Roads to readiness: defending the China border - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 19 September 2012

Roads to readiness: defending the China border

India's border roads programme is mired in bullshit!

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Sept 12

Fifty years ago, on September 20, 1962, the first shots were fired at Thag La. Yesterday, the army chief, General Bikram Singh, vowed that there would never be a replay of 1962, when an ill-prepared Indian Army was militarily humiliated in a carefully choreographed offensive by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Those brave words need to be backed by preparation. In terms of military build-up along the McMahon Line, the Indian army, despite recent efforts, is far from matching its opponent.

China’s biggest advantage is that of the aggressor: since it can decide when to strike and where, it could quickly concentrate some 10-12 divisions, about 200,000 combat soldiers, on a narrow front defended by just a couple of Indian brigades, moving swiftly over a handsome new transport network. This includes the 1,956-km Qinghai-Tibet railway, inaugurated in 2006, which allows troops to be moved swiftly from China into Tibet, and another five rail lines being built from Lhasa to the border. These are backed up with superb four-lane highways. The Indian Army has as many men in the sector, but they are strung out along a frontline hundreds of kilometres long, with forward positions many days’ walk from the road heads. Even if India learns about an ongoing Chinese build-up, say from improved satellite surveillance or from its sources in Tibet, it would take so long – three weeks – to reposition its troops at the threatened point that the battle would be over by then.

India’s poor border infrastructure also limits the utility of the formations that New Delhi is raising — a mountain strike corps of 40,000 soldiers and an armoured brigade with about 200 tanks. Until India can build better roads and railways that would allow the army to reposition and concentrate more quickly, its generals have little choice but to continue deploying increasing numbers of troops in inhospitable, high-altitude, forward pickets, hoping that they can block a PLA offensive till reinforcements are moved up. This is hardly a happy situation.

The obvious solution is to quickly build better roads and railways that could allow the Indian army to match the PLA’s deployment timings (one week). Far-sighted policy planners, such as former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, pushed a range of schemes to build strategic roads in border areas through agencies like the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Implementation, however, has been slow. Problems with land acquisition and clearances; the rugged terrain and harsh climate; and the need for more helicopters to move men and material are the government’s stated reasons for the slow progress. It is time the Centre and states co-ordinated their efforts to create a suitable road network. This is not just a military imperative, but it would also do much to bring economic development and jobs to the people of India’s far-flung border regions.


  1. Ajay Sir,
    If India is able to quickly destroy those rail lines and road links at muliple paces, in Tibet with use of Agni and Prahaar missiles, how Chinese will go on rapidly deploying large number of troops?? So dependency on Tibet rail links and their new roads are of less significance. In event of diminished supply lines, their forward troops can be rendered useless. But I agree that India has deployed very less number of armor.

  2. you are talking about the actions after the deployments have already happened and using air force would mean taking the war to next level, does Indian govt and esteblishment have that kind of balls? What make you think China would not do the same or worse? The best thing to do here is to stop a such a situation, we need Infra.

  3. Ajai ji

    Same question from my side as Abid....Those infrastructure can be easily destroyed by carrying out smart bombings by our Sukhoi 30or by a surprise tactical missile attack.

  4. Theoretically, every road, rail and military unit can be destroyed by bombing, artillery, missile strikes, etc. So does that mean that we should just plan on not having them?

    It is only in movies where you press a button and the target is destroyed. In real life, much of all this will survive the enemy's worst efforts. Survivability is the key.

  5. Arunachal, Middle sector and Ladakh badly need laterals for movements between the valleys rather than going up and down then up and then down...

    That long standing realistic demand seems to have fallen on deaf ears for last sixty years...

  6. @Ajai sir

    its not just about connectivity of roads, but also about intelligence gathering about activity in the Tibetan plateau and around Karakoram.

    Also it important to create storage tunnels and all weather air stations to be able to fend of the Chinese. Both need to be beefed up several rungs to stop a repeat of 1962.

    Oh by the way if you remember long time back when you asked about various aircrafts needed by IAF, I had said we will need atleast 15-18 AWACS-AEWC system. At that time you said it not needed, well this news should convince you.

    About the Gorshkov RIA Novosti says that 3 of 8 boilers were out malfunctioned due to use of firebricks instead of asbestos lining. However the biggest scare is the rupture of steam pipes made of steel that is not made in Russia but imported from Ukraine.

    Also another news says India is looking to replace 2 crashed Mirages, most probably from France or Greece. Is buying 2 aircrafts a good option, whats your say?


    Joydeep Ghosh

  7. While infrastructure and forces are important,what is perhaps equally or more so is the message sent out by our civilian and political leadership.

    Will it continue to be the typical confused and wishy-washy response where the forces/defence ministry think one thing while the MEA appears to be almost obligated to be 'apologetic' to China on the smallest moves India makes to protect itself.

    What our leadership has to make clear is the day of ' a swift,quick attack to teach India a lesson' are over and if China tries anything against India,there will be a wider reaction.'

    Unless our leaders show and have that resolve, strengthening of in fracture and our forces may not be not enough.

    In 1962,woeful equipment and infrastructure did play a role in our defeat,but perhaps more to blame was the totally confused higher leadership,particularly on the bureaucratic/political side.

  8. why Gorky is using steam boilers? what about varyag? what power plant Chinese are using? we could have used LM2500 gas turbines in Gorky!!!whats your take Ajai sahib?

  9. Thats an empty boast. The Chinese will wallop India anyday. Thats what my army friends used to tell me in Staff College. For the Chinese it will be a walk in the garden.

  10. Ajay,
    While the photo of the Yak is out of the world, the impression of BRO type tinned hutments behind is blot on Indian state of affairs. It is pity we have small roadside settlements built on BRO tins and sheets.

    Well that is the reality of the Bharat Bhagya Vidhata (administration and politics)

  11. What if we become the aggressor in Sikkim? How will China defend itself. Our two divisions against one Cineese platoon at Jalepla(Kuta, Chuha and Panja) and a company at Nathula. May be a battalion at Chubithang. How are they so sure that we will not attack them?

    All communication lines passing through Tibet are vulnerable to not only interdiction but also sabotage. China is seen as a occupation force in Tibet.

    Ofcourse when push comes to shove a nuclear threat will always work for us. What do you say.

  12. @Rahul 19:31,

    Which staff college would that be,Command and Staff College,Quetta?

  13. the main reason behind the slow progress by BRO is the fact that it is headed by a Lt General from a corps of engineers , who have no experience of road building whatsoever . The matter is further worsened when the charge of a BRO project is given to a brigadier from army who also does not have any experience of road building . by the the time they start to learn something they are posted out . The GREF engineers in BRO who have more than 20 -30 years of experience of working in such terrain are kept on backfoot .
    matter is further worsened when BRDB who control the BRO is headed by an IAS , who is a hindi writer and in his life time he never seen a road in hills

  14. I simply feel that the Indian leadership has always lost the war for Arunachal Pradesh and the surrounding areas. I cannot agree with the statement that the India can fend a determined Chinese aggression.

    I conspire that keeping infrastructure limited is a defensive ploy to break the burgeoning Chinese advance when they enter the Indian territory thus giving it time to fight in the lower plains of Assam.

  15. Even if after becoming an ICBM Nuke power we as a nation do not have developed enough courage, confidence and strategy, then rest assured we will never have that.

    We will have to prepare deadly traps for the advancing Chinese armies, whatever it translates in modern military parlance.

  16. The first thing the Chinese would do: DESTROY ALL INDIAN AIR BASES AND MISSILE BATTERIES! They have some serious satellites watching from up in space. So thy can remove these first with pinpoint accuracy. The next thing they would do, swarm the NE and occupy AP.

    In Ladakh, Pakistan will coordinate with the PLA and distract the IA. Once IA is bogged down on the west front, th Chinese will bypass and cut a salient right into the heartland.

    End of Indian excuse, arrogance and laziness. Welcome to the Communist States of Northern India.

    (That's what the recent trip of the Chinese defence minister was for, to assess Indian preparedness and to establish weaknesses)

  17. Can you post some of your genuine posts.

  18. Remember the Chinese beat the Soviets to a standstill in 1969 and sunk their T-62. This was when China was still an impoverished state and the Soviet Union was the unsurpassed hegemon in all of the east.

    So, IA should well be pro-active in the defence areas. There should be a division and half of Indian troops for every division of the PLA.

  19. 50 years to the 1962 war -misfortune of an unprepared army in face of a superior foe;a nation ruled by INC

    50 years later : an unprepared army in face of a superior foe; a nation ruled by INC

    Those who forget history are slated to repeat it ...

  20. Broadsword... @21 September 2012 08:20... the right example... there to see...

  21. No wonder no educated desh bhakt will ever vote for INC. Those who vote for INC are mostly either corrupted traitor or indiffirent illeterate, who anyways sells vote to highest bidder & INC slush with cash is well poised to buy both of these categories. To be precise 27% of us Indians belong to this category.

  22. Just a reaction to a view posted here:
    "Anonymous said...
    why Gorky is using steam boilers? what about varyag? what power plant Chinese are using? we could have used LM2500 gas turbines in Gorky!!!whats your take Ajai sahib?

    21 September 2012 12:07"

    Hi Anon,
    There was no alternative to retaining the Steam Boilers and Turbines on the Gorky/Vikramaditya. Re-engining the ship would have cost much more in time and money. Only Gas Turbines was an alternate choice, but that would have involved changes to the gear-boxes, shafts and the propulsion screws as well. Humongous task indeed. Simply speaking, a "no-go area".

    BTW, even the Varyag retains its original design of Steam Propulsion.
    Anyway this digressing from the topic at hand.


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