While some of the issues raised by Subrahmanyam are undoubtedly valid, there can be little doubt that there were major voids in the available intelligence about the PLA’s war-making capability in Tibet such as its strength, intentions, capabilities, operational doctrine and deployment, which certainly point to a major intelligence failure and can in no way be blamed only on the military.
There can be little doubt that there were major voids in the available intelligence about the PLA’s war-making capability in Tibet…
Clearly, Nehru as Prime Minister and architect of India’s foreign policy after Independence has to accept complete responsibility for the debacle of 1962. Also, notwithstanding the political and bureaucratic errors, and no doubt these were of immense magnitude and impacted greatly, one cannot run away from the simple fact that the military leadership at the strategic, operational and tactical level must carry the blame for the defeat. It was not that competent senior officers were not available or not aware of the situation, but they were all sidelined by Krishna Menon and his cabal. Headquarters 4 Corps, for example, was set up to control operations under Lt Gen B.M Kaul because GOC 33 Corps was opposed to the political nature of the operational tasking.
Thus those responsible for conducting the operations were in complete ignorance about Chinese capabilities and tactics, lacked knowledge of terrain and the impact of high altitude on conduct of operations.
There was also complete lack of inter-service cooperation, poor operational and logistic planning along with inept leadership. The only bright spot in this dismal picture was the courage, grit and fighting qualities displayed by the rank and file and junior leadership and by a few middle ranking officers. This is borne out in the manner in which Brigadier (later General) T N Raina’s 114 Brigade in Chushul engaged the PLA in battle.
While we may certainly dismiss the overall lack of professionalism displayed as just an unhappy and uncharacteristic episode from our history, it certainly bears fair amount of resemblance to the state of our forces at the commencement of the Kargil Conflict of 1999. Just as in 1962, there was a systemic failure of intelligence assessment as the Kargil Committee Report states, “there was inadequate coordination at the ground level among Army intelligence and other agencies. This was lacking even at the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) because of the low level of representation by DGMI in the assessment process and the DGMI representative not coming fully briefed on the latest situation. It is also apparent that the assessment was conditioned by the two-decade old mindset that Kargil was unsuitable for cross-LOC military action.”
That Kargil was won was primarily due to the courage and fortitude of our junior leadership and the rank and file…
Again as was the case in 1962, weapons and equipment were found deficient. The Report says, “There were also comments in the media that troops were inadequately equipped for the extreme cold and hazardous conditions when ordered to assault the Kargil heights. Their weapons and equipment compared unfavourably with those of the Pakistani intruders.
The Army had prescribed extra-cold clothing meant for heights between 9000-13,000 feet in this sector for use in normal times, and special (glacial) clothing for heights above that. Special clothing is issued for use in the Siachen area and reserves held in stock were limited. When hostilities commenced, this reserve clothing was issued to the men.
Troops returning from Siachen discard their special clothing which is then usually auctioned. However, in the previous year, the Corps Commander had ordered that Part-Worn Serviceable (PWS) clothing be preserved. This PWS stock was also issued to the troops during the Kargil action. Despite this, there was still an overall shortage. This warrants a review of standards of provisioning for reserves as well as a policy of holding special clothing for a certain proportion of other troops in Kargil and other high altitude sectors. Though the new light rifle (5.56 mm INSAS) has been inducted into service, most troops are yet to be equipped with light rifles.
Adequate attention has not been paid to lightening the load on infantry soldiers deployed at high altitudes. In broader terms, increasing the firepower and combat efficiency of infantrymen has also suffered as has the modernisation process as a whole. This needs to be speedily rectified.”
The question we need to ask ourselves is, are we as well prepared, over five decades later, to deal with any adventurism that the Chinese might undertake?
That Kargil was won was primarily due to the courage and fortitude of our junior leadership and the rank and file. The senior hierarchy subsequently made amends for its focus on “peace-time requirements”, lack of foresight and straight-jacketed thinking by its speedy reaction once the surprise wore off, as also for some brilliant strategic moves that forced Pakistan to sue for peace.
The move of the Parachute Brigade, for example was one such little known action, to Mushkoh threatened the Shaqma Axis. It was the only axis available to Pakistan to support all operations East of Shingo/ Olthingthang axis that is the Drass, Bimbat, Kaksar and part of Kargil sub-sect. More importantly however, while we are certainly much better prepared to deal with Pakistan today, the question we need to ask ourselves is, are we as well prepared, over five decades later, to deal with any adventurism that the Chinese might undertake?
Defeat into Victory?
Take the well-known quote by Sun Tzu from his Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” One would expect that the Indian armed forces with over fifty years of their confrontation with the PLA, would be pretty knowledgeable about their organisational table, capabilities and weaknesses.
Most importantly, since understanding of their operational doctrine, tactics and leadership techniques are absolutely essential there would have been a concerted effort to ensure that the officer cadre would be deeply engrossed in studying those military campaigns that give us deep insight in their handling of large forces, apart of course, from their latest writings on evolving strategic, tactical and organisational thought. This becomes particularly important in view of the fact that the PLA can currently support and undertake operations from Tibet with approximately 34 Divisions, as per one estimate13.
In this context the two other conflicts involving the PLA were the earlier Chinese intervention in the Korean War in 1950 and the Sino- Vietnam Conflict of 1979. Both these conflicts are worth examining in some detail as the force levels employed by the PLA were between 24-28 Infantry Divisions with ancillary elements.
Without deep study of Chinese tactics and doctrine, we will always be caught on the back foot…
Sadly, this has not been the case as only minimal effort has been made at the promotion examination level for the perfunctory study of one of the most inconsequential battles of the Korean War, Pork Chop Hill. Our attempt at understanding PLA tactics has continued to be restricted to the Field Manual on “Chandal Armed Forces”, an imaginary force loosely based on the PLA, which is neither particularly illuminating nor accurate. With the advent of easier availability of information, has there been a quantum shift in our study of the PLA?
Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support such a conclusion. The Staff College Entrance Exams, for their history paper have over the past few years concentrated on campaigns such as the one in Bangladesh in 1971 and in Burma during World War II, important no doubt, but hardly relevant in the context of our present threat scenario.
In our context, a detailed examination of the Korean War will provide us with many lessons, if correctly interpolated in the context of current organisation, doctrine and tactics that the PLA may adopt. For example, Major General PJS Sandhu (Retd), Deputy Director United Service Institution of India, makes a comparative study of the PLA offensives on Se La-Bomdi La and its offensive against the US 1st Marine Division at Chosin Reservoir. As he points out “The near congruency of the two operational plans makes for fascinating comparison. If Se La were to be shown in place of Yudam-ni, Poshing La in place of Sihung-ni, Dirang in place of Hagaru (with Axis Poshing La – Dirang replacing Axis Sihung-ni-Hagaru) and Bomdi La in place of Koto-ri, the similarity is startling. The distance between Se la and Bomdi La is 61 km, while that between Yudam-ni and Koto-ri is about 60 km.
Each of the two divisions was segmented into three parts and each segment dealt with almost simultaneously. A more historically aware higher command could have better anticipated the Chinese strategy and planned accordingly. Those who do not learn from the lessons of history are verily condemned to repeat them”.14
We have been hampered in our operational preparedness in confronting the inexorable Chinese build-up in Tibet…
Even more pertinent and of relevance to us today is the fact that end results of the offensive in both the battles compared were vastly different, with that of 4 Infantry Division ending in a rout while the 1st Marine Division conducted a fighting withdrawal that slowed the momentum of the PLA offensive. While ample availability of artillery, logistics and air resources that the Americans were able to utilise did have great impact, it was the common sense, steadfastness and moral courage displayed by the Commander of the 1st Marine Division, Major General O.P Smith that proved decisive. He refused to be brow-beaten by General MacArthur’s direction to split up his division into penny packets during their breakout from the Chosin Reservoir to ensure maintenance of momentum of the advance and instead insisted on maintaining tactical cohesion that paid dividends when confronted by the surprise counter-offensive of the PLA.15
We have been hampered in our operational preparedness in confronting the inexorable Chinese build-up in Tibet over the years thanks to an all-prevailing belief at the highest levels of our political, bureaucratic and military hierarchy that it is best to let sleeping dogs lie. There has, however, been a perceptible change in the past few years with border infrastructure being given priority, the sanctioning of the Mountain Strike Corps and the relocation of IAF combat elements closer to their operational areas in Tibet. That the Mountain Strike Corps, in its present avatar, cannot meet any of our offensive requirements is not in question, given the state of our road communications. Its organisational structure and operational employment need review if it is to be able to carry out its assigned mission. Towards this end, we must consider tailoring it in a manner that it is organised for conduct of large-scale air-mobile operations.
It is high time we get over the mindset that the North East is an outpost and that, therefore, it need not be seen as integral element of the country.
With the Chinese leadership being focused presently on its disputes with Japan and on the situation in the South China Sea, we have been given a window in which to transform mindsets, create the necessary infrastructure, reorganise and retrain ourselves to be able to ensure that our force posture and capabilities sufficiently dissuade the PLA and the Chinese leadership from undertaking any adventures against us. In this, intellectual development of our leaders at all levels is of utmost importance. Without deep study of Chinese tactics and doctrine, we will always be caught on the back foot.
Finally, transformation has to commence with a change of mindsets. It can be set in motion not through incremental change, but by embracing disruption whole-heartedly. Towards this end, the Army must look at relocating its Eastern Theatre Command closer to its area of operations, in Guwahati, for example and pushing forward its Corps and Divisional HQs. Such an action will not only ensure more effective control of forces within its Area of Responsibility, better coordination with the IAF and also clearly demonstrate intent to the Chinese and our own population in the region, apart from greatly adding to economic development in the area. It is high time we get over the mindset that the North East is an outpost and that, therefore, it need not be seen as integral element of the country.
- Google Maps, “The Sino-Indian Border”, https://maps.google.com
- Pradhan, R.D; From Debacle to Revival: YB Chavan as Defence Minister, 1962-65: Orient Blackswan, India, 1999, p. 22.
- Sinha, PB, Athale, Col AA; History of the Conflict with China 1962;History Division, Ministry of Defence, 1992; pp. 21-24. (http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/LAND-FORCES/Army/History/1962War/PDF/1962Main.pdf)
- Subrahmanyam, K; Nehru and the India China Conflict of 1962; pp102-3; Indian Foreign Policy the Nehru Years Edited by BR Nanda, Vikas Publishing House, 1976.
- Ibid; p. 107.
- Wolf Charles & Others; Long Term Economic and Military Trends 1950-2010; Rand Corporation 1989;Table 5 pg 17;http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/notes/2005/N2757.pdf
- Subrahmanyam, Ibid, p. 114.
- Nayar, Kuldip; A Chinese Encounter; http://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/a-chinese-encounter-112071400062_1.html; 14 Jul 2012
- Garver, John W. “China’s Decision for War With India in 1962,” in Robert S. Ross and Alastair Iain Johnston, New Directions in the Study of Chinese Foreign Policy. Stanford, California:Stanford University Press, 2006.
- Ibid, p. 122.
- Das, Gautam; China-Tibet-India: The 1962 War and the Strategic Military Future; Har Anand Publication; 2009, p. 158.
- Shukla, Ajai, “Indian Army Matches China Man-for-Man on the Border,” Broadsword, 23 April 2012, http://ajaishukla.blogspot.com/2013/04/indian-army-matches-china-man-for-man.html.
- Anand, Brig Vinod, The Evolving Threat from the PLA along Indo-Tibetan Border: Implications http://www.vifindia.org/article/2012/july/26/the-evolving-threat-from-pla-along-indo-tibetan-border-implications#
- Sandhu, Major General PJS (Retd), 1962 – Battle of Se-La and Bomdi-La ( A View From the Other Side of the Hill and a Comparison with the Battle of Chosin Reservoir), USI Journal Volume: CXLI No. 586, Oct-Dec 2011, p. 575.
- Halberstam, David; The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War; Pan Macmillan, UK, 2008, pp. 431-437.