IDR Blog

India, China and the 'Long March of Deep Military Reform'
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Claude Arpi | Date:31 Dec , 2016 0 Comments
Claude Arpi
Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

China has a Dream: to ensure economic prosperity, social stability, and a decent life to its citizens, but also to become a powerful nation; in fact it dreams to become one day the most powerful nation of the planet. 

Military power will play a crucial role in the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

This explains the in-depth military reforms undertaken by President Xi Jinping a year ago.

China is really serious about this.

On December 5 in Beijing, President Xi Jinping, who is also Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) attended a two-day meeting during which he called for “a smaller army with better combat capability and optimized structure.”

Some 230 high-ranking military officials as well as the 11 CMC members were in attendance.

Xi told the generals: “If China is to build a strong world-class army. …We must seize the opportunity and make breakthroughs.”

Xi spoke about the informationized modern warfare and emphasized the importance of joint operations. He called for readjusting and optimizing the military’s structure: “new type of forces must be developed, the ratios between different types of forces must be rationalized, and the number and the scale of the military be downsized.” Xi added: “Quantity should be reduced, quality improved to build a capable and efficient modernized standing army.”

This raises two important questions. While undertaking these reforms, has China not taken a too large bite, which is now difficult to chew?

The other question is: what does this mean for India?

Xinhua remarked that December 2015 “marked a fresh start in the history of the Chinese Armed Forces, as the nation embarked on a long march of deepening military reform.”

The official news agency added: “China has entered a key stage of transforming itself from a big country to a strong power, which calls for greater courage in advancing military reform.”

On December 31, new services were created, namely, the PLA Army, the PLA Rocket Force and the PLA Strategic Support Force and a few weeks later, the seven erstwhile Military Regions were regrouped into five PLA Theater Commands.

Xinhua admitted: “Despite the remarkable achievements, arduous tasks remain;” therefore, the comparison with the Long March.

The creation of a PLA Strategic Support Force is a plunge into the future as it will deal with cyber and space warfare, probably the keys of tomorrow’s conflicts.

But changing mindsets and controlling vested interests is not an easy proposition. Peter Wood, the Editor of the China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation noted that Chinese publications “calling for the PLA to ‘cast off’ old concepts about the predominance of the Ground Forces are further indication that the transition has not gone smoothly.”

For the new Forces, “to work together in coordinated campaigns also remains a key bottleneck for the PLA,” is not obvious.

This major hurdle is far from being overcome.

Regarding India: it is high time India undertakes reforms, in which the role of the ground forces (Indian Army) need to be rebalanced with the Navy and the Air Force, giving a greater role to ‘informationized warfare’.

There are other issues which need to be reviewed: take for example the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). In December 2015, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said that the post of CDS “could be a reality soon”.

He then added that the Prime Minister “marked defence reforms as a priority and stressed that ‘jointness at the top’ was a need long overdue.”

The CDS would coordinate between the three services, the strategic command responsible for the nuclear weapons …and one day, the cyber and space commands.

The creation of a post of CDS was already recommended by a Group of Ministers in 2001. But what happened since then? Practically nothing.

Another example of the apathy of the Indian system is the Indian National Defence University (INDU).

Planned since decades, the government finally approved the setting up of the INDU at an estimated cost of 2.95 billion in Haryana in 2010.

On the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2013, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, the then chairman of the chiefs of staff committee asserted that “India needs military leaders who can critically analyse, demonstrate professional acumen and are capable of meeting the threats & challenges at the tactical, operational & strategic levels.”

What has happened to the INDU? Lost in the corridors of South Block?

In the meantime, Kanwa Asian Defense, a Chinese-language publication reported that China’s military build-up is coming closer to India.

Beijing’s military would have placed more missiles and fighter jets along the Indian border: “The weapons have been deployed in Tibet and in the western region of Xinjiang along with airborne early warning and control systems.”

Kanwa said that Chinese troops have placed the J-11, the J-10 and the Kongjing-500 (airborne early warning and control or AEW&C aircraft) in rotational deployment. The Shenyang J-11 is a twin-engine jet fighter, developed to compete with fourth-generation fighters.

On December 3, 2016, a PLA website showed pictures of airmen “assigned to an aviation regiment under the PLA Western Theater Command performing flight checks on a J-11 fighter jet prior to a round-the-clock flight training exercise under realistic combat environment at a military airfield.”

The airport is located near the Indian border.

Kanwa also said that in Korla (Xinjiang), China may have deployed troops for the launch of midrange ballistic missiles and in Hotan, north of the Aksai Chin, J-10 and H-6K strategic bomber would have been spotted.

Is it not high time for the Indian defence forces to seriously embark on its Long March to modernization?


Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

Post your Comment

2000characters left