War Cry of The Bullish Neighbour

Sino-Indian Relation - 4

Continued from "Inter Se Comparison of Two Giants"

Almost two-and-half months of the standoff at Doklam with a frequent war cry and only about 10 days remaining for the scheduled BRICS Summit (3-5 September, 2017) at Xiamen in China, the two countries mutually reached an agreement to de-escalate and withdraw their troops from the standoff site of the disputed territory at tri-junction traditionally owned by Bhutan. The official statements from the foreign office of the two countries on 21st August 2017 did not delve into finer details; the obvious corollary is that withdrawal of troops was mutual and simultaneous. India in two simultaneous statement on the same day confirmed that the expeditious disengagement of the border personnel at the faceoff sites was agreed to and two armies have completed the process of withdrawal under verification while the Chinese side made a statement that India has pulled back all its trespassing personnel and equipment to the Indian side of the boundary and the Chinese personnel on the ground have verified this.

India further indicated that the two sides had kept diplomatic channels open and that the Indian side was able to effectively communicate their concerns and interests. This statement gains significance particularly because the Chinese foreign office and media had all along maintained during the standoff that they would not negotiate with India till the latter unconditionally withdraws its troops from the disputed site to own side of the border. The Chinese side was ambiguous and evasive about the question of the road building and said that they would continue to exercise their sovereignty; the diplomatic interpretation of this is derived that the Chinese will continue patrolling in the area as hithertofore.

The amicable resolve of the standoff have at least for the time being relieved the mounting tension world-wide and possibility of a large scale military confrontation between the two Asian giants. On the diplomatic front, this has enabled Indian Prime Minister Modi to visit China to attend the BRICS Summit in the first week of September 2017. Among the immediate outcome of the Summit, two key points are; 1) the two countries have resolved to look forward for a healthy and peaceful Sino-Indian relations and 2) for the first time in the brief history of BRICS nations, the joint communiqué made a clear reference to the threat of terrorism from various international terror organizations including Pakistan based ones like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba and mutual resolve of the countries to cooperation in fight against the war on terrorism. The latter issue is significant because China has so far defended Pakistan and at least on two occasions blocked the move in the United Nations to ban Masood Azhar, the head of Jaish-e-Mohammad in the recent past.

Reportedly, the Chinese president Xi Jinping called for putting ties with India on the "right track" and said the two countries should pursue "healthy, stable bilateral ties", while he two leaders reaffirmed their understanding in June at Kazakhstan's Astana "to not allow differences to become disputes." The two sides also agreed to the need of a closer communication between the defence and security personnel so that there is no repeat of incidents in the recent past, an obvious reference to the Doklam standoff. Apparently, the Chinese president also expressed his desire to work with India to seek guidance from the five principles of the Panchsheel Treaty signed between India and China (or more appropriately between Jawaharlal Nehru and Chou en Lai) in 1954.

Notwithstanding these diplomatic overtures, the Chinese hawkish officials and media have been separately engaged in highlighting Doklam truce as “India has backed off” …and “that India should learn a lesson from the incident,” and so on so forth. The truth of the Doklam standoff is obvious to every Indian and international community that both the troops have simultaneously withdrawn to their respective positions and China has stopped the road-building work in the Bhutanese claimed territory – the chief objective of the Indian side and main cause of the current conflict. So it seems that for a bullish country like China it is only a tactical retreat and not a full guarantee for permanent peace. This is significant particularly when the two countries share such a long yet poorly demarcated border with hegemonic tendencies of China being not new, they had it even as a rather weak economic and military nation decades back. So we need to have a look at the history of Sino-Indian military conflicts, current relative strength and weaknesses, and likely outcome in an event of possible armed conflict in future.

Sino-Indian War 1962

In the modern times, the relationship between India and China dates back to early 1950 when the Communists captured power in China after a bloody war in 1949 soon followed by India recognising People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the legitimate government of the mainland China. Even the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1950-51 passed without any noticeable resistance from the then Indian leadership in spite of the fact that this development brought Indian and Chinese armies face to face along a long largely undemarcated border. Initial overtures of a close friendship and cooperation between the leaders of the two countries climaxed to a treaty of Panchsheel in 1954 but soon the irritants of the Chinese ambiguous and shifting claim over a vast Indian territory (approximately 1,24,000 Sq km) in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh (erstwhile NEFA) and frequent incursions across the line of the actual control by the Chinese troops started spoiling relationship. Then in 1959, the Tibetan uprisings were brutally crushed by the Chinese army, Dalai Lama fled to India and was granted asylum on humanitarian ground. This was interpreted by China as a hostile action of India.

Around the same time, out of the recurring fear and uncertainty about the loss of Indian territory in the hands of aggressive Chinese designs in unmanned areas, the Indian leadership adopted the Forward Area Policy under which Indian troops were asked to maintain regular patrolling and vigil on the Indian side of the border besides establishing military posts at crucial points. Reportedly, this was enforced by the political leadership despite reservations of the key Army Generals who felt that the Indian army was ill-equipped and not fully geared up to face the Chinese onslaught in the event of a war. The Forward Policy was violently opposed by China leading to several minor skirmishes between the two armies during the next two years and the final onslaught came in October 1962 when China simultaneously attacked in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.

Obviously, the Indian troops were taken off-guard with this simultaneous offensive in the western sector and across the McMahon Line in eastern sector on 20 October 1962. Following events are a part of history now that the Chinese troops quickly advanced in both war theatres and in about a month of war before the ceasefire on 20 November 1962, they captured entire Aksai Chin in Ladakh and important towns like Tawang and Bomdila advancing deep into Arunachal Pradesh. Following the peace negotiations, out of the two major disputed areas, the Chinese retained control on Aksai Chin (about 38 thousand sq km) while they withdrew their troops to LAC in the eastern sector.

Nathu La and Cho La Incident 1967

After 1962 debacle, India had raised several mountain divisions to boost up their military capabilities in defending northern border from future Chinese incursions and aggression. The Chumbi Valley, particularly Nathu La pass, has traditionally been sensitive because in this area alongside Sikkim-Tibet border the Indian and Chinese troops are stationed on both sides at a close range. Two major parts of the pass, namely Sebu La in south and Camel’s back in north have been traditionally under the control of Indian troops. After 1962 war, occasional clashes were reported but in September 1965, China bluntly asked India to Vacate Nathu La pass and was promptly refused. Thereafter, unease and tension prevailed in the area and the Chinese attempted fresh incursions in August 1967. Thereafter the Indian side decided to go far a barbed wire fencing in the area in order to indicate a clearly demarcated boundary along the ridge of Nathu La.

While this was reportedly resented by the Chinese troops but the Indian side proceeded with their resolve, there was heated arguments and scuffle leading to injuries on both sides on 11th September 1067, followed by sudden outbreak of hostilities with the Chinese side opening machine gun firing, followed by the artillery, against the Indian troops. Apparently, initial rounds led to heavy causalities to the Indians but soon they reorganized and retaliated with artillery, mortars and machine guns fire. Due to their positional advantageous of occupying high grounds at the pass, the Indian troops were able to ‘beat back’ the Chinese forces besides destroying several Chinese bunkers by the time ceasefire came after five days of hostilities.

This was followed by another clash between the two troops on 1st October 1967 at Cho La, another pass on the Sikkim - Tibet border, at a short distance from Nathu La in north. This clash lasted only for one day and was a morale booster for the Indian soldiers because reportedly they not only succeeded in reversing the Chinese infiltration but also forced them to retreat nearly three kilometres during the clash.

According to the Chinese sources, 32 Chinese soldiers and 65 Indian soldiers in Nathu La and 36 Indian soldiers (Chinese casualty unspecified) in the Cho La were killed during these clashes. As per the casualty data released by the Indian Defence Ministry, 88 Indian soldiers were killed and 163 injured while the Chinese side suffered a loss of 340 deaths and 450 injuries during the two clashes. Even the neutral observers agreed that the Indian casualty figures appeared more credible and that the Indian forces achieved ‘decisive tactical advantage’ in defeating and forcing the Chinese troops to retreat during these clashes.

Sino-Indian Conflict 1987

Towards the end of 1986, India had granted statehood to Arunachal Pradesh, the erstwhile North East Frontier Area. China lodged a strong protest to this and the Indian troops’ movements in Tawang in conjunction with this political decision as a preparatory defensive move to handle any eventuality were treated as a provocation by the Chinese government. Consequently, by the onset of 1987, the Chinese propaganda, political and military overtures became almost akin to that of 1962 pre-war situation. The Indian side equally holding their cards, a war like situation was created between the two countries and an imminent war was predicted by several Western strategists. This standoff was mainly at the Sumdorong Chu Valley in Arunachal Pradesh with the simmering tension felt across the entire India-China border.

However, apparently none of the countries wanted a war. Among the rising tension, en route to North Korea visit, Indian Foreign Minister had a brief meeting with his counterpart in Beijing to reiterate Indian desire of a peace and tranquillity at the border. This was followed by formal flag meeting at a crucial border post between the two sides to ease tension basically to minimize the danger of inadvertent conflict due to perceived threat or miscalculation. Consequently, troops deployment in forward positions by both countries were gradually de-escalated. The event also triggered a need to restart a bilateral dialogue and peace process between the two countries so as to avoid future unintended conflicts. Finally in 1993, the two countries signed an agreement to ensure peace along the LAC with a concept of ‘mutual and equal’ security where thinning of forces was envisioned keeping in view the logistic and geographic realities.

Issues Having Potential for a Conflict

In the changing world order, China has emerged as the next economic giant and military might replacing Russia in competing the US global dominance. In the process, it’s obviously envious to India which is not only the largest democracy but also the fastest growing major economy and a militarily strong nation in Asia.

Apart from the frequent incursions and faceoffs due to Chinese hegemonic tendencies, in international relations too China is working against the Indian interests on many issues. The major areas of difference and consequent stumbling blocks adding acrimony to Sino-Indian relations are the Chinese support to Pakistan in protecting terrorist organizations like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Laskar-e-Taiba , blocking the Indian membership to the Nuclear Supplier Group of nations, construction of the China-Pakistan Economic corridor through the POK and issuance of stapled visas by China to certain category of Indians while stressing One-China policy. While China’s opposition of India’s Look East Policy is well known, the Chinese themselves have acquired islands and ports from Myanmar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to establish bases in the Indian proximity. These issues have been amply covered in one of my previous articles ‘The Hegemonic and Belligerent Neighbour’.

Apart from the major issues listed above which are well known dampeners of Sino-Indian relations with a potential to trigger serious conflicts in future, some other worrisome factors include asylum to Dalai Lama, adverse trade balance, construction of dams by China on Brahmaputra, cyber espionage and Chinese investment in POK:

1) China had forcibly occupied Tibet in 1950-51 claiming it an integral part while historically Tibet had been a secluded and peaceful religious state with occasional subjugation to the tyrant Chinese rulers in the remote past. After 1959 Tibet uprisings failed, Tibet’s spiritual leader Dalai Lama was given asylum in India on humanitarian ground. China has been constantly cribbing about it and regularly protests any state patronage to the spiritual leader or his movement in any part of the Indian territory, the latest being his Tawang visit.

2) Currently, China is the biggest trade partner of India but the trade balance is unfavourably tilted towards the former putting India in heavy losses. Though a part of the trade deficit on account of the import of telecom, electronics and heavy machinery is well understood, the objectionable part is their unethical trade practices like aggressive pricing on the back of state subsidy and a protectionist outlook for own manufactured goods which is really a cause of concern not only in India but even in the countries like USA.

3) Brahmaputra is one of the largest rivers in Asia in volume and length that originates in the northern upper reaches of Himalayas and traverses through the Chinese administered Tibet as the Yarlung Tsangpo river, Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam as Brahmaputra and enters Bangladesh as Jamuna and merges with Padma (Ganges) in the Ganges Delta before emptying in the Bay of Bengal. As India and China do not have any bilateral treaty on the common water resources, the Chinese unilateral construction of dams on the river to tap its hydro potential and denial of hydrological data is threatening a reduced water flow into India besides other unfavourable political implications during the peace or war.

4) Under the recent China-Pakistan Economic corridor from the Chinese Xinjiang province to Pakistani Gwadar Seaport, China and Pakistan have reportedly planned several special economic zones (SEZs) including a rail link, pipeline and massive roads links. As this project is likely to make significant irreversible changes in the Gilgit-Baltistan area, a part of the disputed Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, India has genuine security concerns due to Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir and the Chinese hegemonic tendencies.

5) Cyber espionage is another area of worry because reportedly India has been a prime target of such Chinese activity in the recent years. Though the implications are relatively less known and explored but it may have far more serious dimensions in any future conflict.

A Relative Military Strength

The 1962 war debacle with China and subsequent battles with Pakistan in 1965, 1971 and 1999 (limited Kargil War), India had to learn a lot of lessons on the face of constant threats on both western and eastern fronts against two potential adversaries. It won’t be exaggeration to say that India under compulsion had to go for a large scale military modernization and overhaul. Consequently, over the years India has not only grown in numbers but has simultaneously gone for the modern technologies in acquiring aircrafts, naval vessels, tanks & armoured vehicles, other equipment and weapon systems from the external and indigenous sources during the last three decades. Besides, India also has an indigenous and credible nuclear deterrent programme in place with an effective delivery system for the short and long distances through land, air and sea borne devices. With this, India is now considered the fourth most powerful military nation in the world and third active military personnel strength wise.

On the other hand, China has the largest active military personnel strength in the world and is ranked third after the US and Russia in overall military power. Unlike India, China traditionally being an authoritarian Communist regime didn’t have a smooth dealing or easy access to the Western European nations or US technologies, hence their military technologies are largely of Russian origin or reverse engineering based. The Chinese military though have a large fleet of aircrafts, naval vessels, tanks & artillery and other equipment compared to India but it is not yet considered the most modern and lethal technology in any conventional war. Besides, China has one of the longest land frontiers and maritime boundary/zone and territorial disputes with several neighbouring countries; hence it is obligatory for them to maintain numerically a larger force.

India does not appear to have global ambitions for the present and its conventional military and nuclear capabilities are mostly defensive and largely China centric. As against this, China is nurturing global ambitions in competing with the USA on both the economic and military fronts. Their intentions are clear while asserting complete supremacy in the South China Sea and in establishing naval/military bases at Djibouti in western edge of the Indian Ocean and Coco Islands near the Andaman Islands, an Indian Union Territory. China has also acquired Gwadar port of Pakistan in the Arabian Sea and Hambantota Port on 99 years lease from Sri Lanka to increase their presence in Indian Ocean and keep a watch over the Indian Naval operations.

India has a well-documented and declared policy on nuclear deterrence of no-first-use. As per an estimate, it maintains a modest stockpile of approximately 130 nuclear warheads and a ballistic missile programmes with a possible reach of the entire Chinese territory in strike range. China has a nuclear policy of maintaining a minimum nuclear deterrence with a no-first-use pledge. However, China has not defined its ‘minimum nuclear deterrence’ so far and has an ICBM capacity to strike US mainland and entire Western Europe. According to Arms Control Association, China has a nuclear stockpile of 270 weapons and the Chinese Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles have a strike range of about 15,000 km.

A comparative knowhow of the active manpower and major equipment of the land, air and naval forces of the two countries is given in the following paragraphs:-

Land Forces (Army): The Chinese military was rechristened as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1972 and it comprises land forces and artillery, naval and air force. Numerically, the Chinese land force is the largest in world yet considering the budget allocation, it cannot be treated among the most modern armies in the world. Chinese law mandates compulsory military service and it gets enough volunteers for the PLA, hence conscription is not enforced. The Indian Army is ranked as the third largest in the world, only next to China and USA, and is the mainstay force of the Indian military strength with perennial multifarious roles of defending borders from the external threat, combating internal menace of terrorism, naxalites and civil disturbances as also frequent relief operations during the natural disasters. With the actual experience of several bloody wars and vigorous training, the Indian army is considered as one of the most versatile and professional armies in the world.


Category India China
Active Personnel 13,62,500 22,60,000
Reserve Component 28,44,750 14,52,500
Total Military Strength 42,07,250 37,12,500


Category India China
Tank 4,426 6,457
Armoured/Fighting Vehicles 6,704 4,788
Self-propelled Artillery   290 1,710
Towed Artillery 7,414 6,246
Rocker Projectors    292 1,770

(Source: GlobalFirepower)

Air power: Air Force is crucial for any military during the war, internal conflicts and disaster management with its role in attack, reconnaissance, surveillance, airlift, airdrop, rescue and other special operations. In numerical strength of aircraft, China outnumbers India in a ratio of 3:2 but in a strategic warfare Indian Air Force definitely has a technological edge over the former. The reason being that the majority of the Chinese aircrafts fall under the categories of attack, fighter, bomber, reconnaissance majority of a mix of 2nd, 3rd and some 4th generation in ‘J’ and ‘H’ series (renamed/indigenously manufactured of Russian origin), the latest being of SU-27 and SU-30MKK series. They are working on the 5th generation aircrafts with stealth technology but it will take time for induction.

As against this, the majority of the Indian aircrafts (MIG-29, Mirage-2000, Tejas, SU-30MKI) belong to a multirole category, only old MIG-21, MIG-27 and Jaguar belong to only specified role of attack/ fighter categories. The main fleet comprises of advanced SU-30MKI (about 230) which is considered to be technologically far advanced compared to unspecified numbers of Chinese SU-30 MKK & SU-30MK2. Currently, another 200 plus multirole aircrafts of the light weight indigenous Tejas, Dassault Rafale (France) and SU-30MKI (Russia) categories are under procurement and all of them belong 4++/4.5 generation.

Air Power

Category India China
Fighter/Intercepters   676 1,271
Attack Aircraft   809 1,385
Transport Aircraft   857   782
Trainer Aircraft   323   352
Helicopters   666   912
Attack Helicopters     16   206
Total aircraft 2,102 2,955

(Source: GlobalFirepower)

Naval Power: Total naval assets wise China significantly outnumbers India in submarine, frigate, destroyer, corvette and petrol craft categories. Here the main difference is that China has global ambitions and serious naval engagement in the South China Sea and East China Sea with many potential rivals including the Asia-Pacific Command of USA, while Indian Navy has been designed as mainly a defensive arm to safeguard Indian interests in its EEZ and trade with an area of operation as the Indian Ocean. In 1990s onwards, the Indian Navy has gone for a large scale modernization programme with an objective to acquire the status of a blue water navy. In the process, the Indian Navy is acquiring and indigenously building different categories of vessels including the aircraft carriers and nuclear powered submarines to expand its fleet and firepower. Many strategists are of view that despite a fleet of relatively smaller size, Indian Navy is capable of handling any external threat to the country’s sovereignty and interests in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal.

Naval Power

Category India China
Aircraft Carrier   1   1
Submarine  15  68
Frigate  14  51
Destroyer  11  35
Corvette  23  35
Petrol Craft 139 220
Total Naval Vessel 295 714
Major Port   7  15

(Source: GlobalFirepower)

What if Hostilities Break Out?

The fact remains that the majority of countries maintain an aura of secrecy about their military programmes and stockpiles and do not reveal their exact military strength. At times, unconfirmed and misleading information is deliberately shared or planted by some for obvious reasons. Notwithstanding above, some government and non-government agencies try to compile and evaluate relative strength of countries from time to time. Accordingly, just for an indicative purpose, the relative military strength of India and China on a few broad yet significant parameters has been illustrated in the preceding paragraphs. This may not be an absolutely accurate position but it certainly gives a fair degree of relative strength of both countries.

As per the Global Firepower (GFP), India ranks fourth in the world in conventional war capabilities while China is rated third, only next to USA and Russia. Out of two aircraft carriers India operated till recently, one was decommissioned in May 2017; thus now both India and China have one functional aircraft carrier each. GFP’s ranking is based on the nations’ potential in conventional war making capabilities across the land, sea and air and excludes nuclear capabilities of nations. In 21st Century, East and South Asia including the South China Sea appear to be emerging as the new hotbeds for military tensions and manoeuvrings, thanks to the unholy axis formation of Pakistan-China-North Korea, posing a grave threat to world peace and security.

While Pakistan is posing constant threat to India and Afghanistan militarily and by sponsoring terrorism, North Korea is far more aggressive posing serious nuclear threat to South Korea, Japan and US. It is increasingly becoming obvious that China is behind both the rogue nations including helping them in building their nuclear capability. China itself has been flexing muscles in South China Sea with its neighbours. It has not been long since India and China have a narrow escape from what appeared as an imminent war, consequent to the Chinese incursion and insistence of the road construction in Doklam which Bhutan has traditionally maintained as their territory.

India and China share a long Himalayan border which is rather ill-defined. Apart from certain strategic areas in Ladakh despite occupying Aksai Chin, China claims the entire Arunachal Pradesh as part of South Tibet. Incidents of the Chinese troops incursions and transgressions in Indian territory are frequent and common. While the Doklam standoff was still on, the Chinese troops crossed over into Uttarakhand’s Barahoti region in July 2017 but went back when halted by the Indian soldiers. However, another incursion on the north bank of the Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh during August 2017 actually led to scuffle and stone-pelting inflicting injuries on both sides.

The Chinese foreign officials and state controlled media scornfully reminded India time and again of the nemesis in 1962 war, kept beating war drums and ruling out any possibility of talk till the unilateral withdrawal of the Indian troops from Doklam. On the other hand, Indian diplomats and army instead of resorting to any rhetoric against the bullish Chinese stood firm and resolute all along till the issue was resolved to their satisfaction. Thus the situation on Sino-Indian border remains volatile and the possibility of some dispute escalating to armed hostilities cannot be ruled out. Let’s try to objectively see the possible scenario if sometime a border dispute and consequent tension actually escalates to a Sino-Indian war.

There is no doubt that China significantly outspends India on military budget (almost 3 times) and outnumbers India on all major military parameters. But it needs to be remembered that China has a far long land frontier and coastline to defend compared to India necessitating a larger military force and arsenal particularly in view that it has many conflicts with neighbouring countries thanks to its expansionist approach. It is maintaining huge army manpower and a significant part of budget is tied up with salary, allowances and maintenance expenditure, leaving scope only for a moderate modernization programme. So it is not surprising that despite being considered as a military giant (only next to USA and Russia), Chinese army is not considered as one of the most modernized forces. Similarly, bulk of the aircraft, naval vessels, tanks and other equipment belong to 2nd and 3rd generation category, leaving China hard-pressed for modernization of military equipment and hardware. An attacking force is under more compulsion to maintain numerically superior manpower, arms and ammunition strength as also logistical support.

Despite a inventory of smaller size compared to China, India has technological advantages in almost all major weapon systems and equipment, including supersonic BrahMos missiles. To illustrate this point, I would only give one example on technical parameters of the main multirole or attack/fighter aircraft used by the two countries. India’s mainstay in air combat is Sukhoi SU-30MKI multirole aircraft while Chinese counterparts are  Chengdu J-10 and Shenyang J-11 attack/fighter aircrafts which are widely believed to be cloned versions of Russian SU-27/30 series aircrafts. Indian Sukhoi SU-30MKI is considered a much better aircraft over its original Russian MK or MK1 versions after significant upgrades undertaken by India’s HAL/DRDO in Israeli collaboration. Reportedly, it has better avionics with all weather, duel frequency, advanced radar with 200 km tracking range and 350 km search range. Capable of delivering nuclear weapons, the aircraft’s radar can track and actively engage 20 enemy targets simultaneously. With the installation of Astra air-to-air missile and BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, the MKI will be comparable with most modern multirole fighter jets like Typhoon (Eurofighter) and Rafale (French). Besides, it has a range upto 8000 Km with one in-flight refuelling compared to 5200 km of SU-30 MK variants.

Both countries are endeavouring to upgrade their existing fleet to fourth generation technology while development of the fifth generation aircraft is underway. Similarly, since 1990s India’s focus have been on a better training and systematic upgradation of war material within the available resources and constraints. For instance, the armoured corps’ erstwhile holdings of over 5000 old technology tanks have been gradually phased out to the current stockpile of only about 4426 with mostly upgraded T-72s, Arjun-MBT and T-90s capable of fighting any modern conventional war.

Unlike 1962 war, any future war will not be restricted to only ground attack; instead Air Force and Navy will in fact play a decisive role. The vast, at the same time harsh and unfriendly, Himalayan terrain does not allow land forces of either country to go all out to engage enemy one to one across the entire border at equal footing. The two sides will at best be able to score here and there over each-other but it will be equally difficult for any side to occupy and hold a territory for long because the cost will be insurmountable in terms of manpower, equipment and logistics involved. Both countries have enough firepower and delivery systems, and undoubtedly will cause heavy damages and losses of life and material to each other by engaging Air Force and short & long Missile systems and yet any war is likely to remain inconclusive.

Many experts and strategists believe that the Indian Navy is outstanding in defensive role and is quite capable with its existing largely modern naval vessels to reverse any aggressive design of enemy in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. Indian naval bases in Lakshwadeep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands enable the navy to cover exits of the Gulf of Aden and Straits of Malacca; the latter being considered as a weak point in China's maritime strategy in the wake of almost 80% of its crude and oil imports from the Middle East and Africa passing through these straits. In the event of hostilities breaking out between the two countries, Indian Navy could block and control Malacca Straits with ease upsetting the Chinese trade and commercial operations including crucial oil imports.

China may perhaps prove to be more tenacious than India in a long drawn conventional war due to its numerical strength in manpower and arsenal reserves. It may even entice Pakistan to have a simultaneous assault on the Western frontier due to their obsession with Kashmir but then it is a preponderous thought for now with a foregone conclusion that in such eventuality war theatre would enlarge with imminent intervention of US and possibly other Asia-pacific allies. Besides, though both India and China have a no-first-use resolve in the context of nuclear warheads but no country would like to tolerate ignominious defeat and dismemberment when the strike options are available.

It may, however, be also remembered that the numerical superiority or even quality of weapons alone are not suffice to win a war. Leave aside the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war which almost became one-sided at a point, Pakistan had escalated 1965 war with India relying on superior and numerical strength of own armour and air power in the sub-continent around that time. It is a recorded fact by unbiased sources as to how diminutive Indian Folland Gnat fighter aircrafts outsmarted sophisticated F-86F Sabres of Pakistan in dog fights, when the latter were considered to be fastest operating fighters in the sub-continent. Similarly, equipped with Patton M-47 tanks with numerical strength and superior quality, Pakistan armour was outfought in the battle field in most sectors against not so advanced Sherman tanks with individual courage and bravery of Indian soldiers. Thus a quality weapon and committed soldier make a deadly combination which an aggressor often lacks.


Hence notwithstanding the bullish attempt of raising a war cry, it is more likely that China as a fast growing and ambitious nation would prefer to work on a long term perspective of trade and economic considerations as India offers an expanding global market rather than succumbing to mindless thought of capturing few territories here and there by sheer application of force. Many events remain unreported in public domain, but low intensity conflicts and hostilities have always occurred on India's northern frontier, thanks to the hegemonic and belligerent approach of the neighbour. So if China reminds 1962 or flexes muscles in Tibet region through extravagant display of its manpower and firepower, it seems a highly presumptive and preposterous idea to assume that it will actually resort to a full-fledged war to subjugate India and Indian armed forces.

But this doesn’t mean that India should ignore the perceived threats or slow down on defence preparedness on cost and other considerations. The history is a witness that a nation can internally prosper only if its external boundaries are safe. Hence while maintaining the robust economic growth, build-up of a matching military capability is equally important for India to safely transform into a developed and strong nation in the 21st Century.


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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