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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2041

How to safe guard the neglected Himalayas

By Eklavya *- Syndicate Features

The abandonment of the policy of “benign neglect” of the north Himalayan borders by India came in the wake of nearly 600 intrusions by Chinese troops within the course of one year all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

It was also noticed that many of these major incursions and violations occurred in close proximity to visits by Indian political and military leaders. The intention clearly was to show India as being unable to defend itself and portray it as a “paper tiger” in the eyes of India’s neighbours beginning from south Asia where Pakistan benefits from such a Chinese posture right down to south-east Asia where Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Japan further north are looking to India embroiled as they are in maritime boundary disputes with China.

To name but a few of such occasions the Depsang valley penetration which lasted for three weeks came when then External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna was to visit China. The intrusion into the Indian-held portion of the Panggong Lake in Ladakh was reported in June when Vice President Hamid Ansari was making the first visit by an Indian Vice President since K.R.Narayanan went there in 1994. The latest such incursion is the one that occurred in Demchok segment of Ladakh sector when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was holding his first multi-lateral engagement during the BRICS summit in Brazil on Tuesday 16th July. Two truckloads of Chinese troops entered the area and withdrew only after a show of banners as stipulated in the confidence building measures (CBMs) adopted by the two countries.

The politico-military implications of the Chinese moves are becoming more obvious by the day. The attempt to dominate its neighbours is moving apace. India being the largest is being quietly needled in a manner that anything it does to defend itself could be presented as a “provocation”.

An important component of India’s attempt to improve the infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control must therefore begin with helipads to give access to every segment of it. India needs to ensure constant presence to be able to deny the Chinese any opportunity to make the kind of deep penetration as they did in Depsang. And in the event of hostilities India should be able to bring down accurate firepower if the Chinese used force to redraw the Line of Actual Control as they tried to do in 1967 at Nathu La.

The Ministry of Defence has successfully indianised the Bofors 155mm howitzer gun based on drawings supplied by the Swedish company along with the first lot of howitzers delivered to India in the 80s. It is now for the government to ensure that tested and cleared weapon is produced and delivered to the Army in the Himalayas. Even if we have weapons like the Bofors in our arsenal, we may not be able to take such weapons close enough to the Line of Actual Control without the infrastructure. We have been able to take the 155mm howitzers up to Sikkim because there is a road available. It may not be possible to take this weapon up to the LAC or place it in a position where it can dominate the battlefield.

The Ministry of Defence has been looking for “air mobile artillery” but the need is for an ultralight howitzer capable of being air-lifted by a Chinook helicopter up to a height of 18,500 ft either in the hold or under-slung. There are two things wrong with this situation. For one, the weapon is to be acquired through the Foreign Military Sales window of the US which does not allow for transfer of technology for production under licence. And, secondly, in a reasonably mobile battle once the enemy has been largely neutralized, the helicopter will have to return to lift the howitzers (a battery of six) to a new location – all time-consuming and complicated manoeuvres.

It was with this situation in mind that it had been brought to the notice of the Ministry of Defence that an integrated “air mobile artillery” system in which the weapon, a 105 mm field gun (of the kind manufactured by the Indian Ordnance Factory) is fired from a flying aircraft with greater accuracy than a ground based howitzer. It was suggested that the Il-76 transport aircraft currently in service with the Indian Air Force be converted to take the Indian 105 mm light field gun. To ensure density of firepower, six aircraft could operate in unison (as in a ground based battery) firing at ground targets with great accuracy even while staying out of reach of ground fire. Such an aircraft will give great flexibility of operations. It will fly over the highest mountain with a service ceiling of 42,000 ft and be able to cover battlefields from Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Ladakh in the west. With a range of 4,300 km, with a 50 tonne load of guns and ammunition, the Il-76 could not be confined only to the close proximity of the Himalayas as ground based weapons would be.

With an integral twin 23 mm cannon at the base of the tail and capability of carrying a 500 kg bomb on each wing these could complement the firepower of the 105mm light field gun which has a range of 17 km. In many ways this is a more potent “air mobile artillery” platform than the Chinook helicopter on which the ultra light howitzer would have to depend for mobility.

Unfortunately in the Indian military lexicon “Indigenisation” has become a vile word with no one in a mood to innovate if they can buy weapons platforms from abroad.

*The author is Delhi based strategic expert

- Asian Tribune -

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