The US Defense Department’s annual report to the US Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, released yesterday, provides an update on not only the on-going force modernisation efforts of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but also throws new light on the civilian and military leadership changes that will take place next year.
Slide 1 above shows the importance attached to the Central Military Commission (CMC), which is the apex strategic and operational decision-making body in China, and is on par with the State Council, which is like India’s Union Cabinet. Presently, India has no counterpart of the CMC, and therefore all three of India’s armed services chiefs remain mere operational players, as does the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. For India, the only way of attaining decision-making parity with the CMC is through the establishment of the office of the four-staff Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), with the present Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff (of three-star rank) becoming the Vice Chief of Defence Staff. The CDS must be made to report directly to the Prime Minister’s Office, and not to the Defence Minister.
Slide 2 reveals the operational theatre-level jurisdictions of the PLA’s military regions (MR), with the Chengdu and Lanzhou MRs being of prime importance to India.
Slide 3 shows the disposition of airpower spread throughout China and interestingly, displays no major air bases in either the Chengdu or Lanzhou MRs within the immediate vicinity of India. This proves my earlier assertions of the overstatement and over-estimation by various ‘armchair specialists’ of the threat posed by Chinese military airpower to India. The seven major ‘air bases’ often cited by these ‘armchair specialists’ are in fact civilian airports possessing no infrastructure facilities required for offensive airpower projection operations. This also explains why the PLA Air Force’s (PLAAF) 15th Airborne Army began experimenting with air-assault staging operations two years ago within the Tibet Autonomous Region, albeit only at the Battalion-level. As for the PLA Army, all that has been verified thus far is that its rapid-reaction ‘fist’ battalions located within the Chengdu MR have intensified their special operations infiltration/exfiltration exercises over the past two years along mountainous terrain similar to those encountered along India’s North East.
Slide 4 displays China’s present-day overland and seaborne trade routes, required for gaining access to raw materials like hydrocarbon resources.
Slide 5 reveals the engagement envelopes of China’s inventories of long-range SAMs and strategic weapons (TBMs, IRBMs, MRBMs, ICBMs and SLBMs), while Slide 6 gives an appreciation of China’s prevailing inventories of such strategic weapons, including ground-launched cruise missiles, but mysteriously excludes air-/submarine-launched cruise missile inventories.---Prasun K. Sengupta