India’s China-Centric Military Capability – OpEd


We don’t need Agni-V, the intermediate range ballistic missile that we successfully tested on April 19,2012, to give ourselves a deterrent capability against Pakistan. We need it only for a deterrent capability against China.

Agni-V is a Chinese-centric missile. The Chinese rightly know it and would be evaluating any changes required in their defence strategy vis-à-vis India in the light of India having at its disposal a missile capable of hitting targets in mainland China, including Beijing. The operational missiles that we have at our disposal now are in a position to successfully target Chinese-occupied Tibet and Western China such as Sichuan, which are not yet economically as developed as Eastern China. Once Agni V becomes operational, India should be in a position to target those parts of Eastern China on which its economic prosperity depends.

China’s plans to protect itself against a possible Indian missile strike have to cover the whole of China, instead of only Western China as it is till now. Our intelligence agencies have to be on the look-out for indications of Chinese thinking on this subject.

While we are now in a strategically better position to protect ourselves against China by discouraging Chinese temptations to intimidate us with its missile capability, this does not mean that our capability to protect ourselves tactically against China will improve with the induction of Agni V into our arsenal.

Our ability to protect ourselves tactically will depend on our conventional capability to deter a surprise Chinese strike across the Himalayas to occupy areas—particularly in Arunachal Pradesh which it describes as southern Tibet— that it claims as its territory.

During the last 10 years, the entire Chinese military planning vis-à-vis India has been focussed on giving itself such a surprise strike capability. Its improvement of its road and rail networks in Western China, particularly in Tibet, its attempts for road-rail connectivity with Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh, its improvement of its air bases in Chinese-occupied Tibet and live firing air exercises in Tibet are part of its plans to strengthen its surprise strike capability.

Our Army did badly in the 1962 Sino-Indian war not because it was a bad fighting force, but because our policy-makers had not given it the required capability to neutralise a Chinese surprise strike. If you do not give the Army the required capability, you cannot blame it for doing badly.

Have we now learnt the right lessons from history and given the Army the capability to blunt a surprise Chinese strike and throw them back after inflicting a prohibitive cost on them? Unless we confront the Chinese with the prospects of a prohibitive cost and outcome if they indulge in a surprise strike as they did in 1962, the temptation on their part to launch a surprise strike, if they lose patience with the border talks, will remain.

While we are steadily closing the gaps in our strategic military capabilities with China, the gaps in our tactical capabilities remain and need to be identified and redressed. In our euphoria over the successful Agni V test, we should not lose sight of the continuing gaps in tactical capabilities and the need to close them.

The tactical situation that we face today is less favourable than what the Chinese face. In 1962, China had no military relationship worth the name with Pakistan. Today, China has a multi-dimensional military relationship with Pakistan, much of it focussed around the Gilgit-Baltistan axis. In 1962, China had no military-related presence in our periphery. Today, it has in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In 1962, we didn’t have to worry about the Chinese Air Force and Navy. Today, we have to.

In 1962, the war plans of the Chinese Air Force were largely focussed on Taiwan. Today, there are indications of a partial shifting of the thinking of their Air Force towards India. In 1962, they had no Navy worth the name. Today, they have a Navy increasingly capable of operations in the Indian Ocean.

It is my assessment that if the Chinese mount a surprise tactical strike across the Himalayas now, it will be a joint Army-Air force operation. It will be a lightning strike designed to satisfy their territorial objectives in the shortest possible time without running the risk of a prolonged war. The role of their Navy will be insignificant for some years to come.

We have to have a multi-pronged strategy designed to enable us to pre-empt a tactical Chinese strike with the co-operation of our Tibetan friends and to blunt their strike and throw them back if pre-emption fails. Such a strategy would call for better intelligence collection, better road-rail-air connectivity to the border areas, more well-equipped bases near the border from where our Army and Air Force can operate and a better logistics trail well-tested during peace time.

We have already taken steps towards giving shape to such a multi-pronged strategy in the Himalayan area, but the progress in implementation has been slow. Our policy-makers should pay urgent attention to this. Our strategic and tactical thinking continues to be largely Pakistan-centric.

Whatever Chinese-centric thinking there has been is largely in the context of our power projection with US blessing. We must remember : If there is another limited border war with China imposed on us by Beijing, the US will have no role in helping us. We have to fight and win the war alone. Are we in a position to do so?

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

7 thoughts on “India’s China-Centric Military Capability – OpEd

  • April 22, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    An excellent analysis. I concur with every word the author has written. Yes it is imperative that we do some serious thinking on improving our tactical capabilities and most importantly the infrastructure and logistic capabilities in our visualised areas of combat. We need to have sufficient strike capabilities to take the battle into the opponent’s vulnerable areas. This must be seen as a defensive measure especially because the capability to manoeuvre in the mountains is very limited. If the enemy takes the offensive as visualized by the author, without the capability for an effective and a viable counter offensive, it will be near impossible to defend our territory effectively. Will the powers that be understand these imperatives?
    My compliments to the author.

    • April 23, 2012 at 6:49 am

      The Indian obsession on a war with China is sheer madness. 1.2b against 1.3b is annihilation of two great civilisations, and probably the world.

      All possible efforts should be focused in the proverbial peaceful conversion of enemies to amity.

      The Chinese intelligentsia elite freely admit their spiritual and civilisational debt to India. Why can’t India remember her spiritual Chinese offspring and enfold them into the bosom of Greater Mother India?

      • April 24, 2012 at 4:18 am

        Rightly said, but why can’t China stop at Tibet and Askai has gobbled from India. China is now bullying for south Tibet.

        India and Indians will have no problem accepting Tibet as Chinese trritory but no more land grabs..please else India will be forced to defend.

  • April 22, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    How many are you going to build now you have the extra Uranium from Australia to supplement diversion to the military side.

    Also in my humble opinion it is in response to Iran going nuclear. Even before Iran was ever included in Nabucco they were threatening to cut off energy to Europe. I would suggest that India is promoting fairness in negotiations.

    If India position on Iran in relation to sanctions is for strategic reasons, then it does not matter what causes that self-induced or via sanctions the result is the same.

    The same can be said in regards to Iran and Pakistan, clearly Iran is now in a stronger position than it was. Maybe Pakistan can’t pay and energy is cut or it is cut over a disagreement on price.

    Russia want to bypass the Ukraine over price, they can’t pay and at the moment they are in a position in which if they won’t or are not willing to pay Russia has to cut supply to other countries. So say Russia has bypassed the Ukraine and the energy can be cut. What is the next step. Once Russia has bypassed the Ukraine you will all of a sudden find they have trouble finding the money. It is all leverage.

    In India with a Muslim population it could led to internal conflict perhaps an Islamic revolution, that is Pakistan interest via its destabilization projects.

    So I don’t bust India over its trade with Iran, because of the implications in relation to national security. It makes no sense to counter one threat by creating another problem.

    If Pakistan does not get control of Afghanistan and the energy resources, they basically went to Karzai and tried to take control, they are in trouble. I can understand the dispute over water and interest in that. But why would India want to takeover control of Pakistan it is on the road to ruin.

    The US does not have to win Afghanistan, all they have to do is deny Pakistan taking control and during that period of time Pakistan will collapse as a state.

    Karzai is a not a complete fool he knows that too, which is why he signed a strategic agreement with India first. To keep it as proxy war that Afghan is capable of dealing with and not a conventional attack by a state.

    The US are not fools either their Afghan plan was strategic denial, not win. Because they know that during that time Pakistan will collapse. Do you think if the Afghan war goes until 2035, in that Pakistan is denied control, that it will still exist as a state.

    This may end up being Pakistan’s greatest strategic folly. They had control of and gave it up to turn the US into the USSR all they caused was a GFC. The story is not over yet and the military historians cannot pen the last chapter and that in a nut shell was the strategy. Certain unnamed people may not turn out to the bright sparks they thought they were.

  • April 23, 2012 at 1:52 am

    It looks like we indians have forgotten the history, or try to understand history differently. It was India that encroached Chinese territories in 1962 and caused China’s strike. It is very important to remember this to avoid any future conflicts. For example, India is still far behind China in almost every area, however the chances are there that India’s ego would swallen and it might choose to provoke China again. The successful launch of Agni-V might create a sansational feeling that India is ahead of China or at least in match with China so it might take bolder stance in dealing with China. That would be a big miscalculation.
    Nehru said Indians are living in a dream of their own creation, after the 1962 shameful defeat. I hope my fellow Indians are not forgetting it was our own miscalculation that led to that war and failure, not the Chinese “surprise strike”. China, on the other hand, has outpaced us for many, many years, but I don’t see them trying to take advantage of us. Be a good neighbour, not a bad one.

  • April 23, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    I feel keeping good relations with our neighbors is as important as building our armory. Thus, launch of Agni V is crucial but we should remember that our thoughts regarding China attacking India might be completely misconceived. I mean why would Chinese think of a war with India at the first place? With so many wars already taken place, every reasonable person in this world is aware of the fact that that the war never brings peace. Peace comes with prosperity only.

  • May 2, 2012 at 4:41 am

    Mr Raman when you were in the cabinet Secretariat what has been your contibution to bridge the gaps that have arisen due to the Babus who have a different take on everything the armed forces project.If we are in a state that we are today bulk of the responsibility lies with the politicians and the babus. U may like to introspect?


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