest level.

Avoiding a clash as at Galwan or Yangtse thus assumes importance, Under the circumstances adoption of the concept of, “Deterrence by Detection,” enumerated by Thomas G. Mahnken, Travis Sharp, Grace B. Kim in the Paper Deterrence By Detection: A Key Role For Unmanned Aircraft Systems In Great Power Competition by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments a US based think tank needs consideration.

Though the Paper is in the context of United States confrontation with Russia or China, this could well be relevant in the India China context.

Explaining Deterrence by Detection

Deterrence includes those military capabilities to influence the intent of an adversary from launching a military operation. Simply speaking deterrence discourages an attack. Patrick Morgan concludes that “challenger motivation is the most important factor in deterrence success or failure.”

As the challenger motivation in this case that of India and Pakistan to escalate appears low, to avoid the scope of clash detection through deployment of early warning resources can be exploited to achieve this aim.

As the author of the Paper explain, “Implementing the concept of “deterrence by detection” will require an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) network composed of systems that are cost-effective, persistent, and interoperable with a broad array of allies and partners”.

“Real-time situational awareness is critical to countering the twin challenges of sub-conventional gray zone aggression and a conventional fait accompli gambit promptly and effectively,” the Paper adds. While the Paper recommends extensive employment of UAVs in the India China context an array of surveillance systems can be deployed to ensure, that, “potential transgressors are less likely to act if they know they are being watched,” and “that their actions can be publicized widely”.

More over as the authors contend, “..if deterrence fails, reliable information can serve as the predicate for a political response and military action”.

Establishing corresponding capabilities in terms of surveillance and communications has been highlighted previously, these can be created to ensure that needless clashes of the forces on the borders can be avoided.


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