Wednesday 7 December 2022
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PoliticsIndiaHow India poses two-front challenge for China

How India poses two-front challenge for China

While China is aggressively building new aircraft carriers and a blue-water navy to flex its muscles in the Indian Ocean waters, Us military experts believe India can more than counter the Middle Kingdom's expansionism. Admiral Mike Gilday of the US Navy has said that India will be a crucial partner for his country in the future and play a vital role in countering China.

Nikkei Asia reported the expert as saying, "I've spent more time on a trip to India than I have with any other country because I consider them to be a strategic partner for us in the future," Gilday, America's highest- Navy officer, told an in-person seminar in Washington.

The report quoted Gilday as saying that India presented China with a "two-front problem". "They now force China to not only look east, toward the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, but they now have to be looking over their shoulder at India," he said.

During the seminar, Gilday added that India and China's border skirmish along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) could also be strategically important.

Nikkei Asia says that the idea that the border clashes between India and China in the Himalayas pose a two-front problem for Beijing has been gaining traction among US strategists.

In June, as the leaders of the Quad — the US, Japan, India and Australia — were meeting in Japan, former Pentagon official Elbridge Colby told Nikkei Asia that while India would not directly contribute to a local battle over Taiwan, it could draw China's attention to the Himalayan border. "What the United States and Japan need India to do is to be as strong as possible in South Asia and effectively draw Chinese attention so that they have a major second-front problem," said Colby, the principal author of the 2018 National Defence Strategy under former President Donald Trump.

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India, in the meantime, draws the same benefit from China's difficulties in facing a strong US-Japan alliance around Taiwan, he said.

A planned joint mountaintop exercise between the US and India in October underscores the potential second front for China.
In the last few years, the US has been eyeing India as a strategic counterweight to China in the Indian Ocean Region.

The Quad members are also strengthening their strategic embrace by holding important security dialogues with a particular focus on the Indo-Pacific region. This has become a major irritant for China, which views Quad as a US-backed move to counter Beijing in the Indian Ocean.

In the meantime, the Indian Navy is pushing hard for a third and much bigger aircraft carrier to retain its combat edge over China in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

With India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) commissioned as the 45,000-tonne INS Vikrant on September 2, the Navy believes the project for a third carrier should be launched as soon as possible since it will take at least a decade to build a 65,000-tonne one.

China already operates two carriers, Liaoning and Shandong, and is fast building two more with CATOBAR configuration.

The third Chinese carrier, the over 80,000-tonne Fujian, was 'launched’ in June.

The US has 11 'super’ 100,000-tonne nuclear-powered carriers, each of which carries 80-90 fighters and aircraft.

But India isn't sitting pretty on American confidence. It is importing equipment to measure up to the confidence. 

India eyes light tanks, armed swarm drones for mountain warfare with China

The 12-lakh-strong Indian Army is now going in for light tanks and armed swarm drones to enhance ‘shock and awe’ capabilities in high-altitude warfare along the northern borders with China. With the "increased threat" from China "likely to remain for the foreseeable future", sources on Friday said the Indian Army has launched Project Zorawar to induct around 350 indigenously-developed light tanks that can be swiftly deployed by air and are more manoeuvrable and operationally flexible in mountains.

After procuring swarm drones from two Indian start-up companies, the force has also initiated a `Make in India’ case for autonomous surveillance and armed drone swarm (ASAD-S), with adequate ranges to destroy enemy targets in `depth and high-altitude areas’.

Project Zorawar has emerged out of lessons learnt from the continuing 27-month-old military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh, which saw both armies forward deploy heavy weapon systems like tanks, howitzers and surface-to-air missile systems.

The Indian Army has finalized the technical parameters for the Zorawar tank or armoured fighting vehicle-Indian light lank (AFV-ILT), which should weigh less than 25 tonnes with a high power-to-weight ratio and substantial firepower.

The agile tank should also incorporate niche technologies like AI, drone integration, an active protection system and a high degree of situational awareness. The case will be moved to the defence ministry for the initial acceptance of necessity (AoN) in September.
The Indian Army had managed to deploy its heavier Russian-origin T-90S and T-72 main battle tanks (40 to 50 tonne each) in eastern Ladakh, with some of them even being taken up the Rezang La-Rechin La heights in the Kailash Range to tactically surprise the People’s Liberation Army in August 2020.

The Chinese army, in turn, inducted a large number of a technologically advanced mix of medium and light tanks, including the new third-generation Type-15 ones. "Our T-90S and T-72 tanks were primarily designed for operations in plains and deserts. They have their limitations in high-altitude areas, and face a similar handicap in marginal terrain of Rann of Kutch," a source said.

"The Russia-Ukraine war has also impacted both the manufacturing and sustenance of our tank fleet. Therefore, the operational necessity for designing and developing indigenous light tanks," he added.

Recent conflicts, ranging from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Syria and Ukraine to the strike on oilfields in Saudi Arabia have driven home the force-multiplier effect of swarm drones. Even in our context, there has been a noticeable increase in drone incidents along the borders with China and Pakistan," the source said.

"A group of AI-enabled drones operating in conjunction with ground manoeuvre forces will provide an aerial capability during both offensive and defensive operations. This will enhance the overall combat potential, providing a decisive edge to tactical commanders," he added.

The use of drone swarms, which can overwhelm an adversary’s air defence capabilities as well as carry out Kamikaze attacks on enemy targets like tanks, helipads and fuel dumps, is still a new war-fighting concept for the Indian armed forces.

But they are increasingly focussing on `disruptive’ technologies ranging from drone swarms, robotics, lasers and loiter munitions to artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data analysis and algorithmic warfare. China, of course, is far ahead of India in these domains.

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Hunt-and-attack drone

India is in the advanced stages of discussion with the United States to buy armed drones for over $ 3 billion to bolster surveillance along the China border as well as in the Indian Ocean region. The development comes even as foreign minister S Jaishankar has blamed China for having "disregarded" border agreements "going back to the 1990s which prohibits bringing mass troops in the border area".

The special thing about the MQ-9B hunter-killer drone, essentially a variant of the MQ-9 Reaper drone used to kill chief Ayman al Zawahiri in Kabul last month, is a high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) drone that can remain airborne for over 35 h and can carry four Hellfire missiles and around 450 kg of bombs.

The surveillance cum attack drone is available in two variants — the SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian — with the latter in use by the Indian Navy, which had taken two of those on lease in 2020 for a period of one year, which was later extended.

Why India needs drones

Singling out China, Jaishankar, who’s on a three-nation tour of South America — Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina — said that India needed "that mutual respect and mutual sensitivity" from China and added that "it’s no secret we are going through a very difficult phase."

The acquisition of the drones — with all three armed forces getting 10 each — will allow the Indian defence forces to bolster their unmanned military weapons and surveillance programme, especially in eastern Ladakh and for tracking movements of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean region, which the navy has been doing for some months now using these drones.

More than a deal

The acquisition of the drones, if and when it comes about, would mark another step in the growing military cooperation between the US and India. In February 2020, India signed a $ 2.6 billion deal with the US for the procurement of 24 MH-60 Romeo helicopters for the Indian Navy, delivery of which has already begun.

The signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 which allows the armed forces of both to use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies preceded this deal.

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