The Chinese misadventure in Ladakh did not catch the Indian Army unaware as some media reports would suggest. And contrary to perceptions in some quarters, the Indian Army has enough assets on the ground in Ladakh to not only thwart any aggression on the part of China’s People's Liberation Army (PLA), but also give it a bloody nose.
India’s defence establishment initiated a military buildup in Ladakh immediately after the Kargil War and stationed a new Corps (the 14 Corps) in Leh. Till then, the Srinagar-based 15 Corps used to look after Ladakh.
The 14 Corps, also called the ‘Fire & Fury’ Corps, has the 3 Infantry Division, the 8 Mountain Division, the independent ‘Siachen Brigade’, an armoured brigade and a reserve infantry brigade under it. The 3 Infantry Division has three infantry brigades stationed at Tangste, Kairi and Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) under it. The infantry brigade at DBO also has a tank regiment.
The 3 Infantry Division, also called the ‘Trishul Division’ with its headquarters at Karu (40 km from Leh) has an additional artillery brigade. The reserve infantry brigade and armoured brigade under the 14 Corps are also stationed at Leh.
As for the numbers, an infantry battalion has a little over 1,000 soldiers, three battalions make a brigade and three brigades make a division. An armoured brigade has three tank regiments with each regiment having 45 tanks.
A mechanised infantry regiment has 50 to 60 BMPs (infantry combat vehicles) each, while an artillery brigade has about five artillery regiments and each such regiment has about 20 field artillery guns.
Thus, there are more than 140 tanks, a 100 plus BMPs, more than 20,000 soldiers and more than a 100 artillery guns stationed in Ladakh. And then there is the 39 Mountain Division based in Himachal Pradesh which is the Udhampur-based Northern Command’s reserve force. This division, as well as units and assets under the Srinagar-based 15 Corps can be quickly deployed in Ladakh in an emergency.
India also has adequate air assets in Ladakh. The Advanced Landing Grounds at DBO, Nyoma and Fuk Che are operational and heavy transport aircraft can transport troops, artillery guns and military hardware there. The Nyoma airfield is being upgraded into an air base where fighter aircraft will be stationed.
China has also stationed air assets in the surrounding areas. However, Chinese fighters operate at a disadvantage from the high-altitude airfields there: they cannot carry adequate payloads and fuel and thus cannot operate at optimum levels.
Senior Indian Army officers point out that the situation has changed vastly since 1962 and the tables have in fact been turned against China. The Indian Army can meet the PLA head on and thwart any advances it makes.
India’s surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities have also improved tremendously in recent years. Over the past six years, defence infrastructure in Ladakh and other areas along the LAC has improved, and many infrastructure building projects that are in progress have been put on the fast track.
All this puts the Indian Army in a comfortable position in Ladakh. Fact is, the Indian Army has an advantage over the PLA that is deployed in Chinese-occupied Tibet (CoT). The reason: apart from having to face a highly-motivated and well-equipped Indian Army with its artillery and armoured components, the PLA has many of its flanks exposed and vulnerable in CoT.
As is well known, the brutal military repression unleashed by China on Tibetans after its in 1950 (also read ) has not been able to stifle dissent in that large restive province. Revolts and rebellions, big and small, are common. And China has to maintain adequate boots on the ground there to prevent revolts from spiralling out of control.
India has a large Tibetan refugee population, many of who are part of the little-known (SFF) that’s headquartered in Uttarakhand. The SFF is a specially trained force made up mostly of Tibetan exiles (read more about it and ) that has covered itself in glory in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh in 1971, in Siachen in 1984 and in Kargil in 1999.
But what would be a bigger headache for China is the distinct possibility of unrest and revolts breaking out in CoT in the event of hostilities against India.
Unrest in CoT, which will inevitably be followed by a brutal military crackdown on Tibetans by the Chinese occupying army there, will focus international attention on the restive province. At a time China is already under criticism and attack for its opacity on the coronavirus outbreak and its bullying tactics, Beijing would not want the international community to get another stick to beat China with.
All that aside, some reports had suggested that hundreds of Chinese troops had entered the Galwan Valley that has long been considered to be part of Indian territory. These reports said that PLA troops had built bunkers and fortifications in Galwan Valley and advanced till the confluence of the Galwan and Shyok rivers.
Indian Army officers disputed that and point out that the Galwan Valley is an extremely narrow valley that cannot hold ‘hundreds of troops’. Indian troops have thwarted the Chinese advance into the valley and are holding off PLA troops there.
Some commentators and analysts have also suggested that the Indian Army should have expected the Chinese incursions after the 225 km Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road became operational last year end. But it is impossible to man the entire stretch of the LAC 24x7 and incursions will happen. China also accuses Indian troops of entering and patrolling its territories (in CoT).
The reality is that while the face-off between Indian and Chinese troops continues at some points along the LAC, were the Chinese to indulge in any misadventure, they will be in for nasty surprises that will leave them bloodied and bruised, both physically and emotionally.
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