Last May, just days before India’s general election results were announced, the country’s highest policy making body for security matters was convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Its mandate: Find ways of enabling India’s military to take on an increasingly powerful (and belligerent) China.
At the end of a marathon meeting, the Cabinet Committee on Security initiated a comprehensive, well-funded plan to bolster India’s land, air and naval forces to counter China’s rising military prowess. The plan is historic, coming after years of dithering by an Indian establishment seemingly paralysed by memories of the country’s humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese in a brief but brutal war in 1962.
Since the CCS plan was launched, there have been significant and wide-ranging signs that Indian policymakers are finally willing to realistically assess possible military responses to China’s rise. One clear example is a new division of troops aimed exclusively at the border region of the two great powers. India is now mid-way through raising two mountain divisions for the north-eastern border area with China, with the two divisions pencilled in to be ready for deployment by the middle of next year.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The goal is to plug existing gaps in India’s preparedness along the Arunachal Pradesh-China frontier, and the two divisions, consisting of about 20,000 well-armed troops, will include a squadron of India’s armoured spearhead—Soviet-built T-90 tanks and a regiment of artillery. They will be backed by enhanced command, control, communications and intelligence (C4I) capabilities aimed at covering the Tibet region.
But that’s certainly not all.
The Indian Air Force has over the past year deployed 36 Su-30MKI, its most advanced multi-role fighter aircraft, to Tezpur in the country’s north-east in response to the People's Liberation Army Air Force's seven airbases in Tibet and southern China.
Meanwhile, the Indian Navy is working to counter the growing clout of the PLA Navy. The current thinking at Indian naval headquarters is that China will move to aggressively increase its presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to secure its extended energy supply lines (despite its name, military planners in Beijing don’t feel India has ownership of this expanse of water).
As a consequence, the Indian Navy’s plans are based on the premise that it needs to be a fully-networked and flexible force capable of meeting any ‘out of area’ contingency. Successive Indian naval chiefs since 2004 have spoken about the need for the Navy to have ‘longer sea legs’ by 2020 and to be capable of influencing the outcome of land battles. The importance of the Navy’s role was underscored during the 1999 Kargil skirmish between India and Pakistan, when the Indian Navy played a crucial but silent role in blockading Pakistan’s sea lanes, putting Islamabad under significant pressure to end the conflict quickly.