China is a major world power with the largest military of the world and the second largest economy in the world. China’s defence budget is four times India’s defence budget, and military infrastructure is better developed on the Chinese side. India and China have a tense relationship over the last 60 years, including a major war in 1962. There have been regular clashes, ending with the recent violent conflict in Galwan Valley. China also resorts to arm-twisting downstream countries by controlling the water flow of rivers like Siang/Brahmaputra.
To tackle China in
the long term, one major step is to urgently boost infrastructure like roads,
bridges, railways, airports and military infrastructure along the border areas.
Good roads and railways will allow rapid mobilization whenever required. The
other critical infrastructures include hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) at air
bases, underground command & control posts (C2), and ammunition and
petroleum depots at key areas.
The infrastructure on the Chinese side is well-developed, including all-weather roads, dams and railways, which allow mobilization of large forces in short time. The same level of development is lacking on Indian side. Strategic roads like the Tezpur-Tawang road are still under construction for the last 50 plus years. Similarly, roads from Likabali-Daporijo-Taksing, Aalo-Mechuka/Manigaon, Pasighat-Tuting, Tezu-Walong-Kibithoo and the Trans-Arunachal Highway are still being constructed and are not all-weather roads.
Many key bridges
cannot take heavy vehicles, although the road/bridges infrastructure has
improved a lot during the last few years, like the Bogibeel road/rail bridge
over the Brahmaputra, the 9.15 km Sadiya bridge, the 6.5 km Bomjir bridge, the
Sisirri bridge, etc. Advanced landing grounds have also been constructed in
Pasighat, Ziro, Mechuka, Aalo, Tuting and Walong.
Most air bases in the NE lack HAS to protect our fighter aircraft. Lack of HAS would make our aircraft very vulnerable to aerial attack. Similarly, key bases in the Northeast lack well-protected underground structures for C2 centres and key installations. These vital infrastructures can easily be targeted by enemy forces with bombs/missiles.
challenge is lack of adequate ammunition and POL depots north of the
Brahmaputra. The few bridges over the Brahmaputra would be prime targets for
the enemy. In case of destruction of these bridges, there would be acute
shortage of large amounts of ammunition, bombs, missiles and POL required to
sustain large-scale military operations.
The other critical
area is the few bridges in the Chicken Neck area near the Siliguri corridor
that connects the Northeast with the mainland. These few important railway/road
bridges over the Teesta river are the only connection with the mainland. These
critical bridges need to be protected or made underground below the river.
It is also perplexing that the headquarters of the army corps responsible for Arunachal is based deep inside Dimapur. To tackle a powerful adversary like China, India must invest in a robust strategic infrastructure along the border to support large-scale military operations. The long term neglect of military and strategic infrastructure in the NE needs to be reversed and expedited. 1962 should not be repeated.
(Group Captain M Panging Pao is a retired Group from the Indian Air Force)