by Group Captain M Panging Pao (Retd)

China is a major world power with the largest military of the world and the second largest economy in the world. China’s defence budget is four times India’s defence budget, and military infrastructure is better developed on the Chinese side. India and China have a tense relationship over the last 60 years, including a major war in 1962. There have been regular clashes, ending with the recent violent conflict in Galwan Valley. China also resorts to arm-twisting downstream countries by controlling the water flow of rivers like Siang/Brahmaputra.

To tackle China in the long term, one major step is to urgently boost infrastructure like roads, bridges, railways, airports and military infrastructure along the border areas. Good roads and railways will allow rapid mobilization whenever required. The other critical infrastructures include hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) at air bases, underground command & control posts (C2), and ammunition and petroleum depots at key areas.

The infrastructure on the Chinese side is well-developed, including all-weather roads, dams and railways, which allow mobilization of large forces in short time. The same level of development is lacking on our side. Strategic roads like the Tezpur-Tawang road are still under construction for the last 50 plus years. Similarly, roads from Likabali-Daporijo-Taksing, Aalo-Mechuka/Manigaon, Pasighat-Tuting, Tezu-Walong-Kibithoo and the Trans-Arunachal Highway are still being constructed and are not all-weather roads. Many key bridges cannot take heavy vehicles, although the road/bridges infrastructure has improved a lot during the last few years, like the Bogibeel road/rail bridge over the Brahmaputra, the 9.15 km Sadiya bridge, the 6.5 km Bomjir bridge, the Sisirri bridge, etc. Advanced landing grounds have also been constructed in Pasighat, Ziro, Mechuka, Aalo, Tuting and Walong.

Most air bases in the NE lack HAS to protect our fighter aircraft. Lack of HAS would make our aircraft very vulnerable to aerial attack. Similarly, key bases in the Northeast lack well-protected underground structures for C2 centres and key installations. These vital infrastructures can easily be targeted by enemy forces with bombs/missiles.

Another key challenge is lack of adequate ammunition and POL depots north of the Brahmaputra. The few bridges over the Brahmaputra would be prime targets for the enemy. In case of destruction of these bridges, there would be acute shortage of large amounts of ammunition, bombs, missiles and POL required to sustain large-scale military operations.

The other critical area is the few bridges in the Chicken Neck area near the Siliguri corridor that connects the Northeast with the mainland. These few important railway/road bridges over the Teesta river are the only connection with the mainland. These critical bridges need to be protected or made underground below the river.

It is also perplexing that the headquarters of the army corps responsible for Arunachal is based deep inside Dimapur. To tackle a powerful adversary like China, we must invest in a robust strategic infrastructure along the border to support large-scale military operations. The long term neglect of military and strategic infrastructure in the NE needs to be reversed and expedited. 1962 should not be repeated.