- Cabinet committee to assess diplomatic implications
New Delhi, July 16:The cabinet committee on security is to shortly take a call on the diplomatic ramifications of raising a new army formation for the China frontier in the east and the Northeast.
The defence ministry has all but finalised the plan for a proposed “mountain strike corps” that the army has been wanting for the last two years, and officials believe the financial requirement of more than Rs 60,000 crore could be spread over five years. The finance ministry this month cleared the defence establishment’s proposal.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his CCS colleagues will now weigh the diplomatic impact of the decision to raise the China-specific corps. The Indian Army currently has a total of 12 corps, including three strike corps (1, 2 and 21). Four of the corps are either dedicated to or have elements on the China frontier. But their operational role is mostly defensive.
The last time the Indian Army created a new corps was just after the Kargil war of 1999 — the Leh-headquartered 14 corps. The corps has two divisions (8 and 3) that are tasked in Kargil, Drass and Batalik on the northern stretch of the Line of Control with Pakistan and the Line of Actual Control with China in Ladakh. In addition it has a separate brigade for Siachen.
The mountain strike corps that the army now wants is a much larger force to be made up almost entirely of new raisings. The creation of the corps will add substantially to the army’s strength — and impact on its budget — but increasing frequency of transgressions on the China frontier has added ballast to its argument that the mountain strike corps is a necessity. In the last two years, the army has also raised two divisions largely for Arunachal.
Key establishments of the mountain strike corps would be based in Bengal — in the existing military cantonments of Panagarh and Barrackpore — but would also require building of division and brigade headquarters in Bihar and Assam.
The Indian Air Force has also decided that its next squadron of Hercules C130J transport aircraft, made by the US’ Lockheed Martin, would also be based in Bengal. (The only other squadron is based at Hindon near Delhi).
A strike corps is larger and more mobile than a defensive or “pivot” corps and is an integrated formation with elements of infantry, mechanised and armoured forces, airlift capability and artillery. A corps comprises between two and three infantry divisions backed up by artillery. The mountain strike corps could have as many as four.
For a mountain strike corps, the requirement of “wheels” — ground mobile platforms — would be less than a strike corps tasked for an operational area in the plains. But its aviation — mainly helicopters — component would be larger than usual. A strike corps also has elements of the air force dedicated to it.
The nature of mountain warfare dictates the taking of high vantage positions. The army has assessed that the new formation should have 45,000 to 50,000 soldiers, easily making it the largest of its kind in the armed forces. This is not very far from the manpower of the entire Indian Navy that is a little more than 55,000.
The army is understood to have proposed that the main airlift capability of the new corps should comprise indigenously made Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters. But the defence establishment is also now considering buying the twin-rotor Chinook helicopters that can airlift troops as well move light howitzers underslung.
Though the Chinook helicopter, made by Boeing, and the M777 light howitzers have been selected by the air force and the army, they have not yet been contracted with all the systems.