Latest Govt estimate shows China, thanks to new rail-road network, can move 10,000 troops to Indian border in just about three weeks — down from 3-6 months a decade ago
Pranab Dhal Samanta
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh prepares to leave for China in less than two weeks, the government’s high-profile China Study Group, which includes the Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary and heads of intelligence agencies, has been given an urgent brief. It has been asked to come up with recommendations for the Cabinet Committee on Security to counter China’s much-improved ability to amass troops along the border at short notice.
This was prompted after the Army revised its estimate on how soon China can move troops along the Line of Actual Control, particularly across Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. According to this fresh estimate, China can move up to two divisions (over 10,000 troops) in 20-25 days — a huge leap forward from the earlier decade-old estimate that it would take a season or two (a season is three months) for China to amass such a large number of troops.
India had carried out a detailed exercise two decades ago on the Chinese threat and categorized threat levels into low, medium and high depending on the number of troops Beijing could move given the difficult terrain.
This assessment remained valid until 2000, after which questions were raised on a regular basis and now a fresh estimate is on the table. This has been officially conveyed to the China Study Group last month.
Consider the revised assessments:
• Low-Level threat: This is an offensive with about two battalions. India’s earlier estimate was that it would take China 15 days to plan such a strike. This is now down to 7 days.
• Medium-Level threat: This is an offensive with about two brigades. Earlier estimate was that this would take about 30 days for China. This is now down to 15 days.
• High-level threat: This is what has got the government most concerned. This involves moving troops from hinterland China and about two divisions in total, which could take even up to two seasons (three to six months) depending on weather. This is now down to 20-25 days.
This reassessment, sources say, had to be done in view of the improved road and rail infrastructure in Tibet, connecting it to mainland China.
It’s learnt that security agencies have shown pictures of luxury cars coming right up to few kilometres from the Sino-Indian border. Also, the assessment states that China has greater flexibility and troop availability having settled its border dispute with Russia.
An initial assessment shows that India has to construct 72 roads urgently to come anywhere near addressing the Chinese challenge. The China Study Group is looking at ways to kickstart construction of these roads as well as reactivate airfields like Chushul in Ladakh, besides setting up new airfields to ward off Chinese dominance. Incidentally, Chushul is used only for chopper operations despite having a runway while China is said to have built new airfields in and around Tibet.
A set of eight strategic roads have been cleared for construction under the Special Accelerated Road Development Programme for the North-East, besides over 3000 km in Arunachal Pradesh. But sources say a much more concentrated effort will be needed. For this purpose, the Defence Ministry is moving to get Border Roads Organisation freed from all other road projects in the country, particularly those going on in Naxal affected areas.
It’s learnt that an urgent construction and deployment will be initiated soon based on CSG recommendations. In fact, sources say, the increased incidents of transgression being reported by the ITBP along the Sino-Indian border is a result of more aggressive Chinese patrolling due to better connectivity and improved infrastructure.
And as per this India Today report (October 2007) as many as 130 incursions by the PLA have been reported in that year:
Even more serious is the input that there is a growing concentration of over 10,000 Chinese soldiers across the border in Tawang sector in Arunachal Pradesh, indicating that a full division of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China has been brought in the area.
China’s new game of intrusions seems to be a part of its renewed strategy to strengthen its claims on the disputed border areas. There are signs that the Chinese are strengthening their defences and have plans to intrude deeper into the Indian territory all along the 3,350-km-long Sino-Indian border.
What is worrying is that the incursions have expanded to newer areas. On August 25 this year there was an intrusion in east Sikkim—China accepted Sikkim as part of India as a trade-off for recognition of its claim over Tibet. Even official maps of China acknowledge it as a part of India. So does that mean Beijing has been violating Indian sovereignty at will? The Indian Government does not seem to have any answers.
According to the reports sent to the South Block, the violations in Trig Height area in Ladakh have increased and the Chinese violated LAC by flying a helicopter across it for the first time. Even in the Pangong Tso lake area in the western sector of the border in Ladakh violations are being carried out by boats in conjunction with vehicular patrols, the report says.
South Block’s assessment is that the Chinese want to draw the border in a straight line on the lake in the Western sector, which will prove to be strategically advantageous for them. Not far away in the same sector they have violated LAC from Demchok area in Ladakh from Charding nallah side for the first time this year.
According to South Block’s assessment, Chinese intrusions in Demchok area have a strategic significance. “It can bring infantry and armoured columns through Charding La, Jara La and Tashigong,” the report says. There are other reports that Chinese forces now also dominate an Advance Landing Ground at Fukche near the Jammu and Kashmir border, where even aircraft and helicopters to land and provide logistics and military supplies to its forces.
Intelligence reports suggest there is a concentration of over 10,000 soldiers across the border in Tawang sector, which means a full division of the PLA has been brought to the area. (This is in October last year)
In a war situation, development of three rail heads at Kashi in the western sector, Golmud in the middle sector and Chengu in the eastern sector of LAC can enable rapid mobilisation of troops and missiles. Road network too has been strengthened with the construction of a Western and Eastern Highway besides a Central Highway in Tibet right up to LAC.
While India has a handful of airfields near the border, in the recent months Beijing has undertaken a massive upgrade of its air fields in Tibet. In Gongakar, two twin runways have been constructed and Kashi, Hotan, Yarkand and Xinjiang can allow PLA to hit most cities of north India.
The Chinese have built all-weather motorable roads on their side of the border. In contrast, only three Indian posts in Arunachal Pradesh are accessible by road, the remainder can only be reached by foot patrols. The army and the border guarding forces are still ill-equipped when it comes to taking on PLA. Even though the Government has cleared construction of 608 km of roads along the Sino-Indian border at a cost of Rs 9,092 crore, the project has barely begun.
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