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Sino-Indian logjam: The Chinese three-card trick

We still need to secure further advantage in eastern Ladakh to break the logjam. The winter is our opportunity. This is the time for some engagement—direct or indirect—to destabilise PLA. The time for disengagement is far away.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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As Ladakh has got colder, Chinese have indulged in a three-card trick. Give up Finger 4. Gain Kailash Range. Retain Depsang. Natural and expected from the ever untrustworthy Chinese. However, we need to see why they are doing it and what our reaction should be. There has been no action on the battlefield except it has got colder. Let us review the situation on ground and then step back to analyse certain factors.

By now eastern Ladakh must be awfully cold. Leh reports minus 13 at night and feels like minus 2 at 1030 in the morning. Eastern Ladakh must be another 10-20 degrees less than that, depending on where you are. Heights would have snow and Pangong Tso would be more than half frozen. The wind-swept plains would be chilling the bones. There were reports that our soldiers are running short of warm clothing and equipment. There were also reports that the US had to bail us out with about 11,000 sets. Well, the reality is that our troops are well kitted and stocked with sufficient ammunition. Not only in Ladakh, but also along the LoC and in the east. That should be a total of about 2.5 lakh sets of warm clothing. So the 11,000 odd sets from the US are only small-time fillers. To put in perspective, we have been up in Siachen since the 1980s. We know what it takes there and are set for it. No sweat.

On the other hand, the perspective I get is that the Chinese are feeling the heat of the cold! Suddenly reports surfaced of enhanced Chinese causality evacuations. Catching cold? Then, one finds that Global ’Idiotic’ Times comes out with reports of buildings with oxygen and warming facilities. That is a giveaway. In high altitude, I would inhale oxygen only if I am in a HAPO (high altitude pulmonaryodema) situation. If every building they build has enhanced oxygen facility, then their troops are constantly less than acclimatized. That is survival with less than optimal battle fitness. In four tenures and innumerable high altitude visits, I have used Oxygen only thrice as a precaution – when getting in/ out of a chopper on the Glacier. It was also funny to see the Global ’Idiotic’ Times coming out with videos showcasing food delivery by drones. I suppose fresh Pangolin meat straight out of the wet market from Wuhan with the virus as a side dish was being air delivered to hardy young Han lads. After some time, I saw videos of Chinese troops hanging on to tails of mules while doing their logistics routine. What a come down to reality! In mountains, mules remain the best fail safe drones. Chinese are learning fast. In the land of Lama don’t behave like a Gama!! All Corps in in Northern Command, have a battle school. Every unit is mandatorily put through pre-induction training – hardened and weeded. The Chinese do not have any such system. Inputs indicate that the Chinese have brought in Russian speaking experts to train their troops. All the best to them. Why am I telling you all this? Our troops are very well stabilized and in a far better position than Chinese to exploit the situation. So why should reports of a three Phase dis-engagement leave me amused?

The 8th round of Sino-Indian Corps Commander-level talks were held on 05 Nov and an anodyne statement was released. In a couple of days a three stage disengagement plan surfaces in the media. Our acclaimed and regular media ‘experts’ claimed that the standoff would be over even before Deepawali! First Step. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers were to move back from their frontline deployment to a significant distance from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by both sides within one day. Second Step. Near Pangong Tso, both sides were supposed to withdraw around 30% troops every day for three days. The Indian side forming in at Finger 3 and the Chinese to go back to the East of Finger 8. Third Step. Withdraw from their respective positions from the frontline along the Southern Bank of Pangong Tso which includes the heights and territories around Chushul and Rezang La area. No mention of Depsang!

Analyse the three card trick. Dangle withdrawal from Finger 4 as a carrot. Whether the Chinese remain at Finger 4 or 8 is immaterial. It has no further tactical or strategic difference. Even virus laden bats do not live there! Get Indians off the Kailash Range in a pro quid quo. The Chusul gateway opens. Grab Kailash Range heights at the first opportunity after the Indians vacate. Maintain stance and consolidate Depsang. Go to the world and announce about the great Chinese victory—winning without fighting. Game set and match—China!

Examine the deception further. When our media is agog with the disengagement plans with our emotional analysts crying hoarse about the great sell off on Kailash Range, the Chinese media refutes that there is any plan. However after a couple of days, they come out with this great analysis that maybe the Indians are weakening and want to reach a conclusion to the conflict. That is why Indian media is discussing this. Indians are now prepared to discuss peace at Chinese terms! Typical Chinese deceptive strategy. Mind games at work. Deepawali has come and gone. Nothing further heard.

Let us for a moment think that this plan was credible and real. Who was to monitor the execution of the plan? Are we contemplating joint monitoring with untrustworthy Chinese? If we get beyond that, how do we manage the buffer zones which are to be created? By trusting the Chinese? On what basis is this plan drawn which leaves Depsang out? Who initiated it? Our media falls hook line and sinker for it.

Consider this also. Every step and turn, over the past seven decades, that we have taken with the Chinese is still being scrutinised minutely with a lens. Every conversation we have had with Pakistan is granulated. We ourselves say that what India has gained tactically on the battlefield, it has lost strategically on the summit tables. In such a situation how do we fall for such three card tricks? History will never forgive modern-day Jaichands, who take ill-informed decisions to fall for the trap.

An accommodation with China on the border and disengagement has many dimensions. Soldiers and veterans will see it emotionally through the prism of sacrifice for the territory/ advantage gained/ lost. The government will evaluate the overall situation—militarily, economically and diplomatically regarding the overall effort including maintaining a relationship with China in future—Good , Bad or ugly. The average citizen will see if India has succeeded. An international observer will see if China succeeds or not and its impact on world affairs. To arrive at a balanced decision which has far reaching proportions, with such diverse perspectives, needs informed political debate and plan at national level. An agreement other than to enforce a peaceful status quo to avoid flareups or to respond to an emergent situation is beyond the scope of military talks. There has to be political talks and understanding based on transparency. It needs trust. People need to be convinced that we have not been sold out or dealt a dummy. There must be political consensus. If a unilateral decision is taken, history will not forgive the current Prime Minister, like it has not forgotten our Prime Minister of 1962 for his folly of trusting the Chinese. So far the Government or the Army has not clarified the actual status at Depsang. Have we been pushed back or are we being blocked access? In such a situation even to contemplate to make a deal with China, without transparency or trust is being foolish. History will not forgive fools.

On the other hand our PM talks of ‘Prachand Jawab’ and ‘days of expansionism are over’ at Longewala. It was an obvious message to China. All ministries have repeatedly flagged their concerns regarding Chinese influence in day to day life and how to reduce it. We have banned Tik Tok and its siblings. We have taken a clear position against BRI and RCEP. We are leaning towards the Quad. We are preparing for an Aatmanirbhar Bharat. In any case Chinese will insist on a comprehensive dialogue to include trade and economics. Do we want to go back to China-nirbhar Bharat? Are we prepared for that? Under the conditions, does one still think that a disengagement plan is on?

There is yet another factor. As long as China is kept on the hook and is forced to commit troops and resources in a situation it can never master, the more it looks foolish. Already one sees that the Chinese balloon is a bit deflated. I have been maintaining that as long as the Virus lasts and as long as this current situation on the LAC lasts, China will continue to be in a face losing situation. So why the hurry? Moreover, if the issue is settled, China will be free to start some adventure elsewhere. Keep it there in the frozen wastes of eastern Ladakh and China will come to its senses.

China will try its mind games and try to seed disinformation as it is a habit to do so. All the hot air about teaching India a lesson has frozen in Ladakh. There was lot of talk that China will attack and capture Taiwan when the US presidential elections are on. That was supposed to be the ideal window of opportunity to capture Taiwan. The election has come and gone. There is still uncertainty in the US. Militarily, the US eyes are off the ball. The window remains open. China has not taken a single step to mount an amphibious attack on Taiwan. Hot air again.

As far as I see it, we are in a groove and prepared for the winter in High Altitude. We still need to secure further advantage in eastern Ladakh to break the logjam. The winter is our opportunity. This is the time for some engagement (direct or indirect) to destabilise PLA. The time for disengagement is far away. I hope we have a plan.

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 his blog www.gunnersshot.com.

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Defence

HAWK-I SUCCESSFULLY TEST-FIRES SMART ANTI AIRFIELD WEAPON

Ashish Singh

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In a big boost to the indigenous Hawk-i program, HAL successfully test fired a Smart Anti Airfield Weapon (SAAW) from the Hawk-i aircraft off the coast of Odisha. The indigenous stand-off weapon developed by Research Centre Imarat (RCI), DRDO is the first smart weapon fired from an Indian Hawk-Mk132. “HAL has been focusing on the Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign. The Company owned Hawk-i platform is being extensively used for certification of systems and weapons developed indigenously by DRDO and CSIR labs” said Mr. R. Madhavan, CMD, HAL.

The aircraft flown by HAL test pilots Wg Cdr (Retd) P Awasthi and Wg Cdr (Retd) M Patel executed the weapon release in a text book manner and all mission objectives were met. The telemetry and tracking systems captured all the mission events confirming the success of the trials. Mr. Arup Chatterjee, Director, Engineering and R&D, HAL said HAL is indigenously enhancing the training and combat capability of Hawk-i. HAL is in discussions with Indian Armed Forces for integration of various weapons on Hawk platform. The Hawk-i is HAL’s internally funded program offering  the Indian Armed Forces an upgrade and combat capability for the Hawk, transforming it into an Advanced Jet Trainer providing training on sensors and weapons in peacetime into a potent combat platform during conflict. The SAAW is an aircraft launched, advanced, precision strike weapon of 125 Kg category used to attack and destroy enemy airfield assets such as radars, bunkers, taxi tracks, runways within a range of 100 kms.  SAAW has been earlier successfully test fired from Jaguar aircraft.

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Navy reveals tableau for Republic Day Parade 2021

Ashish Singh

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Traditionally, the Naval Tableau paraded during Republic Day Parade is aligned with the Navy’s theme for the year. This year’s theme is Indian Navy—Combat Ready, Credible and Cohesive. The nation is also commemorating the golden jubilee of the victory in 1971 war as Swarnim Vijay Varsh. The Indian Navy proved its mettle as a credible force to reckon in 1971 war proving its combat efficiency and hence this year’s tableau aims to showcase the Navy’s stellar role as a credible force during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. The forward part of the tableau showcases the attack on Karachi harbour by missile boats. The attacks were undertaken as part of Operation Trident on 03th/ 04th Dec night and Operation Python on 8th/9th Dec night. The tableau depicts a missile boat firing the missile and also the route taken by the attacking units during both the operations as track charts on sides of the Tableau. The rear section of the tableau illustrates the Navy’s aircraft carrier INS Vikrant conducting flying operations with Sea Hawk and Alize aircraft. The air operations from Vikrant led to sizeable damage to ships and shore installations of East Pakistan and contributed immensely towards the liberation of Bangladesh.

While we celebrate our victory, The Indian Navy has also acknowledged the courage and sacrifice of the Naval personnel who wrote this glorifying chapter of the Naval history. The tableau showcases photographs of eight naval awardees of Mahavir Chakra one of which was posthumous. On the sides of the trailer are murals depicting various ships that participated in the war, commando operations (Operation X) undertaken by the Navy along with MuktiBahini and the surrender ceremony at Dhaka. While the Navy has many other operations to its credit during the 1971 war, the paucity of space on the tableau precludes showcasing all those elements. The tableau is an attempt to highlight the most significant aspects of Naval operations conducted during 1971 war and pay rich tributes to those who were involved in these. I sincerely hope the Naval tableau would evoke the spirit of pride and patriotism amongst the audience witnessing the parade and a sense of nostalgia amongst those who participated.

INDIAN NAVY AT REPUBLIC DAY 2021

Naval Band: World renowned brass band of the Indian Navy led by Sumesh Ranjan, Master Chief Petty Officer (Musician) Class II.

Marching Contingent: Naval Contingent of 96 young sailors, proudly led by Lt Cdr Lalit Kumar as Contingent Commander and Lt Cdr Sune Phogat, Lt Aditya Shukla and Sub Lt Agastya Chaudhary as Platoon Commanders.

Indian Navy Tableau: The tableau being paraded is in pursuance with the Tri-Service theme “Swarnim Vijay Varsh”. The Tableau commanders are Lt Cdr CS Ruben and Lt Cdr Surbhi Sharma. The Indian Navy proved its mettle as a credible force to reckon in 1971 war proving its combat efficiency and hence this year’s tableau aims to showcase the Navy’s stellar role as a credible force during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

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IAF VICE CHIEF VISITS CAW, DRDO HYDERABAD AND AIR FORCE ACADEMY

Ashish Singh

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Air Marshal H.S. Arora, Vice Chief of the Air Staff (VCAS) visited College of Air Warfare (CAW), Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Missile Complex DRDO Hyderabad and Air Force Academy on Friday. On his arrival at Air Force Station Begumpet, he was received by Commandant, College of Air Warfare, who apprised him of various courses being conducted at CAW. During his visit to CAW, the VCAS delivered a talk on contemporary situation to the Course Officers undergoing prestigious Higher Air Command Course (HACC). He also interacted with the directing staff and impressed upon the necessity of Op readiness and expectations from future leadership of Indian Armed Forces. The Air Marshal visited Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Missile Complex, DRDO, Hyderabad. Mr. MSR Prasad, Distinguished Scientist and Director General, Missiles and Strategic Systems along with Dr Dashrath Ram, Director DRDL and. BHVS Narayana Murthy, Director RCI updated the progress on DRDO projects related to IAF.

During his visit to the various technology centres at RCI, the Air Marshal undertook review of MRSAM system which is soon to be inducted in the IAF. He interacted with senior scientists of RCI and DRDL. He emphasised on the need for indigenous and mission mode development of missiles and weapon systems. He also assured scientists of full cooperation and support from IAF for the indigenous R&D efforts by DRDO. At Air Force Academy, the VCAS was received by Air Marshal IP Vipin, Commandant Air Force Academy. He was given a detailed presentation on the training activities being undertaken at the Academy. During his visit to AFA, the VCAS inspected and reviewed progress of various critical infrastructure projects being developed at AFA. He also flew a sortie on Pilatus PC-7 Trainer Aircraft and Hawk Aircraft. Pilatus PC-7 trainer and Hawk aircraft have significantly transformed ab initio and intermediate flying training of Pilots in the Indian Air Force.

Apart from imparting training to the fighter pilots of IAF, Hawk aircraft is also used by ‘Suryakiran’ the aerobatic team of IAF. The Air Marshal lauded the relentless efforts and sincere hard work of the Officers and Airmen of Air Force Academy in the process of transforming young Cadets into professional competent Military Officers.

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Defence

MILITARY INSTITUTE TECHNOLOGY CELEBRATES 10TH RAISING DAY

Ashish Singh

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The Military Institute Technology (MILIT), Girinagar, Pune, celebrated the 10th Raising Day earlier this week. Few events were undertaken in scaled down manner in view of Covid-19.

Addressing, the staff at MILIT on the occasion, AVM Vivek Rajhans, VSM, Commandant, recalled achievements of the Institute through the past year and acknowledged the efforts of MILIT in ensuring conduct of training for tri-service officers even in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other events organised include a lecture by Vice Adm R Hari Kumar, AVSM, VSM, on ‘Theaterisation of the Armed Forces’ which was delivered online and attended by over 150 tri-service officers.

The Institute also undertook a tree plantation drive with the help of Mr Raghunath Maruti Dhole, of Devrai foundation, where in over 650 native trees were have been planted in two separate locations, which would be developed into a ‘Ghann Vann’ (mini dense forest) and a ‘Dev Rai’ (Sacred Grove).

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INS MUMBAI: 20 YEARS OF GLORIOUS SERVICE TO NATION

The ship has been at the forefront of major naval operations like 2002 Op Parakram, 2006 Op Sukoon, helping evacuate Indian, Nepalese and Sri Lankan citizens from Lebanon, and 2015 Op Rahat, evacuating Indian and foreign nationals from Yemen.

Ashish Singh

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INS Mumbai, a frontline guided missile destroyer of the Indian Navy celebrated her 20th anniversary on 22 January. The ship’s association with Mumbai city is unique as it is the only IN ship stationed at her namesake city.

The ship has an extremely illustrious lineage and rich legacy of dominance at sea since her first avatar of HCS Bombay in 18th century. Of the fifteen ‘Bombays’, preceding the present one, nine were warships. The tenth one is named after “Mumbai” in tune with change in nomenclature of the city. 

The ship’s motto is “Aham Prayptam Tvidametesam Balam”, which translates to “I am Invincible”, resonates with the spirit of the  city. The ship’s crest also draws inspiration from the City depicting the main gateway entrance to the Bombay Castle Barracks commissioned in 1951 in the honour of great Maratha Admiral Kanhoji Angre. 

INS Mumbai, built indigenously at Mazagon Dock, is the latest of three P-15 class destroyers and was commissioned by the then Governor of Maharashtra Dr P.C. Alexander. Since commissioning, the ship has rendered yeoman service to the nation and has always excelled in all her endeavours. She was adjudged the ‘Best Ship’ thrice and the ‘Most Spirited Ship’ twice which is a rare feat for any warship.

With a displacement of over 6500 tons, the ship is manned by 350 sailors and 40 officers. The majestic ship spanning 163 metres in length, 17 metres at the beam, propelled by four gas turbines is capable of achieving speeds in excess of 32 knots.  Fitted with an enviable, state-of-the-art weapons suite, which includes Surface to Surface Missiles, Surface to Air Missiles, Anti-Submarine rockets and torpedoes, the ship can unleash lethal firepower upon the enemy. The ship also operates all kinds of helicopters in the naval inventory, which are its extended eyes and ears.

The ship has been at the forefront of major Naval Operations like Op Parakram (2002), Op Sukoon (2006: evacuation of Indian, Nepalese and Sri Lankan citizens from Lebanon) and Op Rahat (2015: evacuation of Indian and foreign nationals from Yemen). 

With an aim of fostering greater understanding of combat-potential and synergising the available means and resources of the armed forces, the ship is affiliated to Maratha Light Infantry Regiment of the Indian Army. The raison d’etre of the affiliation is to produce a battle winning combination in war.

Interestingly, various parts of the ship have been christened after iconic locales in the city of Mumbai. To name a few, the entrance to the ship is called the ‘Gateway’, dining halls are called ‘Khau Galli’, and the Flag staff light is called ‘Prongs Lighthouse’. Tucked away like ‘Virar’ in one corner is the Quarterdeck, while the Helo deck is known as ‘Sahar Airport’ and the awe-inspiring panoramic view from the ship’s bridge is referred to as ‘Malabar Hill’.

To commemorate her 20th anniversary, various events like blood donation camp, tree plantation drive and a run between two prominent locations of Mumbai; Girgaon Chowpati to JK Kapur Chowk, Worli, where, the ship’s model is installed, were conducted.

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Defence

INDIAN NAVY UNDERTAKES MEDICAL EVACUATION FROM MERCHANT SHIP

Ashish Singh

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On 21 January, based on an input received regarding a medical emergency onboard a Singapore flag merchant vessel MV Eagle Tampa received at the Joint Operations Center at Headquarters Western Naval Command, a Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) was executed by the Indian Navy. The ship, which was 18 nautical miles off the coast of Mumbai, reported a patient, Geetha Selvaraja, a 34-year-old Malaysian citizen, to be suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease and was experiencing difficulty in breathing.

Attempts by ship‘s agent JM Baxi & Co to transfer the patient to a tug failed due to high swell in the area. The patient being unconscious, also added to the complexity of the transfer. Following confirmation of two failed attempts to transfer the patient to the tug, an Indian Naval Seaking helicopter from INS Shikra was scrambled for MEDEVAC.

The helicopter picked up the patient from the ship and returned to INS Shikra. The patient was then transferred to Saifee hospital by private ambulance.

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