Over last 1 year, the competition between India vs China has been exposed in various forums. The veil of denial is finally off and out comes two fiercely competing economies. The Fight is going to define this century and therefore can easily be defined as the “Fight of Century”. It is not only a fight of defense capabilities & economic might, but also fight between cultural identities and aspirations to shape the future world. While China Is overwhelming favorite both in economic might as well as in defense capabilities, yet India is fast catching up. In fact, China is trying hard to interconnect the world through its humongous infrastructure projects, spreading its cultural ideologies, integrating Asian countries to its own economic & Defense Empire, thus trying become an undisputed global leader. India in absence of Limelight is perhaps not only matching it step by step, but also in few instances crossing it as well. However, I will keep my discussion confined to defense capabilities only.
After analyzing various data points, it can be seen that China have 6457 tanks while India have 4426 tanks. China have 95, 96,961 Sqkm to defend whereas India have 32, 87,263 Sqkm to defend. China have 22,457 km of shared border, whereas India have 13,888 km of shared border. Thus China can employ 1Tank/3.48 km of border, whereas India can employ 1 tank/ 3.14 km. Similarly in Armored Fighting Vehicle category China have 4788 vehicles, whereas India employs 6704. Thus, as far as Tank & Armored Vehicle fleet strength is concerned, we are in comfortable position.
India is also sitting comfortably on top of the world order when compared in the category of Towed artillery with 7414 whereas China have 6246.
In Self propelled Guns we have only 290 systems, whereas China employs 1710 such systems. In Multiple Launch Rocket Systems China have 1770 systems vis-à-vis 292 of India.
LOGISTICS & INFRASTRUCTURE:
China have 782 transport aircraft whereas India have 857. However, China wouldn’t really suffer due to marginal shortage of transport air crafts in case of a war as it has developed huge infrastructure of High Speed Railway and Advanced Landing Grounds. Not only so, it has spread its air force & naval base infrastructure from South China Sea to Indian Ocean. Hence, logistical support will be easily available despite having a marginally lesser strength in transport aircraft category.
In recent decades, China’s roads and railway lines in Tibet have expanded toward its borders with India, Nepal and Bhutan. The Golmud-Lhasa railway line, which was inaugurated in 2006 and linked to Xigaze in 2014, is being extended to Gyirong, a land port near the border with Nepal, and to Yadong, a trading center that is a few kilometers from Nathu La – a vital mountain pass linking Tibet with the Indian border state of Sikkim. There are also plans to extend this railway line to Nyingchi- a trading center and garrison town just north of Arunachal Pradesh, and onward to Dali in Yunnan province. The Lhasa-Nyingchi-Dali rail runs parallel and close to the McMahon Line. This would enable the PLA’s 14 Group Army headquartered in Kunming, with its divisions at Dali, Kaiyuan and Kunming to be deployed rapidly to along the McMahon Line. With the improved infrastructure, China can now deploy up to 32 divisions (previously only 22), and, importantly do so year-round. Additionally, China’s creation of logistic and fuel depots near border regions suggest that China is attempting to improve its ability to not just rapidly deploy forces but also to sustain them for a significant period of time. Clearly, China’s infrastructure development gives it a huge advantage over India at the LAC.
India’s capacity for an effective counter-deployment has been undermined by its torpid approach to improving its overland travel infrastructure near the LAC. Chinese border roads run almost up to the LAC or even cross the LAC into the Indian side; a road in the Siri Jap area in Ladakh runs 5 km into Indian Territory, for instance. Indian border roads, in contrast, stop well ahead of the LAC, sometimes even 50–70 km from the disputed border.
Daulat Beg Oldie, India’s most significant outpost adjoining Aksai Chin, is yet to be linked by road. Tawang, an important bone of contention in the Sino-Indian border dispute, has just a single, narrow, pot-holed road linking the town to Bum La, the last border post on the Indian side of the McMahon Line. Conditions on the Tawang-Bum La Road are so poor that it takes three hours to cover the 30 km distance.
India have only recently focused on this game and have started ramping up its own infrastructure projects. Few important projects that can really help in logistics during an Indo-China war are Chardham Highway, Arunachal highway, etc.
In Uttarakhand and Arunachal, vast tracts of borders remain unmanned & uninhabited. This is something like offering hot momo with a bowl of soup to Chinese soldiers. They get attracted by the vast tracts of unmanned lands and transgress often claiming the other side of boundary as their very own. While I was in Uttarakhand in 2013, trekking at Basisi Glacier and Suraji glacier, I came across lovely campsites & shepherd shelters which look unvisited for a long time. These areas can be reached only by trekking and not even a dirt road exists. The border post at Barahoti, for instance, is dependent on a single road that stops 20 km short of the LAC. Beyond that road, human porters and pack animals must carry supplies to the border post. China often transgresses through mana pass and into Barahoti in Chamoli district. Chardham highway will provide an all weather connectivity to reach border areas faster and thus minimizing the time gap for troops to reach International Boundary as and when required. Similarly, in Arunachal, Trans Arunachal Highway will link hitherto difficult international border terrains like Tawang, East Kameng, Subansiri, Tuting, Mechuka, Dibang Valley, Kibithoo, etc.
Along the western portion of the LAC armored regiments of T-72 tanks are augmenting this capability. Four regiments of the BrahMos short-range supersonic missile in Arunachal Pradesh will add to India’s conventional military deterrence in the eastern sector. India’s air power and infrastructure has grown too. Sukhoi-30 MKI combat aircraft are flying from new bases in eastern and northeastern India and at least half-a-dozen squadrons of the indigenous Akash surface-to-air missile guard India’s airspace in the eastern Himalayas. Old Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) are being refurbished and new ALGs and air stations built closer to the LAC.
Airport & Naval port development is also where India needs to focus. While economically not so well countries like Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia have 1138, 855 & 836 air ports respectively India ranks pathetically at only 346 air ports. China on the other hand have 507 airports and most of them can be turned into Air Force only facility overnight. According to worldportsource.com India have just 76 ports. In fact, other than South Africa (10 ports) all other BRICS nation have more ports than India, viz. Brazil -81, Russia- 105 while China have 172. Building of Ports & ship building industry is intrinsic to being a great naval power. Without a maze of at least 200 ports, India can neither aim to outsmart China in dominating seas through Navy nor can it aim to overtake China in terms of trade of goods. Therefore, a renewed focus on Port & Air port development is required. Sagar Mala project is one such strategic and customer-oriented initiative of the Government of India to modernize India’s Ports so that port-led development can be augmented and coastlines can be developed to contribute in India’s growth. The project, which envisages development of port infrastructure along the country’s 7,500-km coastline, will see an investment of more than Rs 70,000 crore. This government is also working hard to bring back to life some 100 old air strips which have now become cattle grazing land. Also with 100 smart city project another 50 odd airports are likely to be added.
Chinese Air force deploys 1271 fighters when India have only 676 to deploy. By sheer numbers the Chinese air force may look being only second to USA, however, it will present a complete different picture if we delve deeper. Chinese Air force consists of Fighters like Nanchang Q-5 (120 numbers introduced in 1970), Xiang H-6 (120 numbers introduced in 1960), Shenyang J-8 (192 numbers introduced in 1980), Chengdu J-7 (728 numbers introduced in 1980s & produced till 2013). On the other hand Indian Airforce have MIG-27ML Bahadur (87 to be retired by March’2018), MIG 21 Bison (18 to be retired by March’18), MIG 21 MF (95 to be retired by March’18). In order to make an apple to apple comparison all these museum pieces needs to be taken out of consideration. After deleting Nanchangs, Xiangs, Shenyangs and half of Chendu J-7 which are nothing but museum pieces, Chinese air force is left with 475 fighting worthy air force. Similarly, after deleting Grand fathers of Indian Fighters –MIGs, India have a fighting worthy air force of 476 fighters. Of the 476 fighters capable to fight, India already fields 230 SU-MKI which are heavy fighters and are for air dominance & deep penetration. China have 172 Sukhois of different class and another 205 J11 (based on SU-27) & 24 J16 (based on SU-30MKK). All these make heavy fighters available to China at 401. With pending 72 Sukhois about to join IAF by 2020 India will have a heavy fighter strength of 312 vis-à-vis about 475 of China. 36 Rafles will also add muscles to Indian firepower, the category which Chinese jets are lacking in completely. So, at present scenario Chinese do have little advantage as far as quality of Air Force is concerned, though they do not actually have quantitative advantage. China cannot deploy its museum fighters against India and given the size of borders, India and China are more or less evenly matched with China deploying 1 heavy fighter/ 23,933 Sqkm, while India deploying 1 heavy fighter/ 14,292 Sqkm.
Given the situation above, though many may like to call it alarming, a cool headed analysis does not bring out any such sense of danger. Instead of being weeping boys lamenting about past, what we need is a fast procurement system of heavy fighters, whereas enhancing in-house production capability of light and medium combat jets. What calls for real concern is in helicopter fleet. While China deploys 206 attack helicopters India have only 16. India and the United States concluded an agreement for the procurement of 22 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and 15 CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters in November 2015. Further, The Indian Ministry of Defense’s (MOD) Defense Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Indian Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar, signed off on the procurement of 15 Light Combat Helicopters (LCH), on November 7 2016. Even after these procurements, the attack helicopter strength will rise to only 53 whereas China is close to acquiring another 50 odd attack helicopters. More than anything, what we need in Air force is an enhancement of attack helicopter fleet to at least 150, hence, further ordering 100 is unavoidable. By falling into the trap of going for more high priced Rafles or museum pieces of F-16s or F-18s, India will shoot itself in its feet. What is required immediately is at least another 100 attack helicopter. This 100 can be order as follows – 11 Apache, 39 HAL Rudra and another 50 LCH. While Apaches and Rudras should be given to Indian army to allow them have their own mini Air Force, IAF should get further 50 LCH.
India have 1 aircraft carrier, while China have just introduced its second air craft carrier. While India is scheduled to sport 2 fully functional air craft carriers by 2022, it is expected that China will have 3 functional carriers by 2023. It might be very tempting for Indian Navy to go for the catch up on air craft carrier race and match China carrier by carrier, however, India will be well advised to fall into that trap. While a limited air craft carrier capacity of 2 is good enough for India’s size, going to 3 would be simply luxurious given the state of proposition Indian Navy is in and the extreme high costs that are normally associated with carriers. The right strategy for India will be to focus on building more submarines, frigates & destroyers along with developing more Landing Platform docks. India have only 14 Frigates when compared to 51 of China. India have only 11 Destroyers when compared to 35 of China. Similarly India have only 15 submarines compared to 68 of China. India have 6 mine war fare craft while China have 31. In Corvette though the two are more or less close with India having 23 to China’s 35. Given the above facts, India will be well advised to match numbers in all other categories except Aircraft carrier. Indian Aircraft carriers have never been of any help when it came to real life war. During 1971 war Vikrant had to be hidden so that the stealthy American made submarine Gazi could not trace it. In Vikrant was commissioned in Indian navy on 4th March 1961, however, it failed to play any role when China attacked India in 1962. There may be lot of prestige attached to having aircraft carriers, however, when it comes to real life war with such countries who also have carrier fleet, then, carriers become redundant. Carriers are only of help when a small to medium sized natin troubling you needs to be taught a lesson where your military boots can’t reach. However, given the geography India is in and the quality of neighbors with which it can go into war, anything above 2 carriers will be redundant. Hence, immediate focus of navy should be in modernizing its fleet by manufacturing more Mine sweepers, submarines, destroyers, and frigates. Landing platform docks being just between an aircraft carrier and a frigate can be a lot better suit than full fledged carriers. Hence, 2 aircraft carriers, 5 LPDs, 30 submarines, 30 destroyers, 30 frigates and 10 mine warfare craft should be what India should plan for by 2030.
After analyzing all the present scenario and the incremental developments happening every passing day, we can safely conclude that India is in right track to tackle China. With a dedicated government what India needs is a little more clarity on area of focus and an immediate hiking up of budget allocation for Army, navy and Air Force to 1% each of GDP, that is cumulatively 3%. The present allocation is only about 1.63% of GDP