Army chief General Bipin Rawat earlier this month had explained that capacities have to be built for movement of forces between sectors and from the western to the northern front

NEW DELHI: In light of China, militarily, being India's main adversary and its acts of border aggression, the Indian Army is looking at meeting a key requirement along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which is the ability to quickly move forces from one sector to another and from the western to the eastern theatre. However, to meet this requirement a lot will have to be done.

Army chief General Bipin Rawat while addressing reporters earlier this month had explained that capacities have to be built for movement of forces between sectors and from the western to the northern front.

The Army's infrastructure development activities are focussing on this issue. He added that capabilities will also have to be built for inter-sector movement of ammunition.

To achieve this, infrastructure development entails building better connectivity through roads, all-weather tunnels and strategic bridges along the LAC. However, building these routes in high-altitude areas is an uphill task due to the inhospitable terrain. In addition, inter-valley connectivity for ensuring shifting forces between sectors is yet to be achieved. This means that moving formations up to the LAC from their present locations in the eastern front will take time and so will moving formations from the western theatre to the LAC.

Better connectivity for meeting the requirements as stated by the Army Chief have to be seen in the context of the military relations between India and China. The two have fought against each other during the 1962 war. Then, the lack of roads was a stumbling block in sending troops and supplies to the LAC. In 2014, this correspondent had visited the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh, a primary location which was overrun by the Chinese army during the war. The state of roads leading to the LAC were like dirt tracks, which severely restricted mobility.

Post war, the government made a decision to delay construction of border roads, so that in case of another war the Chinese cannot easily enter the hinterland. However, from 1999, the construction of the 73 India-China Border Roads (ICBRs) began. This was expedited following the Doklam standoff, which ended last August.

This was another important development, because the standoff proved that in the Sikkim area the army could not mobilise its artillery and additional ammunition on time.

Following the standoff, the army also re-prioritised its five year plan to meet its operational requirements along the frontier with China. This mainly includes infrastructure development.

General Rawat had explained this aspect as well. "What we have to do is build capacities for inter-sector move and at the same time build capacities to ensure that we are able to move forces from the western front to the northern front. That is where the focus is and that is how we planning to counter various threats that are likely to evolve. That is why some of our development activities on infrastructure are focussing on these issues," he had said.

A roadmap for intra-sector connectivity within the central sector (consisting of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh) and inter-sector connectivity with neighbouring areas was discussed at the army commanders conference in October, 2017. "What is also badly needed is inter-valley connectivity, which will allow switching of forces," explained an officer. This is also true for other areas such as Arunachal Pradesh.

However, experts say that intra-movement or movement within the eastern theatre during a military conflict with China will be difficult, because the PLA is likely to strike at multiple points along the LAC to keep Indian forces guessing as to where his main thrust lines will be. This will restrict intra and inter-sector movement of reserve forces to a great extent.

Therefore against China, movement for the Indian forces will primarily be from the western theatre to the eastern theatre. The movement will be of Dual Task Formations and even some of the Pakistan-centric Strike Corps can be used for this task. "But first the formations, including their logistics, deployed in a particular sector of the eastern theatre will move up to the LAC. Only then, the formations arriving from the western theatre will head to the LAC. All this will take time given the current state of road connectivity. So what will be needed is more helipads and advanced landing grounds," said an expert.