Contours of Future Sino India War by Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi (Retd)
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STRIVE (Veteran’s Think Tank) conducted a seminar on 16 Feb 2023. The GOC-in-C Central Command delivered a Keynote address which was followed by a panel discussion. The panel consisted of Lt Gen Dushyant Singh, PVSM, AVSM (Veteran), Air Marshal D Choudhury, PVSM, AVSM, VM, VSM (Veteran) and Maj Gen Harsha Kakar (Veteran). The moderator of the discussion was Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi, AVSM, VSM (Veteran).
Setting the Stage
The stage for the discussion was set by the Chairman, STRIVE, Maj Gen A. Parmar, VSM, when he raised a set of questions, which were as follows: –
- What will be the nature of the conflict: will it be a protracted war or an intense one or a protracted one with intense periods in between?
- Is India ready for a war which can stretch for a longer period for which equipment support from friendly powers would be needed or India needs to go for Atma Nirbharta to avoid dependence on others because after all dependence on others makes a nation vulnerable to international pulls and pressures?
- Besides Salami slicing across the LAC suggested by itself, over the years, China has started getting into agreements with a number of countries around India which was termed by Booz Allen Hamilton, an American Analyst in 2004, as ‘String of Pearls’. What does this approach of China indicate for future of Sino-Indian relations? Also, will the war be limited to only mountains, or will it spill into cyber, space grey zone domain? China’s space programme has mastered the ability to close-in one satellite with another in orbit, allowing for close-up kills, either by destroying an enemy satellite with a projectile or blinding its optics with lasers. It is also developing jamming and other cyber capabilities. Demonstration of which was noticed in the hacking of AIIMS Delhi in Dec 2022. China’s grey-zone strategy is incremental, slowly nibbling at the edges, making use of diverse military and non-military measures, being careful not to drive others into a major war, controlled at the highest Party levels and ensuring that the operation sustains.
- George Fernandes was first to have identified China as ‘Threat number -1, as early as 1998. In 2021 Late Gen Bipin Rawat again confirmed the apprehension of George Fernandes. Do we have any clarity now? In this connection a history of anti-India stance of China is quite evident. Some of the examples are illustrated here. China opposes Indian membership of 48-member Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, though most of the members support India’s case. Putting technical holds for designation of terrorists as global terrorists at the behest Pakistan. In this connection since June 2022 China, has put holds on proposals to blacklist Pakistan-based terrorists Hafiz Talha Saeed, Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Shahid Mahmood, Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist Sajid Mir, senior Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) leader Abdul Rauf Azhar and Abdul Rehman Makki under the Al Qaeda Sanctions regime. Opposition to India in international fora after India neutralized Article 370 (which actually amounts to interference in the internal affairs of India). Here it is relevant that in 1960s and 70s, China had supported Kashmir’s so-called right to self-determination and armed rebellion against India. It had even supported Pakistan in its war against India in 1965 and 1971. , though this support never crossed verbal limits. China’s arrogance can be noted with the fact that she wants India to follow ‘One China’ policy but follows a different policy with respect to Indian territories. Case in point is Staple visas to Indian citizens from J&K and Arunachal Pradesh. Since 1980ies China has started issuing loose leaf stapled visas instead of properly stamped ones to the Indian citizens of J&K. This implies that China does not recognise India’s sovereignty over J&K. The rationale given by China was that giving properly stamped visas to the Indian citizens of J&K would amount to Chinese recognition to India’s authority on Ladakh which China claims as its own. However, it is obvious that China, in a subtle manner was conveying that it considers J&K as the disputed territory. It has been observed that in international politics, when a state does not recognize another state’s authority over some territory, it does not issue a proper visa to the residents of that territory. China has followed the same practice in case of Indian citizens of Arunachal Pradesh which it considers part of its territory.
- China has not been taking seriously all the agreements formalized between the two countries to maintain peace and tranquillity and maintain status quo ante at the LAC. Since 1986-87, when they attempted to alter the status of the LAC by going for an intrusion, famously referred as the Sumdorong Chu / Wangdung incident. Latest being an attempt to capture Yangtze post in 2022. Other intrusions/ attempted intrusions have been Depsang (2013), Chumar (2014), Demchok (2014-15), Doklam (2017), Pangong Tso (2019) and Galwan (2020). Also exploiting the provisions of the agreement of 1995 for not using firearms by resorting to use of non-lethal weapons like base ball bat and use of wooden stick with barbed wire etc. Does this approach suggest that China may not go for a classical war but continue small actions without using firearms and keep doing salami slicing?
- It has been reported that China is upgrading its air bases in Tibet Autonomous Region. Also, it is trying to find bases in IOR for its Navy. Simultaneously, it is improving the quality of its air fleet as well as naval fleet. However, modernization of the PLAAF and the PLAN are still works in progress. India has certain locational advantages as far as IAF is concerned and in case of Indian Navy besides certain geographical advantages on account of its island territories, India due its geopolitical heft has capability to dominate IOR. Therefore, in case of a war how will use of ‘Air power’ and domination of the IOR by Indian Navy will impact the outcome of the war?
- Future battle fields will be such that leveraging of technology by exploiting advances in the domain of AI, IOT, drones and missiles will be battle winning decisive factors. Is India ready for such a battlefield?
- China has gone for massive infrastructure development on their side of LAC. Isn’t there a case to pay more attention on similar development on Indian side of the LAC?
- The outcome of the war with China will be decided by applying the Comprehensive National Power (CNP). Is CNP of India has enough heft to take on China and if not, what are the areas of improvement?
The Army Cdr, in his Keynote Address, covered the following aspects: –
- Geopolitical scenario prevailing at the moment and its impact on Sino-India relations. Pakistan, as a proxy of China, will continue to be a source of problems for India. Security dimensions in the maritime domain will grow to be a cause of concern.
- China’s aspiration to replace the liberal world order with an authoritarian one; one where China will have centrality. A thriving and vibrant democratic India can be an impediment to China’s aspiration.
- Advances made by China in the technological domain will impact multi domain operations.
- Changing Trends of Warfare: Hybrid warfare and exploitation of new technologies will increase. Alliances play an important role in warfare today. Since economy is important for a nation’s preparation for a sustained war, role of corporates will become important in building national power. Social media too plays an important role in shaping the domestic as well as international opinion. Non state actors can cause internal/ external security problems, even cause economic problems. The role of technology, especially in the ISR domain is critical to prepare a response strategy. Similarly, the use of drones will revolutionize the nature of warfare.
- Keeping in view the perceived objectives and changing trends of warfare, a full-scale war in a classical sense would be unlikely. However, conflicts arising out of the grey zone tactics are likely to continue. China may exploit cyber and space to cause problems for India. China is living with the bitter memories of century of humiliation and her doctrinal thoughts suggest a need to wipe away the are bitter memories of the past. China is likely to bide time. China would opt for only effect-based operations. China would engage India in other domains too. Multi-dimensional non-contact operations would be likely.
Based on the introductory remarks of the Chairman Strive and issues flagged by the Army Commander, panel as mentioned above got together to discuss the various aspects of the future war/ conflict with China. The themes taken up were as follows: –
- Theme-1: Nuances of operations if they happen now.
- Theme-2: Role of air power in deciding the outcome of operations.
- Theme-3: Crystal gazing about the shape of future battlefield which will necessitate a de novo look about the design of the operations and related structures to execute the battle.
Lt Gen Dushyant Singh, PVSM, AVSM, expressed handled Theme-1. Some of the relevant points were as follows: –
- Since both countries are nuclear armed the nature of operations will be in the backdrop of such a condition.
- China is facing many challenges at the moment, some of these are as follows: –
- Economic slow down in post pandemic period.
- Climate change is impacting water security resulting into food security- China has imported about 8.1% of food grains in 2021 which is grown at the rate of about 4.99 % over the previous year.
- There is a slowdown in the real estate- property investment fell for the first time in 2022 since records began in 1999.
- Flight of technology companies has started- in Aug 2022, the factory activity contracted for a second month in succession.
- That Pakistan made it to the top 10 failed states index of the Foreign Policy magazine was perhaps expected (from #34 last year to #9 this year), but what surprised many was China’s slide to #54, compared to #93 position for India.
- India is growing economically and by some estimates is likely to become third largest economy by 2035 and as per OECD baseline projections likely to overtake the US in terms of the size of GDP in purchasing power parity terms by 2040.
- Options for China–
- Grey zone operations at local level- current state of unarmed combat may continue.
- Short intense operations over a limited area.
- Present Chinese regime thinks India is a low hanging fruit- this thought process may tempt China to go ahead with a kind of mis adventure against India.
- Limits of conflict may extend to Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh.
- Indian Response Strategy should be based on following: –
- Mobilization of reserves is critical- speed of infrastructure build-up needs to be enhanced-
- India needs to be ready for grey zone warfare- major element of Chinese strategy will be based on info warfare, cyber-attacks- nimble footed diplomacy besides military-based response will have to be factored in the response strategy: creating an integrated organisation to deal with grey zone warfare unleashed by China will give rich dividends. Also, Defence Intelligence Agency needs to be given additional statutory power to improve its effectiveness.
- Establishment of integrated theatre commands will enhance the effectiveness of the response. To further add to it ISR capability and capability for the inter theatre command needs to be enhanced. Integrated space-based capability and capability to retain domination in the maritime domain will have to be built/strengthened.
- At the military strategic and operational level India needs to focus on:
- Higher defence management and decision-making matrix must facilitate proactive and timely response including a pre-emptive response for which:
- ISR capability must be enhanced and integrated with other national and international resources.
- Tri -service capability must become the thinking parameter of any ops irrespective of where it is taking place.
- Strat deterrence must be backed by credible conventional deterrence.
- War waging and sustenance capability must be continuously enhanced especially as we are unlikely to get a limitless support that Ukraine is getting in the ongoing Russia – Ukraine War.
- Firepower and Force Multiplier capability.
- Maritime capability development to respond to any threats especially to our Island territories.
- Seamlessly Integrating the Space based capabilities with the Armed Forces.
- Higher defence management and decision-making matrix must facilitate proactive and timely response including a pre-emptive response for which:
Air Marshal D Choudhury, PVSM, AVSM, VM, VSM covered the Theme-2 in his address. Major aspects about the use of Air power as a battle winning factors flagged by him were as follows: –
- The war is unlikely to be short and swift and need will be to achieve surprise and unpredictability. In such a scenario use of air power will not only be relevant but will be critical. However, the defensive policy against China, which India had been following all these years needs to be reviewed. It is indeed heartening to see the change in last few years and certain positive results, especially post Doklam, are now being seen. It also needs to be appreciated that small land-based victories in minor skirmishes should not be taken as a measure of success but for a long and protracted war much more needs to be done as a part of the application of the CNP. It needs to be appreciated that national resilience and national resolve to stand up to China will be of great importance.
- The conflict scenario will have a shadow of Sino-US dynamics. Therefore US-India relations assume great importance as they will have a bearing on shape and design of operations. These relations make China quite uncomfortable. Good development from China’s point of view is Russo-Ukrainian war which has helped her to further strengthen her relations with Russia, which she feels will be her hedge against US design to isolate in evolving geopolitical scenario.
- However, now India is on main strategic calculus of China, which she feels needs to be tackled before they take on Taiwan, mainly because China is worried about two front war. The establishment of Xiaokang villages on border is a part of her strategy to improve her claims in disputed areas along the LAC, besides helping her to use them as listening/ observation post as well as firm bases for action across the LAC. In this connection she insists that the world should concur to her ‘One China’, policy. It is a separate issue that she does not respect the sovereignty of countries like India, which reflects on her power of arrogance and is one of the points of perceptual incongruence, which accentuates the tension between the two countries.
- China is also following strategy of dominating island chains for her maritime security as well as her design to dominate her maritime interests. First chain, stretching from North from Kuril Islands, The Japanese Archipelago, Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, Northwest Philippines and ending at Borneo in South. The Second chain consists of Japan’s Bonin Islands and Volcano Islands, in addition to the Mariana Islands (most notably Guam, an unincorporated US overseas territory), western Caroline Islands, and extends to western New Guinea. Third chain begins at the Aleutian Islands and runs south across the centre of the Pacific Ocean towards Oceania, through the Hawaiian Islands, American Samoa and Fiji, to reach New Zealand. Australia acts as a mating point between second and third chains. As can be seen the second and the third chain are manifestation of China’s expansionist policy. In recent times China appears to be going for fourth and fifth chains which stretch into Indian Ocean and that is where strategic interests of India and China clash.
- In her pursuit of her maritime interests China is going for modernization of both PLAAF as well as PLAN. However, both are, at best, work in progress. No wonder she is concentrating on Rocket Force at the moment with an improved circular error of probability (CEP). The current state of the readiness of China provides an opportunity to India to dominate IOR with Indian Navy and with an extended reach of the air power. Even in mountainous region of North Air power of India has certain advantage due to geography, wherein China suffers certain handicap on account of her airfields being in High altitude. In this connection results of Ex ‘Gangan Shakti’ are quite relevant, which confirmed that the IAF has plans to optimally utilize its resources to add to the application of the comprehensive military power against China.
- Given the terrain friction, IAF will also have a significant role in: assisting the Indian Army (IA) by targeting PLAs offensive elements, and keeping the PLAAF off the IA’s back; offensive targeting if PLA’s logistic nodes and lines of communication and access to the front lines and it’s depth reserves and assets, by way of interdiction; and targeting depth PLAAF airfields infrastructure, it’s Integrated Air Defence system and counter value and counterforce strategic targets. The IAF will need to breach Western Theatre Command’s Anti Access and Anti Area Denial Air Defence (A2AD) strategy, by stand-off targeting, innovative penetration tactics, and offensive saturation. IAF’s immense high altitude Ops capability, ops experience robust training and tactics will prevail over PLAAF for the present and the near future.
- However, capacity of the IAF needs to be improved to make it ready for a protracted engagement. Role of IAF to improve battlefield logistics needs to be given a relook and this is where better infrastructure in border areas needs immediate attention. To reduce the force asymmetry, better AD RADARs and target acquisition capability is relevant.
- Jointless of the services in planning and coordination among the Services is the definite need of the hour. However, form and structures for the same need further deliberations. In this connection the ‘National Security objectives’ as well as military objectives need to be crystalized.
Maj Gen Harsha Kakar in his talk crystal gazed on conflict scenarios. Some of the relevant issues flagged by the speaker were as follows: –
- Relations stable but unpredictable.
- Over a period of time, Indian leadership misread China and thought that China could be handled diplomatically and with accommodation of Chinese interests – China considered it India’s weakness.
- However, Indian response at Galwan, Kailash ridge and Yangtze shocked China.
- In overall estimation China considers, USA, Taiwan, Japan, and India impediments to her stated objective of becoming ‘Numero uno’ power in the world.
- Why is India treated as a Challenger by China?
- India is member of QUAD and I2U2, is a major Asian ally of USA and also as part of its ‘Act East’ policy India is evolving as a major partner of the ASEAN.
- Gradually India’s reputation as a reliable partner is improving as against China whose reliability is getting eroded.
- Indian response at Doklam, Galwan and Yangtze has shown to the world that India can stand-up to China- hence China’s objective is to crush Indian attempts with a view to show to the world that India cannot be their role model.
- Differing perceptions of India and China on the Bilateral Relations– China wants India not to let the border issue define/ hinder the bilateral relations. India, on the contrary, feels that the bedrock of a lasting relationship has to be based on mutual respect and sensitivity towards each other’s concerns and first step in that direction will be observance of the mutual border agreements between the two countries in letter and spirit.
- Perceived Chinese intentions and Challenges–
- China wants to change the world order.
- Xi Jinping feels that while Taiwan may cause global shock but Sino- Indian conflict is unlikely to cause similar response- hence probability of a scaled-up conflict with India is a distinct possibility.
- Loss to India or failure to achieve strategic objectives in a Sino-India conflict will be a big blow to China, both diplomatically as well as militarily.
- Growing India challenge to China’s leadership in global supply chain, and improved ties with the like-minded nations needs to be checked before it becomes too late.
- Due to her own internal problems and economic collapse Pakistan is increasingly losing its propensity to cause trouble for India and therefore China feels that onus is on them to cause trouble for India.
- PLA’s motivation due to conscription is at best suspect. Also, impact on the quality of manpower due to single child policy of China (which recently they have scrapped) and urbanization is substantial. Finally, PLA has limited experience in mountain warfare.
- Since PLAN is still lacks capability to dominate Maritime domain, China may indulge in a misadventure in North.
- While leveraging of technology is a great force multiplier but merging technology with warfare is still in nascent stage in China.
- Likely Chinese Strategy–
- In near future salami slicing to continue but a possibility of a full conflict under informationisation and nuclear umbrella cannot be ruled out. Aim of every operation of China will be to grab land and natural resources. In such a scenario effect-based attacks on Strategic HQ, Logistic Hubs, Choke points and airfields is a distinct possibility with a view to force India for discussion. However, it needs to be appreciated that the probability of success in the Contact warfare is only there in mountains- India needs to work on a counter strategy based on improved ISR and rapid reaction force.
- China will continue her efforts to embarrass India on regional and global fora and try to deny India entry into global bodies.
The moderator summed up the points raised during the discussion and some of the important take always were; need for expeditious infrastructure build-up in border areas; India needs to be ready for a full scale war but continue being weary of China’s salami slicing and grey zone operations; India needs to work on improving the CNP of the nation because China can be tackled only by application of the CNP against her; and the defensive policy against China needs to be shed because China understand language of power and sooner India improves her capacity and capability this policy will become that much more credible. Finally, Atma Nirbharta, nimble footed but firm diplomacy and national resilience will have to be the bed rock of the response strategy of India.
Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi, AVSM, VSM (Retd) is a retired Indian Army General Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, NE, Andaman Nikobar on various appointments at Command and Army HQs. He is Vice Chairman of Think Tank, “STRIVE”, after retirement is pursuing his favourite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals, and think tanks.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the STRIVE.
3 thoughts on “Contours of Future Sino India War by Maj Gen AK Chaturvedi (Retd)”
A rapid build up of our capabilities, in various areas , as discussed by the panel , has been well brought out.
In addition to developing a capability to inflict severe damage to the Chinese war machine in the event of a war India needs to speed up activities that can weaken them internally and their resolve to wage war.
A free Tibet is a long term solution to the Chinese designs to trouble India, Bhutan and Nepal. All measures should be taken to support Free Tibet forces.
Pakistan’s capabilities , an ally of China, and a perpetual threat and which is likely to join them if a war breaks out, need to be reduced using all means.
India’s diplomatic moves to win friends and build alliances are in the right direction.
Internal enemies within the country are identified.This is one area that needs sustained attention and will strengthen the resolve to fight the enemies unitedly.
An integrated response has to be built up to face the challanges posed by China and Pakistan.
A great very educative and thought provoking presentation and write up. There is hardly any thing or idea which has not been covered.
Only thing we have to keep in mind and prepare our selves to be able to use surprise element. Be prepared to be surprised for most unthought of approach by the enemy and plane to surprise the chinese by hitting him in place in which he think he is very strong for example use of AI. Blocking his electronic capabilities, though may appear, if not impossible but certainly difficult. Our DRDO and young IITians and young scientist will be able to find out innovative ideas if encouraged.
Greetings of the day. Congratulations for the successful conduct of the seminar. Very informative and useful indeed. It couldn’t have been better.
However, wish to reflect a few quick points:-
✓ One of the China’s aims is to rejuvenate it’s middle kingdom as a global power by 2049 and challenge supremacy of US in an evolving world order. Hence, China will avoid conflict as far as possible unless compelled by “Cost- Benefit – Analysis ” pay offs.
√ While it’s internal fault lines have compelled China to resort to military operations in the periphery in the past; purely to distract the domestic constituency as per its traditional practise of keeping the neighbours subdued continuously, it may not assume the same with India except for small skirmishes along the border in future.
√ However, it’s contact and non- contact means of ” winning without fighting” will continue, not only with India but with the entire world , at least till it’s military might attains some capability by , say 2035 .
√ Hence, It may not go in for a direct confrontation with India as it knows that India is the only country in the world that has stood up to China’s military might post 1962 Sino- India Conflict consistently and effectively.
√ However, it will exploit it’s strengths in ” Cyber , EM , Space ” to start with and then escalate to a ladder of ” Stand-off Kinetic” and lastly ” Boots on ground” with “mechanisation and informatisation” dominating the conflict.
√ China’s vulnerabilities are it’s internal challenges and energy security through SLOC.
√ Some of India’s strengths in its diversity are also it’s vulnerabilities like multiple languages, religion, caste , ethnicities, god’s , goddesses, inequality, multiparty & largest democracy . In addition , long coast line, island territories , IOR and the unsettled borders and being in the early stages of having set- course for a $30 tn economy by 2047 also throw up many challenges as well.
√ Decoupling with China in trade may turn out to be an impractical way fwd .
√ China will apply it’s “36 Strategem” to ensure that it doesn’t come face to face with India but manages to ” raise costs” along the northern and western borders and prevent India’s military might expanding towards it’s coastlines , the IOR and beyond by “selective convenience of exploitation” of collusion between ” Islamisation and communism ” towards India’s southern peninsula by “PROXIES/RADICALISATION” .
√ If India threatens the uninterrupted flow of it’s energy security along the SLOC/ CPEC/ CMEC in future, only then China may be compelled to launch a serious offensive against India; otherwise not.