In the next few weeks, the Indian army’s Mountain Strike Corps will go into ‘battle’ across its intended area of deployment—the Himalayas. In the first exercise since its raising in 2014, the Ranchi-based 17 Corps will launch three Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs)—brigade-sized formations backed by medium artillery, helicopters, tanks and armoured personnel carriers in simulated thrusts across the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The manoeuvres will be far away from the currently taut and violent Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan, but not too distant from Doklam, where India and China ended a 72-day military stand-off in 2017.
Army chief General Bipin Rawat and his generals will watch the exercise very carefully because it validates several concepts they have worked on for months. The chief is betting big on IBGs—lean mobile formations consisting of 5,000 soldiers, backed by artillery and armour—to become the army’s force of the future. It is the biggest restructuring of a force that has continued almost without any reorganisation since Independence.
Senior army officials say the exercise, the first of its kind in the northern theatre, respects the April 2005 protocol with China, which urges both sides to ‘avoid holding large-scale military exercises involving more than one division (approximately 15,000 troops) in close proximity to the LAC’.
The exercise, which is yet to be given a name—army officials say this is to maintain secrecy—is to be held at altitudes of over 10,000 feet. It will also validate the army’s ability to launch manoeuvres in the mountains using its only strike corps under the Eastern Command. The three Mountain IBGs have been carved out of the 17 Corps’ Panagarh-based 59 Mountain Division. From its base in Ranchi the Corps HQ will control the exercise that is in the planning stages for several weeks. Details of the exercise are secret, but military tacticians say the battle groups could be expected to do one or more of the following: interdict a strategic highway, make an initial bridge-head for launching further offensives, seize an area posing a threat to the Chumbi Valley or launch an offensive across a frozen river to capture posts.
BETTING BIG ON IBGs
Ever since the downward spiral in relations with Pakistan in 2016, the Indian army has been restocking missiles, tank and artillery ammunition to be able to fight a 10-day intensive war, or what it calls ‘10(I)’ scales. The Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO), the army’s principal war planner, has begun studying the terrain from Jammu and Kashmir to the Rann of Kutch to see how IBGs can be deployed.
“You don’t announce a war,” Gen. Rawat tells India today when asked whether a conflict with Pakistan is now a more probable option than it was in recent years. He emphasises the element of surprise. “Nobody would want to go to war, but if the (situation) were to go out of hand, we won’t hesitate to do some limited action,” says the army chief. ‘Out of hand’ is a clear reference to an act of grave provocation. For instance, a mass-casualty terrorist attack originating from across the border?
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September 16, 2019