Military & Aerospace

Mountain Strike Corps: A Strategic Audit
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Vol. 29.1 Jan-Mar 2014 | Date : 17 Feb , 2014

Western Kameng

The Theatres of War

To comprehend the enormity of the Himalayan battlefield, a basic understanding of the IB/LAC would be in order. India’s IB with China begins at the tri-junction of the boundaries of India-Afghanistan-China at the Wakhan peninsula of Afghanistan. It does not include the 106 km of boundary common with only Afghanistan. It extends up to a point West of the Karakoram Pass thence traverses South as the LAC up to Gaya Peak South of Chumar in Ladakh. It again runs as the IB in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand till the Western tri-junction of the boundaries of India-Nepal-Tibet. The IB in Sikkim begins from the Eastern tri-junction of the boundaries of India-Nepal-Tibet to the Western tri-junction of the boundaries of India-Bhutan-Tibet. In Arunachal Pradesh, the LAC begins from the Eastern tri-junction of the boundary of Bhutan and the McMahon Line running along the Himalayan watershed to the tri-junction with the boundaries of India-Myanmar-Tibet. In all, a gargantuan length of 4,056 km.

China is compelled to maintain her credibility as a responsible power…

The India-China boundary dispute relates mainly to Eastern Ladakh, some pockets in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand and the some areas in Arunachal Pradesh along the McMahon Line where the interpretation differs, besides the Chinese claim of 90,000 sq. kms. of territory in Arunachal Pradesh.

The PLA does not have the capability of posing a viable threat in all these locations simultaneously. It cannot ascribe a war aim as “teach a lesson”– because it is more likely that China may be taught a lesson or two in the bargain. The rise of China has been seen as a threat by most of her neighbours. However, expectedly, China has often refuted this and has stated that its rise is peaceful and not a threat to any country.

China is compelled to maintain her credibility as a responsible power, and take cognisance of the pressure of international diplomatic repercussions that will inevitably be generated in the event of a war. As a result, China is likely to activate the IB/LAC in the Ladakh sector, where she is defending her surreptitious gains and Arunachal Pradesh sector, where she stakes a large unsubstantiated territorial claim. This leaves China with limited options of suitable military objectives to achieve her possible political aims.

In Ladakh, the PLA could launch a pre-emptive to deny launch pads for any offensive by India, thereby curtail the latter’s options. Whereas in Arunachal, China will try to capture maximum territory since her claims are central to the conflict. Capturing Tawang will be the decisive geographical area that will allow her to achieve her political aim to change the status quo substantively.

The availability of the “Mountain Strike Corps” is its ability to countervail against any collusive support by China in the event of an India-Pakistan conflict…

On the other hand, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has its ‘Centres of Gravity’ very deep in TAR. Opening up areas of conflict beyond these sectors and crossing the IB at any place would be counter-intuitive to India’s non-violent pacifist image and her world-view from the political and diplomatic high moral ground. Re-constituting Tibet as a buffer between India and China is beyond India’s capability. Consequently, this new Corps as a strategic reserve will automatically be drawn into “fire-fighting” missions of limited nature, more so in the reactive scenario.

However, collateral fallout, obviously not unintentional, of the availability of the “Mountain Strike Corps” is its ability to countervail against any collusive support by China in the event of an India-Pakistan conflict. In addition, elements of this force can be detached to bolster the offensive capability of the Army across the Line of Control (LC) into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir anywhere between Chenab and Shyok Rivers. There are opinions that suggest use of such a force being employed for Out of Area Contingencies. It is unlikely that the Indian Government will resort to employing this force as such.

It is a non-sequitur considering India’s strongly held political belief of non-interference in the internal affairs of any country and adherence to non-alignment as being the cornerstone of the country’s foreign policy. Considering these realities, it is a moot point to consider raising additional forces to be pre-positioned, as reserves. This will make available uncommitted units with Brigades deployed in defences; similarly an uncommitted Brigade at Division level and independent Brigade group at the Corps level. Additional forces being side-stepped can be held as strategic reserves under the newly raised Corps. Commensurate combat support and logistic support would need to be provided by new raisings/induction.

Operationalising the Strategic Reserve

Chinese government reaction to the new ‘Strike Corps’ has been measured and somewhat detached, with their officials reiterating that they were “willing to join hands” with India to maintain peace and stability in the border areas. However, the PLA would be deliberating on the operational level implications of this development and in due course will, in all probability, modify PLA’s modernisation to evolve a doctrinal and organisational counter. As may be deduced from Hu Jinato’s report to the National Congress in March 2013, where he emphasised that – “We should strengthen the development of new and high-technology weapons and equipment, speed-up the complete development of modern logistics, train new type of high calibre military personnel in large numbers, intensively carry out military training under computerised, conditions and enhance integrated combat capability based on extensive IT application.”

A future war of any scale cannot be fought by individual Services seeking independent objectives for a common political aim…

Consequently, any relocating, regrouping or reorientation of its Rapid Reaction Forces and Group Armies in its Military Area Commands will need to be closely watched to appreciate the likely pattern of operations that PLA will undertake. PLA’s operations will be suitably disguised behind the cover of strategic deception and political subterfuge. On the other hand, deception in the Indian context is viewed as superfluous and treated in a perfunctory and often cursory manner both by the Armed Forces and the Government. Borne by conventional training, the Army relies on set-piece operations coupled with heavy attrition.

Asymmetric warfare, skirmish order attacks, small team operations and hybrid wars by the 4th Generation Warfare warriors are issues yet limited to officer-level discussions. Incorporating it into the Army’s plans and preparing forces to implement these as future war-fighting methodology are still a long way off. As it is because of the quantum difference in the educational standards of the officer and the soldier there is a yawning gap in the quality of planning and its subsequent execution. Planning is officer-centric while, per force, execution is decentralised to the command level of the Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) and the Non Commissioned Officers (NCO), where there is a command weakness in independently conducting operations without detailed orders and supervision. It is certain that a similar situation, probably more acute, exists in the PLA. In the Army, per se, authority and responsibility needs to be institutionalised at the level of JCOs and NCOs particularly in the Infantry.

It is not the case here to list out any specifics of weapon systems and equipment that will be suitable for this formation in carrying out its varied and wide range of tasks that can be assigned to it. Suffice it to say that state-of-the-art weapon systems and war-waging equipment need to be authorised. These will not come cheap, nor can these be picked off a Walmart shelf. No country is willing to part with cutting-edge technology and even systems a rung or two lower in technological terms, will come at enormous cost to the exchequer. Moreover, tactics are designed around weapons, systems and equipment available. Organisations are then built around these. On consolidation, a war-fighting doctrine is drawn up. Therefore, last minute acquisitions and induction of weapon systems and equipment fail to exploit the true technological potential of the systems; they become mere replacements of existing weapon systems or equipment.

Hi-tech precision munitions and domination of air space and sea lanes can only coerce an enemy to submission…

The pivotal role of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU) cannot be over-emphasised. These organisations have to be geared for progressive Research and Development (R&D) and creating assembly lines for new systems for production to meet the requirement of the Armed Forces. The DRDO needs to continue research for product development and innovative technology. Presently, it is funded only on receipt of specific orders from the Armed Forces, which, ipso facto, places the onus of R&D of weapons, systems and equipment on the user rather than the scientists – an amusingly quaint situation.

Further, setting up of an assembly-line can begin only after the final prototype has been successful. Manufacture of hi-tech weapon systems and equipment require equally hi-tech machines for their manufacture. Designing and manufacturing these machines itself involve immense effort in R&D and expenses. Thus, setting up the assembly line would take anything between three to four years. Unfortunately, their orientation is more towards wasteful brick and mortar asset additions. The reality is that the DRDO-DPSU combine is not in a position to deliver.

A well developed infrastructure is the sine qua non for the effective launch of such an equipment heavy force. The slow pace of progress in the construction of projects is due to multiple set of obstacles encountered. These range from self-inflicted overstretch by the Border Roads Organisation to unsavoury squabbling by the civilian hierarchy of this General Reserve Engineer Force seeking to control turf. In the process, induction of modern road construction equipment has been stalled or inordinately delayed. The prolonged delays in obtaining environment and forest clearance have added to the woes. India’s unaccountable bureaucratic monolith continues to hinder in newer ways as if the onus of India’s security rests solely with the Armed Forces.

A future war of any scale cannot be fought by individual Services seeking independent objectives for a common political aim. Strategically, it appears ludicrous. The ‘Cold Start Doctrine’ was one such unilateral hypothesis. Any Service claiming to win a major war sans the other two Services is operating in some bygone era. There were protests by analysts of wasted expenditure in raising an Infantry dominated ‘Strike Corps’ for the mountains. Their arguments favoured a substantial development of the Navy as its strategic dividends of a ‘force in being’ were more credible.

China’s diplomatic pronouncements of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations have been negated by the developments in East and South China Seas…

Hi-tech precision munitions and domination of air space and sea lanes can only coerce an enemy to submission when exploited by ‘boots on ground’. The need is to synergise the potential of the three Services and the Para Military Forces guarding the IB/LAC as also those earmarked for the rear areas so that the combat power generated is a multiplication of the individual potential and not just their sum.

China’s diplomatic pronouncements on policies of ‘peaceful development’, ‘harmonious world’ and its stance of ‘non-interference and non-intervention’ in the internal affairs of other nations have been negated by the developments in East and South China Seas. There is a school of thought amongst the strategic analysts that the by creating this new strategic reserve India’s military strategy against China is graduating from the current ‘dissuasion’ to ‘deterrence’. In the accepted context, dissuasion is related to a superior force taking a string of measures to ensure that a potential adversary does not develop as a future challenge or begins an arms race. It does not fit the India-China dyad. Militarily, a strong deployment in those sensitive border areas may preclude localised action by the adversary. However, it may not overall result in dissuasion at the strategic level. As regards deterrence, it would be more relevant to see it at the political level. Since the decision to go to war is a political one, deterrence is affected between governments more than military to military. Here, then all elements of national power need to be synergised to defeat the enemy.

For India to emerge as a regional power and a global player, there is need for an attitudinal change. India has the wherewithal to protect its interests and assert its rights and claims. With political will, the country will forge ahead without encumbrances. The stakes are high and time is running out. India cannot remain static marking time expending energy wastefully while others zoom ahead consolidating and enhancing comprehensive national power. The location of uncommitted reserves up to Corps level and the Strategic Reserve/Mountain Strike Corps opens avenues that need courageous leadership and the will to be exploited to protect and enhance the country’s interests.

1 2
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.

About the Author

Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left

9 thoughts on “Mountain Strike Corps: A Strategic Audit

  1. Dear General
    We have already a corps troops deployed in the NE- sector. To be precise in the Tezpur- Tawang sector. In case of hostilities will the terrain able to sustain additional deployment of troops?. Moreover we must have a powerful artillery cover to take on the enemy so that it threatens/delays his further movement. I doubt that heliborne weapons will be able to take on
    the enemy.due to the terrain condition. Last but not the least is our intelligent services should be sophisticated enough for favourable offence/defence battle.
    J W Danday

  2. Lt Gen JS Bajwas has analysed the need for mountain strike corps exceedingly well. Our combat troops being mainly from the plain hinterland in Ladakh in 1962 Sino-Indian War suffered immensely, besides from poor leadership and obsolete equipment and tactics, from lack of physical and mental fitness. My own Battalion 13 KUMAON that fought ferocious battle of Rezang La in Ladakh and the other at Walong by 6 KUMAON felt the strains of physical ans psychological stress while the Chinese PLA troops who fought the war belonged to Tibet Autonomous Region and withstood similar stress as a routine. Just imagine the Chinese from the Tibet Autonomous Region fighting war in May-June in Rajasthan desert! This mountain strike corps must have troops from high altitude region well trained and led. Also, in the entire war we had no knowledge of ORBAT,units and tactics of the opposing PLA forces. These neglects in future conflicts would be more fatal and MUST be addressed equally well and seriously professionally.

    • Dear Col Nini Bhatia, Chinese PLA too has its problems in tackling the issue of acclimatisation. We need to be alerted well in time for which there is an urgent requirement to invest considerably on strategic surveillance and HUMINT resources. In both these areas we are very weak. China will disguise its preparation through skilful and clever deception. Mind sets on our part will be strategically and operationally dangerous. We need to develop a cadre of Mandarin language experts. Presently we do not have sufficient language experts to even cover the Border Personnel Meetings. Women Officers of the Intelligence Corps can be an efficient resource. We should even be sending them in groups for a two year course to Taiwan and Hong Kong just as the IFS does. This proposal was mooted as far back as 1998-99 but not yet implemented. We will continue to bring these issues to the fore.

  3. Thanks;

    It is informative paper which educates the common man of India’s defensive and offensive scenario on the northern border. War with China may or may not come, our economy will decide that in next ten years. But letting Chinese know that we are well prepared and waiting for them to come is key factor to dissuade them from 1962 type high speed adventurism.

    Much of the info on Strike Corp or state of preparedness on the northern border is from cleverly managed news releases, stupid media reporting and extremely volatile internet military forums where 20-25 years old, who have not seen the business end of gun or seen a 10,000 feet mountain (I am from Shimla), pretend to be experts and discuss at length issues which they are not competent to discuss. Much of the discussion leaves a bad taste in mouth. I complement senior services officers (retired) taking to journalism and correcting the rumours and gossips.

    Thanks again

    Hari Sud

  4. A pithy and to the point article. I would look forward to a sequel to this from Gen Bajwa. The terrain is the biggest handicap to us. Moving forces inter sectorally also poses huge problems; hence the dilemma of committing even a part of strategic reserves in one sector may not allow us to switch it elsewhere in an acceptable timeframe.

  5. I have a couple of questions and points for discussion for the General.
    Firstly we have an obsessive defensive mind set in the Indian Army. Do the Chinese ever try to occupy all ground as is the desire of our military planners?
    Our military deployments are lethargic. Flexibility is lost in employing a large quantum of troops to hold ground. Our penchant to hold excessive ground makes us sluggish and static. Mountains are the playground for a flexible mind. Infiltration, exploitation, degrading logistics, guerrilla warfare, and small unit operations should be the forte of any commander in the mountains.
    The Chinese front is held by three commands, how do you fight a co-ordinated battle there? If you look at the overall picture; the whole of the Tibetan front needs a coordinated and cohesive battle plan, one front balancing and complimenting the other. We need a unified command there and not MO in Delhi.
    To give you a thought scenario – Let’s raise TA battalions from the locals along the border areas. You and I know the economic status of the people living there. They would take up the offer willingly. Train them for defensive role and GW. Fighting in your own back yard policy. The population is rotated to perform these duties. Minimal troops are employed for such role. You have created a vast reservoir of man power available for defensive tasks and is available locally at short notice to occupy defensive positions as on required basis.
    All regular units are tasked for offensive operations at whatever level. Let’s forget counter attacks, let’s get into counter strokes. For such postures we have to increase our heliborne capabilities; which are dedicated to various sectors.

    • Road network and additional infrastructure such as gun positions etc have to be built up. It’s also a battle of logistics – lets be logistically geared up and derail the enemy’s logistics; this is where the Airborne and Special forces come into play. Degrade the enemy’s capability to fight a protracted battle across a 2000 km front. It’s an enormous task but if you have the mind you have the way; if you have a way you will have answers, and when you have the answers you win.
      The crunch point is that we don’t have to raise “A” strike corps. Within ourselves by changing our outlook, mind-set and most of all our ‘operational philosophy’ and strategic sense we have the manpower for a strike corps in each sector against the Chinese. All that we have to do is get a little flexible and reshape and rearm and re-equip our existing forces for offensive operations. It’s more of a matter of the mind we can do it easily and we don’t need 5 to 7 years to do it. Regards JP.

      • Dear Col JP,
        You have raised very relevant issues. Yes the terrain is most suited for decentralised operations at the Tactical level. Yes there will be a major challenge to coordinate a strategic response across the whole Northern Front. The Chinese too have a similar challenge however they have the doctrine “War Zone Campaign” to address this challenge. We are often dismissive about it when we should be studying its feasibility and its implementation. Why we will remain defensive is because India gives prominence to “Strategic Restraint” as the corner stone of its National Security Strategy. Yes we are raising SCOUTS battalions of locals, in Ladakh we have the Ladakh SCOUTS, in Himachal we have the Dogra SCOUTS, Utranchal it is the Garhwal and Kumaon SCOUTS, Sikkim SCOUTS are being raised and there will be two in Arunachal Pradesh.
        Their employment in their classical role must be emphasized on and commanders must not be tempted to draw them into holding defences. In conjunction with the SF, as also brought out in the article, they will yield favourable operational dividends. As regards infrastructure development, I deliberately refrained to bring out any details otherwise the focus would have changed.

More Comments Loader Loading Comments