Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

[This follows from an earlier post: “Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface”]

News from India-China border isn’t very encouraging. Last month end situation became volatile in eastern Ladakh after India thwarted a Chinese attempt to occupy Indian territory near Pangong Tso. As it stands, India has occupied a number of strategic heights on the southern bank of the lake and strengthened its presence in other areas in the region. India has also rushed in additional troops and military hardware to the region.

The diplomatic and military level talks to ease tensions have failed. Also, nothing worthwhile emerged from the interaction between the Defence Ministers on the sidelines of the SCO Defence Ministers Meeting in Moscow on September 4, 2020. The probability of the success of a similarly planned meeting between the External Affairs Ministers scheduled on September 10, 2020 hovers closer to zero than 1. The reasons are understandable. India, having occupied positions of tactical advantage in Ladakh will be approaching the dialogue with a little more bargaining power than it usually does. China might want this status to change before discussing contentious border issues. Besides, unlike the Indian representatives who are empowered to take decisions, the Chinese representatives at such meetings are not authorised to take decisions.

Meanwhile, following reports of Chinese troops firing warning shots in Ladakh, troops on either side are on the razor’s edge. There are ominous signs that after having made relentless vain attempts at negotiating peace, the political leadership on both sides might pass on the baton to the military to ‘handle’ the issue.

‘War-mongering’? May be. Or, is it ‘wisdom’? Wisdom wrung out of the experience of 1962, which points at the dire need of military preparedness of a high order and readiness to deal with a belligerent neighbour.

Among others, one dimension of military preparedness is existence of support infrastructure along the border. Several projects related to new construction (and development of old ones) of roads, runways, helipads, ammunition dumps, logistics nodes, transit camps and military hospitals etc are under way. These projects are unprecedented and are to Beijing’s chagrin. Once ready, they will bolster India’s war fighting ability considerably. This will force China to invent alternate ways to breach India’s defences. That, in turn, might give rise to the need for India of developing more new infrastructure.

The dire need to create infrastructure in times of crisis is a recurring issue. In 1947, service personnel and the refugees led by Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh built a 600-yard runway at Poonch in six days. In another case, tonnes of barbed wire were airdropped to barricade the advancing Chinese (Sino-India War 1962), even as troops were engaged in fighting. Whether it served the intended purpose, is doubtful. During the Berlin Airlift, building from a scratch 17,000 Berliners––men, women and children­­––worked in 8-hourly shifts to construct a runway at Tegel. Those (Poonch and Berlin) were cases of people rising to the occasion.

US Navy’s Construction Battalions (CBs) better known as Seabees have institutionalised speedy creation of infrastructure in times of crisis––a desideratum for fighting forces. Formed following the attack on Pearl Harbour when the task of turning imminent defeat into victory seemed almost insurmountable, the Seabees are very well equipped teams renowned for building bases, bulldozing and paving thousands of miles of roadway and airstrips, and accomplishing numerous other construction projects in different war zones since World War II. They constructed six 8500+ feet runways at the rate of one runway per 53 days; over 18 kms of taxiways; hard-standing to accommodate over 400 bombers, and accommodation for 50,000 personnel and office complexes, on the islands of Tinian and Saipan in a record time of less than a year during World War II. Seabees have been deployed around the globe supporting a variety of humanitarian missions and contingency operations. They were among the first forces in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks to upgrade and repair airfields.

To sum up, it is humanly impossible to make the long borders physically secure. While creation of border infrastructure does go a long way in securing the borders, it is also an endless process. There’s a case for creating teams of experts that can undertake rapid construction work of any type, anywhere, anytime: during wartime or during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. Lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic has rendered a large number of ‘experts’ jobless. It should be possible to enrol volunteers to be employed and paid to serve ‘when the need arises’.

The need could be round the corner.

Other posts in the series:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

11 thoughts on “Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

  1. Yes Sir, the situation remains exceedingly fluid and volatile at the border and MEA meeting at SCO cant maje a difference on the ground as the final decision has to come from much higher levels.

    My assessment had been that China from the very begining had the strategy of prolonging their occupation and tiring out the Indian troops at the border by keep them waiting for eterninty.

    Therefore, the most important thing under these circumstances is to think over our supply lines and arrangement for our troops holding positions on inhospitable hill tops during the intense winter and snow .

    Continuation of talks and dialogue is exactly what China wants because that suits its original over all strategy.

    If China doesnt restore pre june position ( which is most likely the case) the most important question is – will India withdraw its troops from the black top and other tops during this winter ??

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  2. My Geo-strategic analysis suggest that the objective of current chinese aggression is not limited to land grab or demonstrating its military dominance in the region or to address its concerns about securing KK highway & CPEC from the close proximity that DBO Shyok brings Indian troops to, but the not so apparant geopolitical objective is much more subtle and deeper than what it appears to the plain eyes.

    Actually China had dumped India from its global scheme of things long back and its outlook & approach towards India never changed after 1962.

    China clearly realises that its current project of creating a parallel Eurasian economic universe that it is trying to create through BRI by combining Europe and central asia as an alternative to the existing open market global system with China at its centre , is not possible without the full commitment and blessings of the erstwhile Super powee Russia .

    Now the close, deep friendship and historic ties of India with Russia is appearing to China as a big stumbling block in its way to realise the above dream.

    In any case, since despite all the overtures, India has declined to come aboard the Chinese BRI, China now wants to break the strong Indo-Russian friendship to remove its perceived nuisence value from its way.

    Hence, as a matter of deep geopolitical strategy it has now decided to use its current aggression towards India to force India into the US led security orbit which is patently an anti Russia group .

    Since China left no choice for India other than to scurrily join the western anti communist military alliance to protect itself from the existential threat posed to it by China, China is expecting that this measured move will cause permanent damage and rift in the traditional Indo Russian relation, which will help China in securing Russia commitments to its overall plans for Eurasia with no baggages or incumbrances .

    By doing this China is securing complete & undivided Russian commitment to the new market system that is in making in central asia & Europe through its BRI and also ruling out any possibility of Russia using India as a counter balance to China in this furutre BRI universe in which US will be absent.

    This in my opinion is the deeper geopolitical reason that few mainstream analysts in India or abroad are yet to understand or figure out.

    A penny for your thought on this, Sir ?

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    1. You have hit ‘a’ nail on the head; there are many more. What China is today, is by the grace of Russia (and the US, at different point in time). Now, Russia that has almost been a ‘foster parent’ to China knows its ‘baby’ well. Having almost lost its status as a super power (nudged by China), Russia would not want to nurture a demon that would take away its sleep later. In my perception, Russian support to China has a limit. Despite the recent purchases (C-130J, C-17, Apache, Rafale,…) from the US/ the West, India’s bond with Russia remains strong as ever. There are deep roots; we don’t boast much about them: all the MiG series aircraft that we are still flying, the radars, Bhrahmos and S-400, to name just two. I would give full marks to our diplomatic corps for maintaining fairly decent relations around the globe. There are very few countries that have fairly cordial relations with Israel and Iran at the same time; Russia and the US at the same time. Many countries have scores to settle with China; but none dare stand up to the belligerent. In India-China spat, perhaps they are all looking for the proverbial monkey’s paw to pull their chestnuts out of the fire (the US is not an exception). Let’s wait and watch. 🙏

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