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PITCH STRENGTH AGAINST PLA WEAKNESS

This article is pitched for unit level officers to understand PLA troops better to defeat them in battle tomorrow.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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The Sino-Indian face-off has recessed from an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation to a military stalemate. However, the issue remains unresolved since the bulk of forces are still there. India cannot trust China one bit. Reflag-ration of hostilities cannot be ruled out. While the military stalemate can be construed as a victory, India should be prepared to confront the PLA again. When that happens, PLA should get more than a bloody nose. Many will think that I am putting my foot in the mouth. However, if we fight smart, we should be able to forcibly tuck their tails between their legs.  Fighting smart is all about focusing on weaknesses. The PLA is a well-equipped Army, with global ambitions operating with better infrastructure. Taking it head on is foolish. Matching it shoulder to shoulder or getting involved in head butting is the worst option. In one simple sentence—pitch our strengths against PLA weaknesses. Some weaknesses were exhibited during the faceoff, some were lying dormant awaiting exposure, some were camouflaged by Chinese propaganda and halo building. 

THE QEDS OF THE FACE-OFF 

The face-off has revealed a few things. The PLA is under-par in the Himalayas and the IOR. Next. The space for conventional action between nuclear powers is extremely limited and thresholds low. Examine Kargil, Surgical Strikes of 2016, Balakot, Doklam and Eastern Ladakh. As much as there has been violence and belligerence from both sides, war avoidance was the name of the game. Thresholds were deliberately kept low in the garb of being responsible nations. Project this trend line into the future. Confrontation, conflicts and wars with China are most likely to be localised, small scale, sharp manoeuvres and encounters to gain military and political ascendancy. Hitherto fore, PLA donned a halo of invincibility, which was rudely broken in Eastern Ladakh. The comprehensive strength of a nation is or the capability of its armed forces does not matter. What matters is the ability to fight in a set of given conditions. Victory or defeat still depends upon the man on ground. The Russians, Americans, French, Chinese and we ourselves have been taught this lesson rudely by the Mujahideen, Taliban, Vietcong and LTTE. We should never ever forget such basics in the hubris of modernisation and technology. Lastly, care should be taken when transposing  lessons from the Gulf Wars and the recent Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict on to a Sino- Indian or a Indo-Pak scenario. They were conflicts between unequal opponents in a non-nuclear setting. 

THE PLA 

There is no doubt in my mind that the PLA is a well-equipped, well-trained, well-disciplined and an aggressive force. It has demonstrated tremendous capability to mobilise and achieve the first mover advantage. It is fully backed by a well-oiled state machinery which is ambitious and responsive. Where are the chinks in this armoury, which we can exploit?

TERRAIN

A Sino-Indian military confrontation will invariably be in high altitudes. The evidence as it is emerging is that PLA does not adopt well to that terrain. It is one thing to acclimatise in High altitude and another thing to fight there. The PLA has not acquitted itself well on both counts. The PLA appears to be road/track bound and not capable of manoeuvre. Mountains offer scope for tremendous manoeuvre. If occupying Kailash Range  heights from within own territory can spook the PLA, imagine their consternation if key heights are occupied in their rear by infiltration.  Further , the Himalayan terrain is dual toned. While the Tibetan side is relatively flat and easy, the Indian side is craggy, tough and inhospitable. The required skill sets are different. The PLA has demonstrated that it does not yet have the skill sets to operate on our side which requires a hardiness of the old kind. 

TIBETAN DEMOGRAPHY 

The Tibetan demography remains a major weakness for the PLA. Despite a lot of publicity and effort at Han-isation of Tibet, the Hans remain only between 5-10% of the population.These are in major population centres and constitute government officials, project workers and  PLA. Most of them are transients and not permanent to Tibet. Across the LAC there is almost no Han settlement. PLA is in alien land with very less local rooting. While a lot is being made that a Tibetan uprising is no more possible, an incipient insurgency remains on the cards.  Adequate local support can be generated. We do not need a mass uprising. We need to develop the Second WW ‘Resistance’ kind of capability enough to force the PLA into a 360-degree warfare in their rear areas. Make PLA hunt for ghosts in the rear.  

IOR

The PLA does not have bases to operate in the IOR. Bases are not merely ports with refuelling facilities. Bases imply maintenance, refit, repair, victualising, stationing of troops, ammunition stocking, and security of air, land and sea forces. Without these facilities, the PLA will be in no position to dominate the IOR. At present, the only base from where PLA can operate is Karachi, after Pakistan is arm-twisted. Gwadar is far away from being a base. If we can ‘deny’ bases to PLA through geo-strategic moves, we will be in good space.               

CHINESE DEMOGRAPHY 

Mao believed that “a contest of strength is not only a contest of military and economic power, but also a contest of human power and morale”. In this context the outcomes of the one-child policy need focus. Today any one above fifty in the PLA will invariably be a single child—presumably brigade commanders and below. At least 70-80% of PLA soldiers are from one-child families including combat troops. The single child ‘Little Emperors’ are described as spoilt, selfish and often not tough enough to withstand military discipline. They also lack human qualities, hurt readiness and cohesion. Further, ‘single child’ soldiers have huge dependencies—grandparents, parents and child. Hence fearlessness, sacrifice, loss of life and limb is suspect. The ‘single child’ leadership will also be risk and causality averse. Poor teams with poor leaders make for fragility at unit level! PLA publications suggest that leaders remain somewhat stymied about how to inculcate the younger generation with PLA values. This is not a flaw but a schism waiting to be exploited—psychologically and physically. If Steve Waugh and the Oz could mentally ‘disintegrate’ opponents on a cricket pitch, so can we on the battle field. PLAs inability to absorb casualties and recuperate from them has been demonstrated internationally.  Read the Wall Street Journal article titled “China Discovers the Price of Global Power: Soldiers Returning in Caskets”. Also, in the Galwan clash, India declared twenty casualties. Whereas China has declared only four so far. If they had only four casualties as claimed, China would have declared victory and would never have gone back from Galwan. The body language, tone and tenor of PLA changed after the Galwan clash. Very clearly, the shock of their casualties reverberated internally.  Targeting the ‘human power and morale’ will pay handsome dividends. 

INDOCTRINATION

A major part of ‘human power and morale’ of PLA stems from indoctrination as a political organ of CCP. PLA indoctrinates soldiers with the idea that it has won every war it has fought, even when ranged against much larger and more advanced adversaries. This indoctrinated propagandist halo serves to instil fear/coerce enemies as also to build a sense of invincibility within the country, organisation and individual. Such political indoctrination takes time and space away from military training.  A soldier as any human can absorb only that much. The average PLA soldier will be suboptimal and brittle in this bipolar environment. The steadiness of a soldier in battle and under fire is suspect. This is compounded by the fact the PLA lacks battle experience and is often said to have the ‘peace disease’. PLA training is also prone to fudging and there is also mention of ‘micro corruption’ at unit level. This finds mention in the National White Paper on Défense 2019 too. Indoctrination and propaganda of the PLA kind should be made self-defeating.   

LEADERSHIP IN MULTIPLE MISSIONS

The PLA has been assigned multiple missions and roles which include “resisting aggression” (mainly the US, India and Russia), “containing separatist forces” (in Xinjiang and Tibet and deterring Taiwan from declaring independence), “safeguarding border, coastal, and territorial air security” (from state or non-state threats), “projecting power” (safeguarding overseas assets and global dominance) and “protecting national security interests in space and cyberspace”. To this end, the Chinese have been carrying out unrestricted warfare in multiple domains. This concept, increasingly relies, on a hi-tech base along with modern weapon systems. This demands a high degree of decentralised directive control. Conflate this with the fact that PLA is a political tool with a dual-control system by political commissars and field commanders in a highly centralized-decision making environment where decision making, initiative and innovativeness at lower levels is compromised. There is a heavy incongruence emerging in their leadership. 

EXTREME SKILL SETS

The PLA needs three skill sets of a very high order in mutually exclusive areas A. Amphibious landings to annex Taiwan in a cross-straits action (as large a scale and more complex than as the Normandy or Incheon landings) B. Ocean domination through an extensive set of bases with a blue water navy and C. Overcoming an experienced Indian Army in the Himalayan terrain. It does not appear that they have the skill sets,  military leadership or the experience to succeed in these diverse circumstances. Hence they will be suboptimal everywhere. Any attempt at any one will imbalance them and open vulnerabilities for exploitation. Further as they go up the value chain of global responsibility, they will be exposed to hybrid warfare. Most questions will remain unanswered till they bleed and get experienced. Their performance under stress in UN missions has been patchy. They have stayed away from major humanitarian disasters. Recollect. The QUAD was formed from the Tsunami Core Group in which the Navies of India, Australia, Japan and USA cooperated and responded despite their countries being adversely affected. China stayed away from that. Indicates selfishness, cowardice or loner mentality?

MODERNISATION

The PLA has been on a modernisation spree since the past decade. This pace will speed up in the future. This has three effects. Any system in the process of such fast paced changes tends to be unstable. Neither fit with the old nor ready for the new. Secondly all these hi-tech marvels of modern warfare besides being untested in battle will have teething problems on induction. Take them into super high altitudes and they could be super duds. A major part of all hi-tech weapon systems is the demand they place on battle field resources and logistics.  PLA publications also lament an inability to use new equipment properly because the PLA has been receiving so much new equipment in quick succession.  The third aspect of modernisation and adopting hi-tech is the necessity of matching manpower. A conscript army which turns over 20 % of its force annually will have difficulty absorbing  modernisation. If reports are to be believed (and I have no reason to disbelieve them), PLA has lowered physical standards of recruitment to increase technological levels i.e.  lowered  minimum height, raised maximum weight limit and even reduced eyesight standards for recruits. The PLA seems to be laying too much emphasis on technology. Such reliance on technology can be made counterproductive. For instance there is a lot of stress on winning wars under ‘informationised’  conditions. It takes my mind back to my senior command course when I was the Redland commander. The Blue land commanders sought information that I was obliged to give  them as part of a simple and well-crafted deception plan. At the end of the exercise many Bluelanders looked foolish. The short point is if the PLA seeks information we must give it without disappointing them.

NEED OF THE HOUR

The Indian armed forces are well versed with Pakistan. However, that is not the case with PLA. We need to build adequate knowledge about PLA to defeat them. We do not understand PLA enough and as a result we have been overrating it. Extensive combat experience, military ethos combined with ingrained Indian cultural values of comradeship, sacrifice and steadfastness provide Indian Armed Forces with a great innate strength. Late Col Santosh Babu, MVC and his boys demonstrated it in Galwan. I am confident that there are about 1200 more Commanding Officers of our Armed Forces waiting to emulate him if and when the time comes. I have written this article for those Formation, Unit, Ship and Squadron  commanders who will confront the PLA tomorrow. They need  to sit with their sub unit commanders and staff to discuss in detail as to how to get better of the PLA in the next round in air , land or sea. It is possible that I might have missed something out or might be wrong in my assessment. I am open to correction based on individual or collective experience of anyone in the Indian Armed Forces or elsewhere. That experience could be empirical, studied or lived through. Please communicate it to me and I will upgrade this material. The Indian armed forces need to have a handy document on how to attack the enemy weaknesses. I do hope the armed forces disseminate this down to unit level to empower our soldiers to defeat the PLA.

Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on www.gunnersshot.com.

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Defence

‘ARMY CAN MEET ANY CHALLENGE TO SAFEGUARD COUNTRY’

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The Army is fully prepared to meet any challenge like the use of drones and social media by adversaries to safeguard the country, said Commandant of Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA) Lieutenant General M K Das. Lt Gen Das, who is also the colonel of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment, said the situation in J&K is getting better with the Army and other security agencies working together to stamp out terrorism. Speaking to media on the sidelines of the maiden attestation parade of 460 new recruits of the 126th batch after a successful 40-week training period at Dansal here, he said the Indian Army is aware of the challenges and prepared to give a befitting response to the enemies of the nation.

Talking about the need to introduce special training courses for soldiers in the aftermath of the developments in Afghanistan, he said, “Our training is very contemporary as it caters for all the contingencies and unforeseen situations. My young soldiers, who have taken the oath to defend the constitution and the country, will live up to all the challenges. One of the unique things of this regiment (JAKLI) is all our troops hail from J&K and Ladakh. They have ingrained quality to be security conscious much more than others.” Lt Gen Das said, “All the situations unfolding in the country or in our neighbourhood, the JAKLI regiment will continue to excel and be the lead agency in the fight against terrorism.” Asked about the challenges posed by the use of drones to hit targets and deliver weapons and narcotics from across the LoC and International Border, he said a capsule course on anti-drone measures has been introduced. “On Army Day on 15 January, our chief took the threat seriously and our soldiers are being prepared to deal with the challenge in a better way.” During recruitment training, Lt Gen Das said that besides the arms handing and exercises, thrust is also given on science and technology, cybersecurity and other new challenges. He said the misuse of social media by “anti-national” elements is a reality and the new recruits are being trained in cybersecurity during their basic and orientation courses.

On attempts by Pakistan to mislead the youth of J&K, Lt Gen Das said, “The youth of J&K is showing keenness to be a part of the regiment which is a message to those who think they can mislead our youth. Joining the regiment is the best way to serve the nation, the youth live like a family and there is complete communal harmony.” He said the regiment is increasing the number of local youth from Ladakh and would also go for recruitment in J&K to provide an opportunity to the local youth to become part of this regiment. Asked about his message to the misguided youth, he said, “J&K is the crown of India but if I focus as a soldier, I feel they (misguided youth) have not understood their country… the situation has not gone out of hand and the Army has kept its window open to allow them to surrender and join the national mainstream.”

He added, “We have a unit of 162 Infantry Territorial Army who are former militants but have become upright soldiers.” Lt Gen Das said the Army and other security agencies are working in close coordination and the situation in J&K is getting better and the “day is not far when this region will make our country proud.”

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Defence

SOUTHERN NAVAL COMMAND OBSERVES INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEAN-UP DAY IN KOCHI

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The Southern Naval Command observed International Coastal Clean-up Day on Saturday with a focus on mangrove plantation and clearance of plastic/non-biodegradable waste along with waterfront areas in and around Kochi, said a press release from the Ministry of Defence.

Pursuant to the global campaign of keeping coastlines clean, more than 600 Naval personnel and the families of Southern Naval Command undertook clearance of plastic and non-biodegradable waste at different locations spread across the city, coastal areas such as Fort Kochi beach, Thevara waterfront, Willingdon Island, Cherai beach, Bolgatty and around 2 km stretch of the Venduruthy channel while restoring around 1 lakh sqm of mangroves to the pristine condition. In addition, 80 mangrove saplings were also planted along the Venduruthy channel. Similar coastal cleanup drives and lectures/webinars/competitions emphasising protection of the coastal and marine environment were undertaken with the enthusiastic participation of the Naval community at other outstation Naval units located at Lonavala, Jamnagar, Chilka, Coimbatore, Goa, Ezhimala and Mumbai.

Being the Training Command of the Indian Navy, the Southern Naval Command has always been at the vanguard in promoting environmental conservation activities both at the Command Headquarters, Kochi as well as at Naval stations spread across the country.

Mandated to oversee naval training, the Southern Naval Command has conceptualised and implemented a variety of green initiatives. Keeping environmental preservation as one of the Key Result Areas, the Command has constantly endeavoured to motivate young officer and sailor trainees of the Indian Navy to imbibe the habit of protecting mother nature as part of their grooming efforts in preparing them to become responsible future Naval leaders and dependable citizens of India.

Particular attention has also been given to create more awareness among the families and more importantly the children.

During the last three years, the Command has adopted a multi-dimensional approach towards conservation of the environment and implementation of energy conservation methods.

To highlight a few, the personnel of the Command were actively involved in the rejuvenation of 4.5-km-long Venduruthy Channel near Kochi Naval base, creating awareness in and around Naval establishments.

Efforts were undertaken to enhance green cover by conducting mass plantation drives which included planting more than 75,000 trees, using the fast-growing Miyawaki forestation method. In addition, regular coastal clean-up drives, mangrove plantation drives, in-house handling and recycling of bio and non-biodegradable waste, adopting efficient energy and water-saving methods etc were also undertaken. The Command has also earnestly endeavoured to continue all the efforts for protecting and conserving the environment and natural resources. Towards achieving the same, the Command has implemented a Green Initiative and Environment Conservation Roadmap with a prime focus on Carbon footprint reduction.

With the personal involvement of Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command is committed to creating a clean, green and healthy environment in line with the visionary environment conservation policies of the Govt of India. On the occasion, Adv M Anilkumar, Mayor, Kochi Municipal Corporation and staff also participated in Kochi.

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Defence

IAF TO HOLD AIR SHOW OVER DAL LAKE IN SRINAGAR ON 26 SEPT

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An air show will be held here on 26 September where IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga and Suryakiran Aerobatic and Display Team and paramotor flying will manoeuvre the skies over the famous Dal Lake, officials informed on Saturday.

The air show will be organised by the Air Force Station Srinagar and the Jammu and Kashmir administration as part of the ongoing celebrations commemorating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, they said. The main aim of the exercise—under the theme ‘Give Wings to Your Dream’—is to motivate the youth of the valley to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) and to promote tourism in the region, the officials said.

The event will be flagged off Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) overlooking Dal Lake.

More than 3,000 college and school students are expected to participate in the programme to witness the impressive manoeuvres of the IAF, which will motivate them to dream about a career in the force and in the aviation sector, the officials said. “The show will also develop passion among the students to give wings to their dreams. Along with the students, 700 teachers will also be present at the venue,” they added.

During the demonstration, students will also be familiarised with the new technological advancements achieved and incorporated by the IAF while flying aircraft in the sky over the world-famous Dal Lake, the officials said. Stalls will be established at SKICC where students will be familiarised with the achievements of the Air Force, employment opportunities in the IAF, recruitment rules and eligibility criteria, they added.

Srinagar-based PRO Defence Col Emron Musavi said the display will include flypast by various aircraft of the IAF. The spectators would also get to witness paramotor flying and IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga in action. ‘Ambassadors of IAF’, Suryakiran Aerobatic Display Team, will be performing in the valley after a gap of 14 years, he said. Col Musavi said the symphony orchestra of the IAF would also be performing at the event. The event would also consist of a photo exhibition depicting the history of the

IAF, he said. 

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Defence

ARMY ORGANISES EXHIBITION IN JAIPUR TO COMMEMORATE INDIA’S VICTORY IN 1971 WAR

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JAIPUR : South Western Command of the Indian Army on Saturday organised an exhibition showcasing defence equipment at Chitrakoot Stadium in Jaipur to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.

Speaking to ANI, an Indian army official said, “We have displayed the defence equipment in this exhibition to make people aware of the Indian army achievements. We want to motivate the youth by showcasing these types of equipment.” “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, these events had been started to make people aware of Indian Arm Forces. So, we are also continuing the move by organising these kinds of events,” he added.

Further, he said that India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war is memorable for all the Indians, so, every citizen should be aware of this war.  

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Defence

BRO makes history, appoints woman Army officer in-charge of road construction unit

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The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has appointed a woman Army officer for the first as the Officer Commanding of its 75 road construction company (RCC) in Uttarakhand, the Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

The three platoon commanders under Major Aaina, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K became the first women RCC. The appointments were made on August 30.

BRO on Sunday recalled the list of women officers who were assigned higher leadership roles in the organisation in the current year.

According to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry, BRO has inducted a large number of women into its workforce over the years, right from officers to the level of commercial pilot license holders. “In this regard, a General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) officer EE (Civ) Vaishali S Hiwase took over the reins of 83 Road Construction Company on April 28, employed on an important Indo-China road connecting Munisairi-Bughdiar-Milam, in an area full of adversity and challenges. The lady officer has taken control and is leading the charge with meticulous execution of her tasks,” the statement said.

“The BRO created history again on 30 August when Major Aaina of Project Shivalik took charged as Officer Commanding, 75 Road Construction Companies (RCC) at Pipalkoti in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. She is the first Indian Army Engineer Officer to command a road construction company. Not only this, all three platoon commanders under her, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K are lady officers and they have together created a first-ever women RCC. The Border Roads plans to make four such all women-led RCCs, two each in North Eastern and Western Sectors.”

As India celebrates 75 Years of Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it also celebrates the ongoing efforts of our Nation towards women empowerment. Women today have started assuming their rightful, equal place as the frontrunners in nation-building and representatives of our strong national character, the statement read.

Over the last six decades, in a graduated and steady manner, the BRO has increased the number of women employed in various roles and duties of road construction. A consolidated effort is being made to empower them by giving them authority and responsibilities to undertake work independently. These women have become symbols of Nari Shakti in their respective areas.

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Defence

IN FIRST FOREIGN VISIT AFTER TAKING OVER AS CDS, GEN BIPIN RAWAT TO VISIT RUSSIA, US

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In his first visit abroad after taking over as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat will be visiting Russia and the US.

Rawat took over his new office as CDS on 31 December 2019, and since then has been declining foreign invitations for focusing on the new assignment of integrating the defence forces as a combined fighting force. “There is a conference of the CDS-rank officers of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement member countries. China and Pakistan are also part of this grouping,” senior defence officials said.

The CDS conference would be focusing on addressing the regional security issues and Afghanistan is also likely to come up for discussion, they said.

The CDS would also witness the activities of the respective armed forces taking part in the SCO peace mission drills being held in Russia. Indian Army and Air Force are also taking part in the exercise there.

The visit will take place in the coming week and soon after return from Russia, Rawat would be leaving for the US for meeting his counterpart and other American military leadership at the Pentagon.

The two countries have been coming closer militarily in the last few years and have been holding multiple military exercises and hardware cooperation.

The Indian military saw a major change in senior-level structures under the Narendra Modi government as the focus is now on the theatrisation of the fighting forces and bringing in more capabilities and jointness among the three services. 

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