Sunday, August 16, 2020

Nuggets by Leaders and Managers

Situation: When a leader takes a decision that is against contemporary wisdom, but within the leader's authority. 

Nugget: Put the gun on your shoulder, and fire; no body will question you, if all goes well.

My Understanding/ Learning: Be ready to take the recoil, if things go wrong; why does one need leaders, otherwise? Leaders without courage of conviction, are no leaders; they are mere cogs in the wheel, who maintain status quo, at best. Leaders inspire, and lead humans and change the status quo, through conviction and personal example; managers manage resources; humans are best led, not managed. 

                                                                        - Then Wg Cdr Niteen Gupte, CO 27 Sqn, 1987

Situation: When a leader gives a piece of advice to his subordinate leader on his role in the organisation.

Nugget: You will be respected for your appointment, but you must respect the others for their seniority.

My Understanding/ Learning: In every organisation, there will always be people working who are senior, in length of service, to the leader; they will always respect you for your chair, but you must respect them for their age/ work/ experience/ contribution to the organisation, to name a few. Personal experience taught me that this is the best advice for a young leader in any organisation

                                                                   - Then Air Cmde Viney Kapila, AOC, Ambala, 1991

Situation: When you want to add something additional to an already running, and tight schedule, but do not have the luxury to increase the time allotted for the same.

Nugget: Please do not add anything of value, without first reducing something of least value to the programme, in view of the changed circumstances, in terms of time. Adding an additional 10 hours of great value to a 1000 hour schedule, would demand reduction of 10 hours of something of least value, first.

My Understanding/ Learning: This is ideal for academic programmes that are already crammed into a schedule, and some new lessons have to be added without extending timelines of completion. This is critical to ensure learning, without an overload, which is always detrimental to learning.

                                                    - Then Air Cmde B K Pandey, HOTT (Air), DSSC, Wellington

Saturday, August 1, 2020

India - China Impasse - India's Strategic Options


Background Information

China’s unilateral, and belligerent misadventure along the Tibet – India border led to a deceitful and violent event at Galwan, which led to the loss of 20 Indian lives, without a single shot being fired; an event that has had a strategic impact on the India - China dynamics; from the one of friendly informal summits at Wuhan and Mahabalipuram between Modi and Xi, to a frosty political equation between the two largest neighbours in Asia. India has always pursued a policy of peace with China, in keeping with the 1993, and subsequent agreements, which have effectively been nullified by the Chinese brutal actions at Galwan.
Militaries of both sides are deployed in strength in close proximity of each other. As per all indications, the India – China confrontation on the border is likely to persist for a long duration, due to the Chinese intransigence to restore status quo ante. Moving from ‘status quo’ to ‘status quo ante’ is the basic requirement for preventing the situation from deteriorating further. Talks are continuing at the military and diplomatic levels to diffuse the situation. Lack of trust has led to very slow progress in the disengagement process, as every step of the process needs to be verified. In the words of EAM Jaishankar, “What’s just happened is that we have agreed on the need to disengage because the troops on both sides are deployed very close to each other.” “So there is disengagement and a de-escalation process which has been agreed upon. It has just commenced. It’s very much work in progress. At this point, I really wouldn’t like to say more than that.”

Attempt to Understand Chinese Belligerence

War may be averted this time, if the talks are successful, but 2020 is a wake-up call for India to plug the gaps that permit such acts on our sovereignty and self respect. Why did China go belligerent? As per Dhruva Jaishankar, “There are a few potential theories as to what exactlyhas changed in China’s foreign policy — they could be considered opportunisticassertiveness, imperious assertiveness, reactive assertiveness, and insecureassertiveness.” Whatever be the reason, opportunism, or insecurity, this Chinese assertiveness is not likely to go away, considering the over centralised nature of governance and decision making in China. It is a given that India does not wish to compromise on its sovereignty or self respect. To ensure the above, India will have to clearly define its national interests, and thereafter be resolute to safeguard them, which would entail building the needed military capability, besides taking other needed actions that are based on other tools of state craft, viz, political, diplomatic, economic or technological.

China’s Economic Leap

Chinese belligerence is a direct result of their growing economic, industrial, technological and military might. Deng Xiaoping, the man who took over after the death of Chairman Mao Tse Tung in 1976, is attributed with exhorting the Chinese to “Hide your strength, bide your time, never take the lead.” This posture has helped the Chinese grow their industrial, technological strength, which in turn led to economic growth and military capability, in a relatively non confrontational and supportive international environment. China, under Deng’s leadership, initiated economic reforms and trade liberalisation in the late 70s, implementing free-market reforms in 1979, which opened the country to foreign trade and investments, leading to a GDP growth that the World Bank described as “the fastest sustained expansion by a major economy in history”, making China the second largest economy in the world. China has become the world’s largest economy (on a purchasing power parity basis), manufacturer, merchandise trader, and holder of foreign exchange reserves. The growth of the Chinese GDP over the years is an indication of the distance that China has covered from the year 1970 to 2019. GDPs for the USA and India are also given, as a means of comparing the Chinese achievement. While India was 62.5% of the Chinese economy in 1970, it grew to being 81.9% in 1990, but is only about 20.8% of the Chinese economy in 2019. Also, China was 8.5% of the US economy, but grew to be nearly 66% of the US economy in 2019. The figures in the table are in billions of US$.

India, % of China
China, % of USA
India, % of USA

Relative growth of the US, Chinese and Indian GDPs over the years

Chinese Growth Story

Chinese Exports/ Oil Imports

This exponential Chinese growth has largely been fuelled by imported oil, the demand for which has been growing over the years. In 2017, China became the largest importer of oil for the first time, surpassing the USA. In 2019, China was the largest importer of oil as well as the largest exporter of goods; Chinese oil imports stood at US$238.7 billion; Chinese exports stood at US$ 2.498 trillion. A major part of this trade and the oil imports pass through the Indian Ocean region (IOR). More importantly, about 80% of the imported oil passes through the choke point of the Malacca Straits, on way from the Indian Ocean to its Chinese destinations.

Indian Ocean Region, Malacca Straits
Image Credit: Google Images

Malacca Straits

The Malacca straits, located beween the IOR and the Pacific ocean, link the major economies of China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, etc to West Asia. It is the most important & most used shipping channel from both, an economic as well as a strategic perspective. A large number of heavily laden vessels cross these straits on a daily basis, carrying 80% of the oil transported to North and East Asia as well as one third of the world’s traded goods including Chinese exports/ imports. The straits are narrow, and narrow down to about 2.8 kms width, in the shipping lanes around Singapore, creating one of the shipping “traffic chokepoints”.

The “Malacca Dilemma”

In 2003, President Hu Jintao had identified this vulnerability, as also the need to mitigate its grave consequences, during any conflict. He described it as China’s “Malacca Dilemma.” China’s end-goal is to circumvent this crucial vulnerability, in order to safeguard its energy and economic security. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that was launched in 2013, besides attempting to boost the Chinese economic activity; putting the large foreign exchange reserve to work; as also putting to use the vast overcapacity in infrastructure-related industries in China, is also an attempt to overcome the Malacca dilemma, in  addition to the Chinese geo-political and military considerations.

Seeking Alternate Lines of Communications

 The associated projects in the form of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), string of pearls in the IOR; projects to secure port facilities in Myanmar, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Horn of Africa, Gwadar, and the most recent - Chabahar, are all attempts to safeguard/ find alternate land routes/ pipe line transfer terminals for its crucial oil supplies, which are the heart of the Chinese growth engine and energy security. There are proposals to develop two land-bridges and oil pipelines – linking ports on the west and east coasts of the Malay Peninsula in Malaysia. The proposal of constructing a canal across the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula, in southern Thailand, known as Isthmus of Kra, has been facing political resistance. This is being pursued through various channels. Thus there is a future possibility of this Panama canal like, Kra canal, coming in to existence in to Southern Thailand, under Chinese control. China has also expressed interest in Arctic shipping routes along the Northern Sea Route and through straits located south of Malacca straits. These would add time and cost to the shipments but their feasibility amidst challenges of climate, lack of infrastructure, navigability, etc, have/ are being studied.

Oil and Gas Pipeline links to China

The Chinese government has taken a number of steps to reduce the country’s over-reliance on the Strait of Malacca. These include the Kazakhstan-China Pipeline, which brings in oil from the oil rich Caspian sea region, and the Myanmar-Yunnan Pipelines which siphons oil and gas from the Bay of Bengal to Yunnan, avoiding the Malacca Strait for the Kazakhstan and Burmese oil imports respectively. However, the Kazakhstan-China and Myanmar-Yunnan pipelines only provide 400,000 and 420,000 barrels a day respectively, compared to the 6.5 million China-bound barrels that pass through the Malacca straits on a daily basis. The Kyaukpyu Port which is being developed by the Chinese government in Myanmar is another alternative for China to pump the oil coming in via the IOR, by utilising the Myanmar – Yunnan pipelines. In the short to medium term however, China will have to live with the Malacca dilemma and this is one area that needs India’s full attention in case of a conflict.

India – China Face-off; Thoughts to Ponder Upon

Relative Strengths and Vulnerabilities

China scores over India in most facets of national power; be it economic, technology, industrial strengths; indigenous defence industrial production of all air, ground, surface and sub surface platforms, weapon systems and missiles. India’s gdp is 1/5th that of China; our defence industrial production is not able to sustain our needs and most of Indian air assets and weapons are imported, leading to vulnerability in war. India’s active military strength in absolute numbers is less than the PLA, but the Indian military is more battle tested and is a professional, volunteer force, whereas the PLA has last fought a battle in 1979; is composed of mostly one-child policy soldiers at the field level, most of whom are conscripted for a 2 year term. Considering that the IA and IAF are both deployed in strength at the Tibet – Indian boundaries, the Indian armed forces will be able to prevail in a short, limited war. However, wars of longer duration would need to be undertaken smartly, by hitting at the Chinese vulnerabilities in the IOR and the Malacca straits.

Proposed India’s Immediate Actions

Efforts to prevent a war must continue with an aim to restore the status quo ante. However, this seems highly unlikely, in the short term, without some major push in the form of collective diplomatic, economic, political, and military effort by the countries that are most impacted by the Chinese belligerence, which includes India, Japan, Australia, ASEAN countries, Taiwan and the US. Thus India must continue to be operationally deployed to thwart any further misadventure by the PLA. India needs to stock up and be logistically prepared to stay deployed in full force at the operational locations, even through the harsh winter months at those altitudes. The political leadership, in consultation with the military, has to have a ‘not beyond’ date, to restore the status quo ante. Talks are important, but the end state of status quo ante is more important, as decided. This ‘no war, no peace’ situation can last long and thus it is important to not let the guard down, and should be used to collect intelligence.

Collection of Intelligence Information. Intelligence on the enemy should be sought through all possible means, including satellites, airborne platforms of all organisations, and ground based assets. Human intelligence (HUMINT) assets of IA, as well as of all other organisations, specialising in HUMINT must already be in full use. Preparation for war should be done as per standard operating procedures by each service. India must build her capability in military terms, while pursuing other tools of state craft.

Economic Actions. Economically, as a first step, India must stop import of all non-essentials from China; try to encourage foreign investments, expertise and technology, as per the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, which in the words of a cabinet minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, does "not mean isolating away from the world. Foreign direct investment is welcome, technology is welcome”(….) “but a lot of it is about self-reliant India, which translates to being a bigger and more important part of the global economy." Indian supply chains need to be carefully reworked, keeping in mind its national interests. Technology wise, India has done well to ban 106 apps that are suspect due to national security issues. Also, the restrictions imposed on import of LED screens for TVs is a good step. Mukesh Ambani has announced an in-house indigenous 5G solution that is already developed and he confirmed that, “This Made-in-India 5G solution will be ready for trials as soon as 5G spectrum is available and can be ready for field deployment next year.” The govt would be well placed to allot the spectrum and ensure that the architecture meets our data security requirements. Countries like USA, UK and others opting out of the Huawei 5G may be interested in due course.

Political/ Diplomatic Actions. Politically, internally, India needs to unite as a nation; the government and the opposition leadership have to show maturity and come together in a spirit of bipartisanship on national security issues. This is crucial during this phase, when our forces are on high alert; but our political system is going at each other as if business as usual, involved in scoring petty political brownie points. The government has to take the opposition into confidence; a national security panel of eminent MPs from all parties could be a good start point, where-in information on need-to-know basis can be passed on/ discussed. Externally, India needs to politically/ diplomatically work towards a much better relationship with neighbours, especially ones that have common land or sea borders with us, and this is despite Chinese efforts at influencing them through coercion, loans, bribes to media, development projects, promises, etc. PM Modi’s remarks at the joint inauguration ceremony of the Mauritius Supreme Court building of “No conditions for our co-operation”, “History has taught us that in the name of development partnerships, nations were forced into dependence partnerships.", and China’s "global debt-diplomacy" tactics, are a good step in reminding our vulnerable neighbours about the dangers of courting the dragon.

Breakout of War

Northern Areas

In case of breakout of war, the strategy of defensive offence along the Tibet-India border would yield the most effective and efficient results. It implies holding on to what we consider ours. Relatively, defence requires much less resources to hold the ground. With the IA severely restricted in mobility, manoeuvre, target acquisition and destruction with its organic fire power, air power will have to play a vital role by taking the fight into enemy territory; carrying out various roles with an aim to hold on/ defend our own, as also going on the offensive in enemy territory with an aim to defend own troops, defences, VAs/ VPs, including airfields in the plains, through a network centric Air Defence Ground System, as well as airborne platforms, including electronic and kinetic warfare platforms. Also, undertaking offensive counter air, battlefield interdiction, battlefield air strikes, and interdiction strikes to blunt the enemy attacks by restricting PLA airpower; vital replenishment supplies, in terms of fuel, oil, lubricants, ammunition, rations, lines of communication (LoC); and troops. This would also facilitate our ground forces to re-occupy vantage positions on our understanding of the LAC. IAF does enjoy a degree of superiority in the Ladakh-Tibet region, due to reasons of geography.

Indian Ocean Region/ Malacca Straits

The strategy in the IOR should correspond to offensive defence, which implies going on the offensive to achieve our defensive national objectives. This plan should be activated as soon as war starts with an aim to utilise our advantages in geography in the region vis-à-vis the PLAN and PLAAF. ISR assets of the IN are already active and must have collected enough information on the PLAN in the IOR, as also movement of their shipping and oil tankers, through their ISR and other assets. In addition to the IN surface, airborne and sub surface assets, joint operations between the IN and IAF, would pack a substantial punch in the IOR to deter the prolongation of war. Wood Mackenzie’s latest analysis (23 Mar 2020) reveals that China’s crude stock (including strategic and commercial petroleum reserves) could reach 1.15 billion barrels in 2020, which is equivalent to 83 days of oil demand. Attacking and disrupting China’s long and vulnerable sea LoC (SLOC) therefore represents an opportunity for India, in the IOR. A large area can be covered by the IAF maritime Jaguars armed with Harpoons and Su-30MKI armed with the BrahMos, with the help of inflight refuelling through the IL-78 tankers. In addition the naval P8I platforms too can carry Harpoons and Torpedos.

Maritime Jaguar armed with the Harpoon Missile
Image Credit: Google Images


Resolving Border Disputes

India has never had any territorial ambitions but would do all it takes to safeguard its sovereignty and self respect. Chinese belligerence should be a lesson to India that informal summits do not always translate to better relations, and that formal summits and institutional frameworks, following all international protocols, are the best way forward to discuss/ resolve differences or find solutions to deep rooted legacy issues. The border settlement has been left unresolved for far too long, and needs to be mutually resolved and settled, even if it involves a mutual give and take, which until now has been considered to be political hara-kiri, as the issue is very emotive, having been kept alive by successive parliaments by passing resolutions, which translate to, ‘not an inch of Indian territory…’. However, time has come to face reality, so as to prevent ambiguity hereafter. 73 years of inaction are unpardonable, but it cannot continue to be a “work in progress” indefinitely, through generations. Our nation, and more importantly our political class, has to come together in a spirit of bipartisanship to make a realistic risk/ reward, cost/ benefit assessment, and educate the Indian people on the subject. Finally it is up to the people to decide as to how much they are willing to contribute/ sacrifice/ leave behind for future generations of Indians, by continuing with the present state of affairs.

Practical Solution to Counter China’s Belligerence

Chinese belligerence is a direct result of its economic, military, technological and industrial, including defence related industry, capabilities, and its “expansionist world view”, cloaked in strategic obfuscation/ ambiguity. China reached this state by abiding with Hu’s “Bide your time” policy. Its recent provocative and belligerent actions suggest that this policy has now been abandoned. China is a threat to countries of the region, and beyond. It can only be countered through collective effort of all affected countries. Political leaderships in the region and globally have to come together to remedy this crisis by employing all possible means of state craft, short of a world war. India being the largest Chinese neighbour will have to take the lead to show the way/ act/ build/ assist in the building of multi lateral institutions to counter this threat, growing, even as of now.

If War is Thrust on India

China’s economic and energy security vulnerabilities are primarily its SLOCs in the IOR, which gets even more acute during its passage through the Malacca straits. China has oil reserves for 83 days, as of Mar 2020. CPEC and the BRI are other large Chinese investments that are vulnerable in the Northern areas. However, unless there is a political mandate for all out war to take back Aksai Chin and POK, these are best avoided, as China is likely to put all it has to protect its lines of communications, both intra-country and inter-countries. Pitting our strengths against Chinese vulnerability in the IOR would pay better dividends, whereas in the Northern region would amount to pitting our strengths against their strengths; we do not have the wherewithal in terms of economic, infrastructure, military industrial & military assets right now. It is thus best to adopt a defensive offence strategy in the Northern theatre and an offensive defence strategy in the IOR. This gives us by far the best chance of achieving our limited political objectives.

Monday, July 27, 2020

A Belligerent China - India's Self Respect and Sovereignity

The world is at a cross road, a nation of 1.4B, with the second largest global economy; the largest active military worldwide; an all pervasive & powerful single political ideology dictated by the Chinese Communist party (CCP); and with practically all power concentrated in one man, General Secretary Xi Jinping, has gone off track threatening the peace in the region, and beyond.

It all started with the irresponsible handling by China, of the Corona virus, leading to a global spread of the pandemic. As on date (26 Jul 2020), there are 16.3 Million active cases, with 649,000 reported deaths worldwide, due to the virus. The pandemic has left the world staring at a global economic downturn and unemployment. 

As the world was dealing with the pandemic, China started its belligerent actions, first in the South and East China sea, threatening nearly all littoral states, most notably Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, & Philippines, as also any other state that wanted accountability for the pandemic to be fixed, like Australia. 

Then it turned its attention towards its borders with India and unilaterally altered the status quo that has existed for long at many locations along the LAC, suggesting that the decision was pre-meditated and made at a high level. Talks were initiated at the military and diplomatic levels to diffuse the situation. China did not honour its word of agreeing to disengage, which led to a tragic and deceitful watershed event at Galwan. It led to hardening of attitudes, and further talks. These were held at the military-diplomatic level to carry out a step by step disengagement, in a no-trust/ verify environment, which would be followed by de-escalation. These talks are hardly making any visible progress on the disengagement process, on the ground. Effectively, we are in a grey zone of a 'no war, no peace' situation. This is likely to continue to happen as long as China feels that we are incapable of defending what is rightfully ours. It happened in the 60s, it was regularised by a war in 1962 to create the Line of Actual Control, which is neither delineated, nor demarcated on ground. China will continue to creep this line westwards, as it is it's wont, after having gained the economic/ military/ technological/ industrial capabilities to do so. China wishes to be acknowledged as a great power in the Asian region, and wishes other states to defer and acknowledge this fact.

China has also laid claim to certain areas in Nepal and Bhutan too, in the meanwhile.

Both India and China are deployed in strength across the LAC, and it appears that this would be a long haul, to restore the status quo ante, which is India's primary condition for any further meaningful dialogue on resolving the border dispute. Militarily, India can hold its position in the Ladakh region in a short, limited war. However, the economic/ technological/ industrial disparity and the vastly different governance structures of the two countries will pose severe challenges on India in an all out war situation.

India and China have had very different economic growth trajectories over the years. Economic capability gives a nation the capacity to secure its national interests, in the modern world. Economic might is one of the key constituents of national power, besides others.

China initiated economic reforms and trade liberalisation in the 70s, implementing free-market reforms in 1979, which opened the country to foreign trade and investments, leading to a GDP growth that the World Bank described as “the fastest sustained expansion by a major economy in history”, making China the second largest economy in the world. China has become the world’s largest economy (on a purchasing power parity basis), manufacturer, merchandise trader, and holder of foreign exchange reserves. This in turn has made China a major commercial partner of the United States. China is now threatening the very system that fueled its meteoric rise from $91 billion in 1970 to a 14.14 Trillion economy in 2019. 

India's growth trajectory has been rather slow during the same period, due to our own internal issues, chiefly a misconceived notion of socialism, red tape, quotas and inspector raj, corruption, over reliance on import of defence equipment, poor productivity in key sectors, over reliance on public sector, be it banks, industry or services, distrust of private enterprise, outdated laws that discourage foreign investment/ procedures that stifle entrepreneurship/ systems that strangle productivity/ priorities that are misplaced & encourages mediocrity, etc. The reasons are many and each one is valid. 

However, Galwan is a wake up call for us if we wish to be counted as a self respecting and sovereign nation. China is our neighbour and is not going away any where. It system of governance will continue to be a challenge to any open and free democratic society, like India. 

What is the way forward? Nothing comes easy, or cheap. We need to rise above our personal issues of caste, religion, region, language, etc, and unite as Indian citizens. Vote for the right people for the right reasons, so that we give to ourselves representatives who are ready to frame laws that create win-win for all citizens, and governments that govern, as per the Constitution, and the laws, ensuring uniform application or rule of law.

As citizens, each one of us has to  resolve to work harder and smarter, in our respective fields to help our country prosper, to not only ensure that we can uplift nearly 1/6th of humanity, but also contribute to global peace by containing a belligerent China, which is an immediate, and long term threat.

We Indians are very emotional and patriotic, which is all very good, but our idea of patriotism is limited to lip service, and saluting the men in uniform, or shedding a tear on hearing songs like, 'aey mere watan ke logon..'. 

True patriotism is about going beyond oneself, to do what it takes in thoughts, words or actions, all in the best interest of our country; do your own job well, and also trust others to do theirs. Rhetoric/ jingoism is not patriotism. 

Why do you respect a soldier? It is for his selflessness, his willingness to give his all for something that we all hold dear to our hearts - our nation. 

Doing one's own job to the best of our ability, is not asking for too much of each one of us. This will help us prepare for the long haul.

Four typical phrases that depict our attitudes, which need change...
  • 'Chalta hai' - should not be an excuse to shun excellence.
  • 'Kal kar lenge' - time is running out, kal never comes.
  • 'Jugaad'- the negative aspects of this affects the quality of our products/ services.
  • 'Baaki sab follow karein pehle' - Do your part, irrespective. You are doing it for your self, not others.
Let us grow up, as a nation.

Jai Hind.

Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,”                                                                                                         
                                                                                                      -- John F Kennedy.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

India China Face-off; Employment of Air Power



The marathon talks of over 14 hours between the Corps Commanders of India and China, at Chushul, on the 14th of July has reportedly gathered forward traction on the disengagement process, from all the four stand-off points. As reported by the Hindustan Times of 16 Jul 2020, officials in the know stated that, “it looks like things have cooled down between the two armies and that the Chinese PLA is showing signs that it is working towards returning to the April 2020 status quo.” It also reported that the Chinese withdrawal is being verified on the ground, by both, physical observation as well as through technical intelligence. After the Galwan deceit, India must heed the time tested maxim of ‘Trust, but verify’. The step by step process of disengagement is only to build distance between the troops to prevent further clashes; this will in due course be followed by de-escalation, which will attempt to bring about a reduction in the number of troops deployed along the LAC. Considering what is happening, it is going to be a long drawn affair. The possibility of China using the disengagement/ de-escalation process to put into practice Sun Tzu’s famous quote, ‘All war is deception’ cannot be ruled out, as happened on 15 Jun 2020 at Galwan.

Galwan Face-off – A Watershed Event

15 June 2020 will go down as a watershed event, when it was discovered that Chinese were deceitful, and had no intention of disengaging and withdrawing from PP14, to their original positions; this after having agreeing to disengage at the Corps Commanders level. A violent clash followed where-in 20 Indian soldiers, including Col Santosh Babu, the CO, and unconfirmed numbers of PLA soldiers were killed in action (KIA), without a single shot being fired; unconfirmed reports put the PLA soldiers KIA at anywhere between 35 and 123. This violent clash has effectively neutralised the 1993 agreement, as also all subsequent agreements, for maintaining peace and tranquillity along the LAC. The Chinese have not declared their casualties or names of the PLA soldiers killed in action. This shows the absolute, and unquestionable, control exercised by the Chinese communist party and its leadership.

The Indian Resolve

The Galwan misadventure by the Chinese has strengthened India’s resolve to take whatever action is needed to defend its territory. Chinese military dispositions on 15 June 2020, as seen on open source satellite pictures, clearly bring out the fact that the Chinese never expected any retaliation from the Indian side, and were also not expecting to go to war. They were trying to put into practice Sun Tzu’s famous quote of ‘win without fighting’, by deceitfully occupying territory that is unresolved, and was thus far being patrolled by both sides. They never anticipated the strong Indian response, as they probably felt that Indian leadership was distracted and busy dealing with multiple internal issues, like the pandemic and successive lockdowns; impact on the Indian economy; unemployment and migrant issues, and would thus not be able, or ready, to go to war. Their calculation that India would be content to live with the new status quo, while relying on the political and diplomatic channels to resolve it; this they felt would be to their advantage, as physical occupation gives one an advantage, in case of disputed borders.

PM Modi addressing troops in Leh area
Image Credit: Google Images.

The unexpected Indian military response at the sub tactical level was a response to what is widely perceived to be a pre-meditated deceit by the PLA, after agreeing to disengagement, as also the barbaric nature of the PLA’s assault on the Indian troops, led by the CO. This news and the barbaric nature of the clash united the Indian people, who were hurt, angry, and deeply traumatised by this deceit, and wanted the govt to respond. The political leadership respecting the will of the people announced a free hand to the army in dealing with the threat. The PM’s visits to Leh/ Nimu on 03 Jul 2020, where-in he drew the analogy of Shri Krishna carrying the flute in one hand and the Sudarshan Chakra in the other. Flute represents peace and the Chakra is a symbol of destruction of adharma; Chinese unilateral actions in changing the status quo, in spite of agreements to not do so, and not adhering to the agreement on de-escalation by the Corps Commanders, are effectively acts of adharma. The PM also clarified that the era of expansionism is over in global geo-politics, and that this is an era focussed on development. Development is linked to peace The present situation corresponds to a scenario of ‘no war, no peace’; an unstable situation that is likely to persist for an extended duration. In such a situation, the military has to be ready and prepared for any eventuality, including war.

India’s National/ Strategic Objective

The military of both sides is on heightened alert, most of it at altitudes that are well above normal human physiological limits; these limits can be stretched somewhat with acclimatisation and training, though. Army is manpower intensive and its role will be very important considering the national/ strategic objective of achieving/ maintaining peace, even while not permitting Chinese expansionism/ compromising on the territorial integrity of India. India has no territorial ambitions beyond what it considers to be its legitimate borders. Thus the army would be fighting to a defensive strategy in the mountains, which impose serious challenges to mobility, manoeuvre, target acquisition, and accuracy of engaging targets with the normal ballistic fire power available with the ground forces. Also, airpower, ours as well as the enemy’s, is not subject to the challenges faced by the ground forces and thus it would be incumbent on the IAF to provide the needed protection against air attacks, through air superiority over our territory/ VAs/ VPs, etc. Thus, on this high altitude battlefield; air superiority will be the primary concern of both the army and the air force. Having achieved that to the desired degree, as needed, depending on the location, the IAF can operate in all the other roles to facilitate achievement of the national objective, in joint operations with the other services.


As the aim is limited by our national/ strategic objectives, all airpower actions will be a means to the desired end. As of now, the IAF has a qualitative edge in the area of interest, in terms of platforms and operating surfaces; the PLAAF has a quantitative edge overall, which however does not translate to an effective advantage in the Tibetan theatre. As per an analysis by Arjun Subramaniam in the ORF journal, June 2020 issue, IAF has an advantage over the PLAAF in the Tibet autonomous region (TAR), as the PLAAF, even with higher numbers “will not be able to induct fighter squadrons into TAR to create a significant force advantage. With 10–12 forward tier IAF airfields already capable of sustaining intense fighter operations, the IAF could still retain a numerical advantage in an aerial battle over TAR”. Offensive IAF air operations however would be faced with a combination of the PLAAF’s “dense air defence cover”, as also “superior EW and space-based intelligence”. Large numbers of SSM would pose a challenge to IAF’s operating surfaces, as well as to other VAs/ VPs in the theatre, and beyond. These would need to be countered to prevent damage/ loss, or re-activated to re-commence operations at the earliest.

Surveillance and Intelligence

The first challenge is surveillance and intelligence information of the enemy dispositions in terms of EW assets; AD weapons; aerial platforms, including EW and midair refuelling platforms; army formations, right down to Brigade level; C4 (command, control, communications & computer centres); lines of communications (LoC), specifically choke points and bridges, rail bridges are higher priority than road; logistics areas, storing reserve ammunition, fuel, oil and lubricants (FOL), etc through all means possible; satellite, aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, as well as through human intelligence operatives from the Tibet/ Xinkiang/ Aksai Chin regions. There is an urgent need to integrate all available sensors and capabilities; recce aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles(UAVs), indigenous space sensors, commercially sourced satellite information from friendly sources and human intelligence to provide the IAF and IA commanders with a detailed order of battle (ORBAT) of the PLA, PLAAF and other critical assets that are worth targeting. Knowing these dispositions will give an advantage in target prioritisation to achieve optimum results, in line with our strategic and national objectives. 

Defensive Counter Air (Air Defence)

The second challenge is to harness all airpower resources, be they IAF, IA, Civilian, ARC, BSF, etc under a single authority exercising absolute control as per the proven airpower employment dictum of ‘centralised control and decentralised execution’. This becomes even more critical for the AD of own territory, and own assets, as there is a need to prevent fratricide, which happens to be the most demoralising factor in war. This requirement becomes even more challenging in the mountainous terrain of the Himalayas. All airpower resources operating in the theatre will need to be very clearly assigned their tasks, by a single authority. Any resources operating outside of this authority will need to have clear rules of engagement in terms of height, speed, geographical area, and a common electronic identification protocol, as laid down. Defensive Counter air operations will need the integration of all ADGE assets as well as airborne platforms to provide the needed degree of air superiority over the theatre and beyond too, including VAs/ VPs in the plains.

Gaining and Maintaining Control of the Air

The third and most important challenge would be gain and maintain a degree of air superiority, as envisaged, for the prosecution of the air and ground war, over own territory, defensive counter air (DCA), as also over the areas of interest over the enemy territory, offensive counter air (OCA). Air superiority is desirable over own territory, including our own airfields, and other important VAs/ VPs, which includes our lines of communications, storage facilities for ammo, FOL, armoured, artillery and troop concentrations, etc. A favourable air situation would be needed over enemy territory, during specific times/ durations, when undertaking offensive missions against the PLAAF, PLA or other targets, destruction of which is critical for the successful prosecution of war. Fighter sweeps of the area of interest by our air dominance fighters like the Su-30MKI and MiG-29s; AD escorts, EW escorts, air to air refuelling tankers and AEW&C assets will all need to be employed judiciously, as needed.

An Image of a Su-30MKI air dominance fighter
Image Credit: Google Images

Air Mobility

The fourth challenge is inter & intra-theatre wide/ battlefield mobility of our own troops and logistics supplies, to re-supply/ re-inforce/ strengthen positions that need it. This is of critical importance in the mountain region where an inter valley/ across valley distance of a few kms, as the crow flies may take hours, if not days, to traverse, by other means. The IAF strategic/ tactical airlift platforms, like the C-17, C-130J, IL-76, An-32  and helicopters, like the Chinooks, Mi-26/ Mi-17/ Mi-8, Cheetahs, Dhruv can be used to airlift troops and critical items to airfields closer to the theatre/ battlefields. These resources can also be utilised for the important Casevac roles, as needed.

Image of a C-17 Globe Master
Image Credit: Google Images

Battlefield Air Interdiction

The fifth challenge is to neutralise the enemy’s ability to prosecute war by interdicting his armour, artillery, lines of communications, choke points, bridges, storage areas used to store ammo, FOL, and reserve troops before they can effectively engage with our own troops. These strikes play a crucial role in shaping the battlefield to our advantage. These are the Battlefield Air interdiction (BAI) strikes, which can be undertaken by shallow strikes across the LAC/ border on targets that are not in contact with own forces, initially just behind the contact troops of the enemy to degrade, destroy, disrupt the most immediately available troops/ supplies and slowly extending up to a distance of about 150 kms from the LAC, to deny the longer term needs of the enemy contact troops. Considering the nature of the terrain, BAI would be the most effective employment of our fighter assets in enemy territory, as this delay/ degrade/ disrupt/ destroy replenishment/ replacement of supplies, as also it stops effective reinforcement of the enemy. This will directly affect the enemy’s morale, as also the will to continue the battle. Needless to say these strikes would need to be so conducted that they can be kept safe from enemy ground AD capabilities, as also under a favourable air situation.

Battlefield Air Strikes

Battlefield air strikes (BAS) may also need to be undertaken to engage targets that are engaged in contact operations with own troops, where extra or precision fire power is needed to neutralise the target, which may not be within own army’s organic capability, due numbers, terrain, or other constraints. These could be undertaken by fixed wing fighters or attack helicopters, depending on the situation.

Force Multipliers

The last and final challenge is the deployment and employment of our limited but critical AEW&C and air to air refuelling platforms; these are going to be critical in any employment of airpower in anger, especially in the Himalayas. These would need to be based far away from the action, as also from the enemy’s reach, but yet near enough to provide effective and efficient force multiplier effect to our fighter assets. Their deployment would need to be on a random basis, to prevent the enemy from targeting them, or their effective employment, with their long range SSMs. This will demand a great amount of co-ordination and control.

Air to air refuelling by an IL-78 tanker aircraft
Image Credit: Google Images


All these challenges will need to be prioritised, depending on the situation. The surveillance and intelligence gathering is a priority and is a continuous task, more so during this ‘no war, no peace’ period. All airpower assets that can do this task, across organisations, need to be identified, and procedures worked out for their effective and efficient employment to acquire the degree of information needed to prosecute a successful air campaign. Once the war breaks out the first priority will be to ensure safety of our troops and assets from air strikes through DCA and provide a favourable air situation in our areas of interest across the LAC, through OCA. The IAF will thereafter have to orchestrate the air campaign, utilising its strengths to achieve the results that would most effectively and efficiently achieve the limited strategic/ national objectives, jointly with the other forces. It must be mentioned here that gaining and maintaining control of the air is of critical importance for the success of own ground/ surface and air operations; however, it is not an end in itself, but is just a means to achieve the end of meeting our limited national/ strategic objective in the Himalayas, against China.

This ‘no war, no peace’ is likely to continue for some time, and may also happen intermittently over the coming years, if a permanent solution is not found for the unresolved border issues. China has been reluctant to share maps of their version of the border, due to devious/ ulterior motives; there can be no other explanation for this behaviour of the Chinese. This needs to change if China is serious about living peacefully in the global order. Right now China is facing the ire of the world due to its irresponsible handling of the Corona virus, leading to its uncontrolled global spread, causing a large number of deaths. Also, besides its actions on the LAC with India, its belligerence in the South China sea has seen a noticeable increase in USN and USAF deployments in the area. Japan, Taiwan, ASEAN countries, Australia, UK, India, and other adversely affected states are taking actions that will add to the military, political, diplomatic, and economic costs to the Chinese expansionism. Chinese disregard for international law and agreements wrt Hong Kong, India, and Philippines are worrying signs emanating from a major and growing power in the Asian region. This expansionism is the direct result of the absolute power that is vested in the all pervasive Chinese Communist party in general and in Xi Jinping in particular. The world will have to come together and find ways to tackle this common threat to all of human kind, both inside, including Hong Kong, as well as outside China.

India on its part will have to take all actions needed, militarily, economically, politically, diplomatically, and technologically to safeguards its own national interests, while continuing to build an international consensus for furthering peace and development, as also against unilateral expansionism of the Chinese kind.