Waking up to the ‘Himalayan blunder’
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t long last, the Indian Army has been given the go ahead for raising a new Corps for deployment along the India-China border. This decision comes at a time when for the first time in history both Indian and Chinese forces have been conducting joint exercises as a gesture of good will and neighbourly traditions. Therein lies the question as to why it has been deemed necessary at this very juncture.No doubt, there are several factors which have tilted in favour of the Indian armed forces. One not highlighted factor could be the increase in the populations of these two most populous countries in the world. The land areas surely have not increased but the population, as usual, has been increasing at a rapid rate at least in India. In fact, it has been projected that the population of India will surpass that of its eternal neighbour to the North in a few years hence.
In this context, perhaps it is also noteworthy that the Chinese Government has also eased its strict “one child” policy with the condition that parents with no siblings could opt for a second child, for starters that is. This would increase China’s population anywhere between one and two million annually taking into account that with the increasing vicissitudes of life these days, many couples may not necessarily opt for the provisions of the new edict.
Be that as it may, China has been indulging in the irritating habit of claiming border lands under India, as its traditional territories like Arunachal and Ladakh. In pursuit of these claims, it carried out the 1962 invasion on India’s North-East region, what is notably now Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh which is now partly under Chinese domination.
The Chinese could succeed its so-called invasion by taking the Indian armed forces completely by surprise. At that point of time, the Indian Government was still in the wombs of non-violence and non-aligned policy while the army was rather ill-equipped in terms of armaments as well as weaponry and air cover. The level of motivation of the troops then were of the same degree as it is now. They were no less gallant. But in the higher echelons of decision making both at the military and political level the fault was in failing to detect the Chinese ambitions of hegemony.
The troops were still using .303 bolt action rifles of World War Two vintage. The state of unpreparedness that India found itself in is history and has been valuably documented in two books published by Officers who had been commanding on the Arunachal-Tibet (China) front. One was by the Corps Commander himself, Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul who authored “The Untold Story” and the other by Brigadier S. Dalvi who wrote “The Himalayan Blunder”.
In fact, the lessons were hard learnt and Indian forces could counter the 22-Day war with Pakistan in 1965 because the weaponry was upgraded to 7.62 mm SLR (self loading rifle) and so on in the the weapons ladder, plus the upgrading of training of the Officers and other ranks. So much so that today, India has the fourth largest regular army in the world plus Para Military forces of equal strength. This was along with simultaneous improvements in the Navy and Indian Air Force (IAF) as well.
As of now, there are three Corps stationed in the North-East region. Their HQs are in Dimapur (3 Corps), Tezpur (4 Corps) and West Bengal (15 Corps). This works out to at least 1.5 lakh troops. They include an average three Battalions which form a Brigade. Three Brigades comprise a Division and three Divisions a Corps. Any Corps would also include auxiliary formations and units like the Artillery and armoured Divisions, Signal Corps, Ordnance Corps, Engineers, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Army Dental Corps, Base Hospitals, Army Service Corps (Supplies) plus a host of others like Army Postal Service.
The strength of a Corps, Division, Brigade, or even a Battalion depends on the roles they have been assigned. For instance, a Mountain Division’s strength varies from that of a Division in a plain area or in the dessert. And so on. The additional Corps in the North-East will be mainly that of a Mountain strike force which will be trained not only in jungle warfare but also in mountain warfare plus the know how to deal with the numerous insurgents within the country itself.
At times, the various formations may even double its usual strength like that when at the height of the insurgency in Nagaland during the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were up to six Battalions in a Brigade!
According to official sources, the 17 Corps which will be the latest such formation will be initially based in Ranchi, Jharkhand and after development of infrastructure, will be moved to Panagarh in West Bengal. This new Corps will see the raising of two Divisions in Bihar and Assam with their units (Battalions) posted in Arunachal Pradesh and other parts of the N-E region. These will be the first Corps strike elements to be deployed close to the line of actual control (LAC) in addition to the existing three Corps already in place.
Accordingly, the IAF will also deploy its multiplex assets such as six each of mid-air refueling tankers and C-130 J Super Hercules special aircrafts operations in Panagarh.
It thus goes without saying that the postings of Officers to the new formation have already started and its chief (of Lieutenant General rank) will be selected from the fresh batch of Major Generals who have recently faced a promotion board.
The strike force has plans to also procure ultra-light Howitzers, light tanks and helicopters to be deployed along the LAC plus ballistic and cruise missile units in the N-E region for which the IAF has activated helipads and fields for its aircraft to counter major military infrastructure modernization on the Chinese side. The Army will raise the troops and formations within seven years in addition to two Divisions it has already raised in the recent past.
Side by side, on the Northern and Western fronts, 1, 2, and 21 Strike Corps are all based closely on the Pakistan border. They are mainly armed to fight a land battle unlike the new Corps of the N-E region which will mainly focus on mountain warfare.
In passing, it has also just been decided that the Border Security Force (BSF) guarding the Indo-Myanmar border will be replaced by the Assam Rifles (AR) 90% of whose Officers are regular Army Officers posted on deputation. In fact, the Assam Rifles is also very battle-worthy and is practically an alternative regular Army except that it comes under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
It is generally accepted that the best form of attack is a good defence. In spite of their inscrutable smiles, the Chinese have a devious system of undercutting a perceived adversary. China has managed to penetrate the Indian power and economic sectors and in the process has adversely affected the profits of major Indian industries.
Additionally it is also now focusing on the Sports sector.
Its advantage is that while it is now communist it has an illustrious history.
To counter Chinese ambitions, India must gear up for it on all fronts including its defences.