The Indian Army may be currently busy with the volatile situation along the 778-km Line of Control with Pakistan, but it is slowly and steadily also building requisite deterrence along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
The 1.3-million strong Army has now kicked off the process to raise the second division of the new mountain strike corps for the “northern borders” with China despite an ongoing fund crunch, while it is also planning a high-altitude warfare exercise in Ladakh later this year. Defence sources say the new 72 Infantry Division, with its headquarters at Pathankot, will become “fully operational” in three years.
72 #Infantry to defend the great Himalayas
“The division will now be being raised with one brigade in the beginning. But it will have three brigades when it is fully formed and operational in around three years,” said a source. The Army had formally begun to raise the new 17 Mountain Strike Corps in January 2014 to acquire “quick-reaction ground offensive capabilities” for the first time against China because its existing three “strike corps” were largely geared towards Pakistan.
The 17 Corps, with two new high-altitude infantry divisions as well as armored, artillery, air defence, engineer brigades spread from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, will be fully formed with 90,274 soldiers at a cost Rs 64,678 crore by 2021. “All adversaries respect strength, which comes from having the capability to strike across the border,” Army chief General Bipin Rawat had earlier told a news agency.
Along with the Agni series of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, and backed by the deployment of additional fighter jets, tanks, conventional BrahMos supersonic missiles and the like in the north-east, the 17 Corps is part of the overall plan to achieve “credible deterrence” against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
China, incidentally, has re-organized its 2.3-million PLA into five theatre commands to crank up its offensive capabilities as well as establish better command-and-control structures. Its western theater command now handles the entire LAC with India instead of the earlier Chengdu Military Region in the east and the Lanzhou Military Region towards the north, as was reported by a leading news agency.
Under the new 17 Corps, the 59 Infantry Division was the first to be raised at Panagarh in West Bengal. “With the 59 Division now almost fully operational, the focus now is on raising the new 72 Division. Initial planning for the 17 Corps to hold its first exercise at Ladakh in August-September is also now underway,” said the source.
The Army, however, has struggled to raise the 17 Corps, which envisages as many as 30 new infantry battalions and two Para-SF units, often cannibalizing from its critical war wastage reserves (WWR) in absence of dedicated funding.
Another big problem has been the tardy pace of infrastructure development along the LAC. Only 24 of the 73 all-weather roads identified for construction along the LAC well over a decade ago, for instance, have been completed till now.
But the projected delivery of the bulk of the 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers, which can be swiftly air-lifted to threatened high-altitude areas along the LAC, from March 2019 to June 2021 has come as a shot in the arm for the 17 Corps. The first two howitzers arrived in India on may 18 under the $737 million deal inked with the US government.
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