The Ladakh crisis of May 2020 marks a turning point in India-China relations, as both sides have crossed each other’s red lines. By seizing 1,000 square kilometers of Indian territory in Ladakh, China has made it known that bilateral peace and stability will remain on its terms. Unable to forcibly evict the People’s Liberation Army and reluctant to accept military coercion from Beijing, India has become the de facto military ally of the United States in supposedly containing China. The signing of the sensitive Basic Agreement for Exchange and Cooperation (BECA) is the last step in this direction.
In India’s view, the possibility of horizontal escalation in the Indian Ocean region with the alleged help of the US would deter China from an escalation in the Royal Line of Control (LAC). The wisdom of this position can only be measured if the relationship is proven. As of now, what seems more likely is that the disengagement and partial de-escalation of the opposing forces in Ladakh, whenever it happens, will be on the terms of the PLA.
Since both sides intend to permanently hold LAC, a significant withdrawal of Indian forces from the northern and eastern theaters is ruled out. Unfortunately, the threat from the PLA will increase and not decrease in 2021. China’s preparations are focused on a smart war and, in my opinion, it hopes to be ready for a conflict against India by the end of 2023.
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Being invisible and contactless, intelligent warfare places a premium on Artificial Intelligence and has four distinctive technological characteristics: Mastery of the electromagnetic spectrum; autonomy; drones and unmanned systems; and man-machine collaboration and combat teams. Such a conflict will not be a border war limited to cutting salami, as the Indian military believes. It will be a war of occupation where there will be minimal blood loss from the PLA soldiers. Given the insurmountable mismatch between the two sides’ conventional capabilities, India’s nuclear deterrence would prove futile.
The Indian army, even seven months after the crisis, remains oblivious to what lies ahead. Under the Chief of Defense Staff, General Bipin Rawat, the Indian Army is three decades behind the PLA in its concepts of war (for campaign); and tactics, techniques and procedures (for battles). As it prepares for war with “human soldiers at the head”, the war the PLA will wage will have “autonomous machines at the head.”
For General Rawat, a war with China would be fought in the physical domains of land, air and sea with the army leading the campaign. For the PLA, the winning domains of the war against the Indian army would be the virtual ones: the cyber, electronic and electromagnetic spectrum. General Rawat believes that time, effort and finances must be invested in creating the organization to support the physical domains of warfare. He is pushing to lift a joint integrated air defense command, integrated theater commands and a maritime theater command by 2023.
This is when the PLA would be ready with its decentralized warfare where the sensor-to-shooter cycle, now called the data-to-decision cycle, would have the human role largely limited to rapid decision-making to stay ahead of the enemy. kill chain. General Rawat believes that the rapid construction of infrastructure on the Indian side would aid the operational and tactical movement of the forces. PLA, on the other hand, focuses on unmanned systems.
For General Rawat, the civil-military merger implies the union of physical assets on the commercial and military side. These include the integration of civil-military airports and obtaining commercial ISRO satellites to help meet the requirements of the military with built-in encryption. For China, the civil-military merger means utilizing most of the disruptive new technologies incubated in the civil sector for the PLA. This implies a long experimentation phase, as well as large finances to obtain the desired level of security for unmanned systems in warfare.
Not to be left behind, retired field commanders in India are suggesting piecemeal tech additives to the military. However, these will do more harm than good by giving a sense of false security. For example, a former army commander, in a recent article, writes that drone warfare would change the rules of the game. While drones would play an important role in battles, war or campaign would require a combination of many disruptive technologies. In another article, he mentions the need to strengthen Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to build reliable networks. On the one hand, the Indian army has been years, if not decades, behind becoming a networked joint warfare force. On the other hand, the PLA war would witness the end of traditional battlenets that are prone to cyber and electronic disruption. Hence the transformational shift toward autonomy or freedom from arms of human command and control.
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The reality is that the PLA’s war preparation, underway for three decades, and especially since Xi Jinping assumed the title of commander-in-chief in 2016, with huge finances expended on a vibrant ecosystem of military technology and institutions dedicated to concepts. warlike, he cannot be accompanied by the Indian army embarking on some quick learning course. This writer has been saying ever since the PLA unveiled its 2015 transformative reforms that its Western Theater Command has only one enemy to fight: India.
Worse still, even now, the Indian army refuses to accept that its 2009 two-front war strategy, based on Pakistan being the main threat, has become irrelevant. Therefore, General Rawat’s structural reforms revolved around two-pronged thinking and were also superseded. China is now more than a military threat. If it decides to go to war, Pakistan will also join the war and the people of Kashmir will not be left behind. Given China’s assessment that India has become an ally of the United States, this is all real.
Wich is the way to go?
The Indian military should learn a lesson from the US military, which has concluded that 13 years of tactical guidance in Afghanistan and Iraq has left it vulnerable to conventional war threats from Russia, and especially China. He believes that China has a leadership in autonomy of artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, fifth-generation wireless communications, ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles, air defense and missile systems, and shipbuilding, commercial and military.
Unfortunately, the Indian Army with 30 years of tactical guidance in fighting counterterrorism operations, and with little to compare to the US Army in terms of annual defense allocations, Indigenous military industrial complex, impressive Silicon technologies. Valley and institutions like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the recently created Joint Center for Artificial Intelligence (JAIC) have an impossible task to accomplish.
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By the way, the Science and Technology Commission of the China Central Military Commission formed in 2016 under the 2015 PLA reforms is the equivalent of the US DARPA. According to the first director of the CMC Science and Technology Commission , Lt. General Liu Guozhi, “Future smart operations are expected to involve the prominent employment of smart autonomy in weapons systems under conditions of multi-domain integration with command exercised through infrastructure-enabled brain-machine integration in the cloud. “Most of the building block technologies listed by the PLA are not necessary against a mid-tier military power like India. They are intended for its main adversary: the US military.
However, all is not lost. An honest introspection is needed by the Indian military leadership as to whether it would be possible to fight on two fronts. If not, it is time to brief political leaders to consider a strategy that minimizes the threat from China. A de facto military alliance with the United States is certainly not the answer.
Pravin Sawhney is editor of Force News magazine.