India-China border dispute in context of modern warfare and its future implications

Here we are going to share our point of view on the ongoing Indo-china border dispute, capabilities of PLA and the Indian Army. This article puts light on the current scenario which is prevailing at the Indo-China border as well as its impact on the Future.

By Harkirpal Singh, Updated : Jan 31, 2021 14:39 IST
India-China border dispute in context of modern warfare and its future implications
Indo-China border conflict

Indo-China Face-Off 2020:The face-off between China and India began in May 2020, when PLA crossed LAC. From 5 May 2020, Chinese and Indian troops engaged in aggressive melee, face-offs, and skirmishes at locations along the Sino-Indian border, including near the disputed Pangong Lake in Ladakh and the Tibet Autonomous Region, and near the border between Sikkim and the Tibet Autonomous Region. Additional clashes also took place at locations in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The most brutal clash took place on June 15 in Galwan Valley when soldiers from both sides lost their lives.

China's Stand: While it is clear that CCP is trying to impose its expansionary policies on its neighbors, let's take a look at China's exact stand on India-China's current face-off. The PLA military strategy appears to be focused on two objectives — strengthening control over the disputed areas along the LAC and overcoming their war-fighting weaknesses in Tibet. In Ladakh, this is being attempted by physically occupying the disputed areas on the north bank of Pangong Tso or physically preventing the Indian patrols from going up to their claim lines at Depsang. The construction of a village in the disputed Longju sector of Arunachal Pradesh is another ploy to firm up China’s claims. In 2014 and 2016, the PLA had objected to the construction of small irrigation projects at Demchok, claiming this was a disputed area. This clearly points out that China is rather applying a proactive approach rather than a reactionary one. 

India's Stand: India's response to Chinese aggression has been very defensive in nature. In other words, India has stuck with its old approach of not taking any preemptive actions even while facing a grave danger. China has been reportedly occupying Indian territory since 1959 and even after various agreements between both sides, China has not stopped its aggressive advance towards India. The main focus of Indian military leadership has always been towards countering Pakistan.

The main reason behind that would be Pakistan's constant support for anti-India terrorist outfits and their non-stop infiltration attempts across LOC. While we agree on the fact that Pakistan-backed terror outfits have been subdued by the Indian Army to a large extent, we must not forget that the primary role of any Military is warfighting rather than Counter Insurgency Operations (COIN) which the Indian Army has been focusing on since the late 80s. This has diverted the focus of the Indian Military from a superior foe China to a traditional but militarily inferior foe Pakistan.

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Capabilities of Indian and Chinese Military: It was recently reported that (PLA) has already moved 10,000 soldiers from depth areas back to their permanent garrisons in Xinjiang and Tibet military regions. The Indian Army currently finds it more difficult to pull out soldiers. With the roads to Ladakh closed, both the moving out of troops and their re-induction in an emergency is extremely difficult for Indian soldiers. Looking at the larger picture, it's very well established that PLA is superior to the Indian military in terms of its equipment and size, but that is not the main issue.

The issue is that PLA is not just focusing on the current border dispute, but also planning a future occupation of various Indian territories. Indian Airforce Currently holds an advantage against PLAAF in the region as IAF has more airfields and aircraft closer to the border to provide air support. Whereas in the case of PLAAF, the situation is slightly troublesome, PLAAF is 3 times more as compared to IAF in its overall capacity, however, it has a very limited no. of airfields and aircraft near the border. Since PLAAF airfields are situated at higher altitudes, the fuel carrying and payload capacity of their jets is also very limited.

Moreover, China lacks adequate experience in high altitude warfare whereas the Indian Army is known as one of the most experienced forces when it comes to mountain warfare. However, this is not where the picture ends, in fact, all the above-mentioned advantages which the Indian Military possesses over PLA will diminish in a large-scale conflict. Indian Military primarily uses its Army, Navy & Airforce while fighting a full-scale war. In the case of China, however, in spite of having a traditional army, navy, & airforce, they have 2 additional arms- the People's Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) and the People's Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF).

PLARF is responsible for all standoff weapons like rockets and cruise missiles which can be launched from a static facility far away from the border. This Military arm can perform deep incursion cruise missile strikes against our ground targets situated close to the border. On the other end, they have PLASSF which is responsible for Cyber, space, and electronic warfare which can cripple India's communication and prevent the spread of critical information that is required during a military operation.

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PLA's Future Plans and possible Indian response: For a very long time we have been hearing about a possible two-front conflict with both China & Pakistan and India's preparation in handling such a conflict. However, we haven't really talked about Pakistan and China's response to this. Since 2011, Both PAF and PLAAF have been conducting high-intensity joint air-exercises to achieve interoperability, for this purpose they have been using similar equipment for better data linking.

PAF JF-17s and PLAAF  fighter aircraft have Chinese radars and avionics which help them to share data and plan a joint course of action in case of a confrontation with IAF. This overcomes their numerical disadvantage against IAF as they can now work as a single unit. In addition to this, China currently possesses the capability to launch cyberattacks against India in order to cripple its communication networks. PLA also possesses EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) capabilities which can destroy or jam electrical circuits that are present in modern military equipment.

In the case of India, our Cyber and Electronic warfare capabilities are not nearly as matured as that of China's. In fact, we have been focusing solely on increasing our firepower rather than developing indigenous technologies that can overcome this gap. Its no doubt that our soldiers are battle-hardened and they can tackle PLA in a man to man limited engagement but future wars will not be fought in a traditional manner. In the future, and by the future, we mean that in the next 10 years, it will be a machine to machine engagement rather than soldiers fighting each other. Automated Machines with artificial narrow intelligence will be used extensively by big powers such as the USA, Russia, and China. Soldiers will play an overwatch role rather than fighting in front.

In order to tackle the China problem, we have to invest heavily in disruptive technologies and develop them at home because no other country would be willing to sell such sophisticated technologies to us. Some steps have been taken in this regard as the creation of the Defence Cyber Agency (DCA), a tri-service command of the Indian Armed Forces. Heavy investment in this Military arm can certainly help India in developing offensive cyber capabilities which will the pivot of warfare in the future. 

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