India-China Ladakh face-off: New test ground for modern weapon systems

Photo: Pangong Tso in Ladakh, for representational purposes only.

(Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed are that of the writer’s)

By Lieutenant Colonel Manoj K. Channan

Since evolution, man has always been fighting a bitter battle for survival. Be it nature, wildlife, fellow human beings and now the minuscule and deadly Coronavirus. From stones to bones and the advent of weapons like spears, bows and arrows, and catapults increased the reach and ability to kill at a greater distance. The taming of the horses and elephants brought in a different dimension to war fighting capabilities and the manoeuvre element of warfare. Discovery of explosives added to the destructive capabilities.

World War-I saw the trench warfare and the use of Mustard Gas to kill the men. It also saw the invention of the ‘Tank’. “Through mud and blood to the greens beyond” was the motto of the Royal Tank Regiment in 1916. The air power too was used for reconnaissance and early use of aircraft to drop bombs.

World War-II saw a Nazi Germany wanting to avenge its defeat and gain world supremacy. It saw the advent of new weapon systems and the Blitzkrieg warfare of integrated battle groups punching through the defences or manoeuvring around them to annihilate the enemy. Naval and air power got developed and towards the end of World War-II, the nuclear bomb was used to bring Japan to its knees.

Post World War-II saw a period of the Cold War between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, led by the United States duly supported by the United Kingdom and France and on the other side, by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the USSR. This was a competition across all segments from trade to the race to put the first man on the moon.

The year 1991 saw the USSR disintegrating and the world became unipolar, with the US being the sole ‘Super Power’, who would police the world against all harm. The series of Gulf Wars in Iraq, the intervention in Afghanistan under a US-led coalition during an era of the George W. Bush diplomacy of “my way or the highway. You are with us or against us”. The Christian nations without much delay willingly joined in and paid for these wars under a common aim of ‘War on Terror’.

The US defence manufacturing companies fuelled the US economy and spent millions of dollars developing weapon systems and intelligence gathering capabilities to recognise a man from a drone flying at 60,000 feet and above, with a loiter capability of more than 24 hours, remotely and safely piloted from a US base, far away from the conflict zone.

In the last decade-and-a-half, China has been quietly achieving its aim of becoming a military and an economically strong nation. It became the manufacturing hub of the world.

Its population and dictatorial governance under the new ‘President for life’ Xi Jinping, drew a vision of an all-powerful China, wanting to announce its arrival on the global centre stage.

The use of surplus US dollars was used coercively to gain a back door entry (a new manoeuvre element) to help poor nations to build up infrastructure and alleviate poverty. Leaderships in the countries were bought over by heavy bribes or donation to party funds. Over the years, as political leadership changed, the countries realised that their independent sovereignty was compromised.

The oceans of the world were dominated by the powerful navy of the US and its military alliance partners, who dominated the sea lanes of communication, a jugular for the Chinese energy needs.

The Communist Party of China-initiated China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a collection of infrastructure projects that are under construction throughout Pakistan since 2013. Originally valued at $46 billion, the value of CPEC projects was worth $62 billion as of 2017. CPEC is intended to rapidly upgrade Pakistan’s required infrastructure and strengthen its economy by the construction of modern transportation networks, numerous energy projects, and special economic zones.

On Nov. 13, 2016, CPEC became partly operational when Chinese cargo was transported overland to Gwadar Port for onward maritime shipment to Africa and West Asia. Modern transportation networks built under CPEC will link seaports in Gwadar and Karachi with northern Pakistan, as well as points further north in western China and Central Asia. Pakistan’s railway network will also be extended to eventually connect to China’s Southern Xinjiang Railway in Kashgar.

China under the guise of CPEC has arrived on India’s western borders, having developed the infrastructure through Aksai Chin.

The One Belt One Road (OBOR), the brainchild of Xi Jinping, is an ambitious project that focuses on improving connectivity and cooperation among multiple countries spread across the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Dubbed as the ‘Project of the Century’ by the Chinese authorities, OBOR spans about 78 countries.

China’s attempts to get India involved failed, as the Indian government refused to be part of the grand design.

While the Economic persuasions were on, the Chinese military had initiated a strong posture in the arid desert region of Ladakh. In the summer of 2015 in the Pangong Tso (a lake, one-third of which is held by India and two-thirds by China), the clash took place between the patrol boats of India and China.

The Chinese physically rammed the Indian patrol boats and were met with an equally violent response by the Indians. The altercations between the patrols along the LAC continued, all along but not as bitter as at the LoC with Pakistan. The Doklam incident was probably another ruse to gauge the intent of the Indians, the stand-off settled without a shot being fired.

The increased altercations between the Chinese and Indian patrols were reported by the media since 2018 and the status this day is that the Chinese built up all along the LAC and have posed a challenge to the Indian government. The Chinese diplomats and their media have blamed India for intrusions in the disputed regions, which are being met with a resolve to contest the Chinese contentions.

Friendly foreign countries have been observing this conflict and have responded to the call by the Indian government at the highest levels to supply at the government-to-government level to plug the deficiencies of weapon systems in the Indian arms inventory. In March 2020, the Defence Procurement Procedure has an added clause of leasing equipment to make up for its deficiencies.

The French have speeded up the delivery of Rafale fourth generation fighter jets from four to six later this month; the Israelis are sending in air defence systems from their field army; the US has promised to augment its Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance support as well as the supply of precision guided ammunition for the BAE SystemsM777 ultralight howitzers; and Russia and others have responded to make up for the gaps in supply of spares and ammunition in the very near future.

While the Government of India is purchasing these off-the-shelf, it would be of interest to the Original Equipment Manufacturers to field their platforms in the highest battlefield of the world (13,000 feet to 19,000 feet) and assess their performance.

India becomes the ‘David’ of the world to stand up to the Chinese ‘Goliath’, as the world watches with bated breath and assessing if the two Asian giants will clash at a unique battlefield, where one can get sun burnt during the day and have chilblains at night.

(The writer is a retired Indian Army officer and currently works in the Indian corporate sector)

1 reply »

  1. A well thought out suggestion. Infact , many agencies do give equipment on loan to be tried, tested and modified to suit operational environments.
    However, the present situation leaves little time for this.

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