Indian military maintains edge over Chinese PLA in high-altitude mountainous regions: Report

Indian military maintains edge over Chinese PLA in high-altitude mountainous regions: Report
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Conventional wisdom suggests that China hold a significant military advantage over India, but recent studies from the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Boston and the Center for a New American Security in Washington suggests that India maintains an edge in high-altitude mountainous environments, CNN reported.

India and China went to war in 1962 that resulted in a Chinese military victory and Beijing declaring ceasefire after securing de-facto control over Aksai Chin.

The month-long battle claimed the lives of around 700 Chinese troops and approximately double that on the Indian side.

Both India and China are nuclear powers. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China has approximately 320 nuclear warheads and while India has only 150.

China is growing its arsenal at a faster rate than India. In the past year, Beijing has increased its arsenal by 40 warheads and New Delhi’s by 10.

Both countries maintain a triad of delivery systems — missiles, bombers and submarines. Both also have a “no first use” policy, however, meaning they have pledged only to use nuclear arms in retaliation to a nuclear attack on their country, CNN said in a report.

India has about 270 fighters and 68 fighter ground attack aircraft. By contrast, China has 157 fighters and a small fleet of ground attack drones in the region.

New Delhi also maintains a string of small air bases near the Chinese border from which it can stage and supply those aircraft, the Belfer study, authored by Frank O’Donnell and Alexander Bollfrass, claimed.

“The high altitude of Chinese air bases in Tibet and Xinjiang, plus the generally difficult geographic and weather conditions of the region, means that Chinese fighters are limited to carrying around half their design payload and fuel,” the study said.

Meanwhile, India has built up its bases in the region with China in mind, according to an October 2019 report from the Center for a New American Security.

“To weather a potential People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attack, India has placed greater emphasis on infrastructure hardening, base resiliency, redundant command, control, and communications systems and improved air defence,” the report stated.

The Belfer study pointed out that China, which is facing perceived threats from the United States on its eastern and southern region, has strengthened its bases there to the neglect of the Himalayas, leaving at least four PLA airbases vulnerable.

“Recent conflicts with Pakistan give the current IAF a level of institutional experience in actual networked combat,” it said.

Lacking such experience, Chinese pilots may have difficulty thinking for themselves in a dynamic aerial battlefield, according to the Belfer report.

“Recent PLAAF exercises with unscripted scenarios have found that pilots are excessively reliant upon ground control for tactical direction. This suggests that PLAAF combat proficiency may be significantly weaker than often estimated,” it said.

While India has the experience in the air, the CNAS report stated it is also hardened on the ground, fighting in places like Kashmir and in skirmishes along its border with Pakistan.

“India is by far the more experienced and battle-hardened party, having fought a series of limited and low-intensity conflicts in its recent past. The PLA, on the other hand, has not experienced the crucible of combat since its conflict with Vietnam in 1979,” the report said.

That month-long border war, launched by China in response to Vietnam’s military intervention in Cambodia, is largely considered a defeat for China.

The PLA had trouble making gains against Vietnamese troops that were smaller in number but vastly more experienced after fighting US forces during the Vietnam War.

Belfer estimated there are about 225,000 Indian ground forces in the region, as well as 200,000 to 230,000 Chinese troops. The numbers may be misleading, CNN reported.

Counted among those PLA forces are units assigned to keep down any chance of insurrection in Xinjiang or Tibet, or deal with any potential conflict along China’s border with Russia.

“China’s economy is five times the size of India’s and Beijing’s defence spending far outstrips New Delhi’s defence budget by a factor of four to one,” said Nishank Motwani, an international advisor at the National Center for Dialogue and Progress in Afghanistan.

“The power differential between China and India is in Beijing’s favour and this asymmetry is only widening,” Motwani added.

China’s state-run Global Times on Tuesday — after the clash with Indian troops the night before — mentioned the new weapons in a report on war games in the mountainous region.

“These kinds of drills demonstrated the PLA’s capability to win a regional, high-elevation conflict in its early stages by decisively eradicating the hostile headquarters and commanders, a PLA veteran who was once deployed in Tibet and asked not to be named told the Global Times,” the report said.

While China may be largely on its own facing off against India in the Himalayas, New Delhi has been developing defence relationships with countries wary of Beijing as a rising military power.New Delhi has grown closer to the United States’ military in recent years, with Washington calling India a “major defence partner” while increasing bilateral and multilateral training.

The Belfer report cited an example of what might happen if China was to surge troops from its interior to the front lines in the mountains.

“Such a Chinese surge would also attract attention from the United States, which would alert India and enable it to counter-mobilise its own additional forces from its interior,” it said.

India participates in joint military drills with countries like the US, Japan, France and Australia.

“Western troops participating in such war games and exercises regularly have expressed a grudging admiration for their Indian counterparts’ tactical creativity and a high degree of adaptability,” the CNAS report said. (ANI)