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Implications Of Chinese Military Modernisation For India History Essay


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1. The US intelligence estimates that China will require until the end of first decade of this century or later, for its military modernisation programme to produce a modern force capable of defeating a moderate size adversary. However, that would be cold comfort for a nation lile India and other states in the South East Asian region, since one needs to plan for capabilities and not intentions. An increasing demand for natural resources could lead to a conflict not only with USA but also other developed and developing economies like Japan and India. Will China's intentions to emerge as a global power lead to economic and military coercion to achieve its goals and foe India, military coercion or conflict, since India's case with respect to China is one of economic competition and not dependence. 1 Will India be able to defend its legitimate interests and, if not, what capabilities does it need to acquire to do so? It is important to analyse such aspects and study the impact of military modernisation of China in the changing geo political scenario where India and China are likely to emerge as the major powers competing in more spheres than one.

Implications of Chinese Missile/ Nuclear Forces

2. China's possession of strategic bombers and long range cruise missiles will enable it to overcome existing detection capabilities of India. The geographical sphere of influence that would be enabled by massive build up of SRBMs, MRBMs and ICBMs, Long range strategic bombers like Tu-22 M, long range submarines, extended reach of modern combat aircraft through aerial refuelling and space capabilities, is indicative of a long term aim of becoming a dominant military power in Asia, subsequently in the whole world. 2

Implications of Modernisation of Chinese Army

3. The rapid modernisation of Chinese Army enables it to fight localised war through informationalisation and rapid deployment. Chinese Army has been attempting to increase its teeth to tail ratio by downsizing the group armies, providing rapid mobility to ground forces and restructuring the army to brigade size forces with modern equipment and lethal fire power. Such an attempt gives China the capability to deploy the army rapidly and quickly achieve its objectives. The improvement in infrastructure lends an inherent advantage to the Chinese Army. Planners of Indian security will have to take note of the improvement of the Lhasa-Beijing Highway and the construction of the Golmud-Lhasa railway which would affect India's strategic environment. These strategic links now in the offing would impart the following military capabilities on China vis-a-vis India:

(a) China's military deployment in Tibet and on the Indo Tibetan border could be doubled at the least. 3

(b) Above military deployments could be effectively sustained logistically in Tibet with the capacity so created. 4

4. China today has the capability of deploying more than thirty divisions on the Indo Chinese border. Such force could be logistically sustained with ease due to phenomenal development of infrastructure. On the other hand the Indian Army faces challenges due to lack of infrastructure and rapid increase in elevation close to the Indo Chinese border. While China will be able to deploy its forces very rapidly, India will take time due to the poor transportation facilities and road network. In addition, Chinese garrisons ate 100-150 km from the border roughly at the same elevation as at the border and in India, Indian reserve forces are normally at lower elevations thus necessitating time delays for acclimatisation of the forces. Thus, military modernisation of Chinese army coupled with improved infrastructure in Tibet along the border will propel China to an advantageous position vis a vis India, which could be easily leveraged by quick accomplishment of objectives even before India could mobilise its reserve forces.

Implications of Modernisation of Chinese Navy (PLAN)

5. Today China imports 70 percent of its oil and 80 percent of this valuable energy resource is shipped through the narrow Malacca strait. Majority of Chinese oil imports are from the African continent and these are also shipped via the Indian Ocean, where the SLOCs remain vulnerable to interdiction by a blue water Indian Navy. Therefore, the relevance of Malacca straits and other SLOCs becomes even more critical for China in the future, as it would be for other countries in the region. Possession of a modern blue water Navy may make it easier for China to use coercion and denial to secure its interests in the Malacca straits and the Indian Ocean. 5 China has also ensured that only three percent of its gas imports are imported through sea. 6 Thus, once China acquires the capability to ensure safety of its imports in the Indian Ocean, it will be able to overcome a major vulnerability against India. This will have repercussions on Indian interests too as our trade relations with the near and far East grow. China once assured of securing its imports through various SLOCs may then threaten India over land or in space to leverage its strategic interests against India. Further, should there be an Indo Chinese conflict in future, and China is capable of deterring the Indian Navy threat to its maritime interests, it will obviously be at an advantageous position.

Implications of Modernisation of Chinese Air Force

6. With a rapidly modernising Air Force China now has the capability of launching strikes upto Central India. All major and important targets are within the ROA of PLAAF aircraft. The Chinese Air Force today possesses more than 350 Air superiority fighter aircraft as compared to IAF's present strength of close to 200 ASFs. However, the ASFs in PLAAF inventory are likely to swell to more than 900 by 2020, whereas India's strength at approximately the same time would be approximately 350 to 400. 7 China has constructed 14 major air bases on the Tibetan Plateau, and a score of tactical airstrips. These bases give the Chinese air force control of Tibet's air space, the forward edge of battle in the event of war with India, and the capability to fly sustained combat operations over India's north and strike all India's northern cities, including Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta. Chinese electronic intelligence atop the plateau also confers an important advantage of combat information and battle management in any, air war. The high altitude of the airfields in Tibet is frequently suggested as precluding effective PLAAF air operations against India. The PLAAF may be able to overcome this problem through aerial refuelling, with strike aircraft taking off from lower-altitude airfields further away, and refuelling over Tibet for strikes at airfields or other targets in northern India. Infrastructure capabilities and limitations can significantly affect air combat operations. A detailed analysis of airfield suitability would require more current and detailed data than can be obtained on an unclassified basis, but some important points are evident. Sophisticated survivability measures are absent from Chinese airfields. Many of the military airbases have revetted parking areas, typically a few dozen in number. Generally, the parking areas of these large revettments are about two dozen meters across, and each is capable of accomodating two or three aircraft. Thus, a typical airbase can sustain two or three Air Regiments, and between 50 and 100 aircraft. PLAAF does not presently have the capability to deploy more than 15 squadron against India, due to the limited numbers of airfields it has in its South and South Western region. This capability is not likely to improve in the near future, as there are no new airfields coming up in the region. In addition, Chinese aircraft are likely to be severely restricted by their load carrying capabilities due to the high altitude of these airfields. Thus, it appears that though PLAAF is modernising rapidly, India need not be too concerned in the near future. However, if PLAAF also utilises five airfields which are there across Myanmar, it may be able to tilt the balance in its favour. Though aircraft operating from these airfields will operate at the limits of their endurance even with air to air refuelling, this possibility cannot be ruled out. Further, PLAAF's acquisition of force multipliers such as AWACS, FRA, PGMs and BVRs and shift to net centric warfare is likely to transform it from a force with obsolete equipment and technology to a modern and highly capable Air Force.

Indian Predicament

7. Even though China has not invaded another country after the 1979 war with Vietnam, it has a history of territorial acquisitions, beginning with Xinjiang, Tibet, Indian territories in Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh and occupation of various islands in the South China sea, which have been claimed by other littoral states of the area. It has also never hesitated to use military force to coerce or intimidate, if it feels that repeated warnings have not been heeded, as in the case of Indian invasion in 1962, the Vietnam invasion in 1979, and the missile tests over Taiwan in 1995. Based on these assumptions, there are a few questions that the defence planners of India need to address. 8 These questions are : -

(a) Are Indian Armed Forces a Deterrent to China today? If so, can they Continue to Deter the PLA in the Future with PLA's Modernisation Drive? 9 India's conventional military capabilities today can effectively deter a Chinese threat, and India today is also prepared for a two front war. 10 .However, China definitely has an edge in its strategic capabilities, be it the missile technology, nuclear weapons and space warfare capabilities. The conventional advantage that India enjoys presently may be over by the end of next decade with China acquiring state of the art military hardware and through its RMA and transformation of its force structure. Presently, there is a question mark on the educational and leadership capabilities of most of the PLA's officer cadre. 11 Chinese Army is reported to have been plagued by corruption, poor pay scales and living conditions. But as the Chinese economic juggernaut rolls on these problems could be overcome in times to come and given the Chinese priority to improve these aspects of their armed forces.

(b) What are the Indian Capabilities in a Scenario of Conflict of Interest with China in Vital Sea Lanes of Communication. 12 Assuming the force capabilities as existing today, China may not have the capability to operate beyond South China sea. However, with the rapidly modernising PLAN, the balance would definitely shift in favour of China in future. The rate of production of naval vessels such as the destroyers and frigates in China is far ahead of that in India or any other nation in the world. 13 With the likely induction of carrier battle group and high numbers of attack submarines, China will be a major force in the Indian ocean and the Pacific. PLAN's recent active involvement in anti piracy operations in the Indian ocean especially close to the Somalian coast may be seen as its efforts to overcome lack of experience in operations far away from mainland. Thus, in future it is likely that a potent PLAN may be able to balance Indian Navy in the Indian ocean or even threaten Indian maritime interests in the region. This will lead to a major shift in balance of power between the two countries.

(c) Is Indian Aerospace Power a Deterrence to the PLA Today? What does it need to do to be a Deterrence in the Future? 14 China has acquired a far greater number of combat aircraft of the Su-30 class than India and that its rate of acquisition of other modern weapon platforms is also faster than that of India, India's operational potential in the near boundaries of China is increasingly being called into question. China's capabilities as a space power is also greater than that of India. 15 Thus, in the near future, China's aerospace power is likely to improve manifolds, creating a strategic imbalance. To be able to deter China's aerospace power, India seriously needs to take a re look at an earlier projected requirement to build upto 50 squadrons of modern combat aircraft supported by aerial refuelling aircraft, AWACS, ISR capabilities - both space based and near earth based (in form of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other surveillance platforms)- and greater strategic and tactical lift capabilities. Simultaneously, the inherent air arm of the Navy also needs to be bolstered by acquiring at least two more aircraft careers. 16 India will also need to demonstrate credible anti satellite capability to deter China neutralising own satellites to gain advantage in any conflict.

(d) Should India Develop/ Acquire Enough Attack Submarines to Deter PLAN in the Future? 17 Modernisation of PLAN has been termed by many analysts as a revolution. With China likely to acquire aircraft carrier, large numbers of attack submarines, modern destroyers of the Sovremenny class, it is imperative that India modernises its maritime power, especially in the attack submarine capabilities where India presently is lagging China. India must always retain her capability to seriously affect China's maritime interests in the Indian ocean, as this is one deterrence that may keep China away from launching any offensive against India.

(e) Can India Deter Missile Threats? 18 Deterrence against missile threats comes in two forms : one, in the ability to retaliate massively against such threats and two, on the form of anti missile capabilities. 19 While India has demonstrated its capabilities in terms of developing technologies towards missile defence systems, analysts are sceptical about the efficacy of such systems against threats from multiple missiles launched simultaneously. All one needs to do to defeat such systems is to launch multiple missile attacks simultaneously. 20 Thus, India needs to develop own retaliatory capabilities with missiles that are capable of reaching the entire length and breadth of China, especially the North and North eastern coastal belt of China, where maximum industrialisation in China has taken place.

(f) What is India's capability to counter China's modernised military in a limited border war scenario? 21 In the Chinese concept of limited border wars under conditions of informationalisation and modern technology, its adversaries need to be prepared for a rapid and massive onslaught of precision weapons through the medium of aerospace in a joint conduct of warfare. With the technological asymmetries and numbers building up in favour of China, unless Indian defence forces create the asymmetries needed to neutralise the effects of such weaponsd, in terms of anti missile capabilities, camouflage and concealment, improved ISR, rapid mpbilisation of ground forces along the border and rewrite their doctrines of joint operations, with primacy to the weapons suitable to the operational situation, this task would be increasingly difficult. 22

(g) Is the Threat Posed by Sino-Pak Collaboration a Challenge? 23 Acquisition of capabilities to match a greater expected threat would always cater for a smaller threat, especially from a country which may not have the economic wherewithal to sustain a reasonable pace of equipment modernisation. India needs to be ready for a limited war on two fronts.

Imperatives for India

8. The rapid modernisation of Chinese military is likely to result in China having an edge in conventional as well as non conventional war fighting capabilities vis-a-vis India. It is most important that Indian planners do not loose sight of the fact , that a militarily weaker India will not be able to compete with China economically as well. Hence, to be able to protect our vital national interests within our own territory or beyond it India needs to take certain steps so as to be able to deter China from infringing upon India's sovereignty, economic and commercial interests. The Indian armed forces and strategic forces will require to keep pace with technology and build up modern offensive capabilities. The steps that India needs to take to deter China or defeat it in case of a conflict may be : -

(a) Acquisition of the following in our Armed Forces 24 : -

(i) Space, air and surface based ISR capabilities.

(ii) Systems that would enhance C4 capabilities.

(iii) Strategic bombers with suitable strategic weapons like the cruise missiles.

(iv) Heavy and tactical airlift to provide strategic reach.

(v) Greater number of AWACS than presently ploanned to provide

realistic air space cover in multiple theatres.

(vi) Greater number of aerial refuelling aircraft.

(vii) Anti missile defence systems.

(viii) Precesion weapons.

(ix) Improved communication systems and networking.

(x) Long range and silent submarine force armed with ballistic and cruise missiles.

(xi) carrier battle groups and modern aircraft for protection of Andaman and Nicobar areas and other island properties as well as SLOCs.

(xii) warships optimised for anti submarine warfare and equipped to defend against supersonic cruise missiles.

(xiii) Amphibious capability.

(xiv) Creation of modern amphibious force/ marines.

(b) Diplomatic and Economic Engagement of China. India needs to continue to engage China diplomatically as well as economically. Indo-Chinese relations have definitely improved over the last two decades, with both sides agreeing to continue mutual engagement on variety of issues, such as economy, trade, global warming, etc. Despite the misgivings between both the countries on ahost of isssues, it is important that economic interdependence be built in which will act as a major deterrence against any future conflict between the two nations.

(c) Building up Strategic relationships with nations such as USA, Japan and Russia.

(d) Positive engagement of South East Asian states.

(e) Continued economic development.

(f) Continue to be the leader of South Asian Region nations.

End Notes

1. TD Joseph, Air Power Journal Vol. 3 No. 1 SPRING 2006, p 101

2. ibid p 102

3. Dr. Subhash Kapila, China's Infrastructure Development in the Western Regions: Strategic Implications. Downloaded from www.globalsecurity.org on 06 Sep 09 at 0900 h

4. ibid

5. TD Joseph, op cit, p 102

6. Rear Admiral Raja Menon (Retd) in his speech at DSSC Wellington on Dec 09.

7. Kondanpalli Sreekanth in his lecture at DSSC Wellington on Nov 09

8. TD Joseph, op cit, p 103

9. ibid p 103

10. Gen Deepak Kapoor in a press conference on 10 jan 10

11. TD Joseph, op cit, p 104

12. ibid

13. Kondanpalli Sreekanth in his lecture at DSSC Wellington on Nov 09

14. TD Joseph, op cit, p 105

15. ibid, p 106

16. ibid, p 105

17. ibid

18. ibid, p 106

19. ibid

20. Bharat Karnad in his lecture at DSSC Wellington on Dec 09

21. TD Joseph, op cit, p 106

22. ibid, p 107

23. ibid

24. ibid, p 108

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