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WHY CHINA IS HITTING FAST FORWARD ON MODERNISING PLA

Beijing’s recent bid to modernise the PLA speaks a lot of the nation’s goals, its strengths as well as its weaknesses. However, given the Dragon’s ruthless ambition, India should closely monitor its activities to develop appropriate strategies.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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The Chinese White Paper on Defence, July 2019 (China’s National Defence in the New Era), lays down the following goals: Generally, achieve mechanisation by 2020 with significantly enhanced informationisation and greatly improved strategic capabilities. Comprehensively advance the modernisation of military theory, organisational structure, military personnel, and weaponry and equipment in step with the modernisation of the country and basically complete the modernisation of national defense and the military by 2035. And, fully transform the people’s armed forces into world-class forces by the mid-21st century.

The PLA has been urged recently to modernise theories, organisation and weapons to reach its 2027 centennial goal, and “to achieve the goal, the Chinese military should accelerate the integrated development of mechanisation, informatisation and intelligentisation, while boosting the speed of modernisation in military theories, organizations, personnel and weapons and equipment”. Xi Jinping has exhorted his army ‘not to fear death’ and ‘prepare to win wars’ when addressing military commanders. Other reports corroborate these statements. In addition, ever since May, Xi Jinping has been exhorting troops to be prepared for wars.

What has changed in a year and a half that China has preponed its timelines by more than a decade? The Communist Party Central Committee says that China is still in a period of important ‘strategic opportunity’, as the world is ‘undergoing changes unseen in a century’. The White Paper spoke of this strategic opportunity period. When the Wuhan virus broke out, Xi Jinping stated the period of strategic opportunity was over. It appears to have re-opened. China seems to sense that, in case it has to grab this opportunity, it must have a strong military ready at hand. In short, Xi Jinping seems to be taking China to war. Why? With whom? When? Are these new goals for PLA realistic? What are the implications for India? These are some of the questions we need to answer. I might be off the mark in this analysis which I have attempted from ‘square one’ but I do not think by much.

Why do countries go to war? It is a fundamental question. There could be many reasons why countries fight with one another. However, there are several major reasons for war between nations. There can be economic gains, where a country could aspire to take control of another country’s wealth or force it into an economic bargain. There could be territorial gains, where a country might decide that it needs more land, either for living space, agricultural use, or other purposes and start expanding forcibly. It could also be a territorial dispute it wants to settle by force. Then, there are matters of religion, ideology and/or ethnicity. These aphrodisiacs often lead to war and history is a testimony to it. Nationalism also propels countries to war to prove ‘who is the boss’ through aggression. This often takes the form of an invasion. Revenge, punishment, redressing a grievance, or striking back also make for a good cause for waging wars. It also relates to nationalism and to restore pride and spirit. Countries could enter into a war to defend themselves from aggression. Countries also resort to aggression to teach adversaries a lesson through punitive wars. While many more reasons could lead to war, research indicates that 58% of wars are over ‘prestige’ or ‘standing’. Revenge accounts for 10%. Material aggrandizement accounts for just 7%. The point to note is that proving ‘who is the boss’ causes more than half of the conflicts. Research also indicates that an authoritarian or totalitarian regime, status quo disruption, confidence in success, perception of opportunity, threat, injustice, will to fight and surprise are all good triggers or aggravators for war.

Why should China go to war? As the world is ‘undergoing changes unseen in a century’ China feels that it has stabilised, is already in the post-virus period and is in an ideal position to make the best of the instability all around. While it can gain economic ascendancy, it can only exploit the strategic opportunities and become the ‘boss’ through war or being prepared for it. Most causes, except religion and ethnicity, fit China strategically. China exhibits a remarkable appetite for territorial expansion through salami slicing. In India, we are most familiar with it. Its major territorial ambitions are encapsulated in an article which propagates that China has to fight six inevitable wars this century—unification of Taiwan (2020-2025), recovery of South China Sea Islands (2025-2030), recovery of Southern Tibet (2035-2040), recover of Diaoyutai and the Ryukyus (2040-2045), unification of Outer Mongolia (2045-2050), and recovery of territory seized by Russia (2055-2060). Protection and opening economic interests and overseas assets (including BRI) and resource security are good reasons it will fight for. If ever its Communist ideology is threatened, it will go to war as it did during the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Nationalism is a huge factor too. The Han supremacy, Middle Kingdom mentality, rejuvenation of the Chinese dream, denial of their rightful place in the World Order, superpower ambitions, diversion from internal problems—they are all issues to propel China to exhibit a ‘who is the boss’ attitude. Nationalism could be stoked to divert attention from internal issues. China has undertaken a punitive war against Vietnam in the past. China also seeks revenge against what it considers a century of humiliation. The fact that the Communists instigated civil war for a good part of this century and caused famines leading to about 40-50 million deaths is part of their selective national amnesia. Every war or conflict it has entered into is termed defensive. Viewed in an overall sense, modern China will never go into war with a single reason. There has to be a multiplicity of reasons to enable its vault to the strategic apex. The ultimate equation is for settling ‘who is the boss’. And the misadventure into Eastern Ladakh falls clearly in this category.

When will China go to war? China and the CCP cannot afford a loss. It will never enter a war it cannot win or show as a win. China will wage war when it sees itself winning at least cost. Hence, the Chinese economy should be strong enough to prepare and support the PLA in conflict, as well as withstand the post-conflict consequences. The PLA must be fully modernised and trained to be made capable of winning. There is a huge Xi Jinping factor too. He wants to eventually exit as the greatest Chinese leader in history. He wants to see China as the reigning superpower in his lifetime – the biggest player in the history of the world. That is only feasible if the PLA is modern and strong enough to ward off threats. It could also be an issue related to his health. After all, during the height of the Wuhan virus crisis, Xi Jinping went missing for a fortnight. It could also be the thought that China should become a superpower before it ages. Put all these issues together, and bingo! Preponing the PLA modernisation goal posts is the rabbit out of the hat.

Who will it go to war with? China will hereafter go to war to realise its core interests or achieve its strategic ambitions of showing ‘who is the boss’. In the evolving geostrategic situation, China is most likely to go to war with the USA, India or to annex Taiwan. The time for small fry actions like sinking Vietnamese fishing boats or coercing ASEAN is over. China will never take the USA head on, even when fully modernised. It will avoid a debilitating all out conflict. Any war with the USA will be near its shores where it will have a decisive winning advantage. As PLA modernises, it might be emboldened to take on the USA further away. In any case, it must be an indirect low threshold conflict. China will seek a tactical conflict to accrue a strategic outcome. Ideally, it will like to marginalise the USA in the Indo-Pacific theatre even without fighting. That model exists. It built the artificial islands in the South China Sea when the USA was busy twiddling thumbs. Any such action will be construed as a victory for the ‘boss’. China will endeavour to teach India a lesson in a punitive war after Doklam and Eastern Ladakh. It will strive to settle the border on its terms. Territorially, it covets Arunachal Pradesh. Economically, India must be coerced to open its markets. Simultaneously, the Indian effort at self-sufficiency must be scotched lest it pose a threat to China’s economic supremacy. India being the weaker partner in the Indo-US threat will have to be dealt with militarily in a conclusive manner. Most importantly, putting India in place means non-interference in CPEC and its reach into the warm waters of the Gulf. A head-on confrontation of a limited nature with clear outcomes is on the table. If an emerging power like India is defeated and a declining power like the US is marginalised, who is the boss? QED.

The Taiwan annexation will rejuvenate the Chinese nation after achieving the One China dream. Hence, gobbling up Taiwan will remain high on the agenda too. The strategic calculation will be that a polarised USA will be busy internally and hence not be able to intervene in any Taiwan conflict. If adequate steps are taken to marginalise the US in achieving the One China dream, who is the boss?

What is the reality check on PLA? It is one thing to prepone dates of modernisation and another thing to realise it. If PLA is to fully modernise in seven years, the budgets will be huge. Will the Chinese economy, even if it is recovering well, be able to afford it? It needs to be seen. Even if you can afford it, can the PLA be built into such a war machine? Even the production of an aircraft carrier from the keel upwards will take up the seven years till 2027. How about induction, manning and training? The Chinese are up on technology but very far behind on terrain adaptation and human capital. The geostrategic construct has also changed. If it has to overcome India, it has to be in the Himalayas only. Having locked horns with India in the Himalayas, it has come short. The situation is degenerating into an LOC like situation. Hence, the PLA has to reorient its defence and modernisation plans significantly. Overall system entropy will not permit PLA to grow in every sphere. There is also a huge factor of unproven technology and untested weapons of war. The reliance on technology beyond a point in war is fraught with problems. In the Gulf wars, missile failure rates were upwards of 50%. Technology alone will not deliver on the battlefield, even in an era of multi-domain wars.

Another major problem of the PLA will be human capital or an acute lack of it. When Xi Jinping exhorts the PLA ‘not to fear death’ and ‘prepare to win wars’ by training hard in realistic conditions, he has exposed its raw nerve. I do not see Modi or Biden asking their troops ‘not to fear death’. Sacrifice and death are part of the DNA of the professional armed forces of the USA and India. In the PLA, it is clearly not so. Very importantly, eastern Ladakh has broken the halo of an ‘invincible’ PLA and exposed its limitations. The Chinese ability to absorb losses publicly is also low.

There is a major social issue as well. China has lifted millions out of poverty and life spans have increased. Additionally, the pension system in China is very weak. There is resentment and anger in the country. The one child policy and weak pension policy has ensured that all old people with long lives must be dependents on their only children. This is now an irreversible phenomenon, at least in this century. Who will send their sole bread-earners to die in war? Six pensionless old people depend on one working child. If that conscripted child dies in war, how will they survive? So, when Xi Jinping exhorts his army ‘not to fear death’, it indicates a huge hole in human capital. Winning wars is, at the end, a human endeavour with sagas of blood, guts and glory. China might have also grown too used to the comforts of life to fight wars in adverse conditions. That also explains the Global Times propaganda about heated barracks, hot water for troops, oxygenation, drone supply, medical facilities, superior clothing, etc. The quality of soldiers is totally suspect. This whole posturing by the CCP could be absolute external propaganda, while informing their own population that they are going to be invincible. It seems to be a major ploy to stay in power. The reality check clearly indicates that the PLA will not modernise to the extent it says so.

What should India do? The major issue which should not be lost sight of is that the CCP and Xi Jinping make a lethal combination with unbridled ambition. India and the USA stand in its path. They will do everything they can to undermine and destroy us. We should be aware of that. Do not underestimate China. India should therefore closely monitor the PLA’s progress in modernisation and Chinese political posturing to develop response strategies. Simultaneously, it should progress its own modernisation on a time-bound basis. While we do not have to compete with China, we cannot afford procrastination in modernising and integrating our armed forces. A major part of India’s response is to make China look inwards at Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. That is our low cost, best effect option. It is beyond doubt that India should work with democracies to form security arrangements which will deter China from any misadventure. Very importantly, all this is possible only if we succeed in building an Aatmanirbhar Bharat, after conclusively decoupling from China.

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 indigenization 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

‘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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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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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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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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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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