Monday, January 27, 2014

Thoughts on Chimera by Vivek

I just finished reading Vivek's book - Chimera.

I will write up a more detailed review later this week but here are some interesting aspects of what Vivek has done.

0) The political and strategic side of the book is really not that important. It is as YIP once called such things "a place to hang his coat".

1) Whenever one writes about such matters it is very hard to judge the effect of the logistical side. Availability of POL at the frontline is a very big limitation to movement . Vivek has followed in Tom Clancy's footsteps and sidestepped a more detailed discussion of that.

2) What follows is a book about maneuver in the modern integrated battle space. A good deal of emphasis is put on units at every level of the battlefield being able to seamlessly communicate with each other. In reality I feel this is a logistical problem of a completely different kind but that aspect is largely sidestepped.

3) So leaving aside ALL logistical matters one is left with weapons systems, geographical limits (terrain and climate), training, force doctrine and strategic culture. The first two are somewhat knowable and the last three are pure guesswork. This is true for an independent observer or seasoned participant in any conflict - i.e. even the IA and the Chinese will see these as fluid entities.

4) Geographical limits of terrain are easily obtained these days via platforms like Google Earth. It is not too difficult to use the terrain feature to create the electronic equivalent of a sand model of any area. The plains of Aksai Chin are a natural place to attempt this sort of analysis as is the Leh area. Where information on terrain is harder to come by, such as the Galwan river valley - it is not possible to do such analysis.

5) Equipment details are pretty well known, as both nations are using FSU equipment and it is a safe assumption that a Chinese clone of a FSU platform has performance capabilities similar to a Indian DRDO license produced piece. So this part is not too difficult either - though it does require significant attention to detail and Vivek has done a very good job of this part of it.

6) Climate conditions can be picked in a manner as to render their role trivial. Vivek has done that - this is again a smart move as it only serves to obscure the more interesting dynamical portions of the situation.

7) Now if one gets into the dynamical aspects - there are three basic scenarios

  1. India's equipment works better and it is able to leverage geographical limitations to achieve a tactical superiority in a battlespace overlooking a critical supply node. (India Wins)
  2. China's equipment works better and it is able to leverage geographical limitations to achieve tactical superiority in a battlespace overlooking a critical supply node. (China Wins)
  3.  The equipment is the same and neither side is able to get tactical superiority in a critical battlespace. (Stalemate).  

8) You can play with various ways of stitching these three scenarios together and get a compelling story that appeals to young men. This is what some of the old Samt-e-Shamal guys referred to as the "Dash to the Indus" crowd. Vivek has done this really well. The book should sell.

9) Where Vivek's work assumes great importance however is that it gets the "Dash to the G219" stuff out of the way and brings the less knowable stuff into sharp focus. Specifically

  1. Does the PLAAF have an American style overconfidence about its superiority over its adversaries? 
  2. Does the PLAAF leadership understand the parallel between aircraft carriers in a naval battle and airfields along the Himalayan border? 
  3. Does the PLAAF leadership get the importance of deploying S300 batteries and radar in an overlapping picket fence fashion? 
  4. Does the PLA understand that a gap exists between PLAAF supplied air cover and tactical AD? 
  5. Does the PLAN understand the limitations imposed by its inability to secure the South China Sea? 
  6. What does true lay of the land in the Chinese National Security Council look like? Who calls the shots? are the 2nd Artillery people as powerful as they ought to be? 
  7. What is the Chinese perspective with respect to the Himalayan border? Is it merely seen as a fence around Tibet and Xinjiang? 
  8. What is China's perspective on Tibet? Does China really want to invest so much in a region solely because it facilitates transit between Yunnan and Xinjiang?
  9. What is the true worth of Golmud? Is the defence of Tibet essential to the security of Golmud? 
10) If one asks all the above questions - then one will naturally ask what is the extent of India's interest in Tibet and how much is India willing to give up to secure it.

All things considered, I like what Vivek has done.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Limitations on tank usage and possible scenarios in Aksai Chin/CSD

In real war situations, it is very difficult to maneuver tanks without exposing them to enemy action. The text books say you should use all your tanks in one place and drive them all in the same direction. But in the real world, the terrain is uneven, and if you put all your tanks in one place, bottlenecks can develop - especially if one or more tanks become disabled for some reason. Another recurring problem is if you have to crest in the middle of the proposed line of attack, putting all your tanks in one place means you have an entire regiment size force performing cresting maneuvers in the exact same place at more/less the same time. The risks inherent in that are very great. I think it may be difficult in practice to use tanks in a single punch like the theories of Guderian et al. recommend and a battlefield commander has to do whatever the situation calls for.

Presently - one is faced with two highly agile adversary technologies - advances in multispectral imaging and anti-tank missiles. Those thermal cameras on drones make it all too easy to spot a build up, and if the build up is in place before enemy has been cleared from the sky, the entire tank force will be killed.  Even if by some miracle the enemy does not kill the amassed force from the air, the mere awareness of its existence will allow the enemy to beef up their posture and prepare the defending force for the arrival of the tanks and set up a kill zone where possible.

To give an example in aksai chin area, you could imagine that a Chinese tank force will be able to cut their way from the western shores of Spangur lake to the Chusul airstrip, but long before they get there - they will be spotted by the defenders and corrective action could be launched to create a kill zone along the Tsaka La road.

On the western side, if the Azm-e-Nau exercises are anything to go by - the Pakistanis are going to avoid the "Houbara Run" situation by letting loose a bunch of chickens in the houbara's place. Their belief is that if the IA strike corps comes across the border, it will become preoccupied with the chickens and sufficiently distracted for the Pak Fauj to maneuver its reserves without being totally destroyed. Critical to this is the ability of PA/SSG ground intelligence units/LRRPs to pick out the exact location of the IA strike formation. In 2001, rumor has it - the Americans came by with the right remote sensing technology - when the SSG/LRRPs failed to make a concrete determination. That changed the game, and it is rumored that ABV had to visibly pull Gen. Kapil Vij and his boys back. Apparently Gen. Padmanabhan was angered enough to write a fiction novel.

I think the CSD was an effective way to put an end to the Pakistani ideas of offensive defense. I feel Azm-e-Nau is just Pakistani-speak for "Defensive defence carried out in a diligently defensive way".  As one ladder of escalation ended in a Pakistani use of a nuclear weapon in a battlefield - against an attacking Indian formation, CSD has ensured that that attack will take place on Pakistan soil.

Now there are new technologies like BAE's Adaptiv camouflage coming on the market and they could improve the individual tank's chances of survival in a combat situation, but in the bigger picture I feel all these technologies are simply adding to the weight of the tank. Along with all the armor, the tank will now need more fuel to operate and that means a greater demand on the supply lines.

Monday, June 17, 2013

DF-31 missiles near Aksai Chin

About 50 km north of Aksai Chin, but in Xinjiang is a large Chinese military base that shows at least two trucks carrying DF-31 missiles

This is the location as a kmz file

Here is an image of those trucks

Google earth kmz file of ALL Chinese roads, tunnels and military extablishments in the Aksai Chin region

OK folks, its done. It took me a while but the following is the link to a Google earth community post with a kmz file marking all roads, military posts and tunnels that I could find in the Aksai Chin region. Lots of things to say but I can only do it one by one, slowly. This file will serve as reference. Sorry about the silly road names and markers.!topic/gec-member-centric-locations/som2Lmm9dU0

Maybe I wil also upload the file elsewhere on a Google drive share in due course.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Chinese roads and military presence adjacent to Chushul

The overview map below indicates the location of names like Chushul, Leh and Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO). Aksai Chin is the "right horn" of J&K that the Chinese bit off in 1962. "Bit off" may be an inappropriate expression because the Chinese built their road via Aksai Chin (now marked as the G 219 highway in blue) in 1958 and if the Indian leaders found out they could not or did not do anything about it. Aksai Chin itself was thinly defended. The current LAC (Line of Actual Control) is marked in red. DBO is situated near the north of the LAC. Chushul is towards the south. In this post I will concentrate on the area within the black square in the map containing the names "Chushul" and "Spangur lake". These areas saw intense action in 1962 and Indian forces were pushed back to their current positions. But it is the layout of the Chinese roads and infrastructure that I will concentrate on in this post.

The map below is an enlargement of the area around Chushul. Chushul was the site of an airstrip (marked) which was in the news recently. It was apparently decided that the airstrip was not reactivated because of its proximity to Chinese positions. That seems to make sense makes sense because the airstrip is about 1.5 km from the LAC and 7 km from a prominent Chinese military position that is marked by a Chinese flag visible from the air on Google Earth satellite images.

Chushul, situated at 4,400 meters high lies about 13 km west of a Himalayan lake called Spangur lake or Spangur tso. India was in control of the western half of the lake till 1962 after which Indian forces were pushed westwards almost up to Chushul in some of the most intense fighting in the 1962 Indo-China war. 

To the north of Spangur lake is a much larger lake called the Pangong lake. The LAC runs though Panging lake leaving much of it within Indian territory, whereas all of Spangur lake is in Chinese control.

The Chinese have roads that run right up to the LAC situated to the north of Pangong lake and to the south of Spangur lake. Funnily enough the area between these two lakes occupied by mountains as high as 6000 meters does not appear to have much by way of infrastructure. The Chinese seem to prefer to end a "dead end" road at the LAC wiith a loop for vehicles to loop around and that is exactly what they have done with the road that ends at the LAC just on the north bank of Pangong lake.

There is a road running through the mountains from military positions south of Spangur lake up to the LAC  close to the southern bank of Pangong lake. I have marked this road as "insane zig zag road" because a 6 kilometer stretch of road has 106 hairpin bends probably making the actual distance over 30 km and unfriendly to heavy vehicular movement.

But all in all the Chinese maintain a strong military presence in the entire area adjacent to Chushul at the LAC, with roads right up to the LAC both north and south of Pangong and Spangur lakes.

Logistics in this area cannot be easy. The two major road links north of Pangong and South of Spangur do not have any way of linking up with each other each of these roads make their own separate ways to the east, running approximately parallel to each other to join up separately with the G 219 that is situated about 100 km away as the crow flies. But the actual driving distance may be one and a half times or more longer because of curves in the road not accounted for in the blue lines on the map.

Below is the picture of a Chinese military position at  33°33'54.68"N longitude and  78°47'52.53"E latitude showing the Chinese flag from a simulated altitude of about 4 km from the ground. The base itself is situated 7 km east of Chushul airstrip at an altitude of 4300 meters.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Chinese roads and military structures adjacent to Daulat Beg Oldi

In this post I have a map that shows some more detail of the same area that was seen in an earlier map I had displayed in a post entitled Chinese roads in Aksai Chin - 2 also Xinjiang.

The map below shows the Karakoram pass in the northwest corner (top left). The LAC is a red line and Daulat Beg Oldi is marked as DBO on the map. To the east of the LAC the Chinese appear to have a significant military presence. The road network marked is more extensive but the roads are predominantly tracks that are about 5 to 6 meters wide. A red index line indicates 10 km to aid scaling. These Chinese installations are all within 30 km of DBO.

On the road connecting the Chinese highway G 219 to this area are underground military complexes, and what appear to be tunnels. These are about 200 km from the G 219 (by road). Two roads go from these installations towards the LAC from here. Both these roads have a segment that runs parallel to the LAC for a few km. The road marked "two loop road" has a loop at either end that presumably allows patrolling vehicles to reverse direction and go back up or down the road. The other road too is a loop with one part parallel to the LAC. "two loop road" is less than 15 km from DBO as the crow flies, assuming that the LAC and DBO are marked accurately on Google earth.

I wonder what the purpose of these Chinese installations are. I was wondering about offensive intent  in which the Chinese could mount an attack on DBO and then work their way up to the Karakoram pass. But that terrain is mountainous and above 5500 meters high.

On the other hand the Chinese positions could be largely defensive where they are keeping an eye on the Indian side. This view is supported by the fact that the Chinese border roads run parallel to the LAC, "respecting", as it were, the LAC.

Supply chain issues in Aksai Chin

We have seen some very interesting posts about infrastructure in the Aksai Chin region on the Chinese side but this is only one part of the more complicated supply chain problem.

Very few people know the role that superior supply chain management in India played in Kargil and Siachen conflicts. Some people even go so far as to say that the real reason for America's global military supremacy is its superior supply chain management. A few years ago, the USDOD set aside a very large sum of money to work on supply chain issues. A large amount of money was subsequently funneled into applied math programs to work on global optimization problems.

For the purpose of fleshing out the supply chain problem, lets consider the case where India attacks China in Aksai Chin. The how and why are not relevant to the discussion of the supply chain problem. China now has to get materiel to the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA).

In order to do that - let's say China has 10 forward depots distant an average of 50 km from the FEBA. Let's say that there is reasonably good road infrastructure between the depots and the FEBA. Let us also assume that the supplies suffer only 50% losses to last mile problems, IAF interference, and poor intelligence on actual needs on the ground. This means that if the forward depots have about 2 days of warfighting supplies, then they will be empty after just one day of actual combat operations.

Now for arguments sake, let there be 5 reserve depots distant 100 km from the FEBA. These have say 5 days of warfighting supplies at each depot. These will begin shipping their material to the 10 forward depots, - that works out to shipping say 2.5 days worth of supply to each forward depot. Lets say that the supplies suffer only 20% loss due to the usual factors so each forward depot actually receives about 2 days worth of supplies. This means by day 2, the forward depots will have received enough supplies to keep the FEBA supplied for 1 more day - i.e. just barely enough to meet the immediate needs of their current combat operations. 

So far the loss in the chain has been about 1.5 days worth of supplies. This loss will add to the cost of losing anything else on the FEBA itself. If the loss is higher than this, it is likely that the entire PLA posture on the FEBA will collapse as their soldiers will run out of supplies.

This with just two tiers of depots. With more tiers, there will be additional losses, but as the depots get further and further away from the FEBA, the IAF's ability to interfere will decline and as long as critical nodes like Lhasa and Turpan are kept clear, there should not be serious last mile problems.

Now that is a nice static picture. It is a good way to get a rough sense of what the lay of the land will be like.

The real supply chain problem is much more dynamic and it is harder to understand. The key issue that complicates everything is that each shipment of supplies along each link will have a probability of disruption. From the perspective of each node in the supply chain, this probability will be either 0 or 1 for an individual supply packet. If the node is closer to the FEBA, the number will be 1 for a large fraction of the packages, and for a node far away from the FEBA, the number will be 0 for most of the packages. If you know the nodes, and the links you can create a computer program that simulates the supply chain behaviour under different disruption patterns. The output of such a simulation can then be used to create more nodes in the supply chain and carefully position reserves to mitigate points where the supply chain breaks in repeated simulations.

As long as the Indian war plan falls within the boundaries explored by the PLA supply chain simulations - the PLA should be able to resist an Indian attack. If the Indian war plan falls outside the PLA's simulation sphere, then the PLA might not be able to defend against an Indian attack - it all depends on how far outside the simulation sphere the Indian plan falls, and whether the existing distribution of resources along the supply chain is sufficient for the PLA to contain the Indian maneuvers.

Whatever the PLA can do with its knowledge of the supply nodes and infrastructure, the Indian Army can also do as a reverse analysis based on surveillance data. Indians are as good at maths and computing as Chinese people are so there is no limitation on that front.

What applies to an Indian attack on Chinese held Aksai Chin is equally applicable to a Chinese attack on India's position in the region.

So finally some real food for thought. Wars are not won by the bravery of the soldiers alone, the supply chain forms a critical part of each victory - if you out supply the enemy - your chances of victory are higher.