Friday, May 17, 2013

Aksai Chin-1

To kick start the discussion, we can use the recent PLA incursion at DBO as a backdrop. Please post your views on the incident or for that matter of fact anything related to India and China.

I'm going to post couple of thoughts I had on the Sino-Indian border issue:


1.The status as obtained today on LAC is perfectly acceptable to Chinese. It accrues multiple advantages to them. First and foremost, the Chinese have bound India in multiple treaties since early 90s which are euphemistically aimed at better border and associated conflict management. In addition to these treaties, we have various working groups on border dispute and other such stuff. What these treaties do is create a false of normalcy and preserve a status quo which is advantageous to the Chinese. Chinese have steadfastly refused to share maps of their claim line or their perception of where the LAC lies. This ambiguity suits the Chinese and allows them to calibrate their actions as per the requirement.

For example, the Chinese can always claim an area which gives them military advantage (or puts us in tight spot) as per latest developments on the ground. These areas may well have not been there in claim lines of 1956 or 1960. There was a report in TOI about Chinese laying claim to certain grazing areas which were with Indian earlier. The latest incident in DBO is in same vein. On the other hand, India has gained nothing by way of these treaties. These treaties have led India on a wild goose chase where we have been made to think that these interim treaties and working groups are precursor to final border settlement. In my opinion, nothing could be farther from truth.

2.Another very big advantage of these treaties and false sense of normalcy is in terms of force commitment levels on the ground. Chinese can get away by committing bare number of troops upfront along the LAC. These Border Defense Regiments are there to simply to show the Chinese flag and carry out the border patrols. Their patrols and violations of LAC (as perceived by us) help to keep the pot boiling and keep the Chinese claims in a dynamic state. 

In our effort to not rock the boat and maintain the fa├žade of normalcy (which Indian diplomatic and political establishment believes in), we’ve reciprocated by getting the ITBP to man the border. And keep Indian Army as far away as possible from LAC. This approach allows the Chinese to get away by keeping bare number of troops on the ground. 

3.There is another far more serious angle to this method of border management and false sense of normalcy. We know that Chinese have a geographical advantage in terms of their lines of communication being based on the flat Tibetan Plateau. Now, what the Chinese have done is use this ‘peace’ period to build up the infrastructure which will allow the formations to move quickly into conflict areas along the LAC. Unlike us, Chinese do not suffer from last mile connectivity. 

We on the other hand have made no effort to build any worthwhile infrastructure of any kind. Tomorrow, if the push comes to shove, the Chinese can move large body of troops into these areas and stare down at us. And we’d be found wanting. The tragedy of the situation is that in case of India, the base to support a large scale conflict in Ladakh exists much closer to LAC. Leh is the center of gravity and apart from threat of missiles, is ringed by high mountain ranges which prevent any direct threat to it. What we’ve not done however, is to develop infra from this base to forward areas. Leh is the proverbial knot of a Japanese fan from where communication axis emanate to each of the four major sectors along Ladakh LAC. 

Now, the Chinese want us to stop development of any infra of this sort and permanently put us on a back-foot. If we develop the road infra from this base to forward areas, we can actually go one up on the Chinese. For example, while we can play the Chinese games of maintaining lower number of troops on LAC, in case of any conflict/tension/shooting match, we can move forces faster to the border. This would be reverse of what we face against Pakistan on western border. We should have demonstrated capability of hitting out and wiping Chinese presence along Ladakh LAC and taking back Indian Territory. The forces can be maintain in rear areas and using the infrastructure, moved to LAC in double speed and whack the PLA. For example, an Integrated Battle Group (IBG) centered on a RAPID with an armored bde should be available to dash to Dhemchok and drive the PLA back to their rear bases.

11 comments:

  1. Rohit, I am completely ignorant of landmarks and places in the Ladakh/Aksai Chin area and while you appear to be familiar with details of Indian positions and what the Chinese may be able to do, all that I can say are the observations I have made from staring (and exploring) Google earth images of the Chinese side of Aksai Chin - especially near their Xinjiang-Tibet road.

    The area is a wide open plain. I suspect that if the Chinese wanted to bring in a division, it would take them a month, Now this is a wild guess, but I am assuming a division is at least 10,000 men. The terrain actually becomes more mountainous towards the Indian side of the LAC and unless I am mistaken we are sitting in the mountains somewhat higher than the Aksai Chin plateau.

    While our depth against attack is miniscule it still appears that the Chinese actually have to work their way up.

    Collecting up men and material to fight a hot war will take time for the Chinese and preparations will be visible.10,000 men will have to be housed, fed and fuelled and supply dumps will have to be established on what is a flat plain. At 5000 meters the average elevation of Aksai Chin flames burn weakly and water boils at 85 deg which is barely enough to boil an egg let alone cook a meal. And fuel is unavailable locally for anything more than a sparse population. Humans did not live there in great numbers because the area is hostile to life. This is as true for the Chinese as it is for Indians.

    Of course 10,000 men will not mean all are fighting, Perhaps 2000 of those will be the frontline infantry. All in all the plain will have to be pulverized by air power if push comes to shove don;t you think? Do you believe there is role for armour here?


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    1. @bennedose - to be honest, I've looked at the military geography and situation on the ground from only Indian perspective. I've never explored the Chinese options in case of a shooting match - and there can be two scenarios here (a) A spontaneous flare up on the LAC (b) Deliberate scaling up and full scale shooting match.

      Both the angles need to be explored. In fact, I'm going to spend some time pouring over literature on disposition of PLA in Tibet and Xinjiang, troop strength and what role they can play in case of any conflict.

      In addition to that, one can also drawn up a timeline for certain events like full scale mobilization and movement of a PLA formation to the border. To this, the geography angle can be added.

      Will pen down some observations either today or tomorrow.

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    2. BTW - One observation that I had posted in comment's section of Mav's blog:

      I've recently spent some time tracing the arteries emanating from G-219 towards LAC and they show similar pattern to us...basically, series of small posts right up to a point before claim line. Their existing foot-print is geared towards border patrols and border management. I'm yet to see large ammunition dumps or infra which will required to supports influx of large body of troops. Something we've done on western border where we've moved cantonments close to IB , expanded existing ammunition dumps and made new ammunition storage sites. All this has been done to support incoming troops and formations. We don't see that on Chinese side.

      And we'll sure have warning.

      We on the other hand have a very large base available to us in Leh and the best part is, it is behind a series of mountain ranges running in north-south direction preventing any direct threat. The only access is along the alignment of Indus as it enters from Dhemchok into India flows towards Leh.

      Having said that, the flat real estate available to us in DBO is pretty less. If you look up DBO on Wikimapia or GE (better, use Mapcarta), you'll see that we're sitting exposed. The distance is ~6kms from claim line as shown on online maps.

      And while the terrain is not exactly flat as a pancake from Chinese side, the flat terrain available to them - where they can mass armor/mechanized infantry and heavy weapons - is larger and wider. So, while their roads from G-219 towards DBO come through valley, these valleys are themselves wide and open up into nice flat plain.

      From our perspective - if we invest in sufficient troops and firepower for SSN and place them in this sector, there is not much the PLA will be able to do. The defensive grid will be a tight box and you cannot outflank these positions easily

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    3. What you said about the terrain is true. DBO sits like shooting duck. And the developments seen on the Aksai side are not pleasant either. The only thing we should do is as u said, invest in the defense of our country. We could mobilize more troops to the border. The mere presence could demoralize the Chinese. And theyll atleast think twice than they do now. Another thing is, we must stop listening to everything they say (ex:- DBO made no man's land recently), and improve infrastructure along LAC. Its high time we maintain our presence there.

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    4. "In fact, I'm going to spend some time pouring over literature on disposition of PLA in Tibet and Xinjiang, troop strength and what role they can play in case of any conflict."

      Rohit Vats. Can you please tell me where to find info regarding these things though the real scenario is strictly kept secret by Chinese. I'm an avid trekker, explorer. I study about geography and am into these things. tks.

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    5. What you said about the terrain is true. DBO sits like shooting duck. And the developments seen on the Aksai side are not pleasant either. The only thing we should do is as u said, invest in the defense of our country. We could mobilize more troops to the border. The mere presence could demoralize the Chinese. And theyll atleast think twice than they do now. Another thing is, we must stop listening to everything they say (ex:- DBO made no man's land recently), and improve infrastructure along LAC. Its high time we maintain our presence there.

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  2. Hello,

    Neither India and China want a real shooting war on the LAC. It will be too damaging to either side regardless of fires the last bullet. Both India and China want to project themselves as big boys who can behave well on the international stage. The last thing either wants is to be percieved as clones of the US-USSR pair that were constantly at each others' throats for several decades.

    Everyone knows that only India and China's economy are generating wealth. Every other economy in the "Developed World" is falling apart and generating debt.

    So as neither wants a real fight and both sides are very strategic in their approach all matters there landscape is littered with diplomatic red tape.

    So I think the only approach that will work here is a conventional deterrence regime.

    It will be tricky to operate this without appearing to escalate.

    In the past - all conventional deterrence regimes applied by India have relied upon usage of air mobility. This was a way of India gently reminding China that its air ops can't keep a pace with India and if India brought its air-ground warfare capability into the picture - it could snap China's lines of communication leaving their troops stranded.

    The deterrent will have to be contextualised to a particular escalation level. It may be best to determine what the likely escalation levels from Chinese side are then look at options to respond to them.

    A brigade size incursion should trigger a response of the kind Rohit has discussed.

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  3. That Chinese demand that India stop developing its position along the LAC is ridiculous. As long as a threat of escalation from the Chinese is percieved, India will be obligated to take the necessary deterrence steps.

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  4. I just guess that the Chinese are just showing their political might by their so called incursions and intimidating India by bits and pieces. This way they test us. And so far they have come to know that India is not very aggressive in responding. So it makes it easier for them. The buildings near Demchok prove that. While India is not allowed to construct there. I don't think even China will want a direct conflict near the Aksai Chin.
    As to the geography, it almost remains stable between 4800 to mostly 5200m near the LAC. And the access looks easier on the Chinese side, even though there are ranges near LAC. I absolutely see no constructions on the Indian side though. Just a small something near DBO. That's it. While the Chinese side is criss crossed by roads and dotted by what look like storage and fortification. And it grows day by day.

    IF at all there starts a war, the Chinese will have good access. But what will India do?

    P.S- Indian forces are good enough. But the Chinese look resilient like a swarm of ants, and heed to no argument!!

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  5. I just guess that the Chinese are just showing their political might by their so called incursions and intimidating India by bits and pieces. This way they test us. And so far they have come to know that India is not very aggressive in responding. So it makes it easier for them. The buildings near Demchok prove that. While India is not allowed to construct there. I don't think even China will want a direct conflict near the Aksai Chin.
    As to the geography, it almost remains stable between 4800 to mostly 5200m near the LAC. And the access looks easier on the Chinese side, even though there are ranges near LAC. I absolutely see no constructions on the Indian side though. Just a small something near DBO. That's it. While the Chinese side is criss crossed by roads and dotted by what look like storage and fortification. And it grows day by day.

    IF at all there starts a war, the Chinese will have good access. But what will India do?

    P.S- Indian forces are good enough. But the Chinese look resilient like a swarm of ants, and heed to no argument!!

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  6. The basic point is that if a war starts India should be well prepared to counter Chinese actions with its own. To claim that neither China nor India want a war, is to stretch things and credibility. Nobody here has a direct line to the PRC leadership to claim this. If the Indian side is weak or is perceived as weak (and there are ample indications of that currently), the PRC side will continue to push forwards. The Chinese perception of how they want to be seen globally is different from that of India's. They want to be respected and obeyed(which they achieve via force eg browbeating the Philippines). India's behavior is the polar opposite.

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