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Report prepared by Naireen Khan, Research Assistant; Aastha Gupta, Research Intern & Gaurav Kumar, Editorial Assistant, USI India.
Edited by Maj gen Rajiv Narayanan, AVSM, VSM (Retd), Head CS3, USI of India

The recent incidents exhibiting Chinese offensive posturing along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) along with Pakistan’s increased activities along the Line of Control (LOC) is symptomatic of a two front war that India needs to contend with. While India is adequately prepared along its Western Borders, there is an asymmetry in the Northern Border. This can be exacerbated due to the intense economic impact of the pandemic and hence military capacity building will need to take a more nuanced approach, including some rebalancing for its pivot to the North. The USI organized a webinar titled ‘Rebalancing and Capacity Building along India’s Northern Borders’ to discuss these issues. This discussion was chaired by Maj Gen BK Sharma, AVSM, SM & Bar (Retd), Director USI. The panel included:

  • Lt Gen D Anbu, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM (Retd) and former VOAS and Northern Army C-in-C;
  • Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd), Former Eastern Army C-in-C;
  • Air Marshal Anil Khosla, PVSM, AVSM, VM (Retd), Former VCAS and Eastern Air C-in-C; and
  • Maj Gen (Dr) Pawan Anand, Distinguished Fellow, USI India.

Discussion highlights are listed below.

Capacity Building and Infrastructure Development in Ladakh and Central Sector

  • Infrastructure development in the Ladakh and Central Sector should be based on three factors.
  • First, is the all-weather connectivity.
  • Second, is the connectivity within the Theatre. The key for having the flexibility to switch forces within the sector, which is an important facet of military operations, rests on the interconnectivity between the sub sectors.
  • Third is defense related infrastructure development.
  • All weather connectivity is particularly important along critical axes, which would otherwise be available for about 4 to 5 months. Many such projects, including subsector connectivity are in progress and might be fully developed in 1-2 years.
  • Defense infrastructure towards the line of control needs more focus since China has a well-developed infrastructure on its side.
  • The Central Sector, which has four sub sectors, needs a little more attention as it provides avenues for quid-pro-quo options against China.

Capacity Building and Infrastructure Development in the Eastern Sector

  • The Eastern Sector is purely China-centric, wherein India’s challenges come from North of the Brahmaputra.
  • The conversion of railway lines North and South of Brahmaputra to broad gauge, and its extension into Arunachal Pradesh, has been a game changer.
  • The Trans Arunachal Highway, connecting twelve districts of Arunachal Pradesh coupled with Arunachal Frontier Highway, which is under consideration, have tremendous potential for military usage. Further, with the Arunachal East West Industrial Corridor Highway there would be three lateral corridors for rapid side-stepping of troops.
  • The development of road/ road-rail bridges has picked up in recent years. India now needs to strategically alter the logistics, the installations and the depots and alter mobilization plans.
  • The vulnerability of Siliguri Corridor is a matter of concern. There is a need to develop alternative access to North East and not be hostage to single access.
  • In critical areas India needs to develop multiple axes for the identified core theatres.
  • The tunneling of the Brahmaputra would be revolutionary as far as all-weather crossing the river capability is concerned. Same holds true for the tunneling of the Sela Pass in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The Border Roads Organization (BRO), which is the main force for development of these infrastructures, needs to be provided with better technological equipment and human resources with an optimum ratio of civil-military officers.
  • The Indian Military requires more eyes in the sky, which is currently being provided to some extent by the capable Indian Air Force (IAF) in this Sector. There is a need for more integrated space-based surveillance and unmanned aerial systems.

Re-Posturing and Restructuring in the Army

  • Lots of talks and discussions on rebalancing of forces have taken place but no concrete action has commenced.
  • It needs to be considered that only one Mountain Strike Corps looking entirely into northern area is impractical. India needs a minimum of two Mountain Strike Corps.
  • The recent events along the LAC and LOC indicate that there is a possibility of a two-front war.
  • India may thus require in-situ forces, properly acclimatized as per operational needs to take on such an eventuality. It may not have the luxury for employment of the Dual Task Forces, as hither-to-fore.
  • Since China is the primary adversary and India needs to defend itself vigorously against it, there is a need for an optimum rebalancing of its resources, especially Indian Army.
  • Air power will be a game change, in such a scenario. However, India’s existing structure does not have the capacity to absorb the airpower.
  • India needs a redefined, reformatted structure to absorb the kind of airpower that would be available to the ground force during the war.
  • No rebalancing can be done in isolation and all three Services would have to be in synch for this plan. It needs to be de-hyphenated from the ongoing concept of Theaterisation.
  • While Pakistan centricity must give way to China centricity, yet an optimum deterrence needs to be maintained against Pakistan, considering the Kashmir factor.
  • Eastern Ladakh, the emerging fulcrum of Sino-Pak collusivity would need additional troops, coupled with concomitant logistics and administrative capabilities.
  • There is a need for an additional Mountain Strike Corps, dedicated for Eastern Ladakh. This should be formed from the rebalancing. The other should be dedicated for the North East.
  • The structure of these Mountain Strike Corps should be a lean and be based on a plug and play model; be able to attach and detach troops, as per its task.
  • There is lot of space available for optimizing the utilization of Special Forces and Scouts in the mountains.
  • Intelligence organisations, which are inward looking and Pakistan centric, should now be made China centric.
  • Further, India needs to strengthen its cyber, EW and Information warfare capabilities, to counter the emerging threat of Three Warfares from China and the false narratives by Pakistan.
  • India needs to strengthen and coordinate its Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to its full strength.
  • Finally, there is a need to fix accountability for capability development, especially on the decision makers.

Aero Space Capacity Building and Infrastructure Development along Northern Borders

  • There are two important components of air defense infrastructure – operation and survivability of assets, through which its adequacy can be gauged.
  • Additional airfields in the Northern Command, meeting the above two conditions, is imperative to cater for its two front commitments. Infrastructures so developed would also add to the regional connectivity.
  • The Central Sector has enough airfields but needs more helipads, which are imperative in these hilly and mountainous areas.
  • As far as the East is concerned, there are adequate airfields; however there is a need for more hardened aircraft shelters.
  • Other areas that warrant attention in the maritime domain include the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Eastern Seaboard) and the Lakshadweep Islands (Western Seaboard).
  • More operating surfaces with proper lengths, and concomitant infrastructure, are required both in the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands.
  • Two pertinent aspects of airfield infrastructure especially with regards to the East are survivability (dispersal of assets) and the development of highways. The East has a variety of operating surfaces, with only a few controlled by the Air Force; a defense enclave, in all the others, needs to be developed where defense aircrafts can be based, sustained, and be able to operate.
  • Highway development should enable its use in certain segments as an alternative operating surface for Air Force in exigencies, both in existing ones and those under construction / planning.
  • Another issue relevant to all the sectors of defense is the airlift capability. India needs to develop more helipads all along the hills and continuously increase their capability. This entails building and maintaining a larger landing surface, greater storage capacity for fuel and ammunition and better connectivity to the helipads for agility in troop movement and their sustenance thereafter.
  • Moreover, the capacity to go underground in silos or caves should be given more attention.
  • Lastly high-altitude ranges should be developed. There is a need for alternative high-altitude ranges in the North and East, since the existing ones have come under political wrangling. These are essential for training and conducting trials for weapon systems, equipment, and ammunitions for operations in high altitude and in mountain warfare.

Rebalancing and Re-posturing – Air Force

The current Lac and LOC stand-off indicates that the two-front scenario has become a reality. The issue of optimization of limited assets when dealing with more than one adversary can be elaborated under the following four verticals:

  • General Aspect – This is relevant to both the fronts and underscores the primary needs to ensure that the assets allocated are optimum for executing the task allocated to the formation. The optimization and rebalancing to the North should ensure that operational asymmetry is created on the Western Front.
  • Mobility – This is very essential and needs to be developed on a faster track. It entails strategic, operational, and tactical mobility. Apart from the need for certain equipment that need to be procured to speed up the process of mobility through automation of loading and unloading, it also entails good infrastructure, communications, and lateral & axial connectivity.
  • Resource optimization by the Air Force – Two concepts are key to resource optimization – active monitoring and swing force.
    • The concept of active monitoring entails improving speed through early anticipation of needs. The assets and capabilities can be moved quickly not only to counter the threats but also to reinforce sectors that are deficient.
    • Swing force concept pertains to keeping some assets centrally which can be delineated to the either the Northern or Western front depending on the situation.
  • Force Application – While concepts such as effect-based operations, force multiplier use, parallel campaign and selective dominance remain important, two aspects warrant more elaboration in the current context:
  • Seamless Operations – This implies that there are no watertight boundaries of command. The resources of one sector could be utilized by another depending on the situation, speed of side-stepping, and resource availability in each theatre.
  • Theaterisation – At present, due to meager resources and the ongoing live threats across the LAC and LOC, Theaterisation will not help. Not only would the assets get divided, but the flux in command and control would negatively impact the operations on the live borders.
  • Network centricity – This is critical to ensure dispersal of location thereby enabling the absorption of enemy strikes, ascertaining the main enemy objectives, and effectively responding to counter its designs. Integration of the three service networks is essential to achieve adequate optimization and redundancies.
  • Nuclear Doctrine – The current situation necessitates that the nuclear doctrine be re-assessed with the aim to draw red lines that would negate an NFU. This is especially critical when faced with asymmetry, like against the Northern adversary or in case of a collusive threat from both the Northern and Western adversaries.

Engineering Challenges and Innovations for Infrastructure Development along Northern Borders

  • Capability and infrastructure development go hand in hand. There are various challenges that India currently faces when it comes to developing efficient infrastructure, especially in difficult terrains.
  • The Chinese have systematically developed infrastructure to counter India through projects in Ladakh, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), Nepal, and in Tibet opposite Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Bhutan. China has managed to interconnect the country through strategic infrastructure investment, through rail, road, and air connectivity.
  • It has developed airbases in Tibet, fiber optic connectivity to all 55 counties in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), oil pipelines and dams along Yarlung Tsangpo.
  • While India is still behind the development that China has done, it has improved its pace considerably.
  • Some of the challenges and innovation required for infrastructure development in such inhospitable terrain are listed below,
  • Geographical location: India struggles with the geographical location disadvantage. India has comparatively high tree cover making it difficult to navigate and design infrastructure projects. There is an altitude variation that adds to technical difficulties.
  • Legacy issues: Due to past policies, India has huge inaccessible areas. These areas are difficult to penetrate and manage due to missing basic infrastructure.
  • Funding: The important aspect is the lag that exists between funding and capacity. For example, the BRO has a funding of Rs. 11 crores. However, it has a capacity of Rs. 20 crores. Hence, while it has the capacity, funding is missing. Also, new technologies that are needed for such hostile terrain, needs to be adequately supported by funds.
  • Central Authority – Lack of a central authority for infrastructure development makes it difficult to develop efficient projects.
  • Delays – Red tape and bureaucracy cause delays in taking vital decisions relating to investment and during the construction as well.
  • Lack of Coordination – The lack of coordination between civil and military agencies has not only led to delays but also inefficient construction. A better coordination is required, which a central authority would be able to achieve.
  • Some solutions to accelerate infrastructure development in India are,
  • Involving senior military personnel in decision making of the civil economic infrastructure projects would enable the creation multipurpose infrastructure and reduce duplication of efforts thus saving scarce financial resources.
  • By energising underutilized existing civil infrastructure, with certain operational readjustments, some paucity can be overcome.
  • Outsourcing to the private sector is another aspect that should be explored. This will reduce the burden on military resources which can be utilized in the development phase.


Report prepared by Naireen Khan, Research Assistant; Aastha Gupta, Research Intern & Gaurav Kumar, Editorial Assistant, USI India. Edited by Maj gen Rajiv Narayanan, AVSM, VSM (Retd), Head CS3, USI of India

Article uploaded on 21 Aug 2019


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