Cabinet nod for mountain strike corps along China border

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NEW DELHI, July 18: The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Wednesday gave its in-principle approval to the Army’s ambitious proposal to raise a mountain strike corps along the China border.

At a long-drawn CCS meeting here on Wednesday, presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the proposal to raise a mountain strike corps was discussed in detail, highly placed government sources told The Hindu.

The CCS approval came after the Defence Ministry clarified certain questions raised by the Finance Ministry over the proposal. The CCS nod for the Army’s proposal, has been pending for the past few years, came nearly two weeks after Defence Minister A.K. Antony returned from his maiden visit to Beijing.

The strike corps is expected to cost Rs. 62,000 crore, spread over the entire 12th Plan (2012-17), the sources said.

The Army is learnt to have proposed raising a mountain strike corps, two independent infantry brigades and two independent armoured brigades to take care of its operational gaps along the entire line of actual control (LAC) with China.

The proposed strike corps, with about 45,000 soldiers and headquartered at Panagarh in West Bengal, will also give India the capability to launch offensive action in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in the event of a Chinese offensive. India has also got two infantry divisions at Lekhapani and Missamari in Assam, which were raised in 2009-10 to take care of operational needs in Arunachal Pradesh.

On the other hand, China has about five fully-operational airbases, a well laid down rail network and over 58,000- km of roads along the Indian border, which enable it to move over 30 divisions (each with over 15,000 soldiers) to the LAC, outnumbering the Indian forces.

The Army has been evaluating the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ground-air combat military drill on the Tibetan plateau that took place in March.

On infrastructure-building by China along the border, Mr. Antony told Parliament earlier this year that the government was regularly monitoring all developments in “our neighbourhood,” which have a bearing on national security. “Required measures have been initiated through development of infrastructure and operational capabilities to achieve desired levels of defence preparedness to safeguard the sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of India,” he had said in a written reply.

Keen to get the Air Force also on board, the CCS on earlier occasions is learnt to have asked the armed forces to work out finer details and come up with a compact proposal for raising a strike corps. Discussions on raising such a force, and two additional divisions for defence of Arunachal Pradesh, began about six years ago and continued at various levels, before the proposal was sent to the CCS a year ago, government sources familiar with the development said.

The proposed strike corps will draw support from IAF fighters operating from renovated bases in the northeast. Sukhoi-30s have been posted at bases in Tezpur and Chhabua. In addition, Jorhat, Bagdogra, Hashimara and Mohanbari bases are also being upgraded.

“The PLA has held at least 21 exercises in the Tibet region over the past one-and-a-half years. These have been designed for specific scenarios. These exercises also convey to India that they are gearing preparations in high altitude conditions. China wants to convey that it is testing and strengthening its conventional deterrents and enhancing military capability in hostile territory,” Srikanth Kondapalli, chairman of Centre for East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, had earlier told The Hindu.

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