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DEFENCE-SECURITY

Daulat Beg Oldi: Lessons From Somdurong Chu Incident

China realized the futility of conflict with a determined, well prepared and well-equipped Indian Army.

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The 4057 km long Line of Actual Control (LAC) is the largest un-demarcated and disputed land border in the world. It has the unique distinction of being the most ‘peaceful’ border with not a shot being fired over the last 46 years, save a standoff at Nathu La in 1967, when a display of resolve by the Indian Army prevented further escalation.

However, there have been some serious incidents of escalation of tension between the two nuclear-powered neighbours which were successfully diffused by a combination of adroit diplomacy, ‘show of force’ and political statesmanship.

The most notable among these was the Somdurong Chu incident, sometimes called the Wangdung incident, in 1986-87 in the state of Arunachal Pradesh on the LAC.


On June 26, 1986, the Government of India (GOI) lodged a formal protest with the Chinese government that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had intruded in the Thandrong pasture on the banks of the Somdurong Chu (river) under the Zimithang circle of Tawang district. This was days before the seventh round of border talks which was due between the two countries.

The area of intrusion, in the vicinity of the Thag La ridge, had seen bloody conflict in 1962. Considered neutral since 1962-63, it was not monitored till 1980.

Patrolling resumed in 1981 and by the summer of 1984, India established a post in the area manned by the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), a para-military force, which was vacated in winters. On 16 June 1986, a patrol of 12 ASSAM regiment of the Indian Army noticed Chinese presence in the area and construction of a few permanent structures.


The Chinese soldiers were initially identified to be 40 and were soon reinforced by 200 more troops. They were being maintained by mules along a seven km mule track. By August, they had constructed a helipad and were being air supplied.

The GOI made an offer to China to withdraw from the area with an understanding that India would not reoccupy the vacated area, the following summer. This was rejected by the Chinese. At the Seventh round of border talks that were held from 21-23 July 1986, despite the standoff, the issue was discussed “intensively” with no solution, resulting in acrimony and tension.

Meanwhile, the Chinese ‘dug in’ to prepare to stay through the winter of 1986. The Indian Army then airlifted a Brigade from 5 Mountain Division to Zimithang and occupied the ridges dominating the Somdurong Chu. Deng Xiaoping took a tough stand and said that it was time to “teach India a lesson”, a message conveyed through the visiting US Secretary of Defence, Caspar Weinberger during a stopover at New Delhi from Beijing. Simultaneously, the PLA moved 20,000 troops of the 53 Group Army and 13 Group Army along with guns and helicopters.

There were reports that unemployed Tibetan youth were recruited at RMB 300 per month, essentially for administrative duties.

Tibetans also reported movement and mobilisation of PLA in the areas around Lhasa and parts of the Tibetan plateau. The Indian Army moved up to three divisions into the positions around Wangdung, maintaining them by air.


In addition, as many as ten divisions were mobilised to the Eastern sector with almost 50,000 troops in Arunachal Pradesh alone with substantial assets from the Indian Air Force.

Simultaneously, the Indian Army conducted a massive air-land exercise called ‘Chequerboard ‘ which commenced in October 1986 and continued till March 1987.

This was in conjunction with another major military exercise called ‘Brasstacks’ on the western borders. These exercises demonstrated the will and capability of the Indian armed forces to fight a war on both fronts.

Soon after, hectic diplomatic parleys between the two countries worked towards defusing the situation. In April 1987, defence minister K.C Pant made a scheduled transit halt at Beijing and delivered a message of peace. In May 1987 the external affairs minister N.D Tiwari visited China reaffirming the desire of the GOI to continue border talks and lower tensions. In August, the field commanders met on the ground and agreed to move their posts apart.

By November, the eighth round of border talks was held which called for an end to ‘military confrontation’ and laid the groundwork for the pullback of the militaries. Subsequently, China extended an invitation to Rajiv Gandhi to visit China in 1988.

What were the lessons learnt?

For China, it appears the standoff diverted the focus of attention from Aksai-chin to the Eastern sector, linking the two to any future solution of the border dispute.

China also realized the futility of conflict with a determined, well prepared and well-equipped Indian Army.

According to Keshav Mishra, “Overt display of military power had effectively neutralised any adventurist step” by China.

Moreover, it was China that extended the ‘olive branch’ inviting Rajiv Gandhi to visit China in a bid to normalise the relations. In retrospect, the firm will of the GOI may have been instrumental in shaping China’s strategy of ‘a face-saving pull out’ from Somdurong Chu.


For India, it was a wakeup call. The GOI immediately shifted focus on infrastructure development, logistic management, redeployment of additional resources and construction of airfields and advanced landing grounds in the North East, changing its policy of years of neglect of the erstwhile North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA).

As a beginning, India voted for statehood for NEFA and the new state of Arunachal Pradesh was created in December 1986. It would be pertinent to quote Rajiv Gandhi in his speech to Parliament on 3rd March 1987.

He said: “There has been tension on our border with China. We want a peaceful settlement of the border issue. It will need wisdom and statesmanship. It will need vision and firmness. Firmness is included in wisdom….. It is this perspective that should guide our countries in seeking a solution to the problem“.

The recent Chinese intrusion at Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) on 15 April this year and the ongoing standoff with the PLA is in many ways similar to the Somdorung-Chu incident. India could do well to learn from the past while chalking out strategies for an amicable solution to the present.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Originally published by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.inhere.

Mandip Singh

Brig Mandip Singh VSM was commissioned into the Regiment of Artillery in 1983. He is a graduate of the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington and done the Higher Command Course at Mhow. He has commanded an Artillery Regiment in Jammu & Kashmir on the Line of Control and an Artillery Brigade in the Western sector.

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DEFENCE-SECURITY

The Nation Can Count On Us: Army Chief After Two-Day Visit To Leh-Ladakh

“The nation can count on us,” said General Naravane after 2-day visit to Leh-Ladakh.

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LEH (Ladakh UT): The Indian Army Chief General Naravane arrived at Leh on Thursday and proceeded to forward areas to undertake a firsthand assessment of the situation along the Line of Actual Control. He interacted with soldiers and local commanders deployed in difficult high altitude forward areas.

Also Read: After IAF Chief, IA General MM Naravane Reviews Situation Along LAC In Ladakh

The Army Chief appreciated the high morale and standards of professionalism exhibited by the units in safeguarding territorial integrity.


“The nation can count on us,” said General Naravane after 2-day visit to Leh-Ladakh.

The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) interacted with soldiers and local commanders deployed in difficult High Altitude forward areas. He appreciated their high morale and standards of professionalism exhibited by the units in safeguarding own territorial integrity. The COAS urged all ranks to remain vigilant and maintain a high order of operational readiness,” the Army release said.

Later, at Leh, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command Lieutenant General YK Joshi and General Officer Commanding, Fire and Fury Corps Lieutenant General Harinder Singh briefed him on the state of operational preparedness and on the logistics arrangements for the sustenance of forces in winters.

General Naravane expressed satisfaction at the efforts being made to ensure operational effectiveness and capability enhancement of the forces.


Tensions flared in eastern Ladakh after the PLA unsuccessfully attempted to occupy Indian territory in the Southern Bank of Pangong lake four days back when the two sides were engaged in diplomatic and military talks to resolve the festering border row.

India occupied a number of strategic heights on the southern bank of Pangong lake and strengthened its presence in Finger 2 and Finger 3 areas in the region to thwart any Chinese actions.

Beijing has strongly objected to India’s move.

Indian Air Force Too Fully Prepared:

On Thursday, IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria also made a visit at the bases in the Eastern Air Command, where he was apprised of the readiness state and operational preparedness of the combat units by the respective air officers commanding.


The Indian Air Force has deployed frontline fighters and attack helicopters, in the eastern Ladakh sector to tackle any hostile situation. From its frontline fighters like Su-30MKI to MiG-29, the IAF has also deployed newly inducted Apache attack helicopters and Chinook strategic heavy-lift choppers.

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DEFENCE-SECURITY

After IAF Chief, IA General MM Naravane Reviews Situation Along LAC In Ladakh

Gen Naravane visited forward post yesterday and took stock of preparedness from with officers, JCOs.

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LADAKH (Indian UT): Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Naravane has said that the situation at the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh is sensitive and tense. However, he said, the morale of our Jawans is high and they are ready to deal with all challenges.

Speaking to a News Agency, he said, keeping in view of the situation, we have taken precautionary deployment for our own safety and security, so that our security and integrity remains safeguarded.

Gen Naravane visited forward post yesterday and interacted with officers, JCOs and took stock of preparedness.


The Army Chief said, “the Jawans are highly motivated and are fully prepared to deal with any situation that may arise. General Naravane praised the Jawans that our officers and men are the finest in the world and will make not only the Army but also the nation proud“.

He said, “for the last two to three months, the situation has been tense but India continuously has been engaging with China both at the military and diplomatic levels and will continue in the future also“.

General Naravane expressed confidence in resolving the differences through the medium of talks. At the same time, he assured that the status quo has not changed and we are able to safeguard the country’s interests.


Yesterday:

With the continuing tensions between Indian and Chinese Armies in Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Indian Air Force chief RKS Bhadauria visited frontline air bases in Eastern Air Command (EAC) on Wednesday and reviewed the operational preparedness of the combat units.

He also interacted with air warriors serving in these units during the course of his visit.

“Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) visited frontline air bases in Eastern Air Command (EAC) on September 2, 2020. On arrival at the bases in Eastern Air Command the CAS was received by respective Air Officers Commanding who apprised him of the readiness state and operational preparedness of the combat units under their command,” an official release said.

The visits of Bhadauria and Naravane come at a time when Indian troops have thwarted the Chinese Army’s attempts to transgress into areas in Ladakh.


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The Subject Of Being Atma Nirbhar In Defence Technology

DRDO has to navigate through a complex web of stakeholders and labyrinthine bureaucratic processes.

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Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Vocal for Local” call and launch of Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (Self-Reliant India Campaign), the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has tweaked its capital acquisition manual to promote greater self-reliance in defence production.

On July 27, it released the draft Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 (DAP-2020) for public comments. The draft incorporates suggestions received from various stakeholders on a previous draft – the draft Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP-2020) – which was also put in the public domain.

Among other features, the draft DAP-2020 improvises upon Chapter III A of the draft DPP-2020, which was articulated with the intention to streamline para 72 of Chapter II of the existing DPP that facilitates the acquisition of systems designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) and the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).


Will the Chapter-III A make a difference in realising Prime Minister Modi’s call for an Atma Nirbhar Bharat? The answer lies in understanding the issues surrounding the indigenous development of defence equipment by the Indian entities, particularly the DRDO, and then juxtaposing them with the procedures articulated in Chapter III A.

Since its creation in 1958, the DRDO has been at the forefront of indigenous design and development of defence equipment. The organisation, which has 24,700 employees, including 7,300 scientists, and a budget of Rs 19,327 crore (or four per cent of the MoD’s budget for 2020-21), is known for many remarkable achievements in strategic programmes, a glimpse of which was the recent successful conduct of Mission Shakti, an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test.

However, in regard to conventional arms, there has been a deep-rooted perception that the DRDO has not been so successful, even though the organisation, with all its human resource and budgetary constraints, has designed and developed a range of complex systems including Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Main Battle Tank Arjun, Pinaka multi-barrel rocket system, advanced towed artillery gun, and myriad other weapons and sensors.


In terms of value, the DRDO-designed products (other than strategic systems), whether inducted or in the process of induction, amount to Rs 2,65,007 crore, as of 2017.

Notwithstanding these achievements, the ultimate users, i.e., the armed forces, often complain about time and cost overruns and performance shortfall of the equipment designed and developed by the DRDO.

It is important to note that unlike strategic systems in which the DRDO has greater freedom in the developmental process, in conventional weapon systems, most of which are developed through the Mission Mode, the DRDO has to navigate through a complex web of stakeholders and labyrinthine bureaucratic processes which often work as a stumbling block.

The involvement of various stakeholders, which include armed forces and production and quality assurance agencies, brings an element of diffused accountability as agencies involved are accountable to different administrative heads.

The lack of synergy among stakeholders has been commented upon by various authorities, including the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, for its adverse impact on timely completion of projects.


More significantly, the lack of synergy has sometimes generated rigid institutional biases, leading to undue delay in placement of orders even after projects have gone through the rigorous process of development and testing. This not only demotivates scientists and the industry involved in the project but directly affects India’s self-reliance as the budget which could have been utilised to procure home-grown technologies is ultimately spent on importing arms from external sources.

The Chapter III A of the draft DAP-2020 has attempted to address some of the abovementioned constraints by articulating detailed step-by-step procedures to enable smooth acquisition of systems indigenously designed by the DRDO and other MoD-owned/controlled design houses. The chapter has identified 12 steps to be followed, ranging from identification of projects for the DRDO and others to award of contract and post-contract management.

The chapter also provides for the spiral development of weapons and platform so as allow quick induction of developed products and continuous capability enhancement of the inducted system through incremental technological improvements.

Significantly also, the chapter provides for Joint Project Management Team (JPMT) to bring a semblance of synergy among various stakeholders. Comprising representatives from the concerned armed force, design house, quality assurance and maintenance agencies and the Acquisition Wing of the MoD, the JPMT is intended to facilitate smooth progress of projects.

While the abovementioned steps stipulated in the chapter are a move in the right direction, they need to be strengthened further to make procedures more robust and conducive for timely completion of projects. One key area which needs improvement pertains to the power of the JPMT.

In its present form, the JPMT can, at best, discuss issues arising during the developmental process without any power to take decisions on its own to facilitate timely completion of the project. The real power is vested with higher authorities who are not directly involved in the project’s day-to-day execution. In short, the JPMT is not empowered to be responsible to deliver projects on time and to the budget.

In comparison to the suggested JPMT in Chapter III A, similar institutions in other advanced defence manufacturing countries such as the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK) and France are real drivers of the indigenous projects with necessary powers vested with the team to take decisions in the projects’ interest. Such an empowered arrangement would be desirable to promote R&D in Indian defence

Another area that needs refinement pertains to trial and testing of the equipment. The draft chapter in the present form lays emphasis on a multi-layered trial evaluation – developmental trials, user-assisted technical trials, field evaluation trials, staff evaluation, and acceptance trials – before a product is finally inducted. Such a multi-layered trial provision does not necessarily add value; rather, they consume time and money and not necessarily in the best interest of product development.

An empowered JPMT with the responsibility to undertake trial evaluation in its entirety would shorten the process, quicken the developmental pace, and enable India to become Atma Nirbhar in defence technology.


Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Originally published by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.inhere.

Laxman K Behera

Dr Laxman Kumar Behera is a Research Fellow at IDSA. He specialises in issues related to Arms Procurement, Defence Offsets, Defence Industry, Military Spending, and Export Control. Dr Behera has authored numerous policy-relevant research publications. His book 'Indian Defence Industry: An Agenda for Making in India' provides a comprehensive analysis of India’s evolving arms manufacturing sector.

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