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China’s Flawed Military Capabilities Assessments on limited war with India

Paper No. 6293                                   Dated 18-Aug-2017

By Dr Subhash Kapila

 China’s war threats against India following the Dokalam Standoff in mid-June 2017 have been shrill, threatening and a desire to ‘Teach India a Lesson’. The latest is an SCMP post in which Chinese military sources have been quoted that China will opt for a Limited War at Dkalam and initially employ Chinese air-power and strategic missiles to neutralise India’s Mountain Divisions in the area—a flawed Chinese military assessment, to say the least.

Chinese military sources have been quoted as stating that Indian Army will not be able to last a Chinese Limited War for more than a week. It is also quoted that China has no desire to enlarge the conflict.

The above assertions raise a number of pertinent questions that need to be examined to highlight how flawed the Chinese military assessment on its preference for a Limited War against India as to force Indian troops from Dokalam which in any case is not Chinese territory.

Contextually, the global community has well-noted that India in marked contrast has not resorted to belligerence and war-mongering on the issue like China. India all along has maintained dignified postures and working for a dialogue to resolve the issue. This I will like to assume arises from a quiet India military confidence that India is well-prepared to meet any Chinese military offensive against India –limited or large scale

The above reaps wide geopolitical dividends as the rest of Asia watches with bated breath the clash of the Asian Titans. Most of them would silently and fervently hope that India could stand up to a belligerent and threatening China, something which they could not.

Now, moving to China’s choice of a Limited War on Dokalam Standoff is militarily illogical to state the least. What makes China presume that India would play by the rules of engagement to be imposed by China? India in response to Chinese aggression would reserve the right to widen the conflict and prolong the conflict to run into the winter months forcing China to recoil as it did in the 1962 War.

China’s reluctance to employ ground troops to dislodge Indian Army troops from Dkalam Plateau needs to be noted. Obviously, this arises from a calculated assessment that Indian military positions in the area are on dominating ground and would inflict heavy casualties on Chinese assaulting troops. Hence, the assertion that China would initially prefer to use aerial firepower against Indian deployments and curiously and stupidly use strategic missiles against tactical military positions.

Both of the above are flawed conceptually. China cannot expect use of Chinese Air Force power against Dokalam deployments without reprisals from the Indian Air Force which enjoys many strengths in using aerial firepower in the mountains.

The most militarily arrogant Chinese assertion and a seriously flawed one is that Indian Army would not last even more than a week against China’s Limited War military strikes against India in Dokalam region. As a former Indian Army Officer who has virtually walked the general area of Dokalam during 1963-65, all that can be said politely is that “China Try it Out”.

Lastly, a word or two needs to be said that if China is serious about launching Limited War strike against India, when would it attempt so? Contemporaneously, China would utilise the window of opportunity after conclusion of the BRICS Summit in mid-September 2017 and before the advent of Chinese National People’s Congress crucial session in early November2017. Emphasis on Limited War option gets politically related to this crucial session for Chinese President Xi Jinpeng’s re-election and power struggle.

Due to reasons of military security one would not venture for a detailed analysis of Chinese pattern of military operations and India’s military responses, suffice it to say that the Indian Defence Minister was accurate and right in asserting that India of 2017 was not the India of 1962.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at drsubhashkapila.007@gmail.com)

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