China ramps up scale, duration of military drills in Arunachal sector

Although the eastern sector has not seen the same level of activity as in Ladakh, the LAC is equally contested throughout its length, said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).
Eastern Army commander Lieutenant General Manoj Pande at Rupa, Arunachal Pradesh. (HT Photo)
Eastern Army commander Lieutenant General Manoj Pande at Rupa, Arunachal Pradesh. (HT Photo)
Updated on Oct 19, 2021 11:42 PM IST
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China has ramped up the scale and duration of its military drills across the contested border in Arunachal Pradesh after a standoff with India erupted along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh sector, and the reserve formations mobilised by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) last year are still deployed there, Eastern Army commander Lieutenant General Manoj Pande said on Tuesday.

Pande said both sides were also attempting to scale up infrastructure near the LAC in the eastern sector.

“Annual training exercises by PLA have increased in their depth areas. Reserve formations mobilised (after the Ladakh standoff began in May 2020) still remain in training areas in the depth,” Pande said, while briefing reporters on the LAC situation in the east at the Rupa-headquartered HQs 5 Mountain Division.

He said the focus of PLA’s exercises was on integrated operations by its forces. He added that the Indian army had noted the developments across the LAC and taken counter measures to deal with any contingency.

“Adequate forces are deployed in all sectors to deal with any contingency. We are also rehearsing and preparing for various contingencies that may arise,” he said. “In certain areas where our deployment was thin, steps have been taken to strengthen it.”

His comments came days after the 13th round of military talks between India and China to cool tensions in Ladakh reached an impasse on October 10, with PLA not agreeing to suggestions made by the Indian Army.

The military dialogue took place more than two months after the last round of talks that led to disengagement of forward deployed troops from Gogra, or Patrol Point-17A, which was one of the flashpoints on the LAC in Ladakh.

Although the eastern sector has not seen the same level of activity as in Ladakh, the LAC is equally contested throughout its length, said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).

“Therefore, Eastern Command will remain prepared for all contingencies including additional deployment to strengthen the defensive posture. As long as disengagement and de-escalation remain stalled, the situation will remain tense,” he added.

The Asapila sector in Arunachal Pradesh was among the areas where the Indian Army observed infrastructure development by PLA close to LAC, and it had led to a corresponding increase in troop deployment there, Pande said.

Commenting on the face-offs between rival troops at Naku La in north Sikkim, he said patrols came face-to-face in the area because of differing perception of LAC, and protocols were in place to resolve the situation even though sometimes confrontations lasted longer.

Scores of Indian and Chinese soldiers were involved in a tense face-off in Naku La in May 2020, with rival troops suffering injuries in the incident. Another face-off took place in Naku La between the two sides earlier this year, with the developments making the area a possible flashpoint in the east.

The Indian Army has stepped up surveillance along LAC and in Chinese depth areas using satellites, long-range unmanned aerial vehicles and other hi-tech intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems, Pande said. Both India and China have sharpened focus on building infrastructure in forward areas to support military deployments, he said.

“PLA is taking measures to build capabilities. We are doing the same to counter the threat,” he said.

General Pande said the army’s focus was on sharpening its surveillance capabilities using niche technologies including modern aerial platforms, superior network of radars, hi-tech night vision systems and modern communication equipment. Hindustan Times reported on Tuesday that the army is making a big surveillance push using latest technology to offset the requirement of deploying extra troops on the contested border with China in Arunachal Pradesh.

He said the army’s new mountain strike corps, raised to counter the Chinese threat in the east, is fully operational now.

“We are looking at the integrated battle group (IBG) model to enhance its operational efficiency and have better options,” he said. Existing and future threats require the army to be “agile, lean and mean” so that it can deploy at a swift pace, Pande said, explaining the significance of the IBG concept that is being embraced by the army.

“Technological developments in mobility, long-range strike capability and other areas also demand we change the concept of war fighting and evolve new structures. IBGs are a logical step towards fighting and winning future wars,” he said.

He added that new equipment deployed in the Ladakh sector was being simultaneously inducted in the east, with the focus being on enhancing mobility, drone and counter-drone systems, precision-guided ammunition and surveillance systems.

On the vulnerability of the Siliguri corridor connecting the North-east with the rest of India, he said the armed forces, Central Armed Police Forces, Central agencies and state governments were working in tandem to mitigate the threat.

Bhutan, with which China has a border dispute, is central to India’s national security as the country lies next to the Siliguri corridor and any territorial compromise made by Bhutan will have an adverse impact on Indian defences in the area.

Bhutan and China on Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on a “three-step roadmap” for expediting negotiations on their boundary dispute, prompting a cautious response from India against the backdrop of the standoff on the LAC.

The agreement was signed four years after Indian and Chinese troops were involved in a 73-day face-off within Bhutanese territory at Doklam. That face-off began in June 2017 after India sent in its troops to prevent the construction of roads and infrastructure by Chinese troops in violation of agreements between Bhutan and China.

Bhutan and China have held 24 rounds of talks between 1984 and 2016 to settle their border issue and, according to discussions in the Bhutanese parliament and other public records of these meetings, these discussions have only focused on disputes in the western and central sections of the boundary. The two sides have also held 10 meetings of an expert group.

Pande flagged concerns about the “dual use” of villages being set up by China in forward areas, and said the army was factoring in the development in its operational planning.

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