Forget 1962, India now better poised to deter the Dragon
The swift dragon can be held to a stalemate, even though it may be able to inflict some damage by breathing fire. India is militarily no longer the pushover it was during the 1962 war despite persisting critical operational and infrastructure gaps as well as the ever-expanding military asymmetry with China.
This is the assessment of top Indian military commanders, who contend they are being realistic without any false bravado, even as PM Narendra Modi heads for China later this week to reset ties and cool down tempers with the much larger neighbour.
“India does not want war. But if the push comes to shove, we are prepared. China has been forced to grudgingly accept that India is no pushover after repeatedly testing our resolve over the last few years, especially during the Doklam troop face-off last year,” said a senior official.
Some may dub this gung-ho approach foolhardy, given the People’s Liberation Army’s overwhelming superiority in terms of sheer military power. Apart from a huge nuclear missile arsenal that dwarfs India’s, China is also leagues ahead in conventional military power, be it submarines and fighters or tanks and artillery (see graphic). Moreover, backed by economic muscle, China adroitly combines this “hard power” with “smart power” in terms of cyber warfare and other disruptive capabilities.
But a walkover like 1962, it will not be. With Chinese military capabilities mainly geared towards preventing any intervention by the US and others in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, it all comes down to what the PLA can “actually throw” at India along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
“The terrain does not give the PLA adequate space for maneuverability. And we have the capability to counter-attack,” said a senior Army officer. India has 15 infantry divisions (each with over 12,000 soldiers) tasked for its “northern borders” with China, apart from several artillery, missile, tank and air defence regiments and other reserves.
Moreover, the new 17 Mountain Strike Corps and associated units, with a total of 90,274 soldiers for “swift ground offensive capabilities”, will be fully raised by 2021-2022. “PLA, as an aggressor, would require a combat ratio of at least 6:1 for mountain warfare along the LAC. We have more than adequate numbers for dissuasive deterrence,” he added.
India holds most of the aces as far as the maritime domain is concerned. Indian warships can easily choke China’s sea lanes for its huge energy imports, especially through the Malacca Strait. “The PLA Navy may be much larger but in terms of operational expertise and experience in the Indian Ocean Region, they are far behind. The Chinese Navy is still learning to operate far away from its shores,” said a senior naval officer.
Similarly, even though China may have constructed 14 major airfields, advanced landing grounds and helipads on the Tibet Plateau, the IAF can conceivably outgun its numerically superior adversary. For one, the weapon and fuel-carrying capacity of Chinese fighters is limited due to the 9,000 to 10,000-feet altitude of their airbases.
“They will try to use their rocket forces to disrupt our airbases…That’s why during the just-concluded GaganShakti exercise, we war-gamed hitting China from widely dispersed locations. We also conducted maritime interdiction sorties in the Bay of Bengal,” said a senior IAF officer.
The overall aim is to build credible strategic deterrence to dissuade China from embarking on any misadventure. And, India is slowly but steadily getting there.