With disengagement still incomplete in some areas almost a year since LAC stand-off began, Army is ensuring there are ‘adequate’ troops in Ladakh

New Delhi: Even as China drags its feet on further disengagement in eastern Ladakh, the Indian Army has put in place a new summer strategy for Ladakh. The force has also implemented key changes in the Order of Battle (ORBAT) to counter the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), with whom it has been locked in a face-off for nearly a year.

Sources in the defence and security establishment said the Army has retained a higher number of troops and equipment in Ladakh, besides the 3 Div, in charge of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and the 14 Corps Reserve. This includes some of the formations pumped in last year following the tensions with China, besides new elements brought in for summer deployment.

However, the sources said that while various rejigs have taken place, one key element is the focus on the ‘field peace turnover’ issue, because the Ladakh stand-off has put a lot of pressure on this aspect. ‘Field peace turnover’ is a term used for the policy that troops posted in a battle zone get peace postings after a particular period of time, and vice-versa. This is important to maintain the mental and physical fighting capability, and hence, is a worry for the force.

Sources said the Army’s focus is on ensuring that there are “adequate” troops to counter any Chinese aggression, not just in the 14 Corps area, but also in the reserve.

Key Changes In ORBAT

The Army had planned key changes with regard to its rebalancing. Army chief Gen. M.M. Naravane, in January this year, had outlined his broad plans for rebalancing from the western theatre to the north.

Sources said that more changes have been made and the process has been completed. Specific details are being withheld about the changes due to national security reasons.

A new order, sources said, has made changes in a key strike corps, which has now been given a dual task — with the primary focus on the northern borders and the secondary on the western borders. This means that the corps has had to let go of some of its formations while retaining others.

Sources said that the armoured division of the strike corps has now become the Army Headquarters Reserve Division.

Another division, drawn from a different pool and which focuses on mountain warfare, has now been attached with the strike corps, they said, adding that the existing artillery division under the strike corps will get specialised equipment more suited for mountain warfare.

The 17 Mountain Strike Corps (MSC), which had been operating till now with only one division, has now received another. Sources said that a division from the east has now been attached to the 17 MSC.

The sources added that as needed, the MSC will be used for both eastern and northern sectors.

The MSC is also getting a new HQ Reserve Artillery Brigade with specialised equipment.

“The changes effectively mean that instead of three strike corps focused on Pakistan, we now have two. The 17 MSC will get two divisions besides reserve formations,” a source said.

Sources also said that some of the other formations have undergone changes in terms of command and control, besides having more units attached to them for operational effectiveness.

India And China Both Maintain Additional Troops

The sources added that the situation in Ladakh is now such that the 14 Corps has more troops on the ground and in reserve, giving the Army more deployment options.

While one of the reserve divisions of the Army was pulled out as tensions stabilised, large elements from another one remained in Ladakh, besides the 3 Div. Other elements have also stayed put.

Sources said the numbers under the 3 Div, which has three brigades, is more than sufficient to counter any Chinese aggression along the LAC.

Besides, the 14 Corps itself has independent artillery, armoured and infantry brigades.

China has also maintained a large number of troops about 60-70 km from the LAC, who can be brought back in just a few hours.

Interestingly, as part of the troop push into eastern Ladakh, several units from Jammu and Kashmir were also pumped in last year. For example, following the Galwan clash, a Rashtriya Rifles (RR) sector was moved to the Galwan Valley area while units under Uniform Force, a formation in Jammu and Kashmir, were also brought in.

Sources explained that the RR troops were brought in as a back-up because at that time, the focus was on pushing in large numbers of troops since India was not sure where the conflict was headed.

Elements from the 17 MSC were also deployed besides the Special Frontier Force and the Para SF. Most of these have now been withdrawn, with regular soldiers holding fort.

14 Corps Has Enough Troops To Counter China

Former Northern Army Commander Lt Gen. D.S. Hooda (Retd) said the 14 Corps has enough troops to counter China.

“LAC can’t become like the Line of Control (LoC) where each inch of land is defended. The posture at the LAC has to be of deterrence. China should know that if they carry out an incursion in one side, India will carry out a counter response. For example, what happened in August last year on the southern banks of Pangong Tso, when Indians occupied the Kailash Range,” Hooda said.

It was during Lt Gen. Hooda’s tenure when planning took place for how the RR units, especially the Uniform Force, could effectively be used if needed for operations other than counter-insurgency.

Hooda welcomed the rebalance, he hoped that a lot of thought has gone into the process, since this also meant that conventional deterrence capability against Pakistan has reduced a bit.