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Ostracising the Ghost of Namka Chu  - Defending Kameng

Author: Lt Gen Anil Ahuja (Retd)
Publication: Gunners Speak
Date: October 16, 2020
URL:      https://www.gunnersspeak.com/2020/10/ostracizing-ghost-of-namka-chu.html

(An edited version of this article has been published  in the USI Journal, Vol CL - No 621 for the period July to September 2020, at Pages 271 to 287

https://usiofindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/USI-Journal-July-Sept-2020.pdf )

This article briefly recapitulates the 1962 war operations in the Kameng Sector to bring out the suggested manner in which operations should be conducted against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), should a need arise in the present time. Such a threat from the PLA is very real keeping in mind present tensions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).


The violent stand-off between the Indian Army and the PLA in Eastern Ladakh since May 2020, has once again revived the memories of 1962 Sino- Indian conflict. Both sides are alluding to it to assert their respective reinvigorated stature and capabilities. Messaging from India is of not being a push-over, politically, economically or militarily and the ability of its armed forces to carry the battle back into the Chinese territory. China on the other hand is flouting its newly acquired political, economic and military stature and ability to impose its will on neighbours, including India (wishfully)! The PLA, in violation of all bilateral agreements and confidence-building measures (CBMs) in place for nearly three decades, is trying to push the LAC to its 1960 Claim line. Chinese approach now is of expansionism and outright domination, not accommodation or co-existence[1]. It has begun perceiving India as a strategic rival and a key partner of the United States (US), which `needs to be taught a lesson’. These developments rule out the possibility of an early border settlement and foreshadow continued tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This calls for maintenance of a strong border management posture, with an altered doctrine of offensive -defence, made possible with enhanced capabilities, at least in the Kameng Sector of Arunachal Pradesh. 

While the focus of the current standoff is Ladakh Centric, at least so far, the possibility of this extending to the Central Sector (Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal) and Eastern Sectors (Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh) cannot be ruled out.  After all, China continues to claim nearly 90,000 Sq. Km of territory in the state of Arunachal Pradesh (less districts of Longding, Tirap, and Changlang). Tawang in the Kameng sector stands out as a prominent objective, militarily as well as for the battle of perception.

Kameng Sector - Kameng Sector of Western Arunachal Pradesh comprises of the Districts of West Kameng (HQ at Bomdilla), East Kameng (Seppa) and Tawang.  Kameng River, from which the sector derives its name, emanates in the upper reaches and flows into the Brahmaputra in the plains of Assam, near Tezpur.

Significance of Tawang - Tawang remains significant to India due to its strategic and military salience. According to Sir Henry McMahon, `this is a natural watershed frontier, access to (sic) the shortest trade route into Tibet…’[3]. It is also the key to the defence of the entire sector: from Tawang to Tezpur in the Assam Plains, through Se La, Bomdila, Tenga. It also secures the Eastern flank of Bhutan, where China stakes claim over areas of Sakteng Sanctuary, in Trashigang Dzongkhag (District) of Bhutan[4].

Besides its strategic significance, Tawang also has immense religious significance. China’s inability to amalgamate it into Tibet remains an unfinished agenda of religious and cultural consolidation of the region. Tawang is home to a monastery (known in Tibetan as Gaden Namgyal Lhatse), founded by Merak Lama Lodre Gyatson in 1680 – 81, and is the only important Tibetan Monastery outside the control of Lhasa (and China). It is also the birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso. Chinese fear that this monastery in Tawang can once again play an important role in Tibetan religious affairs, particularly when the time comes to choose the next Dalai Lama[6]

Tawang Monastery[7]

 As the stand-off continues to persist in Ladakh, with little likelihood of restoration of status quo ante, to pre-May 2020 positions, the possibility of the conflict spreading to the Eastern Theatre, particularly to the Kameng Sector, cannot be ruled out. At this juncture, It would  be appropriate to look back to the Chinese the offensive of 1962, in this sector, to draw on the lessons learnt and to prepare ourselves to ensure that this time, the offensive is carried back into the Chinese territory, to `ostracize the haunting ghost of Namka Chu’ (and perhaps even of  Sumdorong Chu)[8].


To review the pattern of operations of the PLA in Kameng Sector in 1962 and to suggest a contemporary concept of offensive – defence.


This analysis is covered in three  parts, as follows:

Part 1 – Order of Battle (ORBAT) and Outline Plan of Operations of PLA in Kameng Sector (October – November 1962).

Part 2 – Conduct of Operations.

Part 3 – Evolving Contemporary Concept of `offensive – defence’.

PART 1 – Order of Battle (ORBAT) and Outline Plan of Operations of PLA in Kameng Sector (October – November 1962)

Indian Deployment - October 1962

A tiered Indian deployment as it emerged progressively, post-adoption of forward posture and in the run-up to the 1962 conflict, is summarised below:

(a)  Posts established along the Border as part of the `Forward Policy’ were held by the Assam Rifles. These included Dhaula and Bumla in the Kameng Sector.

(b)  Namka Chu and the Zimithang Sector - 7 Infantry Brigade (Ex 4 Infantry Division) with four infantry battalions, a Heavy Mortar Battery (less a troop) and a Troop of Para Field Battery.

(a)  Tawang – Ad- hoc Brigade of two battalions, under Commander Artillery, 4 Infantry Division.

(b)      Se La - 62 Infantry Brigade of 4 Infantry Division having five infantry battalions supported by a field regiment and a troop of heavy mortars, with other combat support elements. Deployed in general Area Se La – Senge Dzong (Between Se La and Dirang to the South).

(e)    Dirang Dzong – Nyukmadong - 65 Infantry Brigade of 4 Infantry Division with two infantry battalions and other administrative elements.

(f)    Bomdila La – Thembang (Northeast of Bomdi la) - 48 Infantry Brigade of 4 Infantry Division had three infantry battalions with a field battery.

(g)    HQ 4 Infantry Division with HQ 4 Artillery Brigade and other administrative elements having a total strength of approximately 5000 troops were redeployed in the general area Dirang Dzong, after the fall of Tawang (25 October onwards). 

(h)    67 Infantry Brigade was located at Missamari as a reserve.

Chinese Force Level Opposite Kameng Sector[10]

The operations (which were termed as the counter-attack) were undertaken and coordinated by the Tibet Frontier Military Region. Following PLA formations were employed for operations:

(a)    55 Infantry Division with 163, 164 and 165 Infantry Regiments (Brigade equivalent), under command.

(b)    11 Infantry Division with 32 and 33 Infantry Regiments, and possibly a battalion ex 31 Infantry Regiment, under command.

(c)    Tibetan Division (TD)/ Force 419 with 154, 155 and 157 Infantry Regiments, under command.

(d)    Four infantry companies from Shannan Military Sub-district (SMS).

(e)    Three Artillery Regiments (306, 308 and 540).

(f)    136 Engineer Regiment (five companies).

(g)    Other services elements.

(Total strength – Approximately 22,000 troops with an infantry component of eight regiments (brigades) plus)

PLA Plan of Operations: Se La - Bomdila [11]

According to the Chinese accounts, the Political directive was given to the PLA for an offensive on 06 October 1962. As per the plan, the main thrust was to be in the Eastern Theatre (NEFA). The PLA forces in the Western Theatre (Ladakh) was to “coordinate” operations. The offensive (called counter-attack) was aimed at `evicting’ Indian troops from the areas North of the `traditional and customary boundary’ (i.e. China’s claim line at the Southern foothills of the Himalayas in Brahmaputra Plains.

As per Chinese perceptions, after the fall of Tawang, 4 Infantry Division was to block the PLA’s southward advance and to launch counter-attacks to recapture the lost territory.  It was visualised that the Indian Army’s main defences would be at Se La and Bomdi La.

The overall concept of operations was to advance along multiple axes, envelope(outflank) Se La and Bomdila, and reduce these subsequently. The strategy to be adopted was of, “concerted attacks by converging columns”. Under this strategy, Indian positions were to be split into numerous segments, to be destroyed piecemeal.

To quote the Chinese, it entailed: ‘smashing the head (Se La), cutting-off the tail (Bomdila), snapping at the waist (Road Se La – Dirang Dzong) and dissecting the belly (Dirang Dzong).

The plan was as follows:

(a)    55 Infantry Division (comprising three infantry regiments and three artillery regiments) was to advance along Axis Tawang – Se La and launch the main attack against Se la. The division was given the task of ‘smashing the head’.

(b)    Simultaneously, 419 Tibetan Division (three infantry regiments) was to advance from the West through the narrow corridor between Se La and India-Bhutan border, assist in the capture of Se La from the South and capture Dirang Dzong in concert with troops of 11 Infantry Division advancing from the East. This was aimed at ‘dissecting the belly’.

(c)   Four companies of SMS (Shannan Military Sub District) were to carry out an outflanking move from the East and position themselves North of Dirang Dzong along the road to Se La; their task being to ‘snap at the waist’.

(d)    In coordination with the attack against Se La, 157 Infantry Regiment ex 419 Tibetan Division was to carry out a further outflanking move(from the West) to capture Senge Dzong (South of Se La and North of Dirang) and link-up with four infantry companies of SMS which were carrying out a similar outflanking move from the East, in order to cut-off the Road Se La – Dirang completely.

(e)    11 Infantry Division (comprising two infantry regiments) was to carry-out a wide outflanking move along route Rho – Tse La – Poshing La – Thembang and cut-off Road Dirang Dzong – Bomdi La (cutting-off the tail). Thereafter, in concert with 1 or 2 infantry regiments of 419 Tibetan Division, to capture Dirang Dzong, and develop further operations for the capture of Bomdi La.

(f)     164 Infantry Regiment ex 55 Infantry Division was to act as a reserve and was tasked to clear the road axis to Bomdi La.

Part 2 – Conduct of Operations

The operations were conducted by PLA in two distinct phases:

(a)   Phase 1 - Capture of area up to Tawang (20 October to 25 October 1962)

(b)  Phase 2 - Operations South of Tawang Chu to include Sela – Bomdila – Chaku (17 Nov - 21 Nov 1962)

Phase 1 – Up to Capture of Tawang: Battle of Namka Chu ( Sketch 1 Refers)

In December 1961, as part of Operation Onkar (forward policy), Assam Rifles manned `forward posts’ were ordered to be established all along the boundary with China, including at Dhaula and Bumla, in the Kameng Sector. The army was tasked to back them up, by occupying defensive positions in successive tiers, to establish the right of possession of territory and to deter Chinese from moving forward. The task was however assigned without allocation of adequate resources or consideration of maintenance and logistic support.   7 Infantry Brigade of 4 Infantry Division (which had been moved from Ambala to NEFA in 1959 and was located at Tezpur) was moved to Tawang in 1960 and was the only formation available in the Kameng Sector.

On 8 September 1962, the Assam Rifles post at Dhaula, near Namka Chu (just below the Chinese held Thagla Ridge) was encircled by the PLA troops. As a result of this, 7 Infantry Brigade was ordered to move hurriedly to this sector, on the Western extremity of the Tawang Sector. Operational actions were ordered to be taken by 9 PUNJAB to support the encircled Assam Rifles troops and to `make Chinese vacate the Indian territory’. Following this, 7 Infantry Brigade was deployed, to defend Hathung La (Hathonga Ridge) and Tsangdhar (these two ridgelines are located South of Namka Chu, behind Dhaula Post), as and to capture Thagla Ridge, by 10 October 1962, as part of Operation Leghorn.  In a surprise move, however, Chinese attacked forward Indian localities, South of Namka Chu on 10 October. Further progress of operation Leghorn was thus halted.

The main offensive across Namka Chu was launched by PLA, early morning on 20 October 1962. The preparatory bombardment was carried out by nearly 150 guns and mortars commencing 0500h and the attack was launched at about 0630h, although some PLA troops had infiltrated behind the forward line one / two nights earlier. This had been possible due to thin linear deployment of the brigade, extending over nearly 20 Km frontage, along the Namka Chu. The Indian troops here were in fact in a `sort of’ firm base for launching an offensive on the Thagla Ridge.

Having been deployed at a tactically `undefendable’ position, on the valley floor, and having been totally surprised the formation was unable to fight a defensive battle. The brigade lost 493 men (besides many injured and taken as PWs). The troops were ordered to withdraw South to the Hathonga Ridge at approximately 1100h. The cohesion of the formation had completely been broken due to the heavy casualties suffered by every battalion (9 Punjab, 1/9 GR. 2 Rajput and 4 Grenadiers along with a battery of 34 Heavy Mortar Regiment and a troop of 17 Para Field Regiment). Troops withdrew towards the foot-hills and made their way back through Bhutan over the next several days. The battle of Namka Chu finished the day it began. After this debacle, HQ 4 Infantry Division relocated at Tawang by the evening of 22 October 1962.

Battle of Bum La and Tawang 

Overall Chinese plan for the capture of Tawang  entailed move of Force 419 (Tibetan Division) from West ( Lumla), a battalion of 31 Regiment from T Gompa, from the Northwest and  32 Regiment (plus) of 11 Infantry Division from the North through Bum La – Tong Pen La – Mila, across the `Inner Wall of Tawang (IWT)’; and 33 Regiment was tasked to infiltrate south to the Jang Bridge, to block the withdrawal of Indian troops, across the only bridge on Tawang Chu (Sketch 3 refers).

Battle of Bumla (Sketch 3 Refers)

Attack was launched on the Assam Rifles post at Bumla, early morning on 23 October 1962. After overrunning the post, PLA contacted a Platoon locality of 1 SIKH at the IB Ridge at approximately 0700h. The platoon, commanded by Subedar Joginder Singh, repulsed two attacks. Having run out of ammunition, they attempted to beat back the third attack, engaging Chinese with bayonets and close quarter battle. Fighting till last round and with only two wounded survivors, the platoon was finally overrun. Subedar Joginder Singh, who was seriously wounded, was taken a Prisoner of War. He died of his wounds in Chinese custody and was awarded the highest wartime gallantry award of Param Vir Chakra (PVC), posthumously.

After the capture of IB Ridge, PLA troops tried to bypass the main defences of       1 SIKH at Tongpenla, Mila, Nagula and approach Tawang from North. However due to accurate Artillery fire they failed to progress along this axis.  It was then decided to approach Tawang from the West, from Nyamjang Chu valley and Lumla. At this stage, the options available to 4 Infantry Division were to either give a battle at Tawang (with inadequate resources) or to withdraw South of Tawang Chu and give a fight at Se La and/or Bomdila. Opting for the latter, withdrawal from Tawang started on 23 October and the bridge over Tawang Chu, at Jung, was blown in the face of the enemy. Chinese occupied Tawang unopposed on 25 October 1962.

This phase was followed by a period of `Pause’ for political messaging / negotiations up to 17 November 1962.

Phase 2 - Operations South of Tawang Chu

The concentration of troops for the offensive took place from 10-15 Nov 1962. The PLA troops advanced along four different axes, as shown at Sketch 2 above, i: e:

a.     55 Infantry Division advanced astride Road Axis Tawang – Se La.

b.    419 Tibetan Division advanced West of the Road Axis on two separate routes through the narrow strip East of Indo-Bhutan border. The Chinese troops had strict instructions not to violate the sovereignty of Bhutan.

c.     11 Infantry Division and troops of SMS carried out the eastern outflanking move aimed at cutting off Road Se La – Dirang Dzong, contacting Dirang Dzong (HQ 4 Infantry Division) and Bomdila simultaneously.

 By this manoeuvre, 4 Infantry Division had been split into three pockets: Se La, Dirang and Bomdila, isolated from each other. Isolation of HQ 4 Infantry Division in the Dirang Valley made the command and control structure completely ineffective.

Operations at Se La (Sketch 4 Refers)

On 16 November, the PLA launched probing attacks along Northeast and Northwest approaches to Se La. 4 Garhwal Rifles, deployed at Nuranang, as Covering troops, repulsed four successive attacks inflicting heavy casualties. Attack was launched on Se La on 17 November. On persistent recommendations of GOC 4 Infantry Division, 62 Infantry Brigade was withdrawn from Se La, on Night 17/18 November, without giving a fight.  Se La was thus lost to PLA on 18 November 1962.

PLA Advance on the Eastern Flank

The advance of 11 Infantry Division with 32 and 33 Infantry Regiments was the most audacious and imaginative part of the Chinese offensive which unhinged Indian defences completely. 11 Infantry Division with 33 Infantry Regiment leading, commenced its advance from its Concentration Area on 10 November and carried out a wide outflanking move from the East, passing through Tse La and Poshing La (along Bailey’s Trail). Poshing La was captured on 15 November. The formation moved on man pack basis and was supported by approximately 1000 porters, recruited locally. The Division marched approximately 160 km in six days and nights and secured Thembang (Northeast of Bomdilla) by last light 17 November. On Night 17/18 November, they seized a vital bridge on the Road Bomdila - Dirang Dzong and thus cut-off HQ 4 Infantry Division, at Dirang, from the South.

While the above manoeuvre was in progress, four companies from SMS, guided by locals, marched for three days, outflanking Se La from the East and reached Nyukmadong in the early hours of 18 November. They interdicted the road North of Dirang Dzong.

Operations at Dirang Dzong

Having reached the eastern flank of Indian positions at Dirang Dzong – Bomdila, PLA 11 Infantry Division decided to launch an attack on Dirang Dzong on the morning of 18 Nov, coinciding with the attack on Se La. They employed 32 Infantry Regiment to attack from the East and South East.

That day, despite the availability of approximately two battalions of infantry, a squadron of tanks and a battery of artillery, the Divisional HQ ordered withdrawal towards Mandala. An uncoordinated `retreat’ took place from Dirang. The area was thereafter occupied by 32 Infantry Regiment of PLA, without resistance.

Operations at Bomdi La

While the capture of Dirang was underway, 33 Infantry Regiment moved further South to interdict any reinforcements coming from Bomdila. Finding no Indian troops moving up, the formation continued advancing Southwards to Bomdila. Contact was established with Bomdila defences on the noon of 18 November.

The Chinese expected Bomdila to be held strongly and had made extensive preparations for the attack. 48 Infantry Brigade, holding defences at Bomdila was however denuded of approximately two companies of infantry, some tanks and artillery guns, to support the Divisional HQ and troops at Dirang. The reinforcing column proceeded, oblivious of the fact that Dirang had already been abandoned. In fact, these troops themselves got ambushed en route. Consequently, the weakened defences at Bomdila fell and the brigade withdrew on 18 November (AN) to re-organise itself for a defensive battle at Rupa.

 Withdrawal / Pursuit

Having secured Bomdila, 33 Infantry Regiment of PLA commenced `pursuit’, South, towards Rupa and Chaku, on 19 November.

 While this was underway, HQ 4 Infantry Division ordered two battalions of 67 Infantry Brigade (Reserves) to reinforce Bomdila and to move further North to extricate troops isolated at Dirang Dzong. However, on coming across retreating troops of 48 Infantry Brigade North of Tenga, it was realised that Bomdila had fallen. A strong reconnaissance party was sent to ascertain the situation at Bomdila.  This party, however, ran headlong into the leading elements of 33 Infantry Regiment, advancing southwards, at about 1230 hours, 19 November. A sharp engagement ensued. Finally, the bulk of the reinforcing troops from 67 Infantry Brigade (about 300 men) were surrounded in the valley from all sides, without any fire support.  They gave a gallant fight and inflicted some casualties on the Chinese. In one such action, the PLA battalion commander was killed. The battle was over by 1500 hours, 19 November.

After this short and sharp engagement, the 2nd Battalion of 33 Infantry Regiment resumed `pursuit’ southwards towards Rupa /Tenga Valley and Chaku. Contact was made with Chaku defences by about 0200 hours on 20 November and a speedy night attack was launched. The Indian defences were not well organised since 6/8 GR had arrived only the previous day and were preparing to move towards Bomdila. The Chinese had also cut-off withdrawal routes to the South.  The defences fell by 0700 hours, 20 November. Subsequently, a unilateral ceasefire was declared by China, commencing midnight 21 November 1962.


Much has already been written about the 1962 debacle and major reasons for it. These include: Political and diplomatic failure in assessing China’s capabilities and intent; absence of a viable politico- military dialogue/interface; absence of strategic thinking in visualising threat manifestation from China; absence of a military plan for the defence of borders; failure of intelligence at the national level; cronyism and political patronage of certain senior bureaucrats and military officers; unplanned deployment of ill-prepared, ill-trained and ill-equipped troops in harsh mountainous and high altitude areas and professional incompetence of a few senior military commanders. These merit no further deliberation.

The Political aim of adopting a `forward posture (Operation Onkar)’ was neither matched by resources nor evolved on considerations of terrain. Although, in October 1958, a `Defence Line Concept’ for NEFA was proposed by Lt Gen SPP Thorat, GOC-in-C Eastern Command, the sound plan was ignored, content in the belief that the Chinese will not react. The plan entailed, a line of forward posts, manned by Assam Rifles, to give early warning and cause delay, backed by two tiers of defensive positions, to be manned by Army. In selecting these, due consideration was to be given to: suitability of terrain for defence, connectivity (road/airhead), logistic sustenance, command, control and communication. That this proposal was not implemented is history.

In the Kameng Sector, contradictory views prevailed, between Lt Gen BM Kaul and Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh (successive GOsC 4 Corps), regarding basing main defences on Se La or the Bomdila Ridgelines. That this dissonance prevailed in the midst of the conflict, after the fall of Tawang, is a reflection of total lack of defensive planning along the Sino- Indian border. The situation in this sector has however totally changed, for the better, and there are no points of comparison with 1962. Highlights of the current operational environment are in succeeding paragraphs.

Infrastructure Development

Roads – As against a single road axis existing in 1962 (Missamari – Chako – Tenga – Rupa – Bomdila – Dirang – Senge – Se La – Tawang) the Sector is now connected to the Brahmaputra plains by two, two-way- all-weather roads. Till Bomdilla there is the BCT (Balipara – Charduar – Tawang) and the OKSRT (Orang-Kalaktang-Shergaon-Rupa-Tenga) Road. A tunnel is being constructed along the BCT road across Se La, making it all-weather and shorter, with improved trafficability. Beyond Bomdila, a newly constructed road now runs West and North of Bomdila, via Mandala, towards Naga GG - Se La - Tawang, along a ridge bordering Sakteng area of Eastern Bhutan. This road provides an alternative route of induction to Tawang and enables better surveillance of the India- Bhutan boundary. Additional bridges have now been constructed on Tawang Chu, West of the erstwhile Jung Bridge, which was blown in face of Chinese on 23 October 1962. A similar network of roads and tracks has been constructed East of Jung and Tawang, towards Mago – Chuna Valley and Tulung La, from where the PLA 11 Infantry Division carried outflanking move to Dirang and Bomdila, along the Bailey’s Trail.

Helipads. While the terrain in Kameng precludes the development of an ALG, adequate helipads capable of supporting operations of medium-lift and attack helicopters as well as UAVs have been constructed for civil and military use.

Intelligence – Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) Umbrella.  Opposite the Kameng Sector in Tibet, an extensive network of roads runs Southwards from Lhasa, across Tsangpo to the border posts. There are four prominent axes (to Thagla Ridge, Bumla and Tulung La) along which PLA troops would induct, over a distance of 350-400 Km from Lhasa / Ngiti, for operations in the Kameng Sector. The current deployment provides multi-layered ISR capabilities over strategic depths, covering extended lines of communication (from the mainland to Tibet) and operational depths, covering areas  South of Lhasa and Tsangpo. These are based on satellite imagery, aerial reconnaissance, UAVs, complemented by radars and electro-optical surveillance devices integrated into C4ISR system. Capability also exists to detect induction of any additional troops, rocket forces and strategic assets. This early warning can be utilised to progressively augment the border management posture while continuing to honour the peace and tranquillity agreements and CBMs. The recent `undetected’ Chinese intrusions in Ladakh have been not so much due to inadequacies of ISR cover, as due to violations of CBMs by PLA and absence of sound intelligence analysis and timely dissemination.

Deployment. The deployment plans have matured well beyond the dithering dilemma of 1962.  In order to maintain the territorial integrity and to check PLA transgressions across the LAC, the entire watershed is held strongly by Army and ITBP in a Border Management Posture (BMP). The defences are also held in-depth, from the `Inner Wall of Tawang (IWT)’ - a close horseshoe of ridgelines dominating Tawang, right up to Se la and Bomdila in depth. Forces are also earmarked for the security of rear areas up to the plains and across bridges over the Brahmaputra. Motorable road and tracks run right up to forward most posts, including those just South of the fabled Namka Chu. Arunachal Scouts, well-trained sons of the soil, dominate lightly held areas and possible infiltration routes. The deployments and terrain, in this sector, are well suited to carry the offensive back into Tibet, should the situation exist, a stark reversal of the operations in 1962.

Planning offensive Defence

Additional Troops. India raised two additional divisions (56 and 71 Infantry Divisions) in 2009- 2010 to strengthen posture against China in the Northeast, in Arunachal Pradesh[13]. The limitations of terrain, altitude, extremely cold climate, which preclude the use of high technology weapon systems, precision munitions and restrict the use of airpower, give rise to the temptation to commit an increasingly large number of troops on the ground for border management. This is likely to have resulted in the newly raised formations being committed on ground holding role.

The development of infrastructure, enhanced tactical mobility and firepower now suggest a change in doctrine from the antiquated positional concept of holding ground, fighting a battle of attrition and launching counter-attacks to regain lost territory.  The requirement is to change to the concept of offensive defence, where QPQ (Quid pro quo)/ riposte/counter-offensive operations are conducted to make the attacker recoil and commit his reserves prematurely.

Reserves. For the conduct of offensive defence, there is a requirement of tailor-made, reserve, Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs), from within available resources. Positioned appropriately, acclimatised reserves, supported by medium-lift helicopters (Chinooks, MI-26, MI-17V), additional firepower resources in form of Ultra-Light Howitzers (ULH),  Tanks, ICVs (where required),  Attack Helicopters and armed UAVs (suited for high altitude) would be able  to manoeuvre and turn the flanks with agility.  Employment of Special forces and troops trained in high altitude warfare and Arunachal Scouts would have a force multiplier effect in interdicting offensive forces. These troops could be employed to operate effectively in areas with sparse surface communications and population from where the PLA troops infiltrated in 1962, in particular, along the alignment of the Bailey’s Trail. These areas, placed under effective surveillance should serve as the `chosen killing grounds’ without physical deployment.

Employment of Long-Range Vectors. Certain limitations of terrain in the deployment of long-range vectors: tactical medium-range missiles and MBRLs are progressively being overcome with the development of better infrastructure. Employment of these weapon systems by a selection of suitable deployment areas, in conjunction with air, will be extremely useful for conducting degradation and depth battle opposite Kameng Sector. Bridges over Tsangpo, long and exposed lines of communication along well-identified valleys and known concentration and deployment areas on the Tibetan side offers lucrative targets, which must be fully exploited.

Strategic Deterrence. Kameng Sector is the most developed Sector of Arunachal and provides the shortest approach to the plains. In addition, Tawang is the most sought objective for China. Providing depth to Bhutan from the East adds to the Sector’s operational relevance. The conventional defence of this area needs to be complemented with operations in the strategic domain for the deterrence to be effective.  PLA has sufficient deployment of nuclear forces in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), within its Western Theatre Command, from where it can target India’s value targets well in the depth of the country. While China professes minimum deterrence and No First Use (NFU), unless attacked, it retains doctrinal leeway for `launch on warning’ or `use under attack’. Military commanders along the Sino- Indian border need to incorporate this threat in doctrinal thinking. Also, to counter it, India needs to develop full spectrum deterrence by synergising conventional and strategic response. The resolve can be signalled by clearly indicating red- lines, which, in the Kameng Sector would be `well forward’.

Cyber and Electronic Warfare (EW). Operations in cyber and  EW domain are complementary to the conduct of conventional operations. Though conducted in support of the operations of theatre or Corps, these would be part of integrated cyber and EW operations at the national level, executed through the Cyber Agency (or Command, when raised). The Agency would be responsible for the conduct of Cyber/EW support operations and deterrence. Appropriate target lists would need to be prepared, akin to the lists for degradation operations. The formations would be required to prepare themselves to switch from cyber to physical conflict domain, should the situation so develop. These aspects would need to be incorporated into the operational directives and operating procedures.

Battle of Perceptions.   Border states like Arunachal Pradesh are prone to be targeted by inimical neighbours in battles of perception (Information Warfare). This can be done by generating a perceived sense of discrimination/ deprivation. Tawang has since 2012 experienced internal discord due to high stakes, hydro-power politics, which has created a volatile mix of politics – religion – environmental concerns and aspirations of local youth. The controversy has also dragged in and fragmented high monks of Tawang Monastery, a development fraught with sensitivities[14].  A narrative is attempted to be created about India’s `annexation’ of Tawang in 1951, when China was engaged in Korea[15]. A similar local misinformed narrative was created in 2011-2012 regarding India abandoning Tawang to the Chinese as part of a negotiating deal. There are reports of anti-dam stir literature being printed outside the state and supplied to `instigated protestors’. There are many other issues related to infrastructure, employment, tribal status etc which can be exploited to lower the faith in government. It is therefore imperative for the local formations to lay adequate emphasis on the aspect of `battle of perceptions (Information Warfare), more during peace than the actual conflict.


From the ongoing stand-off between the Indian Army and PLA in Ladakh it is evident that China is signalling its geopolitical intent to restrain and intimidate India, by forcible alteration of the LAC. Recent developments also rule out the prospects of an early border settlement and suggest prospects of continued tensions. Spilling over of this to the Eastern Theatre, where Kameng Sector presents most significant politico-military objectives, is a distinct possibility. This calls for revisiting the past, which has left permanent scars on India’s  `national psyche’ ( perspective towards China). This paper suggests that the Indian posture in this sector is adequate not only for its defence but to carry the offensive back into Chinese territory, Ostracizing the Ghost of Namka Chu, and perhaps even of Sumdorong Chu.


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