A quiet revolution has taken place in India's military thinking. For the first time since the humiliating defeat of 1962, the Indian elephant has stopped fearing the fire-breathing Chinese dragon. The elephant has, in fact, started scaring the dragon. On July 17, the Cabinet Committee on Security gave its green signal to raise an attack (strike) corps against China in the eastern sector, the first of its kind against the giant northern neighbour, and has sanctioned Rs.64,000 crore. India currently has three strike corps against Pakistan, based in Ambala, Mathura and Bhopal, and ten pivot (defensive) corps. But the Chinese frontier in the east was being manned by three defensive corps, which have about 1,20,000 troopsâ€”the 4 Corps based in Tezpur, 3 Corps in Dimapur and 33 Corps in Siliguri. With the raising of the new mountain corps, which will be capable of invading and capturing swathes of Chinese Tibetan territory, the battle order in the eastern sector of the northern border will turn offensive. Besides 50,000 more mountain-hardened troops, several regiments of fire-spewing wheeled and tracked light cannons, and batteries of rocket-launchers that can plough the enemy's mountain rail lines and roads, the corps will have battalions of engineers who can bridge Tibet's rivers overnight for the Indian Army to race across, and helicopters that can lift troops and tanks right into the heart of Tibet. A recently inducted fourth regiment of BrahMos cruise missiles, which can seek and smash China's hardest military fortifications 290km deep inside and even take out its airfields and missile silos, also will be part of this strike corps. A corps is the Army's largest field formation, commanded by a three-star lieutenant-general, designated general officer commanding (GOC), or simply corps commander. He reports to another lieutenant-general, designated general officer commanding-in-chief (GOC-in-C), generally called Army commander. The new corps, to be headquartered in Panagarh, West Bengal, will thus be headed by a lieutenant-general who will report to the Kolkata-based eastern Army commander. Strike corps are always based a little in the rear, though one or two divisions (commanded by major-generals) may be positioned a little upfront. If the enemy attacks, the pivot corps will take all the pounding and hold ground, while the strike corps will swoop into enemy territory. The new doctrinal thinking began as a response to China's bid to build roads and rail lines into Tibet which, India feared, could bring in divisions of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) closer to the Indian border in quick time. When the Tibetans rioted in March 2008, the PLA moved in hundreds of armoured vehicles, fit for military battles, from the Leshan (Sichuan province)-based 149 Division through the newly built Qinghai-Tibet rail line. More of them drove in through the Sichuan-Tibet highway. Most of the troops returned after shooting the rioters, but the 149 Division's 52 and 53 brigades were converted into rapidly mobile units which can be deployed in Tibet's southern frontiers (bordering India) within 48 hours. Next, the PLA moved to build capability to rail-move its 61 and 149 Rapid Action Divisions into Tibet. Sensing trouble, the Indian defence ministry permitted the Indian Air Force (IAF) to move its deep-strike Sukhoi-30MKI squadrons closer to the Chinese borderâ€”the 15 Wing to Bareilly, the 11 Wing to Tezpur and, more recently, the 14 Wing to Chabua. China's much-marvelled rail line, built on the world's most difficult mountains over which the crew and passengers need to be acclimatised for travel, looked easy picking for the Sukhois. â€œThe rail line runs through open, treeless terrain and has about 675 bridges,â€ said an IAF squadron leader. â€œIf we destroy a couple of bridges, that will cripple the line for more than a week.â€ Fearing the air strikes, Beijing started building and upgrading highways into Tibet, especially National Highway 318, which connects Linzhi (where its 52 Mechanised Brigade is stationed) to Lhasa, the Qinghai-Tibet highway and the Sichuan-Tibet highway, which crosses 10 rivers and is thus dotted with bridges that can be easily bombed by the IAF. The Qinghai-Tibet highway, another engineering marvel, also traverses through high mountains which require travellers to be acclimatised, and thus rendering it difficult for large-scale and rapid military movement. More reliable is the Yunnan-Tibet highway, through which the Chinese can quickly mobilise troops. The Indian defence ministry noted these developments. â€œ...There is a feeling,â€ former defence secretary Pradeep Kumar told Parliament's standing committee on defence, â€œthat our neighbouring country, China, has been able to build up a very good infrastructureâ€ close to the Indian borders. India responded in kind. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) was asked to build and develop frontier roads, so that light guns and rocket-launchers could be wheeled up the mountains. The BRO built or resurfaced 3,175km of roads in 2009-10, and added 2,433km in 2010-11 and 2,245km in 2011-12. To avoid red tape, the ministry sanctioned an equipment bank of hydraulic excavators, dozers, wet mix macadam plants and stone crushers worth Rs.100 crore in 2010-11. Helicopters from the IAF, and even Pawan Hans, were hired to lift building material and workers. According to Defence Minister A.K. Antony, â€œ73 roads have been identified as strategic border roads, out of which 61 roads have been entrusted to Border Roads Organisation with a total length of 3,404.63km. Seventeen roads of length 612.51km have been completed, 25 roads are scheduled for completion by 2013 and rest 19 roads by 2016.â€ To date, the BRO has constructed 49,300km of roads of strategic importance and another 21,002km is under construction. Antony admitted the change in the doctrine in Parliament: â€œEarlier the military doctrine of the country was not to have roads close to borders, but the same has now been revised.... The government has taken a conscious decision to expedite construction of road infrastructure in border areas.â€ Today, the 20km stretch from the 4 Corps headquarters in Tezpur to Balipara has been double-laned and reinforced for taking heavy artillery and armoured vehicles. Double-laning of the 315km stretch from Balipara to the sensitive Tawang, which the Chinese have been coveting, is progressing. And upgrade work on the Balipara-Charduwar-Tawang stretch is expected to be completed by March 2016, by when the new strike corps also should be ready. China, too, has been enhancing its strike power in Tibet. It had three major airfields in Tibetâ€”Kongka, Hoping and Pangta. In 2009, the Chinese built or operationalised two more around Lhasa, and four elsewhere in Tibet, giving themselves nine airfields to land troops and support fighter operations. India reacted promptly. First, the Dimapur Corps was pulled out of counter-insurgency duties in the northeast and redeployed on the Chinese border. The Rangia-based 2 Mountain Division was pulled out from the Tezpur Corps and attached to the Dimapur Corps, which has also been promised emergency services of 41 Division under the Tezpur Corps. And then, two new mountain divisions (41 and 56) were raised quietly and given to the Dimapur Corps. All the three pivot corps in the eastâ€”Dimapur, Tezpur and Siliguriâ€”have been given light 155mm guns which can be heli-lifted. New grounds have been made in Tuting, Pasighat, Vijaynagar, Along and Mechuka for choppers to land with troops and guns. Thus, the Arunachal neighbourhood has virtually become an Indian fortress. At a more strategic level, the IAF has been enhancing its airlift capability. First, it inducted the C-130 Super Hercules, and then the cabinet sanctioned 10 C-17 Globemaster strategic airlift planes (six more, if needed), the second of which was formally received by Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne on July 22 at Longbeach, Los Angeles. â€œThe procurement of 10 C-17 aircraft will provide a tremendous boost to our strategic airlift capability,â€ said Browne. â€œThe enhanced reach and versatility will support operations in an extremely challenging terrain that spans from Himalayas in the north, where we have bases at an altitude of 11,000-13,000ft, to the Indian Ocean region in the south.â€ Put in the Chinese threat context, the IAF will now be able to transport entire brigades from any corner of India to the Himalayas at short notice. Against this, according to western observer M. Taylor Fravel, China's strategic airlift capability is limited to just one fully equipped light mechanised infantry brigade. Even its 15 Airborne Corps would depend on rail and road to forward-deploy its armoured vehicles and guns. â€œFravel's is too conservative an estimate,â€ said a general staff officer. â€œOur assessment is that China can, at the most, forward-deploy one division in one airlift. Not much for us to worry about.â€ An attacker needs eight times more troop strength than the defender on the mountains. â€œWhich means China will need 20 divisions, which can be mobilised only over two campaign seasons,â€ a lieutenant-general who recently commanded a corps in Arunachal Pradesh told THE WEEK. â€œWhen so many rail coaches and trucks disgorge troops into Tibet, our RISAT (Radar-Imaging Satellite) will easily spot them in the open, treeless Tibet. If they come, we will be waiting. So they won't.â€ Unlike the existing pivot corps in the region, the strike corps will have engineering regiments, equipped with folding bridges that can be laid across most of Tibetan rivers in less than two hours, and can take light mountain howitzers, armoured fighting vehicles, and the power-packed Russian Smerch and home-made Pinaka multi-barrel rocket-launchers. Most Tibetan rivers are 30m to 100m wide and easily bridgeable. As of now, the biggest handicap of the new strike corps will be the dearth of heavy-lift helicopters. But the assessment in the Army Headquarters is that the Chinese also have helicopter shortage. â€œAt the kind of altitudes obtained in Tibet, helicopters can lift just about a fifth or even less of their actual carrying capacity,â€ said a lieutenant-general. â€œWhich means you need that many more machines to lift your equipment.â€ And the Chinese have just about a score or two of heavy-lift Mi-17s. On the geopolitical front, there has been much concern about the recent Chinese bids to befriend Bhutan, especially when India-Bhutan ties looked strained over stoppage of petroleum subsidies. â€œToo much has been made of those subsidy issues,â€ a senior diplomat told THE WEEK. â€œIt was a miscommunication, and the amount involved was too small, considering the volume of our aid to Bhutan.â€ Militarily, fears were expressed whether the Chinese could attack Indian frontiers through Bhutan. â€œThere would be international condemnation if they violate Bhutan,â€ pointed out the diplomat. Moreover, an attack through Bhutan would have to be executed through the narrow Chumbi valley. But a pincer move by the Indian Army from North Sikkim towards Bhutan can trap any invading Chinese force in the valleyâ€”to be pounded by Indian guns located on the mountains on both sides. â€œOur worry should be about Nepal,â€ noted the diplomat. â€œNot a military worry, but a political worry. The Chinese are extending their Lhasa-Shigatse rail line into Nepal, which would bring better commercial and people-to-people connectivity between Nepal and Chinese Tibet. If we can't compete economically, it is a matter of concern.â€ Rendered powerless to strike in the eastern or central sectors, the Chinese have lately been needling India in the Ladakh sector in the west, where there are ****** in the Indian armour. As Maj.-Gen. (retd) P.K. Chakravorty pointed out in a paper for Centre for Land Warfare Studies, Daulat Beg Oldi, where the Chinese intruded for three weeks in April-May, is not connected by road on the Indian side. â€œIt is air-maintained for six months in a year and thereafter by mules and porters.... Patrolling is primarily done by foot with vehicles being used in limited stretches. Sporadic helicopter flights and Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are flown which do not give a continuous update.â€ Two years ago, the IAF augmented and activated a landing strip at Nyoma, 20km from the Chinese border, for landing Antonov-32 planes which can carry troops, jeeps and light mountain howitzers. Next, it developed two more airstrips at Fukche and Daulat Beg Oldi. What rattled the Chinese most on the western sector was the recent Indian move to deploy a BrahMos regiment. The newly opened rail line connecting the Kashmir valley with Jammu would also make the BrahMos batteries more mobile. â€œChina views our move to rail-link the Kashmir valley with the rest of India in the same manner as we view their Qinghai-Lhasa-Shigatse rail line,â€ said a brigadier who has served in the valley. â€œThe missile batteries can be easily transported on the rail lines. And unlike the open Tibetan plateau, the Kashmir valley and the Ladakh ranges offer better camouflage.â€ China is also wary of India's move to build a tunnel in Rohtang. It will enable troop movement to Ladakh at any time of the year. At present, the Ladakh garrisons are supplied troops, food, fuel and ammunition through two routes. One is the Pathankot-Srinagar-Zoji la-Kargil-Leh route, which is blocked by snow in winter and is within the firing range of Pakistani artillery (Kargil war, 1999). The other is the Kullu-Manali-Rohtang-Leh route, which is also snow-blocked in winter. A horseshoe tunnel in the snow-prone stretch near the 4,000m-high Rohtang Pass would make the route available throughout the year. These moves, India expects, would make a Chinese bid on Ladakh from the Chinese-held Aksai Chin in the east almost impossible. Thus, in the east, India is on an offensive posture, and in the middle and western sectors, a highly active defensive one. That is why, analysts believe, the Chinese are now taking more interest in the Pakistan-held Northern Areas through which passes the Karakoram Highway, which will link China to Pakistan's Gwador port on the Arabian Sea. The government has taken a conscious decision to expedite construction of road infrastructure in border areas. A.K. Antony, admitting the change in the military doctrine of not having roads close to borders, in Parliament. The Week | READY FOR HARD-CORPS ACTION [HR][/HR] @Mods, The title has been changed from the original to better appreciate the content.