IMPLICATIONS OF THE BRAHMOS DEPLOYMENT ALONG NORTHERN BORDER
A recent report has it that the fourth regiment of BrahMos missiles will be deployed ‘to improve India’s military reach into the Tibet Autonomous Region and counter China’s elaborate missile deployment along the Sino-Indian border.’ The other three raised so far have been deployed in the western sector to counter the Pakistan threat. The implications can be assessed along two directions: technical and strategic.
The approval for deployment was taken along with the passing of the Army’s proposal for a mountain strike corps. The two approvals together project the government as responsive to calls for alertness to the ‘China threat’. The government used the occasion of the Combined Commanders Conference appropriately.
The deployment has possibly been speeded up by a Pentagon report of August on the replacement of the liquid fuelled CSS 2 missiles with 1000 km range solid fuelled nuclear capable CSS 5 missiles in Tibet by China. The Chinese are at a disadvantage in the air since high altitude air fields restrict the fuel that can be carried, thereby restricting range. The gap can be covered by employment of missiles. These are less expensive and more effective for taking out targets difficult to attack due to terrain configuration in mountains or with air defences such as passes, communication centres and key bridges. The missile presence helps with psychological ascendance too since these cover population centres in north India, which India, due to geographical circumstance, cannot readily counter by similar targeting on the Chinese mainland.
The BrahMos as interim answer owes to it being a supersonic cruise missile with a range of up to 300 kms. That it is a cruise missile deployment has two elements to it. One, in not being a ballistic missile, its introduction into the theatre cannot be considered threatening. Also, its application in conflict will be less escalatory than impact of ballistic missiles liable to be mistaken to be carrying nuclear cargo. Two, the advantage of cruise missiles of penetrability of missile defences is not of significance currently.
The first characteristic in its favour is mobility. This enables it to be deployed using mountain roads. Next, mobility helps in pre-locating the missiles at the edge of the Indian land mass to cover areas that the Agni series presumably deployed back in the ‘mainland’ does not. Mobility enables it to be better hidden and therefore more survivable, than static and bigger target offerings as ballistic missiles sites and air force bases.
The second characteristic is its range, restricting its employment to Tibet. This helps keep its applicability at the tactical and operational level. The range is presumably sufficient to cover Chinese missiles targeting India deployed there. But the application need not be restricted to Chinese missile sites. Operational level dividend makes this a force multiplier, enabling the Army to rely on its own resources for fire degradation tasks and interdiction, leaving the much more expensive Air Force for gaining air dominance. It is a captive resource for the operational commander, particularly useful in case the contention involves multiple theatres.
The third is that it is supersonic, indicating quicker reaction to launch of Chinese missiles, even to the extent of catching them on the launch pad if linked prior with appropriate intelligence acquisition resources such as real time satellite and electronic warfare coverage. These can be employed to safeguard Indian cities in extremis.
The last characteristic is its reported accuracy of about 10m CEP. This is very useful in mountains since folds in the ground makes high trajectory firepower less effective. The Kargil War demonstrated how much firepower is expended in case precision delivery is not available. Deployment sites are also scarce for artillery, making substitutes useful. This will in turn help reduce the logistics burden that firepower resources place on tenuous lines of communication in mountains and at the farthest end.
(One is not sure what effect jagged high mountains will have on the flight and accuracy of Brahmos)
Lastly and significantly, it is nuclear capable, thereby offsetting the psychological handicap in some measure, but equally importantly enabling an Indian counter at the lower order nuclear use level to any Chinese nuclear first use for tactical purposes. Both states subscribing to NFU, nuclear contingencies are unlikely. But nevertheless require prior planning and preparation. Relying on the Agni series for response to lower order first use will be escalatory and not in Indian interests in light of nuclear asymmetry.
Internally, it negates criticism the ministry has been under ever since the leak that it had used the financial rationale to question the necessity of the additions proposed under the confidential Transformation study. It is politically useful for the ruling party that has been under siege on multiple fronts for better part of the year. It conveys a political message of commitment to citizens in the North East.
In the external domain, the timing fortuitously coincided with the rise of India’s stock in terms of willingness to balance China. High level visits from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Vietnam indicate there is scope for India to play such a role. It can only do so with credibility in case it is militarily prepared. Military preparation is ongoing but long gestation, involving as it does new raisings and building border roads. Deterrence requires a degree of communication. The deployment helps visibility, quite as the locating of Su 30s did late last decade.
Strategically, the message is that India is on its way towards its intended posture of defensive deterrence. This is distinct from the other candidate postures of compellence, offensive deterrence and defense. It helps avoid the self fulfilling prophecy and creation of a security dilemma for itself in Chinese over reaction. With time, availability in greater numbers will make the weapon system significant for mountain warfare. Till then the first step are useful for operational mastery.
Ali Ahmed is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Posted by Professional Matters at 9:34 PM