Chinese PLA soldiers along the Line of Actual Control

While the world is distracted by the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the army is focused on the challenges along the northern borders with China, a senior official said

Army chief General MM Naravane on Friday reviewed the operational readiness of a Mathura-based strike formation that was reassigned to the northern borders with China amid the standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, even as the army carried out airborne drills in the Siliguri corridor to showcase its “aerial insertion and rapid response capabilities” along the eastern frontier with the neighbouring country, senior officials familiar with the development said.

While the world is distracted by the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the army is focused on the challenges along the northern borders with China, said one of the officials cited above, who asked not to be named.

“The Ukraine situation has to be seen in the context of similar attempts that could be made by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) along the contested northern borders. At no stage should we lose focus on the borders. We are developing capabilities with a long-term perspective,” said a second official, who also asked not to be identified.

The 14th round of India-China military dialogue in January failed to yield any positive outcomes, although both countries said they would work towards mutually acceptable solutions to resolving the lingering standoff.

At the January 12 talks, the Indian side made no headway in persuading PLA to disengage from Hot Springs near Kongka La and resolve patrolling rights issues at Depsang in Daulet Beg Oldi sector and Charding Nullah Junction (CNJ) in Demchok sector.

“The current situation warrants that the army realign the operational tasking of its reserve formations to focus on the northern borders and refine its war-fighting capabilities in mountainous terrain. Various situations and responses of the formation were war gamed at HQs 1 Corps in Mathura and suitable lessons were also drawn from various modern-day conflicts,” said a third official. Reorientation of forces to the northern borders has been done while retaining effective capability along the borders with Pakistan, he added.

“It’s critical to keep vigil along LAC as we approach the third summer after PLA’s forward deployment in Ladakh. It’s equally important to pursue talks for disengagement of troops at flash points from a position of strength,” said former director general of military operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (Retd).

The airborne drills in the Siliguri corridor came at a time when PLA has hardened its posture in the eastern sector too. Combat free fallers were inserted from an altitude of 20,000 feet along with logistic supply loads on precision guided platforms, said the first official.

“After landing at a location in the Siliguri Corridor, the free fallers established surveillance positions to guide accurate fire onto selected enemy targets. As a follow up, an airborne force of 400 personnel was thereafter deployed by air in rapid succession to swiftly capture objectives,” the first official added.

The armed forces, Central Armed Police Forces, Central agencies and state governments are working in tandem to mitigate the threat to the Siliguri corridor, which connects the Northeast with the rest of India.

Bhutan, with which China has a border dispute, is central to India’s national security as the country lies next to the Siliguri corridor and any territorial compromise made by Bhutan will have an adverse impact on Indian defences in the area.

Indian and Chinese troops were involved in a 73-day stand-off within Bhutanese territory at Doklam in 2017. That face-off began after India sent in its troops to prevent the construction of roads and infrastructure by Chinese troops in violation of agreements between Bhutan and China.

Last November, the army carried out airborne drills in eastern Ladakh to showcase its rapid response capabilities in high altitudes. This exercise included inter-theatre movement of troops and equipment, precision stand-off drops, rapid grouping and ability to capture designated targets with speed and surprise.

Despite three rounds of disengagement at friction points on LAC, the two armies still have 50,000 to 60,000 troops each and advanced weaponry deployed in the Ladakh theatre.