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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

China's Assessment Of The Military Dimensions Of The LAC Standoff

The following is a semi-official assessment of the military balance-of-power along the LAC in eastern Ladakh by an unknown China-based entity, which was drafted sometime last last year, and has subsequently appeared here:

https://mil.news.sina.com.cn/china/2021-02-07/doc-ikftpnny5561650.shtml

This week, the western theatre of action continued. First, the combined regiment of a rapid reaction force of the Xinjiang Military Region (MR) changed from the ‘round head’ to the ‘square head’ Type-15 MBT, and then the ‘Dawn Xiongguan’ ZTZ-99A MBT was rushed to the Reqin Pass again after travelling thousands of miles on both railroads and tank transporter trucks. With the completion of a new round of organisational reform in the Xinjiang MR, the mechanised troops on the LAC are at last welcoming large-scale mechanised equipment replacements. Towards the end last year, the new equipment of the various units of the Xinjiang MR appeared: two fire regiments were replaced with PCL-181 vehicle-mounted 155mm/52-cal howitzers (mounted gun system, or MGS), some composite regiments were replaced with Type-15 MBTs, and some light and highly mobile infantry regiments were replaced with third-generation ICVs, and now with the ZTZ-99A MBTs also appearing at Reqin Pass, everyone has a bright future. After completing the reforms of the Tables of equipment (ToE), the equipment of the Xinjiang MR is thus ushering in a wave of long-overdue equipment upgrades. Affected by a series of conditions such as preparation for war, scattered troops, and a special establishment system, the Xinjiang MR is a military district that carried out the systemic reforms relatively late.

According to the PLAGF’s normal military re-organisation into a Brigade, generally the highly mechanised mobile/armoured Divisions will be directly dismantled into two Combined-Arms Brigades, one of which is based on the Division and the other is based on the Regiment. The two new Combined-Arms Brigades then determine whether the Brigade is a heavy Brigade, a light Brigade or a medium Brigade based on the deployment area requirements and the weapons equipped by the previous troops. For example, the old 6th Tank Division became a heavy Brigade and a medium Brigade after the reform. However, the four infantry Divisions in the Xinjiang MR are still deployed in a relatively scattered area, with many response directions and varying degrees of mechanisation. Coupled with the need for combat readiness after 2017, it is difficult to carry out ‘outright dismantling’ as easily as the PLAGF infantry Divisions located elsewhere in the hinterland.

Before the Xinjiang MR’s reform process began, the quality of mechanisation was roughly the same as that of the Indian Army, and the quantity was roughly the same when deployed on the front line. The Xinjiang MR has four Divisions. Among them, there are two infantry Divisions and several Frontier Defence Regiments on the front line. Before this round of systemic reforms, the total mechanised force of the Xinjiang MR against the Indian Army was about 4 armoured regiments and 2 light infantry regiments (equipped with Type 92 infantry combat vehicles). The first-line force was about 372 MBTs and 248 ICVs. The strength of the PLAGF does not seem to be much, but India is limited by natural conditions, and there are not many mechanised troops deployed in the western section of the Sino-Indian border. India's mechanised forces in the western section of the Sino-Indian border are mainly the XIC Corps and its 3rd ‘Trishul’ Division with its own integral MBT Regiments (85 Armoured regiment and 4 Horse), and the 254 Independent Armoured Brigade. The 254 Brigade has two tank regiments and one mechanised infantry regiment. The mechanised infantry regiment is equipped with 60 BMP-2 ICVs, and the MBT regiment is equipped with 59 T-90S MBTs. Therefore, the mechanised equipment deployed by the Indian Army in Ladakh all year round is about 180 T-72CIA tanks and 60 BMP-2s. The PLAGF thus has a quantitative advantage over the Indian Army.

Facing the actual military needs of the western section of the LAC and the overall situation of China’s force modernisation priorities from the east to the west, in recent years the Xinjiang MR has formed a hierarchical ‘Synthetic Division-Synthetic Regiment-Synthetic Battalion’ reforms process. Under the new ToE, the Xinjiang MR still maintains the overall strength of four Divisions, but the various infantry Divisions under its jurisdiction have been transformed into Synthetic Divisions, and the regiment-level units under its jurisdiction have also been reformed into synthetic regiments. The quantum of MBT units in the Xinjiang MR has been greatly reduced, from 4 armoured regiments to 3 heavy synthetic regiments, but the mechanised forces have increased significantly from the original two light regiments to 3 medium synthetic regiments. In addition, two new light and high-mobility infantry regiments were added. The new heavy synthetic regiment has three synthetic Battalions, and each synthetic Battalion has one armoured Company and two mechanised Companies. The armoured Company has 14 MBTs and the mechanised Company has 13 ICVs. However, compared with the past three MBT Battalions and an armoured regiment with one motorised infantry Battalion, the number of MBTs under the new combined regiment has dropped from 93 to 42, but the number of ICVs has increased to 31. At the same time, the number of self-propelled artillery in the firepower Battalion, the quantum of reconnaissance troops, and the establishment of air-defence Battalions have been greatly improved, the number of overall mechanisation has been increased, and the effectiveness of the troops has also been improved. The ToE of the medium regiment is the same as that of the heavy regiment, but the 14 MBTs per Battalion will be replaced by 14 wheeled assault vehicles.

In terms of the specific composition of troops, the Xinjiang MR has changed from its original warfighting concept of ‘more MBTs, more motorised forces, fewer artillery firepower and fewer battles” to the new ‘few MBTs, more troops, more field/air-defence artillery and more battles’. Under the new ToE, the number of MBTs in the PLAGF has dropped sharply to one-third (the original 4 regiments, 12 Battalions, 36 Companies and 372 vehicles are now to 3 regiments, 9 Battalions, 9 Companies and 126 vehicles). The overall number of assault weapons has dropped by about one-third, from 372 to 252. However, although the number of MBTs has dropped significantly, under the new organisation, the number of ICVs has increased significantly, from about 248 to 468. At the same time, the PLAGF is being equipped with a large number of wheeled armoured vehicles. In actual contact, India tends to rely on the advantages of certain geographical conditions over China, concentrate its forces, engage in large and small frictions with the BDR regiments in a non-hot war environment, engage in cold-weapons combat, and establishes ‘illegal’ strongholds. In this situation, the PLAGF is countering the small-scale offensive of the Indian Army by relying more on the manoeuvrability of mechanised vehicles for battlefield projection, and at the same time using vehicle-based firepower to deter the Indian Army's motorised infantry forces.

The firepower of the Xinjiang MR has also been greatly improved. In terms of overall deployment, the Indian Army is relying on solid strongholds for defence in both the east and the west. The two sides often have to fight on a preset battlefield. The typical preset battle area, such as the Rechin Pass south of Panggong Tso Lake, is not suitable for the armoured regiment to launch a Brigade-level offensive. In this situation, the PLAGF should give full play to its mobile and firepower advantages to attack the Indian Army's aggressive forces in a preset area. Therefore, in this round of reforms, the PLAGF has increased the proportion of firepower. Under the new ToE of the Xinjiang MR, four firepower regiments have been formed. Each firepower regiment will have two vehicle-mounted howitzer/self-propelled howitzer Battalions and one rocket artillery Battalion. The Xinjiang MR also has an army aviation Brigade equipped with armed helicopters and transport aircraft, and an artillery Brigade equipped with 300mm PHL-03 MBRLs and PCL-181 mounted gun systems. The overall artillery establishment of the Xinjiang MR has now reached 216 firing units, which far exceeds the quality and quantity of the firepower possessed by the Indian Army. The Xinjiang MR attaches great importance to artillery, which can also be seen from the re-balancing situation this year: since this year, the MR has two fire regiments and two battalions re-armed with the PCL-181 MGS and a regiment of AR-3 370mm MBRLs is now being raised.

Let us now talk about Xinjiang MR’s ToE upgradation efforts. The situation on the LAC has always been the catalyst for every change of troops/weapons compositions in the Xinjiang MR, and every major reform of the ToE of the Xinjiang MR is related to the Indian Army. The ups and downs of the LAC over the past few decades have turned the Xinjiang MR into the ‘Modern Chinese Tank Museum’. Most of the ‘round head’ MBTs waiting to be replaced by the PLAGF are mainly concentrated in the Xinjiang MR. In the 1980s, the Xinjiang MR successively formed a large number of Type A motorised infantry Divisions, under the jurisdiction of MBT regiments. The last batch of Type-59 MBTs of the entire PLAGF that are currently stationed in Urumqi is the result of the formation of this period.

By the late 1980s, the Indian Army, which had significantly mechanised itself, increased its provocations against the border areas. In order to cope with the large quantities of T-72M1 MBTs procured by the Indian Army, the two fast-reacting Divisions of the PLAGF in Tianshan on a fast-track basis replaced their MBTs with the most advanced MBT that China could provide at that time--the Type-88A MBT with 105mm rifled-bore cannon. About 200 of them were built, equipping two armoured regiments. With the completion of development of the Type 96 MBT (armed with 125mm smoothbore cannon) by 1998, the mechanised infantry regiments stationed in Hotan finally began service-inducting them. The Xinjiang MR now has one regiment of Type-59 MBTs, two regiments of Type-88As, and one regiment of Type-96 MBTs. 

By including one Type-96A Brigade, one ZTZ-99 MBT Brigade and one ZTZ-99A MBT Brigade of the 76 Group Army, the Western Theatre Command can be seen as an illustration of 70 years of MBT development in China. A series of second-generation motorised and second-generation semi-mechanised equipment of the Xinjiang MR procured 20 years ago also appeared in the current LAC standoff. In particular, an armoured regiment went to the front line of the Rechin La Mountain Pass to confront the T-72CIA MBTs of the 85 Armoured Regiment.

However, in the face of the Indian Army's deployment of T-90S MBTs of the 254 Independent Armoured Brigade to Ladakh since late 2019, the crew of the older Type-88As will naturally suffer from ‘loss of face’ and demoralisation. The location of the Type-88As was at a certain post on the front line of Lake Spanggur Tso, at an altitude of 5,000 metres. The post is close to the relatively flat Rechin La Pass and closer to the actual LAC. The faceoff point at Rechin la Pass is rare in the western section of the LAC and is suitable for the deployment of mechanised troops. Such a battleground for military strategists is of course, vital for anyone who is not willing to lose face. Since last summer, infantrymen of both armies have engaged in multiple rounds of ‘cold weapons combat’ (i.e. mirror deployment) at the Rechin La Pass. After the failure of this tactic to capture the Pass, the Indian Army mobilised the XIV Corps’ T-90S MBTs and BMP-2K ICVs.

The mechanised units of both armies faced each other there, and the situation was tense. If the broadcasted CCTV news reports are turned to 90-degree viewing angles, then we can see the T-72CIAs of the 85 Armoured Regiment, the BMP-2 ICVs and the Indian Army tents deployed there since last year. This direct confrontation also reflects the characteristics of armoured combat: Although the PLAGF’s MBTs are comparable in terms of night combat, manoeuvrability and fire-control, it is difficult for the Type-88As from a human resource standpoint to perform at preset battle-scenes like Rechin La. And that was why the PLAGF had urgently requested for the ‘rough-skinned Dawning Xiongguan’ ZTZ-99A MBTs to be urgently transferred to the Spanggur Gap after the June 2019 Galwan River-Valley clashes.

Although many technical parameters of the 55-tonne ZTZ-99A were finalised 10 years ago, they are still superior to the current MBTs of the Indian Army. However, the ZTZ-99A still faces many problems. Although it has undergone specialisation on the Tibetan plateau, it has encountered difficulties in logistics maintenance, manoeuvring deployment, and passage. The ZTZ-99A faces difficulties in reaching the designated positions when the troops need it the most. This is also why the ZTZ-99, ZTZ-99A and their successors are still generally installed in the 76 Group Army’s rear areas instead of the frontline. Presently, the Type-15 MBTs equipped with the rapid reaction forces of the Xinjiang MR can hardly take advantage of such a face-to-face confrontation. This puts forward the demand for a new type of 40-tonne MBT that is more balanced in protection and mobility and can replace the existing Type-88A and Type-96 MBTs.

After the Type-96B MBT performed well in the Russia-hosting Tank Biathlons over the past few years, it has basically met the needs of the PLAGF. Consequently, in future, the main MBT of the Xinjiang MR will be the Type-96B. Of course, the future of the Type-96B goes far beyond the Xinjiang MR. The various Synthetic Brigades that are Taiwan-centric have an obvious demand for 40-tonne MBTs. Therefore, the quantity of Type-96Bs procured in future will be much higher than expected. In the future, the Xinjiang MR will establish a three-tier MBT system: a certain Aksu-based Regiment will be equipped with Type-15s as a fast reaction force, the ‘Kunlun Cavalry’ of a certain formation in Hotan will be equipped with Type-96Bs, and the 76 Group Army at the rear will be equipped with ZTZ-99As.

As mentioned earlier, India’s aggressive advances will often speed up the replacement of the PLAGF’s mechanised equipment. Except for MBTs, this generation of mechanised equipment of the PLAGF was technically finalised 10 years ago, or even earlier. After nearly 10 years of development, the various sub-systems of mechanised equipment have continuously unveilled upgraded models with various improvements. As the Indian side continues to maintain a high-pressure situation along the LAC, these new mechanised equipment, after being replaced with ones featuring enhanced firepower and network-connectivity, will also sequentially join the various combined forces of the Xinjiang MR in future, and will follow the Indian Army’s force modernisation processes.

The reforms of the ToE of the Xinjiang MR is generally in line with the overall strategy of both China and its PLAGF, which is: “defend the west and attack in the east” and emphasize “controllable border situation”. In the final analysis, although the western section of the China-India LAC is vast, the geographical environment is harsh and the altitude is high, and it is impossible for the PLAGF to organise even a brigade-level mechanised offensive. The western section of the LAC is mainly based on offensive and defensive warfare on preset battlefields, while the eastern section is based on three-dimensional offensive control-points. Therefore, the proportion of PLAGF armoured might in the western section is relatively small, while in the eastern section it can form a “dimensional reduction strike”. As for the situation all along the LAC, the Indian Army knows all this very well, but in terms of geopolitical practice, India has always played imperialism by mass, and now it has provoked a country much larger than it, and has fallen into it. A kind of complete blindness.

Nowadays, despite constant domestic polarisation and a GDP growth rate of approximately -8.9%, India still has to increase her weapons procurements from abroad and invest heavily in the development of her own military industry to fill the gap between China and India in arenas like airpower, mechanised tube/rocket artillery, and air-defence. This is a kind of “against the trend” behaviour, which is not conducive to long-term competition practices. It is better to leave it to experts in country-studies to explain the reasons for India’s blind moves against the trend. After all, India’s apex-level civil decision-makers thought for 10 days and 10 nights and didn’t know what the Indian Army wanted to do. However, this kind of military adventure will prompt China to continue completing the upgradation of warfighting equipment in the next few years. After all, the national strength of China and India will grow stronger in the known future. As a country that has been able to dominate alone for 70 years and has a complete and advanced military-industrial infrastructure, the initiative of China’s and India’s military situation is in the former’s hands.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Opposing Deployments Along The LAC In Eastern Ladakh

Depsang Plain Area
Early last year, the Indian Army (IA) had concluded that the number of transgressions in the preceding months had been much more all along Sikkim and eastern Ladakh. Around March 2020 there was a paper by the IA’s Military Intelligence Directorate forecasting that the activity-level of China along the LAC is likely to remain as per the trend line. But it was later revised as the events elsewhere did not support this conclusion and it mentioned that “we have to be prepared for an adverse situation, which can be created by China along the LAC and the IA’s on-site formations have to be sensitised”. In early April 2020, the Directorate General of Military Intelligence and the Directorate General of Military Operations issued advisories to the IA’s HQ Northern Command.
Panggong Tso Area
Every year, the PLAGF goes to the Tibetan plateau for summertime military training, and these training areas are all along the G-219 Highway, which is around 200km from the LAC at its closest. From G-219, there are axial/radial roads to the LAC. The IA had picked up movement right up to G-219, and “blobs” of PLAGF positions were visible. Other countries, including the US, had also shared overhead satellite recce imagery with India. For the PLAGF troops to move up to the LAC or the launchpads is a matter of less than 24 hours in some cases, or 36 hours and that is precisely what happened at that point in time. The IA was monitoring where the PLAGF formations were sitting. After that, they came forward. Now that is at the strategic-level, their intent, that they wanted to do this, that was a gap. Had India known that they are going to do this, then obviously the IA would have also mobilised earlier.
Chushul & Spanggur Gap Areas
The PLAGF’s mobilisation along the G-219 was the same as previous years. If somebody is coming across and the IA sees a build-up, then the IA’s reserve formations too should have moved for forward deployment. The gap in being prepared for such action was at the lower level. Even during the height of the standoff last year, the PLAGF was not organised” for combat except in the Panggong Tso region where there was some deployment on the north bank and in the Kailash range and with its strength, the PLAGF was actually trying to intimidate. India had told her IA formations on the ground that the FOL (Fuel, Oil and Lubricant) dumps all along the Shyok Valley roads, they had to be dug down and other infrastructure built, so if tomorrow any firing starts, you can’t be caught in the open. There was talk initially that one reason why China diverted its forces to the LAC in the region last year was India’s building of its infrastructure with the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) Road. Yet China has never raised the road issue during any of the military-level talks.
PLAGF Deployments at Hot Springs
At Patrolling Point (PP) 15 and PP-17A in Hot Springs and Gogra Post, China “had agreed earlier” to pull back its troops but “later refused to vacate”. In the recent talks, China said that India “should be happy with what has been achieved”. At PP-15 and PP-17A, the current presence of PLA-BDR troops is of “Platoon-strength”, down from the “Company strength” earlier—an IA Platoon comprises 30-32 soldiers while a Company consists of 100-120 personnel. China has since then been attempting to make the Kugrang Tsangpo River as the new LAC at PP-15 and PP-17A in the Hot Springs sector.

Gogra & Hot Springs Areas
At Panggong Tso, though there is temporary suspension of patrolling by the two sides between Finger-4 and Finger-8 on the north bank, India has not been able to reach Finger-8, which it says marks the LAC, since the past three years (i.e. 2017) before the start of the standoff. 
IA Deployments North & West of Panggong Tso Lake
The situation at the Depsang Plains pre-dates the standoff. IA and ITBP units have not been able to access their traditional patrolling limits since August 2013. But nothing happened there during the current crisis. In Depsang, the PLA-BDR units have been coming across and blocking Indian patrols at a number of these patrol points. PLA-BDR troops come every day in their Dongfeng 4 x 4 vehicles, and just block that passage. Consequently, India is not on a solid footing as far as the alignment (of the LAC) is concerned in Depsang. Starting from 2013, China built tracks, had better connectivity, so the PLA-BDR has been blocking the movements of the IA and ITBP.
IA Deployments East of Chushul

It was in 2008 that the PLA’s focus shifted to desolate, inhospitable Chip Chap Valley, which remains inaccessible until end-March. After mid-May, water streams impede vehicles moving across the Shyok, Galwan, and Chang-Chenmo rivers, leaving only 45 days for effective patrolling by India. No human beings inhabit there. Local Ladakh Scouts personnel manned the posts there, but patrolling in the 972 sq km Trig Height area had been lax. Trig Heights also known as Trade Junction, which connected Ladakh with Tibet in earlier days, is an area where PLA-BDR patrols began frequenting since June, July and August 2009. The PLA-BDR made 26 sorties in June, including two incursions by helicopters, and 21 in July. In August, PLA-BDR patrols entered into the India-controlled territory 26 times and walked away with petrol and kerosene meant for the IA and ITBP jawans. Back in 2008, the PLA-BDR troops had made 223 incursion attempts and left tell-tale signs. Easier accessibility allowed the PLA to intrude into Chip Chap with impunity during July-August—its BDR personnel usually spent a few hours before crossing back. But, during the 21-day Depsang standoff in April 2013, when Burtse became a flashpoint, the PLA-BDR set up remote camps 19km inside India-claimed territory. By August 2013, India lost 640 sq km due to “area denial” set by such PLA-BDR patrolling. PLA-BDR soldiers virtually prevented Indian troops from getting access to Rakhi Nallah near Daulat Beg-Olde (DBO). Change in the river course was cited as another reason for the loss of 500-1,500 metres of land annually. In September 2015 the BLA-BDR erected a watch-tower in that area, but this was later destroyed by the IA.

IA Mortar Pits South of Chushul
Bottleneck or Y-Junction, the place where PLA-BDR troops have been obstructing IA/ITBP patrols since May 2015, is less than 30km to the south of DBO ALG and around 7km east of Burtse town. Bottleneck derives its name from a rocky outcrop that prevents vehicular movement across the Depsang Plain. By stalling Indian patrols at Bottleneck, PLA-BDR troops have been denying India access to five of the PPs: PP-10, PP-11, PP-11A, PP-12 and PP-13. These PPs lie on an arc of around 20km from Rakhi Nallah to Jiwan Nallah, on a line marked as the LoP or Limit of Patrolling, which lies 18km to the west of the LAC. This is the same place where the PLA-BDR had pitched tents after an ingress in April 2013. The standoff had then lasted three weeks before status quo ante was restored. In April 2020, aggressive patrolling by the ITBP had managed to push back the PLA-BDR troops back by at least 9km before they settled down at the present location, which is nearly 18 km inside India-claimed territory in the Depsang Plains. The PLA-BDR incursion was detected by the ITBP on the intervening night of April 15 and 16, which sent its Quick Reaction Team that not only prevented the PLA-BDR personnel from further ingressing in the area, but also pushed them back across the Rakhi Nallah. The situation would have further worsened if the ITBP personnel, deployed at an altitude of 17,000 feet ASL, had not moved in quickly.

IA Gunpits South of Chushul
PP-15 and PP-17A are two of the 65 patrolling points in Ladakh along the LAC. (Some of these 65 also have an additional Alpha PPs, which are further ahead from the original PPs. So PP-17A is different from, but close to, PP-17.) PP-15 is located in an area known as the Hot Springs, while PP-17A is near an area called the Gogra post. Both of these are close to the Chang Chenmo River in the Galwan sub-sector of the LAC in eastern Ladakh. While Hot Springs is just north of the Chang Chenmo river, Gogra Post is east of the point where the river takes a hairpin-bend coming southeast from Galwan Valley and turning southwest. The area lies close to Kongka La Pass, one of the main passes, which, according to China marks the boundary between India and China. India’s claim of the international boundary lies significantly east, as it includes the entire Aksai Chin area as well. During the official negotiations on the boundary between India and China in 1960, Yang Kung-su, who was the Tibet Bureau of Foreign Affairs in the Chinese Foreign Office, had stated that the Western Sector of the boundary “is divided into two portions, with Kongka La Pass as the dividing point” and the portion “north of Kongka La Pass is the boundary between Sinkiang (now Xinjiang) and Ladakh, and the portion south of it is that between Tibet and Ladakh”. Thus, Hot Springs and Gogra Post are close to the boundary between two of the most historically disturbed provinces of China. Both PP-15 and PP-17A are in an area where India and China largely agree on the alignment of the LAC, which comes southeast from the Galwan Valley, turns down at Konga La and moves towards Ann Pass before reaching the north bank of Panggong Tso. China has a manned observation post of the PLA-BDR a few km east of Kongka La, while IA and ITBP posts lie southwest of it. However, according to the official history of the 1962 war between India and China, the region is not identified as a major “launchpad” from where an offensive can be launched by either side.
IA Gunpits at Phobrang
The official history notes that the PLAGF had “succeeded in eliminating possible launch-pads for any offensive against G-219 by eliminating the DBO, Chushul and Demchok positions. It said that it “all the more strengthens the contention that the IA should have attempted to retain at least one jump-off point: Chushul”. But the history notes that Hot Springs was an important post even during the 1962 conflict. In October 1962 there was a Company-strength IA presence at the Galwan Post, while three other posts—Hot Springs, Nallah Junction and Patrol Base—had strengths of a Platoon each. Hot Spring also served as the Company HQ, and was shelled by the PLAGF on October 21. PLAGF troops had wanted to get behind Hot Spring, but were resisted at the Nallah Junction.
IA Ammo Warehouses at Tangtse
As two of the four initial friction-points during the recent standoff, disengagement of troops from PP-15 and PP-17A had started in June 2020, during the initial rounds of discussion. Both sides had agreed to disengage from PP-14 (Galwan Valley), PP-15 and PP-17A after the third round of meeting of the senior military commanders last June, following the Galwan Valley clashes. However, though China pulled back its troops from PP-14, it did not complete the disengagement from PP-15 and PP-17A.
IA SS-BSM Storage & Launch-Pads at Stakna
Unilateral Surrender Of Pasturelands By India

From the 1980s till 2008, more than 400 sq km of prime pasture land was conceded by India to China in Ladakh region only. And last year, China effectively further shifted the LAC to India’s disadvantage all along the Eastern Ladakh area. The LAC shifted westwards by 15km (loosing yet another 650 sq km of real estate) at PP-10, PP-11, PP-11A, PP-12 and PP-13 in the Depsang Plains area; by 1km at PP-14 in Galwan; by 4km at PP-15, PP-17 and PP-17A in Hot Springs; and by 8km in the Panggong Tso Lake’s northern bank. The northern pasturelands at Marsimik north of the Panggong Tso Lake are now out of bounds for Ladakhi grazers due to the PLA-BDR establishing blocking points there.

Over the years, the PLA-BDR has followed the nomadic Rebo routes for patrolling in contrast to Indian authorities restricting Rebo movements that has led to the massive shrinking of pastureland and border defence. This resulted in local Changpas of Chushul, Tsaga, Nidar, Nyoma, Mud, Dungti, Koyul and Loma villages gradually losing their winter grazing that sustained 80,000 sheep/goats and 4,000 yak/ponies every winter. Ladakh’s earlier borders lay at Kegu Naro—a day-long march from Dumchele, and the Linzhithang Plain that lies to the east of the Depsang Plain.

Starting from the loss of Nagtsang in 1984, followed by Nakung (1991) and Lungma-Serding (1992), the last bit of Skakjung was lost in 2008. China first made encroachments into the 45km-long Skakjung pastures in the Demchok-Koyul sector in early 2008. In addition, Ladakhi shepherds and nomads from December to March every year (during which their young lambs) were able to walk frequented the area of Dokbug and Doley Tango.  In December 2008, PLA-BDR soldiers damaged their tents and threatened them to vacate the land.

Since 2009 the PLA-BDR has erected permanent garrison infrastructure at Charding-Ninglung Nallah in Demchok, thereby forever obstructing the entry of Ladakhi grazers in that area. 

Between 2009 and 2013 the Chumur-Karzok grazing area spread over 29,000 sq km was similarly surrendered without any contestation. Around 1,200 families of the Changpa tribe used to live there, with 2.5 lakh Pashmina goats.

It was in 2008 that the PLA’s focus shifted to desolate, inhospitable Chip Chap Valley, which remains inaccessible until end-March. After mid-May, water streams impede vehicles moving across the Shyok, Galwan, and Chang-Chenmo rivers, leaving only 45 days for effective patrolling by India. No human beings inhabit there. Local Ladakh Scouts personnel manned the posts there, but patrolling in the 972 sq km Trig Heights area had been lax. Trig Heights also known as Trade Junction, which connected Ladakh with Tibet in earlier days, is an area where PLA-BDR patrols began frequenting since June, July and August 2009. The PLA-BDR made 26 sorties in June, including two incursions by helicopters, and 21 in July. In August, PLA-BDR patrols entered into the India-controlled territory 26 times and walked away with petrol and kerosene meant for the IA and ITBP jawans. Back in 2008, the PLA-BDR troops had made 223 incursion attempts and left tell-tale signs. Easier accessibility allowed the PLA to intrude into Chip Chap with impunity during July-August—its BDR personnel usually spent a few hours before crossing back. But, during the 21-day Depsang standoff in April 2013, when Burtse became a flashpoint, the PLA-BDR set up remote camps 19km inside India-claimed territory. By August 2013, India lost 640 sq km due to “area denial” set by such PLA-BDR patrolling. PLA-BDR soldiers virtually prevented Indian troops from getting access to Rakhi Nallah near Daulat Beg-Olde (DBO). Change in the river course was cited as another reason for the loss of 500-1,500 metres of land annually. In September 2015 the BLA-BDR erected a watch-tower in that area, but this was later destroyed by the IA.

Bottleneck or Y-junction, the place where PLA-BDR troops have been obstructing IA/ITBP patrols since May 2015, is less than 30km to the south of DBO ALG and around 7km east of Burtse town. Bottleneck derives its name from a rocky outcrop that prevents vehicular movement across the Depsang Plains. By stalling Indian patrols at Bottleneck, PLA-BDR troops have been denying India access to five of the PPs: PP-10, PP-11, PP-11A, PP-12 and PP-13. These PPs lie on an arc of around 20km from Rakhi Nallah to Jiwan Nallah, on a line marked as the LoP or Limit of Patrolling, which lies 18km to the west of the LAC. This is the same place where the PLA-BDR had pitched tents after an ingress in April 2013. The standoff had then lasted three weeks before status quo ante was restored. In April 2020, aggressive patrolling by the ITBP had managed to push back the PLA-BDR troops back by at least 9km before they settled down at the present location, which is nearly 18 km inside India-claimed territory in the Depsang Plains. The PLA-BDR incursion was detected by the ITBP on the intervening night of April 15 and 16, which sent its Quick Reaction Team that not only prevented the PLA-BDR personnel from further ingressing in the area, but also pushed them back across the Rakhi Nallah. The situation would have further worsened if the ITBP personnel, deployed at an altitude of 17,000 feet ASL, had not moved in quickly.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Creating & Disseminating False Narratives

Creating and disseminating false narratives for the sake of according false fame/glorification has become a fashionable pastime for some ‘desi patrakaars’, with this being the latest instance:

Manohar Parrikar’s biggest contribution was to break the Rafale logjam. For six years, India had been unable to decide on how to buy the French-made combat jets because of the faulty procedure adopted by the MoD under the then Defence Minister A K Antony. It is to Parrikar’s credit that he decided to think differently on a knotty issue and suggested a way out to the Prime Minister. It was Parrikar’s sharp insights into finance and international systems that stood out when India—at his suggestion—decided to procure the Rafales from France. However, certain aspects related to licenced-manufacture of 108 aircraft in India with HAL as the lead production agency (LPA) could not be finalised. Major differences occurred on the aspect of man-hours that would be required to produce the aircraft from kits in India, and who would take the responsibility for the entire lot of 126 aircraft. While Dassault Aviation maintained that 31 million man-hours that it had proposed should be sufficient to licence-build 108 Rafales in India, HAL was asking for a mark-up of these man-hours by 2.7 times. This point became the bone of contention between the government and the French manufacturer. Moreover, in the understanding of the MoD, the company that had emerged as the winner in the bid— Dassault Aviation—would have to sign a single contract with the Indian government. The French company would then need to have back-to-back contract(s) with HAL and other Indian production agencies. Dassault Aviation would also be responsible for the delivery of the entire fleet of 126 aircraft to IAF. The single point responsibility for this contract rested with Dassault Aviation because the RFP (Request for Proposal) was issued to them. However, Dassault Aviation did not fulfil the commitment given in the first meeting and an impasse ensued on the responsibility of delivery of 108 aircraft to be manufactured in India. Another hurdle came up on the point of work share of HAL. Dassault Aviation was asked to submit a ‘responsibility matrix’, clearly defining the role and responsibility of Dassault Aviation and HAL. The matrix was to facilitate a back-to- back contract of Dassault Aviation with HAL. The CNC was, however, not able to move the negotiations forward since the interpretation of two fundamental aspects of the case by the French company was not in line with the terms of the original terms in the tender. The first aspect related to treating Dassault Aviation as the ‘seller’ of 126 aircraft, including 108 to be manufactured in India and the corresponding contractual obligations and liabilities. The second point was about the man-hours for the aircraft to be manufactured in India. The UPA government, under the overly cautious A K Antony, instead of imposing a deadline for the French manufacturer to comply with the terms of the RFP, dragged its feet and allowed Dassault Aviation to get away with obfuscation. On November 10, 2014, meanwhile, Parrikar took over as Defence Minister. While being briefed about the major pending projects and contracts, he realised that the MMRCA contract wasn’t going anywhere. He still wanted to give the French sufficient time to comply with the terms of the tender. In December 2014, the French Defence Minister came visiting and as expected, raised the issue of conclusion of contract negotiations in the MMRCA case with Parrikar who told him that conclusion of the contract was held up on account of the vendor not confirming compliance to the terms of the RFP. This was followed up by a formal letter from Parrikar to the French Defence Minister stating that it would be really useful for Dassault Aviation to confirm compliance to the terms of the RFP and the terms of the bid submitted by them at the earliest. It was further mentioned in the letter that the negotiations could be carried forward and concluded thereafter if Dassault Aviation could be asked to depute a fully empowered representative to discuss non-stop with the CNC. Another discussion with the delegation of Dassault Aviation was held on February 12, 2015. A clarification was sought from Dassault Aviation towards confirmation of compliance to the terms of the RFP and terms of the bid submitted by them specifically. The two crucial points, i.e. (i) the consolidated man-hours based on which Dassault Aviation had been declared L–1 would be the same man hours required for licence-manufacturing the 108 Rafales in India, and (ii) Dassault Aviation as the seller under the contract for 126 aircraft for the IAF would undertake necessary contractual obligations as per the RFP requirements. The representatives of Dassault Aviation reiterated their stand on both issues and stated that while Dassault Aviation would be responsible only for delivery of 18 aircraft in a flyaway condition, they would not take ownership for the 108 aircraft to be manufactured by HAL as the LPA. On the issue regarding man-hours, the Dassault Aviation representative stated that the company’s stand had always been consistent that the man-hours indicated in their proposal correspond to the related tasks performed in French industrial condition. He also mentioned that only HAL being the LPA could talk about the factor of multiplication to be applied to these man-hours to convert the same to the man hours-required for the licenced- production of 108 aircraft in India. Clearly, Dassault Aviation was using the loophole in the original terms of the tender to get away with shirking its responsibility towards the quality of the 108 Rafales to be manufactured in India. Exasperated at the obduracy shown by the French company, the MoD issued an ultimatum on March 20, 2015 asking it to fulfill the commitment and confirmation on the two aspects mentioned above, ‘failing which the MoD may be constrained to withdraw the RFP issued’. However, Dassault Aviation, in its response dated March 24, 2015, did not commit on the two aspects mentioned above. Instead, the French company stated that the estimate of consolidated man-hours given by them was to be used by HAL to prepare its own quotation with respect to the completion of its (HAL’s) tasks under the MMRCA. The MoD realised that applying a factor of 2.7 on the man-hours quoted by both Dassault Aviation and Eurofighter GmbH (the company that quoted the second lowest price), the Total Cost of Acquisition (TCA), as on November 2011, would undergo a material change to the extent that Dassault Aviation would have no longer remained L–1 vendor and would have become L–2 vendor. Parrikar realised that another prolonged competition would have taken enormous time and effort. So he took the matter to the Prime Minister and briefed him about the necessity of procuring the selected MMRCA. Under the circumstances, there was no alternative but to withdraw the original tender, Parrikar told Modi since the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) guidelines provided that negotiations could not be held with the competitor who had come second in the competition (L–2 vendor in officialese). The only way, the Defence Minister suggested, was to scrap the tender and buy a minimum number of Rafales off-the-shelf to fill a critical gap in the IAF’s inventory. The Prime Minister agreed and decided to talk to the French President about such a possibility during his upcoming visit to Paris in April 2015. The Cabinet Committee on Security also gave its approval to the new proposal before Modi left for Paris, on April 9, 2015. Eventually, Prime Minister Modi announced in Paris that India would purchase 36 Rafales off-the-shelf.

Source: https://theprint.in/pageturner/excerpt/why-manohar-parrikars-biggest-contribution-to-defence-ministry-was-breaking-rafale-logjam/631083/

A deliberate attempt has been made through the above-quoted narrative to portray the foreign OEMs as being guilty of obfuscation and obduracy, while the Indians tend to, as expected, emerge as the undisputed ‘Vishwagurus’. But the reality is the exact opposite. Now, here are the facts/realities that emerge when a key question is asked:


1) Why was HAL asking for a mark-up of the industrial man-hours by 2.7 times (83.7 million as opposed to the 31 million man-hours quoted by Dassault Aviation)? The common-sensical answer is that HAL would have taken close to 15 years to attain the mandated skills proficiency of its skilled human resources in case of licence-building the 108 fourth-generation Rafales, and that too after sending almost 200 of its supervisory and technical staff to France for being type-certified over a period of 18 months. All this in turn would have greatly stretched the production-rate of HAL-built Rafales—which is exactly what has transpired with regard to mastering the industrial processes and protocols required for building fourth-generation MRCAs like the Tejas Mk.1 and Mk.1A variants.


2) Consequently, what emerges from this is that licence-building any fourth-generation MRCA (leave alone fifth-generation MRCAs) was a no-brainer from the outset and therefore this option should have been discarded back in 2007 itself. In fact, no country in the world that has procured fourth-generation or fifth-generation MRCAs (be it the Rafale, the EF-2000 Typhoon or the F-35 JSF) to date has insisting on licence-producing them. Hence, in India’s case, the only practical procurement option was the off-the-shelf acquisition of Rafales from Dassault Aviation.

3) The off-the-shelf procurement option also becomes imperative if the end-user (Indian Air Force) insists on guaranteed serviceability and performance-based logistics support of/for the Rafale fleet from Dassault Aviation. For instance, in the case of the IAF’s procurement of Su-30MKI H-MRCAs, their licenced-production by HAL saw to it that that the Russia-based OEM (IRKUT Corp) accepted product liability for only the first 50 Su-30MKIs that were delivered off-the-shelf by the OEM. For the rest, Russia was under no obligation to extend any support (like crash investigations) in the event of a HAL-built Su-30MKI being lost under catastrophic circumstances. This has since resulted in enormous handicaps for the Indian Air Force since Russia was never required to share the source-codes of its two key operating software packagesGOST R 52070–2003, the Russian equivalent of MIL-STD-1553B digital databus; and the GOST R 58247-2018, equivalent of the MIL-STD-1760A electrical systems interface database. Consequently, if any enhancements of the Su-30MKI’s mission avionics suite is required to be carried out by the IAF, then such work will have to be carried out by Russia’s Zhukovsky-based FSUE State Scientific Research Institute of Aviation Systems (GosNIIAS) as the systems integrator, and by the Zhukovsky-based JSC V V Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Design NIIP, the OEM for the RLSU-30MK NO-11M Bars PESA-MMR.

4) The reasons why licence-producing the Rafales was a no-brainer from the outset also becomes evident to anyone applying sound common-sense to understand why the much-touted plans for HAL licence-producing the fifth-generation Prospective Multi-Role Fighter (PMF) variant of the Sukhoi Su-57 never took off. While it was agreed in early 2007 by Russia and India to jointly study and develop the PMF, Russia on August 8, 2007 had already proclaimed that the R & D programme’s development stage was complete and later in 2009, the Su-57’s design was officially approved (meaning FROZEN, with no further deep iterations). Despite this, in September 2010, India and Russia agreed on a preliminary co-design contract and in December 2010, a Memorandum of Understanding (the MoU) for the preliminary design of the PMF was inked by HAL, Rosoboronexport State Corp and United Aircraft Corp JSC. Under this MoU, the PMF was to have incorporated of 43 modifications of the Su-57’s design. HAL negotiated a 25% design and development workshare The IAF was to procure 166 single-seat and 48 twin-seat PMFs. But in May 2012, India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced a two-year delay in the project and by October 2012, India had cut the total purchase size from 214 to 144 PMFs. India's initial investment had by then grown from the estimated $5 billion to $6 billion, and the estimated total programme cost had grown to $30 billion. So, despite India contributing 15% of the R & D work, India was faced with bearing half the cost of the R & D effort. In September 2016, the two countries announced a detailed work-share agreement for joint production. In May 2017, another announcement came out regarding a ‘milestone’ agreement to finalise the PMF’s detailed design, but by June that year, Russia was insisting that HAL forego the PMF’s entire licenced-production effort in order to ensure speedier deliveries (within 36 months after contract signature, instead of the earlier agreed-upon 92 months). In addition, just like in the Su-30MKI’s case, Russia refused to share the source-codes for any of the PMF’s on-board operating software. Consequently, the Indian Air Force on September 2, 2017 officially declared its reluctance to proceed any further with the PMF project, and by February 2018 the PMF project was given a quiet and permanent burial.

Conclusion: One does not need to be an IIT Graduate or a ‘Vishwaguru’ to figure out common-sensical outcomes and end-states. Instead, making decisions by cultivating respect for the laws of physics and mathematics produces far more cost-effective and value-added outcomes. But Alas! This was not to be yet again between 2012 and 2018 as the late Shri Parrikar and his fellow colleagues in the then Union Cabinet embarked upon yet another futile exercise, i.e. undertaking to expose/unmask the still elusive RAAZDAARS (custodians of secrets) who could spill the beans about the alleged scam involving the procurement of 12 AgustaWestland AW-101 VVIP transportation helicopters for the Indian Air Force.

(to be concluded)

Monday, March 15, 2021

Mapping The PLAGF's Field Deployments In Eastern Ladakh

Updated GoogleEarth imagery has nolw revealed the scales of field deployment of the PLAGF Ground Forces’ two warfighting formations now deployed in eastern Ladakh—the South Xinjiang Military District’s Kashgar-based 6 Highland Mechanised Infantry Division and the  Aksu-based 4 Highland Motorised Infantry Division.

The highest concentration of forces has been in the area east of Chushul astride the Spanggur Gap, i.e. the area between the south bank of Panggong Tso Lake and the Spanggur Tso Lake. However, such a concentration over such a small area also becomes highly vulnerable to fire-assaults and effect-based operations by offensive firepower. Consequently, such a deployment by the PLAGF defies all military logic and therefore was unlikely to be pushed into combat of any kind.

Coming next is the concentration of forces in the Depsang Plains east of Burtse and the DBO ALG. And following that comes the Gogra-Hot Springs area, and then Demchok.

Meanwhile, the updated GoogleEarth imagery of Ngari-Gunsa Airport shows the on-going construction of up to 16 storm-shelters for housing MRCAs.

Also uploaded is the image of a bridge constructed by the BRO in the middle of last year for facilitating the entrance of India’s ground forces into the Galwan River-Valley.

Depsang Plains Dispositions As Of March 2021