Strategic stalemate in the Himalayas: Evolving scenarios and contingencies: Part 1


Map showing India-China-Pakistan.

India-China Conventional Battle Along the LAC: Near Parity

1. With near parity existing between the two conventional Force Levels as deployed on the Himalayas has caused a strategic stalemate all along the Line of Actual Control(LAC) in spite China’s military superiority.All the Chinese fighting elements are under one unified command of the Western Theatre Command (WTC),however on the Indian side there are multiple commands, which synergise at the Army Headquarters level. The quantum of Fire Power, which China can generate is also clearly superior. In addition, the PLA will enjoy the benefit of the ‘First Mover’.

Nevertheless all the above, yet no major breakthrough can actually result even if the PLA employs a ‘Strategy of an Active or an Offensive-Defence’ posture.Because ,even if the PLA inducts an additional Army Group from the Southern/Eastern Theatre, it cannot speed up operations at these High Altitude Heights and the treacherous undulating terrain, which negate most of PLA’S strength demanding very high combat ratios(Normally 1:6). Further, the battle of attrition along the various tiers of Indian defences make the defences impregnable. Further, the PLA has already got a taste of the professionalism and determination of Indian soldiers and would not like to confront them at all. On the other hand, it will be very embarrassing for the PLA when the sturdy Indian Mountain warriors do a counter-riposte with the help of the Strike Corps and Special Forces to outmanoeuvre and rebuke the enemy to call of their bluff. The net result is that the Chinese designs have hit an invincible wall and has forced them to take the posture of a‘Grey –Zone’ type of warfare, which is reflected by their passing a new Border Law on 23rd October 2021.This law in actuality is a feint to distract India from their true intensions of attempting again to settle the border dispute by force.

2. The present crisis is a product of President Xi Jinping’s ‘Belt & Road Initiative’ (BRI) dream of which the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) is the main artery, which China wants to secure. Further, in assessing the outcome, we should not fail to factor that for Indian soldiers it is defending the ‘MatraBhumi’ (Motherland) whereas for the PLA, it is only fighting in a captured land of Tibet. Ipso-facto, whatever the Chinese may try, psychologically they are geared only for a grey-zone type of warfare operating not only below the’ Nuclear Threshold’ but also below the escalatory ladder of a full throttled conventional battle. This means that India’s new strategy of strategic deterrence as against the earlier ’Dissuasive Deterrence’ is paying-off. (Creation of the 17 Corps has raised this level of deterrence).In the present scenario, If at all somebody attacks, it will be China’s proxy-Pakistan. They may attack ,may be in combination with the Taliban. Now looking with more focus to the India-China confrontation, it clearly stands that today, China’s ‘Operational Strategy’ is more centred towards its West for the protection of the CPEC. It is of late only they are trying to build pressure on the LAC towards Tawang/ Silliguri Corridor in Arunachal Pradesh also. Here, it will be appropriate to quote, Wen Wei Po a Hong Kong-based daily owned by the People’s Republic of China, which published an article in June 2013 and captioned ‘Six Wars to be fought by China in the next 50 years’. It was reposted on a Hong Kong web site around middle of September 2013.

The paper had said that ,out of the six wars, the third war to capture Arunachal Pradesh has been scheduled in the year 2030-2035. As per the newspaper, it also said that simultaneously, China may use Pakistan to capture Kashmir(Indian side). Obviously, such an event will enable China to consolidate astride the Himalayas and that the CPEC/modified CPEC (due to the threat from the BLA) would function flawlessly to allow mass transit of commodities (manufactured in Tibet) all across the world bypassing the long sea route and naval threats/blockades thereon. In fact, the CPEC is a counter to the “Malacca Dilemma” (Malacca is a narrow strait, where a naval blockade can be easily established).

Will the Security of the CPEC decide the Priority of the PLA Objectives?

3. In the perception of the PLA, the long term security of the CPEC can be only ensured by seizing areas around the geo-strategic Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO)- the Galwan Heights-Pangong Tso Finger Areas and other grounds of tactical importance further East, like Chusul, Demchok and even Chumar. Consequently, PLA’s operational aim in the Ladakh sector and their ‘Priority One’ objective is likely to be only one, the capture of ‘DBO’ complex, which is in the vicinity to the Karakoram Highway, which is connected to the ‘CPEC’ coming from Kashgar.The capture of other objectives like Galwan and Pangong Tso further East are basically aimed to ensure untenability of the ‘DBO’ Complex. Capture of areas around Chusul-Demchok and Chumar enable isolating the Ladakh sector from the East and weaken its sustainability. Thus, it can be appreciated, that PLA is most likely to carry out the main offensive in Ladakh and may be the divisionary/feints could be in the other two sectors.

The Himalayan Topography And Terrain Impedes Offensive Operations

4. The terrain has inter se space between the mountain ranges, which is at places narrow(just 20-30 yards) and at places there are wider gaps up to 2-5 kms(more towards Pangong Tso /Chusul).This obviously makes the area further east wider and thus partially tankable but with lot of vulnerabilities. However, the area towards Central Ladakh around Karu is narrower and will allow only tanks to pass through in file formation. However, the area around Leh in contrast is wide having wide alluvial plains. Therefore, broadly, it can be said that the tanks are confined with less space to manoeuvre, giving the defender more ‘TKZ’, than as compared to the plains or the desert. Thus, tanks are vulnerable to both, the ‘Anti-Tank Direct Fire’ and pre-planned indirect fire of heavy guns known as ‘Direct Fire’(DF) tasks, in these ‘TKZs’.(Similarly the terrain in the North East sectors/ Arunachal Pradesh area are almost similar allowing very restricted mechanised movements). Therefore, the key factor is the holding of Heights at the top of Ridgelines, which are dominating all such approaches and tank runs. (In this context, seizing of Black Top, Helmet and Magar /Gurung Hill by the Indian troops across the LAC qualify this statement). The terrain in this general area is not really like a desert having high dunes, but instead are great heights. Here the focus of discussion will be more on the Ladakh sector rather than the Northeast Sector, as the PLA’s priority would be to ensure securing the CPEC- Xi’s Crown Jewel project of the ‘BRI.’ Therefore, PLA’s main thrust is likely to be in the Ladakh sector and feints/diversionary may be more towards the Central/North-East sectors.

PLA’S First Salvo Advantage and India’s Matching Defence Strategy

5. The present force matrix enables India to adopt a dissuasive deterrence capability against China with the inherent capability of a riposte at operational level and even seizing objectives in depth of PLA deployments, partially due to the recent accretion of a Mountain Strike Corps (MSC). On the Pakistan front, India enjoys conventional superiority and has always adopted a strategy of ‘Strategic Deterrence’ with its capability of splitting Pakistan with its three Strike Corps. In addition, as per existing land forces combat ratios of the three countries, India can offset the PLA thrust by switching duel tasked Formations from the ‘West to East’ resulting in creation of ‘Dissuasive Deterrence’ on both fronts causing a stalemate and equilibrium. This enables India to continue posturing matching capabilities required against a twin threat. In the present scenario of LAC standoff, it has already become a ‘Zero Sum Game’ with advantage India. Therefore, to break this logjam, India requires out of the box force multipliers as well as assured alliance support in respect of ‘Information Domination’ in Phase1 of the operation. (This phase is already in vogue since May 2020). In the destructive fire (Phase 2) stage of combat, PLA is likely to gain the ‘First Salvo Advantage’ with all types of weapons like long-range precession capable missiles, rockets, drones, and artillery. There is likelihood of simeltaneiouty of fire all across the front and depth. Since the deployments have been protracted, therefore all the Indian deployments would already have been registered. Thus, they are likely to be hit in the first salvo, which will cripple the reaction of India’s residual fire support elements. Thus, India needs to take evasive actions in anticipation by employing deception techniques (dummy positions) etc.Thereafter; India should practice immediate response with equal ferocity within minutes of the first salvo, composing its residual missiles, Pinaka rockets, artillery, and fighter aircrafts including Rafale. In fact, instead, it will be ideal for India to do a pre-emptive strike, through seamless Information domination provided by the alliance support. (It needs to be stitched into India’s Combat Information and Decision System). Thereafter, ‘Alliance Fire Support’(AFS) should follow immediately, through strategic Bombers/Missiles/Fighter aircrafts in Phase 2.This should then turn the phase 2 stage of war entirely in India’s favour.



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