Daulat Beg Oldi: Lessons not learnt

Friday, May 17, 2013

A 2010 high-level army assessment had predicted Chinese designs on Daulet Beg Oldi but India’s civilian rulers could not care less. Mayank Singh has the details.
MAYANK SINGH | Issue Dated: May 19, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : China | Depsang | Daulet Beg Oldi | Ladakh | Indian Army | Chinese Army | PLA | BRO | WZC | |
The country may have woken up to the surprising and unexpected news of China entering and tenting in Depsang area, 30 kilometers south of Daulet Beg Oldi, in the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir. But not the Indian Army.

According to a high-level Indian Army report submitted in 2010, this latest transgression by the Chinese army was pretty much on the cards. The report which was prepared under the command of a Lieutenant General was, “intended to be a guidance document for commanders and staff in evolving, reviewing and refining of operational plans with full knowledge and appreciation of the overall strategic context under which Sino-Indian military confrontation may occur and with deep insight into PLA’s military doctrinal content, its military capability, availability and types of forces for application in each sector and forms in which the threat may manifest.”

The high-level report had noted - quite correctly as it turned out on April 15 - that the Chinese strategy is not to grab territory but to send a message and to make political gains. It had predicted that China will avoid the Chusul sector but will try grabbing territory on the Daulet Beg Oldi side

The report speaks of the rise of both India and China but warns against lowering our guards. “While seeking and expecting a benign Sino-Indian cooperative and collaborative Asian geopolitical order, it would be imprudent to ignore China’s politico-military capabilities, its Asian and global ambitions and its track record, mindset and strategic culture. There is no alternative other than to intimately monitor PLA’s military capabilities and striving to institute appropriate deterrent military responses, operational concepts, operational  plans and force postures.’’

The report says that China has a proven record of single-minded pursuit of long term goals and objectives which will lead to an environment of conflict of interests with India. Like in the late 1950s and early 1960s before it culminated in a full-fledged border war, the tactics as far as the Chinese is concerned are tried and tested. Whether by accident or design, Chinese troops are more than ever before, crossing into Indian territory. The Chinese deny the charges and whenever solid evidence is presented, they attribute it to “The inexperience of the post commanders.’’

The military establishment is letting it be known that the latest tactical transgression is aimed at showing to the world that India – which has the third largest standing army in the world – can capitulate because of its own lack of foresight and proper appreciation of security situation in a strategic and sensitive arena.

But the critical question is this: if we continue to ignore threat perceptions issued by the army under the guise of misplaced liberalism, then what happens to the intelligence which is being laid out on a platter? The Chinese are not known for making halfhearted efforts and their focused work in Tibet has significantly added to the threat perception and war waging capabilities against India. In Tibet, China has added 20,000 km of railway tracks over the last two decades, compared to a measly 860 km by India in the same period. Here again, it is question of overlooking sensitive developments. While the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) continues to bicker over its inability to carry loads at high altitude because they do not have helicopters, a decision on it has been conveniently kept on the back burner.

Ever alert to the Chinese threat, the high committee report has systematically collated and presented relevant facts and assessments on aspects which would govern China’s geopolitical and military behaviour in the immediate foreseeable future, especially with regards to India. According to the army, the report is an appreciation of the ground situation and an attempt to put things in perspective – the developments in Ladakh have proved to be uncannily precise.

The report says that in the backdrop of key tenets of PLA’s military doctrine of Active Defence, War Zone Campaign (WZC) and recently-evolved Unrestricted Warfare - keeping in view its sectoral military aims - describes and analyses three plausible operation level scenarios which may emerge in a timeline of 2012-17. The scenarios are analysed for costs-risks-gains to China as well their military and geopolitical impact.

Critical to the Chinese plans is their War Zone Campaign (WZC) Doctrine. According to the report, the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) has formulated military doctrine for fighting war at the operational level which it refers to a war zone. The strategic doctrine dictates that military campaign in a war zone is a series of related battles fought under a unified command to seek political capitulation of the adversary.

The report says that it involves a phased rapid yet calibrated rising of conflict threshold and force application while offering an opportunity to the adversary to capitulate and seek negotiations prior to transcending to next phase in the escalatory ladder. Military destruction and annihilation is only a means; political capitulation of the adversary remains the main objective.

The success of this doctrine is based upon preliminary lulling of the adversary into state of complacency while the PLA upgrades its readiness levels. This preliminary phase, to be executed during peace time and over prolonged periods is referred as “External Calm & Internal Intensity (ECII)”. Once PLA’s desired readiness levels are achieved and geopolitical situation is considered appropriate, the actual military campaign under a unified HQ (WZC HQ) would commence under the WZC Doctrine under three phases.

Phase 1 includes actions by ‘Elite Forces and Sharp Arms (EFSA)’ or Jingbing Liqi. In this phase, special operation forces (SOF) are deployed to gain first hand information of the battle, disrupt the enemy’s build up and make a political statement asking the adversary to back off. The aim is political victory, not territorial gain. If the adversary backs off, the WZC is considered successful.

In Phase 2, if the adversary does not capitulate through EFSA measures, the next phase is to ‘Gain Initiative by Striking First' (GISF) or Xianji Zhidi. The purpose is to prosecute ‘deep non-contact battle’ through long range precision strikes at adversary’s strategic locations and major military infrastructures. These are to be conducted in synergy with intense cyber war and other elements of asymmetric threats. The main objective is to cause decision paralysis and convince the enemy of the inevitability of military annihilation unless they capitulate and seek negotiations. This is often referred to as `winning victory with one strike.’

In the last Phase 3, if politico-military aims have still not been achieved, the PLA plans to fight a ‘Quick Battle to Force Quick Resolution (QBQR) or Suzhan Sujue. At this stage, armoured and mechanized infantry divisions are sent in for a quick and decisive result to force a final political resolution of the conflict.

Says the report, “The three operational scenarios described are: Scenario 1 – Dragon March with Beating Drums (theatre wide military offensive by PLA with incremental and protracted build up); Scenario 2 - Bolt From Blue (theatre wide cold start limited offensive by PLA) and Scenario 3 – Lightning in Monsoons (selective sectoral grab action by PLA in non-campaigning season). While each of the three scenarios is considered plausible, the analysis believes Scenario 3 as “most likely and most dangerous”; scenario 2 as “less likely”; and scenario 1 as “least likely”.

Says former Deputy National Security Advisor, Satish Chandra: “This incident was waiting to happen and this will keep happening unless common perception on LAC is not arrived at. China is deliberately doing this and has kept the border problems alive. It did not come to exchange the maps and the aim is to keep us on the backfoot.”

Concurs Admiral Arun Prakash(retd): “We do not have a long term strategy to deal with China. Our reactions are knee jerk. The Chinese approach on issues comes after deep thought. Each step is part of a plan and the way they deal with every sector is different whereas our political elite lack any clarity on the issue. The Chinese move has been described variously as a mere ‘pimple’,  ‘difference of perception’ and ‘no intrusion’. This time China came 19 kilometers inside; next time it will be 25 kilometers.”

Military insiders say that while China may not attack India, the casual and lackadaisical attitude of the civilian authorities in India towards national security will demoralize the Indian army in the long run and that can only be considered fatal, a point which the high-level report makes in good measure.