India now plans to fast-track its ongoing rebalance of military forces and firepower to the northern borders with China and the critical Indian Ocean Region (IOR), in a decisive shift away from the decades-long focus on the western front with Pakistan and combating militancy.
The just-concluded Army commanders’ conference discussed the “reorientation of forces” along the northern and western borders, with the operational challenges along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China being analyzed in the military operations directorate.
Similar “operational recalibration” for “tackling the clear and present threat” from China is underway in the IAF and Navy amid the continuing deadlock in the military confrontation in eastern Ladakh, which has entered it seventh month now.
“The rebalance from the land borders with Pakistan to the LAC and the maritime domain was gradually underway for some years now. But Ladakh has accelerated all the plans,” said a top officer on Saturday.
“The operational readiness along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan, of course, cannot be diluted since the two-front situation is a reality. But China has become the primary front, with Pakistan being relegated to the secondary one,” he added.
On the China front, the proposed measures range from the “permanent deployment” of additional infantry brigades and armoured regiments in eastern Ladakh as well other stretches of the LAC to cranking up force-levels and infrastructure on the island territories on the western and eastern seaboards.
In eastern Ladakh, India has pumped in three additional divisions (each has around 12,000 soldiers) since May to supplement the 3 Infantry Division already based there, along with T-90S and T-72 tanks, howitzers and surface-to-air missile batteries.
“The People’s Liberation Army has also dug-in for the long haul. If there is de-escalation, some forces will be de-inducted from Ladakh. But yes, the LAC is now set to witness permanent troop deployments like the LoC with Pakistan,” said another officer.
Budgetary constraints, however, will be a limiting factor. Officials, however, say several schemes have been set in motion to optimize combat capabilities despite the fund crunch.
The IAF, for instance, is finalizing a plan to “dry lease” or acquire six “pre-owned” mid-air refueling aircraft to extend the reach of its fighter jets. Though IAF overall needs 18 such “force-multipliers”, it is currently making do with just six IL-78 aircraft inducted in 2003-2004.
“The new Defence Acquisition Procedure, in force from October 1, enables leasing of military equipment and platforms for urgent operational requirements. This will cut time delays and initial capital costs,” said an official.
The Navy has already gone in for a major rationalization and re-prioritization of its long-term force level plans and arms procurement projects, which included the recent scrapping of the over Rs 20,000 crore tender for four large amphibious warfare warships or landing platform docks (LPDs) for Indian Navy, which give advantage in Indian Ocean region (IOR).
“The overall aim is to get the maximum bang for the buck, cutting down on the frills and wasteful expenditure,” said the official. But there is also the acknowledgement that more funds will be required than what have been allocated.
The recent move towards “force accretion” and “military infrastructure development” in the strategically-located Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, as a counter to Chinese moves in the IOR, for instance, will require sustained funding over the next several years.