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.