India continues to slowly but steadily build military-to-military+ ties with China, even as it keeps its armed forces on high operational readiness along the western front with Pakistan for any contingency after the cross-border surgical strikes of September 29.
India and China, after holding their first-ever joint tactical exercises in eastern Ladakh and Sikkim along the disputed 4,057-km Line of Actual Control+ (LAC) earlier this year, are now getting set for their annual ‘Hand-in-Hand’ (HiH) combat exercise at Aundh, near Pune in Maharashtra, from November 15 to 27.
Sources said the sixth edition of the HiH exercise, which has emerged as a major confidence-building measure between the world’s largest and second-largest standing armies, will see participation from over 170 troops from the recently-upgraded Tibet Military Command of People’s Liberation Army.
Armed with weaponry ranging from 12.7mm anti-material rifles and flame-throwers to “corner-shooting systems” and laser-blinding devices, the PLA troops+ will practice counter-terrorism drills with Maratha Light Infantry soldiers equipped with their own specialised weapons.
The exercise will also focus on “trans-national terrorism”, with China grappling with the expanding influence of jihadist group Islamic State in Xinjiang, as India deals with cross-border militancy actively fuelled by Pakistan.
China has long used Pakistan to bog India down in south Asia. Apart from the stark military asymmetry, India remains worried about China’s major upgrade of military infrastructure all along the LAC as well as the PLA’s expanding footprint in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. To make matters worse, China has also blocked India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group+ , as also the designation of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist by the UN.
But brushing aside such irritants, India is stepping up its defence ties with China with more military exercises, top-level visits, hotlines and other CBMs, while also boosting its military deterrence along the LoC, as earlier reported by TOI.
While the LoC with Pakistan remains volatile with almost daily exchanges of fire, the LAC has not seen a single shot being fired for decades. There has also been a slight decline in troop face-offs between India and China after the two inked the border defence cooperation agreement in October 2013. But “transgressions” across the LAC+ – military euphemism for troop incursions – continue unabated with over 200 such incidents being recorded this year.
The first two editions of the HiH exercises were held at Kunming (China) in 2007 and Belgaum in 2008 but were then frozen after diplomatic spats over visa and other issues in 2009-2010. After being revived in 2013, with the third edition being held at Miaoergang in China, the exercise has now become a regular feature.
Military problems between India and China
- China’s continuing help to Pakistan to modernise its military, nuclear & missile arsenals.
- China’s huge military infrastructure build-up in Tibet Autonomous Region, with missile bases, fi ve fully-operational airbases, extensive rail network & over 58,000km of roads.
- Growing presence of PLA troops in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir 4,057km Line of Actual Control (LAC) unresolved despite 19 rounds of talks between special representatives
Bilateral military CBMs
Border Personnel meeting points at Chushul & DBO (Ladakh), Nathu La (Sikkim), Bum La & Kibithu (Arunachal).
- Annual hand-in-hand Army exercise.
- The two armies have now also begun to hold small joint tactical exercises along the LAC.
- Top-level military exchanges and visits by warships to each other’s ports. Annual defence dialogue between defence secretaries.
- Border Defence Cooperation Agreement of October 2013 strengthens de-escalatory steps to defuse border face-offs. Prohibits “tailing” of other side’s patrols in disputed areas
Steps to militarily deter China
- Agni-III (3,000-km) inducted.
- Agni-IV (3,500-km) & Agni-V (over 5,000-km) undergoing trials.
- More Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, spy drones & helicopters in eastern theatre.
- More T-72 tanks in Ladakh & Arunachal.
- 2 new infantry divisions (36,000 soldiers) raised at Likabali & Missamari (Assam) in 2009-2010.
- Mountain Strike Corps (90,274 soldiers) to be fully raised by 2021.
- Ongoing deployment of six Akash surface-to-air missile squadrons in northeast.
- A regiment of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles to be deployed in Arunachal.
- Activated advance landing grounds in Ladakh (DBO, Nyoma & Fukche) and Arunachal (Pasighat, Mechuka, Walong, Along & Ziro).
- Military force-levels and infrastructure to be bolstered in Andaman and Nicobar Islands