The Context – Strategic Scenario
China’s rise as a major international actor is certainly a defining feature of the strategic landscape of 21st Century. It certainly has ramifications for the entire world but most definitely for the Far East and for India. If China has to emerge as a global power, it must first establish its unchallenged supremacy in its immediate neighborhood. India is the only country in the region, which is somewhat of a competitor on both economic and military fronts. So it has got to be put in place; only question, is as to when?
As far as offering a justification to the rest of the world, they have evolved a widely publicized strategy of “Self Defense Counter Attack”, which is a multipurpose formulation that they use to describe most instances where China has initiated the use of force; that means that the PLA will launch the “first strike”. China’s 1962 War with India and Border War with Russia of 1969 fall under this category. Some people may still argue that China gains nothing by attacking India but so was said even before 1962 war.
Militarily, economically or politically, what time slot suits Chinese the most? This could be within the next 3-5 years block; wherein the Indian Armed Force’s level of preparedness and readiness for war are issues of hot and active debate in the Country or later. Presently, the saving grace is that the Chinese themselves are no-where “close to their desired level” of modernization and are only half way through to their modernization” programme. Alternatively, this could take place after 2020-25, when they will be fully ready and the capability gap would have increased exponentially between the two forces, should we continue our modernization progamme on this sluggish pace!
To understand the level of threat posed by the Chinese in either of these two contingencies, we need to first analyze their level of preparedness.
China – Level Of Modernization
Goal – Mission of The PLA
China is pursuing a long term comprehensive military modernization programme designed to improve the capacity of the PLA to fight and win, what they call local wars of short duration under conditions of informatization, or high intensity, information –centric military operations (Note the word – Short duration because it has implications for us). Local wars can also be interpreted as “Regional Wars” as the character used for local wars can also mean regional wars.
It is President Hu Zintao, who had articulated the new guidance for the PLA in 2004 to include missions extending beyond China’s immediate territorial interests. The aspect of readiness to operate beyond immediate territory has its obvious portents.
Even more importantly, Chinese leaders see this modernization as a central component of their strategy to advance China’s national development goals in the first two decades of the 21st century. The implications are obvious.
Since Taiwan retains their principal priority focus, their modernization programmes assign priority to forces deployed opposite Taiwan, South China Sea (SCS) and Eastern Sea. Work on troops deployed in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) comes next but almost concurrently.
The desired time line of the Chinese to attain full preparedness level is 2020, but there are slippages, so it can easily go on to 2025 or so.
This is the most important part. The estimates about China’s Defense Budget, as per the US and Taiwan are pegged at approx 180 Billion US dollars for the year 2011.
Three aspects which merit being emphasized in this regard are :-
(a) Our budget is in the range of 36 Billion US dollars. Funds for the modernization, amount to only 12.87 Billion US dollars.
(b) Even if one was to overlook the widened gap over the last few decades and make an assessment only from here onwards, the budgetary gap between the two sides will increase to – over a trillion dollars worth of equipment in the next six years i.e., 2018 and subsequently even more at the present rates of allocations.
(c) And even more significantly the Chinese are incurring this level of expenditure when---
(i) More than 80 percent of their weapon systems are being produced indigenously at much lower costs.
(ii) On the other hand, with virtually no indigenous production, India is paying two to three times the cost of the equipment because of imports.
So the conclusion is obvious, that the gap between the two countries will exponentially increase with passage of time. Now a quick analysis of the individual force structures of the Chinese.
These forces were quite antiquated in the nineties. Even today -
(a) They suffer from significant shortcomings in command and control, air defence, communications and lack of combat experience.
(b) From mid-2011, they have begun the process of transforming parts of their forces into modular combined arms brigade focused force structure. This concept is yet to be tested on the ground especially in the hills.
(c) Presently growing numbers of modern heavy-armour, long range strike Artillery and increased range air defense weapons are entering service in selected units, primarily those which may be deployed opposite Taiwan. The up gradation includes T-99, third generation Main Battle Tanks, new generation amphibious assault vehicles and multiple rocket systems. Z-10 attack helicopter is a significant addition, even though the Aviation Wing itself with the Army formations is of recent origin.
Total Force Levels Available in TAR for Operations. 13 and 14 Group Armies from Chengdu Military Region and 47 and 21 Group Armies from Lanzhou military region can be deployed. 21 Group Army is designated as an offensive mobile force.
(a) They can concentrate up to seven divisions in TAR within one week; 12 divisions in 20-30 days because of the QTR (Golmud to Lhasa – 1142 Km and passes over 16-640 ft at Tanggula pass in Kunlun mountain range). Both the QTR and the oil pipe line will be vulnerable to interdiction operations from both ground and air.
(b) What is equally significant is that they can mobilize a “Rapid Reaction Division” into Lhasa within 24-36 hrs and deploy up to two to three heli- lift battalions. This is a sizeable threat and needs to be catered for, provided they can attain the air superiority of the kind required to carry out heliborne operations.
(c) At Nagqu, logistics base, they are in the process of building up handling capacity of 3.1 million tons, which is sizeable.
Second Artillery Corps
This force is peculiar to the Chinese Armed Forces, wherein they have concentrated, most of their rocket artillery and missiles systems. We have these types of force under different organizations but in much lesser numbers, which is a crucial shortfall.
This force also has between 450-500 nuclear weapons. Taiwanese estimate that this number will increase to 800 in this decade. These nukes are, over and above, to what the Navy and Air Force have. This force will also be used for, what they call resolute counter attacks, in both conventional and nuclear type of scenarios. They have also acquired Tactical Nuclear Weapons in large numbers.
There are many conflicting views about the use of “Tactical nuclear weapons”. NATO forces had found during the Cold War that the numbers required for various contingencies were exorbitant and also did not commensurate to the desired outcomes and thus their employment remained somewhat questionable. In our case, in the mountains, the efficacy of these tactical nukes may be further restricted, but this aspect needs to be studied in depth by the Indian Army. It is quite on the cards that the adversary may have very little compunction in the use of the tactical nuclear weapons.
They are primarily focusing on anti-air and anti-surface warfare capability and also developing a credible “at – sea” nuclear deterrent. This force is being transformed into a leaner force equipped with more modern multi- mission platforms.
They have 79 Destroyers/ frigates and 50 submarines. The Air Craft Carrier (KUZNETSOV) will be functional by end 2012 but the air component will take at least 5-7 years more. In the long run, they will develop but their capability for carrier based operations will remain of limited nature and limit them to operate in only South China Sea and Eastern Sea up to first and second chain of islands. Indian Ocean will be outside their capability for foreseeable future provided Indian Navy develops as per the plans and in desired timeframe.
Chinese submarine fleet is also developing fast and JIN Class (JL2) submarines (2-3 years away yet) will provide its Navy first credible sea based nuclear capability. This program has faced many delays already. They have presently two nuclear submarines and five more will be added in next 5-7 years.
They are developing DF-21D, so called ‘Carrier Killer’ and anti-ship ballistic missile (with a range of 1500-2700 Km) which will also be part of China’s nuclear deterrent forces. It can also fire, chemical warheads and “Electro Magnetic Pulse” (EMP), with maneuverable warheads. It will however take quite some time before they are operationally effective.
They have also developed extensive mines and torpedo denial programme under the ‘Anti Denial and Anti Access Doctrine’ for a Taiwan scenario. Overall, the Navy is still a work in progress.
PLA Air Force is in the nascent stages of developing ‘ballistics missile defense’ and ‘air-space integration’ needed for early warning. One most noteworthy point is that in the nine airfields that they have in Lanzhou and Chengdu Military Regions, there are no worthwhile hardened shelters for their aircrafts and they will thus be vulnerable.
They are also continuing to modernize their ground based air defense ‘forces’ with introduction of new medium range ‘Surface to Air Missile’ (SAM). They have acquired multiple battalions of S-300 (Latest Russian SAMs) and are also negotiating for SAM – 400 in large numbers.
In foreseeable future, they will have capability for net-centric operations and robust electronic protection. This is an area, in which India needs considerable improvement.
They have a sizeable air fleet of 490 aircrafts of Second and Third Generation, which include J-10, SU-27 and SU-30. J-20, a fifth generation stealth aircraft, is being propagated as a game-changing offensive weapon in the making. However, it is still in proto-type model. Badger TU-16 Bombers from Russia are being upgraded and UAVs are being imported from Israel. AWACs and mid-air refueling capabilities are still being built up.
The level of education of the pilots, the leadership qualities etc are under serious debate in the Chinese Air force. They lack presently the capability to take on forces with good standard of training like the IAF, but are fast moving in that direction.
Their Areas of Excellence for Asymmetric Warfare
C4I2SR. Is being developed in a big way to :-
(a) Enable commanders to respond to complex battle field conditions with high level of agility and synchronization.
(b) Will also lead to greater integration amongst the three services.
(c) They will continue to enjoy an edge over us in this field for quite some time.
Space and Counterspace Capabilities
(a) Have deployed satellites which enable real time transfer of data to ground stations.
(b) Are also developing multi-dimensional programmes to limit or deny the use of space-based assets by adversaries. These provide them capabilities of laser and micro-wave jamming.
(c) Their effort will be to jam the adversary’s, “command and control” and the “fire-control” systems.
(d) These programs are however still facing challenges and their satellites are generally suffering from malfunctioning.
Cyber Warfare Capability. Intrusion and data theft are being used to collect strategic intelligence. They can also try and disrupt enemy’s essential services like Air, railways and banks etc. (Business Continuity Process). This is causing great concern to the US and all other countries in the region.
Threat from Electro Magnetic Pulse. US is fearing the possibility of tactics of nuclear warhead bursts in the atmosphere to create an “electro magnetic pulse” attack with intention to temporarily or permanently disable the electronic circuits. They are looking at this seriously and India also needs to build up counter capabilities in this regard expeditiously
(a) Whereas the US, NATO countries and the Russian have exercised great reductions, the Chinese are continuing to build up their arsenal. Even more worrisome is the fact that the use of Nuclear weapons is being built up as a part and parcel of their strategy for furtherance of operations.
(b) Their stated “No first use” policy is not explicitly stated and it commits them to nothing.
(c) There are questions as to whether ‘demonstration strikes’ or ‘high altitude bursts’ world constitute a first use or not.
(d) It appears that they will have no hesitation in the first use of “tactical nuclear weapons”. In any case there is hardly a doubt that against Taiwan, this policy of ‘No first use will not be applicable’.
Role Envisaged for the Armed Forces
It is learnt that both China and Pakistan are fine-tuning their strategies to impose a war on two fronts against India. Thus, in case a war breaks out, a “two fronts scenario” will be almost a certainty.
In such a contingency, the Indian Armed Forces will need to generate a punitive deterrence capability vis-à-vis Pakistan and optimal dissuasion vis-à-vis China. More simply put, it means that we must have a ‘superiority ratio against Pakistan and optimal parity against China’. With our present force levels, it is a far cry and that is why it is high time that the Government of India issues the directive for raising of the Strike Corps. Argument that any raising of force level will cause concern to the Chinese is naïve and puzzling to the say the very least, especially in view of the fact that the Chinese have built up far more potent and threatening capability in TAR.
We also need to prepare for unified operations in all five domains i.e., Land, Sea, Air, Space and Information/Cyber. The preparatory work on operational plans also needs to be carried out jointly.
We must also build up reserves in ammunition, missiles, spares and ancillaries for a minimum period of 60 days at an intense rate in crash time frame. This remains one of the biggest areas of weakness. All other aspects warranting improvement have been projected by the three Services to the Ministry of Defense and work on them must proceed with a sense of urgency.
Conflict Scenarios – Possibilities
Let us very briefly examine the two possible conflict scenarios and the possible outcomes.
A War in Next 3-5 Years
A balanced analysis of the Chinese Armed Forces will show that :-
(a) Their Armed Forces are still in varying stages of transition.
(b) Since their priority focus of development is towards Taiwan, there are still many facets of weaknesses in TAR.
(c) Their Navy does not presently have the capability to take on the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean. This capability is not likely to be achieved over next 10-15 years.
(d) We can certainly choke them in Malacca Straits, with some changes in our Navy’s priority of allocation of forces opposite the two adversaries. The proximity of Andaman and Nicobar islands to Malacca Straits offers us tremendous advantages in terms of effective air-sea operations against the Chinese.
(e) Our Air Force has the advantage of operating from the ground level in the North-East, which provides them far greater endurance. We also have huge advantage in terms of number of air fields. There is a strong possibility of the IAF inflicting heavy losses on the Chinese Air Force in TA in the first 72 hours itself, as they are lying in the open
(f) The Chinese capabilities in the asymmetries operations are still developing, especially in the mountains. Also the efficacy of modular mountain brigades in the mountains is still to be tested.
(g) Finally, the Chinese themselves are seriously examining and attending to the problems of their lack of combat experience and also leadership abilities at junior and senior levels. This acts as a huge ‘force multiplier’ for us.
Progress of Operations. The assessment being offered here pre- suppresses that the Strike Corps will be in place over next two years and all the shortages in ammunition, missiles and spares would have been made up. These are operational imperatives and not open to questions. In such a case:-
(a) The terrain and the ground offer us the biggest advantage.
(b) For the first twenty-thirty days, we can generate near equal parity in forces, which will deny them the required force superiority for an attacker and render their operations most difficult and sluggish.
(c) With some changes in the ‘Grand Strategy’?, in the mid-term, there is a possibility of being able to create upto two “Dual Tasked Divisions” for the North-East and Ladakh Sectors in a certain time frame e.g. after their task on the other front is done. Similarly Artillery allocations will have to be freshly planned.
However, most importantly there is a requirement to carry out “Joint Planning” for such operations on priority by all the three Services together in the same fashion, as we have done for some other contingences. With all such preparations, we should be able to hold our own and leave the adversaries baffled.
A Conflict Scenario after 2020-25
By this period, the Chinese modernization programmes would have fully fructified. On our side, if the projected shortfall of equipments worth 155 billion US dollars for the three Armed Forces is not made up in these 8-10 years, the potential gap between the opposing sides would have increased exponentially, posing grave risks to Indian security.
Even more than the Conventional Operations, the asymmetric warfare will pose grave threat. Therefore, we must focus on the following aspects with renewed vigor:-
(a) Technology must be the buzz word.
(b) A much higher degree of proficiency in aspects related to the informatization, like C4I2SR, counter cyber operations, optimum utilization of space assets and Counter EMP measures will be a pre-requisite.
(c) Ballistic Missile Defense must be built up.
(d) Improvement of infrastructure in the North East.
Alongside the operational preparedness, there are certain other improvements which need to be brought about in our National Security Apparatus. These have been pending for many decades :-
(a) A greater degree of jointness in the functioning of the three Services, on the lines of the recommendations of the ‘Group of Ministers’ is sine qua non. Some of the patch work solutions offered by Naresh Chandra Committee in this regard are like a cure which may be worse than the malady and must be disregarded with the haste that it deserves.
(b) The Services must be made a part of the National Strategic Planning Structure of the Govt. The prevailing system of the Government of India and the Services working in isolated compartments needs to be shelved for the good of the Country.
(c) The requisite fund allocations (155 billion US dollars in next 10 years exclusively for modernization) and equally importantly the ability to utilize these funds are an inescapable MUST.
(d) We must seriously move towards indigenous production by our DRDO – Industry combine and acquire at least 50-60 percent capability over next 10-15 years.
These are challenging times. The Armed Forces have been crying hoarse about the gaps to be covered. Our national leadership needs to take decisive steps and not bank upon the mirage of hope and possibilities of better relations developing between us and our adversaries. The history has proved that preparedness alone ensures security. The friendships, develops only amongst equals. Any weakness on our part can only provide temptations to our adversaries to be adventurous. Eternal optimistic that I am, I certainly believe that India has the sagacity and the requisite will power to rise up to the challenge.
Published Date: 7th September 2012