As India and China get locked into some tensions in the icy mountains of Eastern Ladakh, it is time to break the myth of a strong Chinese People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLA-GF). Now, since we know that any Sino-India confrontation will have to take place in high mountains and passes as opposed to plain battlefields, it is becoming clear that a lot will depend upon the troop strength and capability between the two armies.
There is not much to distinguish between the numbers of the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA Ground Force. But they are miles apart when it comes to the men in charge of affairs from top-level commanders to lower-rung troops. While the Indian Army is a battle-hardened force excelling in mountain warfare, the PLAGF has a number of issues to fight with from inexperience and insubordination to corruption and lack of acclimatisation.
The PLAGF’s issues start with a lack of combat and war experience itself. The Chinese Army doesn’t have many exploits to boast about and hasn’t fought a war since the 1979 Vietnam war. The handful of combat veterans left in the PLAGF are also going to retire within the next few years.
And then, of course, the PLAGF is plagued by its ‘little emperors’- a legacy of the misconceived one-child policy of China. Chinese families are very emotional about their child, since there’s only one. As such, millions of children grew up believing they were “little emperors”.
And when the PLAGF pumps in these “little emperors”, they fail to mend their ways as military officers and staffers. Recently, it was reported that excessive masturbation and addiction to video games is the reason why the physical-test failure rates conducted by the PLA have hit an “alarming high”.
The Chinese PLA is befuddled on how to handle such undisciplined soldiers from the one-child generation. The PLA has been forced to resort to special training, in order to straighten up “spoiled” soldiers. Disasters like Galwan happen when such an undisciplined force meets a formidable Indian Army at the LAC.
In fact, China had even decided to rope in MMA (mixed martial arts) fighters in order to train its troops in Ladakh, and perhaps face India in case of any eventuality, after Chinese troops got beaten black and blue at Galwan.
And then, of course, the Chinese PLA remains a part of the Han Chinese-dominated CCP administration. Tibetans highlanders will never be loyal to the cause of Chinese expansionism through their own land, nor is the PLA known to have developed a strong acclimatisation culture all this while. The PLAGF has to send Han Chinese troops for manning the LAC in extreme cold weather and that too without acclimatisation.
Therefore, the Chinese troops remain unfit to engage in any major confrontation along the LAC in high-altitude Eastern Ladakh or any other sector.
As for India, there is a definite advantage over the Chinese PLA. For starters, India is a battle-hardened force with several decades of experience in high-altitude warfare and Counter-insurgency operations in the Kashmir valley.
Recently, two American studies busted the bubble of so-called Chinese military superiority and edge over India. The Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Boston and the Center for a New American Security in Washington suggested that India maintains an edge in high-altitude mountainous environments over China.
Defence experts within China too echo the same sentiment. “At present, the world’s largest and experienced country with plateau and mountain troops is neither the US, Russia, nor any European powerhouse, but India,” Huang Guozhi, wrote in an article published by Chinese thepaper.cn in June.
Guozhi added, “The Indian Army has set up hundreds of outposts in the Siachen Glacier area with an altitude of more than 5,000 metres, with 6,000 to 7,000 fighters stationed. The highest post has reached 6,749 metres.”
If we may add, unlike the Chinese, the Indian Army is also the most experienced force when it comes to high-altitude warfare in the Himalayas dating back to the 1947-48 war between India and Pakistan.
India also has relatively recent experience of the Kargil war, giving the Indian Army first-hand knowledge of how to use artillery guns and multi-barrel rocket launchers at high altitudes, unlike the Chinese PLA. Also, India has been manning the highest battlefield in the world- Siachen, since the valiant Operation Meghdoot in 1984.
India recruits from the Tibetan highlanders in its Special Frontier Force (SFF), a covert unit that recently showed its might in Eastern Ladakh. Recently, for example, the Punjab Regiment and the Bihar Regiment inflicted a disproportionately high number of casualties upon the Chinese in Galwan. This is because, even apart from the Tibetan highlanders, a number of regiments like Ladakh Scouts, the Kumaon Regiment, Garhwal Rifles and the Gorkha Regiment recruit heavily from hilly areas. Other Regiments also have sufficient experience of high-altitude warfare.
Within Eastern Ladakh, the Indian Army also has a strategic advantage now. The Chinese have to cross the entire Tibetan region, before it can reach Eastern Ladakh, often travelling through high mountain passes. On the other hand, the Indian Army finds it easier to reach the LAC at Eastern Ladakh making it easier to mobilise logistics in the region.
This is also the reason why the Indian Air Force (IAF) also has a strategic advantage over China. While Chinese airstrips are limited in the high-altitude areas of Tibet, the Western Air Command of the IAF has several bases in Northern India plains from where it can easily reach the Eastern Ladakh region in case things escalate into a limited war.
The Print has also reported that Chinese construction activity, especially for infrastructure related to air defence networks, has also been observed in the border areas. The construction activity suggests IAF can exploit porosity in China’s aerial surveillance along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh in case of a limited confrontation between the two Asian giants.
The Chinese PLA clearly has many disadvantages to handle that are both qualitative and strategic in nature. With the myth of Chinese military superiority broken, it is advantage India in Eastern Ladakh.