Why Indian Army looks weak in front of China

By deferring 72nd Mountain Division, the country has failed to even deliver one at full-strength.

 |  3-minute read |   12-08-2015
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General K Sunderji was the first to anticipate that China was the rising threat to India, and Pakistan was the declining threat. This was in the mid-1980s, when China economic miracle had begun. He asked for a major increase in mountain divisions. If memory serves, his objective was 40 divisions: four tanks, eight mechanized, seven RAPIDs (Re-organised Army Plains Infantry Division), two airmobile, and 19 mountain. At that time we had three armoured and mechanised, four RAPIDs, 17 infantry, and ten mountain divisions.

Sundarji also corrected appreciated that on the nuclear battlefield, a mass of infantry no longer served any purpose. The western front had to be mechanised. This was not done; today India has only three armoured divisions, no mechanised, and just six RAPIDs.

Nothing was done in the north, either. India did not want to provoke China by boosting northern forces. As usual in dealing with China, we fell into the trap of believing negotiations could defuse tension, eliminating the need for additional divisions. By the mid-2000s, it became apparent that China saw our peaceful intention as weakness, and began to push farther. Reluctantly, the government agreed that between seven and 11 new China front divisions were needed, something Sundarji had postulated 20 years ago. Also as usual, the government found any number of reasons to be timid, and sanctioned only two new mountain divisions. These were used to restore Eastern Command's depleted strength and were not net additions.

Eighth Mountain Division had gone to Kashmir. Fourth Mountain Division had long since gone to the plains. Moreover, 23rd Mountain Division had become infantry and was dual-tasked to XXI Strike Corps. The 1984 raising of 28th Mountain Division was not a net addition to the China fronts: its role was to protect the long North Kashmir border against Pakistan. So we were three divisions short of our 1964 strength.

After raising 56th and 71st Mountain Divisions, the government authorised two more which, together with 23rd, would form India's first mountain strike corps. Incredibly, though it is a fundamental axiom of warfare that wars are won by offensive and not defensive means, since 1959 India's stance in the north has been purely defensive. If China attacked, we could restore the status quo ante, but nothing more. Actually the minimum plan called for two mountain strike corps, one in Kashmir and one in the east. Forget two strike corps, by deferring 72nd Division, India has failed to even deliver one at full-strength.

The first signs of trouble came when the government delayed standing-up of XVII Mountain Strike Corps to 2017 from 2012. The government said there was no money. The second sign came when Pathankot was announced as 72nd Division's station. This implied that the corps is dual-tasked to Northern and to Eastern Commands. Now the delay has been extended to at least 2020. Instead of 11 new mountain divisions, whose need was evident 30 years ago, we have just three. And that only returns us to 1964!

The Chinese threat continues growing. For one thing, China spends four times as much money on defence as we do - and yet that is only two per cent of its GDP. For Mao, power grew from the barrel of a gun. For us, power grows from words. Let's see if that suffices to defeat China.

Writer

Ravi Rikhye Ravi Rikhye

The writer has 45 years of experience in South Asian military affairs.

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