Border dispute: China has over 200,000 soldiers opposite India in conflict-ready mode - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 19 July 2020

Border dispute: China has over 200,000 soldiers opposite India in conflict-ready mode

The PLA's “mobile operational units” are widely dispersed across Tibet, Xinjiang, Sichuan, Ningxia and Gansu

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th July 20

With China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) intruders still occupying Indian territory and large PLA reinforcements ready on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Indian military planners are calculating: How many more soldiers can the PLA quickly field, were fighting to break out?

US-based PLA expert, Dennis Blasko, told Business Standard he estimates that around 235,000 PLA troops, including border defence personnel and the PLA’s cutting edge “mobile operational units,” are located in the PLA’s Western Theatre Command, which oversees the entire Sino-India border as well as China’s restive autonomous areas – Tibet and Xinjiang.

In March, the Belfer Centre at Harvard’s Kennedy School also estimated “a total of 200,000-230,000 Chinese ground forces under the Western Theatre Command, including the Tibet and Xinjiang Military Districts.” 

These numbers include the PLA’s lightly equipped “Border Defence Units,” which are permanently stationed along the border and are geared for border management and patrolling, not for full-scale combat operations. 

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), about 16 Border Defence Regiments, with about 40,000 personnel, monitor Tibet and Xinjiang’s 5,000-kilometre border with India, Nepal and Bhutan.

These Border Defence Regiments are strung out in remote outposts all along the border to observe activity and conduct patrols between outposts by foot or by vehicle, depending on the terrain, sometimes using small drones. 

Blasko says patrols are routinely carried out by squads (about eight men) or sometimes platoons (about 40). They are very lightly armed with the mission to observe and report rather than fight. These are the patrols that come into contact with Indian patrols.

Meanwhile, combat operations are the job of the PLA’s “mobile operational units” or “combined arms brigades.” These are assigned to the PLA’s “group armies” or placed under the Tibet and Xinjiang Military Districts. 

A “combined arms brigade” is one of the combat structures created in the PLA’s far-reaching reforms of 2017, and consists of 5,000-6,000 soldiers. Besides light or standard infantry, the “combined arms brigade” has armoured vehicles, artillery and air defence guns, engineers and other branches needed for the brigade to perform an operational task independently.

The PLA’s Western Theatre Command has two “group armies” – the equivalent of corps – under it. The 77th Group Army, headquartered in Sichuan, consists of six combined arms brigades and seven support brigades. Of these, three combined arms brigades are based in Tibet, reducing the strength in Sichuan to about 35,000 personnel. These are located some 1,400 kilometres east of Lhasa.

The 76th Group Army, headquartered in Ningxia, consists of six combined arms brigades and six support brigades. Its 50,000 soldiers are located in Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia, about 1,600 kilometres by train or road from Lhasa. 

Command of border forces opposite India is split between the Xinjiang Military District (MD) and Tibet MD.

Chinese units in Western Theatre Command

Military District
Operational Manoeuvre Units
Border Defence Units

·      3 Combined Arms Brigades (including 2 light/mountain)
·      8 Support Brigades (including SOF, artillery, etc)
·      77th Group Army: 3 combined arms brigades 

16 regiments, plus independent battalions
  Total: 50,000 personnel


·      4 Infantry Divisions
·      SOF, artillery, air defense, aviation, and intelligence brigades, and support units
 Total: 50-60,000 personnel
Total: 40,000 personnel

Sichuan, Chongqing
77th Group Army: 
·      6 combined arms brigades (3 of them are located in Tibet)
·      , 7 support brigades (located in Sichuan)

  Total: 35,000 personnel

Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia
76th Group Army:
·      6 combined arms brigades
·      6 support brigades

  Total: 50,000 personnel

185-195,000 personnel
  40,000 personnel

In the Tibet MD, Blasko estimates the regular army has about 50,000 soldiers, divided into 3 combined arms (or light mountain infantry) brigades, at least 8 support brigades (SOF, artillery, air defense, army aviation, engineer and chemical defense, electronic countermeasures, motor transport), plus logistics warehouses and depots. Most of these are stationed around Lhasa, roughly 1,400-1,600 kilometres away from Ladakh.

The closest to Ladakh is the Xinjiang MD, which consists of four infantry divisions, and SOF, artillery, air defense, army aviation, intelligence and reconnaissance brigades, and additional support unit. Its 50,000-60,000 personnel are widely dispersed. The closest formation to Ladakh – some 600 kilometres by road from Galwan – is the 6th Mechanized Infantry Division in Southern Xinjiang, with about 10,000 personnel and a large number of tanks.

The Xinjiang Military District commander, Major General Liu Lin, has been participating in the senior military commanders’ dialogue with the commander of India’s 14 Corps, Lieutenant General Harinder Singh. Liu probably oversees the border units in Aksai-Chin.

Blasko estimates the PLA has probably deployed five-six “combined arms brigades” to the Depsang, Galwan, Hot Spring, Pangong Tso, Demchok and Chumar sectors.

In each of these sectors, the PLA would have pushed one or two battalions (500 men in each) across the LAC, while retaining another two or three battalions, as well as the supporting arms and logistics elements, on China’s side of the LAC.

“It would be very difficult for a normal border defence regiment to concentrate as much force at a single location as reported at the build-ups at Galwan, Hot Spring, or Pangong Lake, while still continuing to monitor its entire area of responsibility,” says Blasko, concluding that the intrusions into India were probably carried out by the better trained and equipped “mobile operational units” of the PLA.

He says the commercial satellite imagery that has been released for the Galwan and Pangong Lake areas also suggests the deployment of the PLA’s “mobile operational units.”


  1. In terms of sheer numbers we are at an advantage.Take into account forces like the Assam Rifles,ITBP,SFF,CRPF etc which can function as a second line of defence.Still we are hesitant to evict the PLA by force.

    1. Actually, no we have no advantage in this case because paramilitary forces like Assam Rifles,ITBP,SFF,CRPF etc are geared towards policing duties,not high altitude warfare.They are neither equipped nor do they have the requisite training to operate in such an environment.Most of these forces are already bogged down performing counter insurgency operations in J&k,assam and nagaland.Re-deploying them to Ladakh is not an option.We also lack the logistics & infrastructure to supply and accommodate them in those harsh regions.

    The PLA has not fought a war for 35 years unlike the USA whose military has been involved in several major wars in this period.
    A war with India will give it much needed battle experience and allow it to test the effectiveness of its weapons and more important test the effectiveness of the wide ranging re reorganisation it commenced in 2015
    A short war to secure the Galwan, DBO, Hotsprings might shut the door into Tibet but this may not be enough to give the the PLA adequate battle experience, even if it were to take possession of DBO, the Shyok and the Nabura valley.
    A war with India will damage relations with India irrecoverably including trade access to a very large market and push India into the arms of the USA. This will be the major consequence of ANY war with India.
    Therefore if China decides to go to war with India, and face the resultant consequences, it might just decide “In for a penny in for a pound” and go the whole hog - the objective in this case may be the Indus Valley and Leh in Ladakh and Twang in Arunachal.
    China is well underway to fully upgrading their Armed forces and war with India will be an ‘informatised’ offensive at every level in conjunction with a smaller attacking force and the use of information technology.
    The Chinese attack would commence with a barrage of rocket fire destroying our command and control, our artillery and lines of logistics. There will also be a devastating cyber attack and an attack on our electromagnetic spectrum.
    The war with India will offer training to their armed forces to conduct this informatised warfare and to use their new weapons.
    The PLA knows that if it has to deploy technology in diverse ways, training in battle like situations is the key, it has consistently tried to learn from the USA experience in overseas wars and develop its own experience, In March 2019 it adjusted it training doctrine to focus on measuring, and performance reviewing its training against real war situations, a war with India will fill this gap.
    Decision makers in India do not fully understand the scale of the lead China has, they fail to grasp how antiquated our armed forces, they also over the past decade did not have the mindset to understand the urgency of reform.
    Changes that happen in China soon gets imbibed by its proxy Pakistan. Pakistani generals frequently visit China and at least understand what modern war entails.
    Indian Generals either lack the military education to even grasp these shortfalls, either this or professional standards have fallen so far that India’s self serving senior generals have ceased to care.
    The Indian army as an Institution cannot be kept separate from the wider Indian public administration and society.
    The bloated million strong Indian Army or call it our antiquated militia, is a joke, just as the rest of what happening in the public sphere in India.

  3. The most detailed overview of the Chinese military movement that I have read

  4. PLA will need only their light tanks already positioned on the Depsang plains to annihilate Indian forces at DBO - the Airfield there will not last five minutes Under attack from East China Sea" -10 missile (considered to be very similar to the US "Tomahawk" cruise missile) with the second rocket near Lasha - and with artillery at Gulwan cutting the road, DBO cannot be defended
    At Gulwan they need only to reoccupy the bunkers on the heights to Extend the LAC to the confluence of Shyok.
    Of strategic importance to them is Hotsprings, another gate into Tibet via Kongka La, they can cut off the Indian force there by destroying bridges and culverts on the access road via rocket fire, the Indian force there has a very long line of supply.
    In a race to repair Destroyed mountain roads at times of war, the bets are on theChinese being more skilled and better equipped at construction. Example They are skilled at constructing thousands of km of high speed TGV track laid on melting ice in Tibet.
    If the Chinese attack takes place in autumn or spring the can combine the wether and rocket attacks to Prematurely close the roads to Ladakh while the roads in Tibet would be wide open.
    Indian should have built Swiss style fortresses on the heights overlooking their strategic roads in the valleys, dug deep into the mountains with artillery placed into recess of rock. Provisioned with Winter accommodation for hundreds of troops. This deterred Hitler during wwII and preserved the neutrality of Switzerland. Dug in this way offers protection against a nuclear blast.
    The Chinese can afford to build defences like the abovebut India a poor country cannot.
    Large number of soldiers are useless in the mountains, against small well defended Positions India has not built proper mountain defences.
    At Present the Army is stretched to find even winter Tents for their extra troops in Ladakh, Winter Trench warfare in minus 20:C in oxygen starved E Ladakh is not going to be a picnic, the better resourced and provisioned force will have a disproportionate advantage, if the war extends to more than two weeks it’s all down to logistics.

  5. What is India's counter deployment to this?

    1. The only realistic counter to China's moves is to deploy the GODI Media Brigade and announce to the world that, "sab changasi!"


    Broadsword has given an accurate account here,
    Here are the names of the top brass

    Lt Gen Liu Wanlong a Central Committee member is the commander of the Xinjiang Military Region
    The dynamic popular commander of the South Xinjiang Military District, Major General Liu Lin is involved in talks with the Indian corps Commander and commands the regiments of Border Guards, two combat divisions have been placed under his operational command including the 6th mechanised division


    Chief of of the Seventy-seventh Group Army Major is Maj Gen Lin Huomao
    Deputy Commander of the 77th, Major General Li Zhonglin
    Political Commissar of the 77th , Major General Li Zehua
    Deputy Political Commissar of the 77th, Major General Gao Daguang

    Chief of the 76th group Army is Major General Yang Yi
    Deputy Commander of the 76th Major General Zhou Jianguo
    Political Commissar of the 76th Lieutenant General Zhang Hongbing

    The Gen who will be in command in Ladakh in event of war, will probably be Maj Gen Lin Huomao commander of the 77 Army Group.

  7. Scylla & Charybdis20 July 2020 at 07:00

    Reports in the Australian media state that China had put up a giant Sand Model Representation of the Indo China Border and were training for these military operations for over one year.

    They state that the Sand Model representation was seen on satellite imagery & can still be seen in satellite images.

    They also state that the intrusions were launched simultaneously along several points of the LAC each intrusion within minutes or few hours of each other along an one thousand kilometres frontage.

    Classic advance to contact & contact tactics along a wide front.

    Was the Indian Army lulled into complacency so easily by the COVID pandemic or were were other reasons such as Trade considerations of the GoI with China responsible for such dilatory actions by the Armed Forces or were such considerations weighing down on the Mandarins in the PMO ?

  8. All the Indians are given to understand corona and now inspiration at ayodhya, except for army.INC though raising issue in border situation but not able to draw attention.

  9. Very very informative article Sir, you tell us what's actually happening on ground....Sir, I have some queries like..
    what's so special about CAB of PLA, is there any parallel in Indian Army of CAB....
    And how is it that 77 Group Army with 7 support brigades has around 35k personnel, while 76 Group Army with 6 support brigades has 50k personnel. please shed some more light on it

  10. NSR says ---

    Stop writing or copying scary PLAPLAAF stories... they are just paper tigers...
    You are trying to make money by spreading their stories...

    It does not matter how many divisions of PLA was and is there...
    The Airbase is far away and our IAF boys will make mincemeat of them if they get into sky to come to forward areas... you aare an old army guy.. it is not definitely 1962...

    My only wish was that Bihar Regiment and its supporting regiments went in for a very FINAL FOURTH SKIRMISH in the middle of cold and dark night and inflicted massive toll of dead and injured to chinese troops...

    After the third skirmish, many soldiers from Sikh, Jat, etc Regiments came to reinforce the area...
    Some officer in charge should have let out a battle cry and sent all of them to inflict mayhem and fear of Gods and Ghosts into chinese hearts, minds and bodies...

    chinese PLA forces were in panic and shock according to the Indian soldiers in their areas ... and PLA was expecting a massive attack...
    If IA finished them there and then, chinese would have withdrawn from all other areas in a hurry...

    I feel terrible about the way PM Modi and many kept saying that chinese are not on our side...
    He needs to go to TV and Radio and address nation with the truths and giveGREEN LIGHT to armed forces to kick out the criminal and depraved PLA at least out of all the recent past salami sliced area... if not whole of Aksai Chin and Kailasa Mana Sarovar areas.,.. these areas were under India and usedto pay taxes to India...

  11. Swiss type mountain defences, sufficient numbers of trained acclimatized high altitude divisions with matching equipment, more Rafales,air defence systems, cyber warfare capability are priorities going forward, but we need a least two decades of peace and economic growth to buy time.Security and Economic alliances Quad and EU is must. At present we must be pragmatic, count the costs before trying to throw them out. Only diplomacy,national consensus, pragmatism, we can live to fight another day.Our developmental priorities,Economic capacities and importantly enhancing targeted dander quick defence capabilities. Mostly we are arming without aiming.


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