The very first China-centric Mountain Strike Corps which was envisaged a decade ago had its blueprint rolling in 2013 with an initial raising cost of approximately Rs 65,000 crore. But with the India-China border standoff entering its sixth month now, experts are talking about the requirement of a second Mountain Strike Corps for China.
The 17 Mountain Strike Corps got stalled due to a financial crunch, and is operational today with just one Division, as against originally envisaged two Divisions. The only operational Division under the 17 MSC is the 59 Div with boththe Div and the Corps headquartered in Panagarh. The 59 Div has six Brigades under it, of which three are Infantry and one each of Engineers, Air Defence and Artillery.
Former governor of Arunachal Pradesh and Army Chief J.J. Singh is of the opinion that a second mountain strike corps is a need of the hour, “This was a well thought out strategy. In fact, Panagarh was chosen as headquarter of the Mountain Strike Corps during my time and Pranab Mukherjee was the Defence Minister then. What is effective at the Ladakh Line of Actual Control (LAC) is not effective at the McMahon Line The terrain and conditions are separate, therefore physical challenges are different, hence different kind of capabilities are required.
However not all senior military experts support the idea and rather back modernization over manpower.
Former General-Officer-Commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps Lt-Gen Satish Dua says, “Force structures are decided by operational requirement which depends on threat analysis, which in turn is a function of terrain and force application. Plains and deserts can’t be compared with mountains. It is not about the number of forces arrayed against an adversary. Forces are adequate, we need to modernize them more.
A second Corps would be considered wishful as the present Mountain Strike Corps, raised for an offensive role, has remained unfinished due to fund-crunch. A second one would be in the same mould, hench it is imperative to calculate costs.
A three-star officer offers a cost-effective solution, “Composite Brigades with support elements in permanent positions can be used as a modular concept. These composite brigades can be deployed within a short duration. The Chinese PLA follows this concept which they call the Combined Arms Brigade. A composite brigade with fighting elements from all arms permanently together is easier to deploy as it trains together and has a common command and control. A more modernized army compared to a manned army is the need of the hour. This has been tried successfully by the Indian Army in the form of the Integrated Battle Groups (IBG).”
A composite brigade concept was tested in 2019 by the then Army Chief General Bipin Rawat in the form of IBG in a training exercise in the eastern sector with the aim to ratify quick mobilization and launching an offensive in the high altitude mountainous terrain, as the 17 Corps though headquartered in the East, is responsible for the entire 4,000-kilometer India-China border which includes the eastern McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh and the LAC in Ladakh.