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Military


XVII Corps Mountain Strike Corps


XVII Corps
Siliguri 'N 'E

U/I Aviation BDE
U/I
Location
'N 'E

U/I Engineer BDE
U/I
Location
'N 'E

U/I Air Defence BDE
U/I
Location
'N 'E

U/I Infantry BDE
U/I
Location
'N 'E

U/I Infantry BDE
U/I
Location
'N 'E

U/I Artillery BDE
U/I
Location
'N 'E

U/I Artillery BDE
U/I
Location
'N 'E

U/I Artillery BDE
U/I
Location
'N 'E

Tipu Sultan
Armour Regiment
U/I
Location
'N 'E

Maharana Pratap
Armour Regiment
U/I
Location
'N 'E

Aurangazeb
Armour Regiment
U/I
Location
'N 'E

U/I Mountain Division
U/I
Location
'N 'E

59 Mountain Division
Panagarh 'N 'E

72 Mountain Division
Pathankot 'N 'E
Mountains eat up troops, is an old military dictum. Be it the defensive or offensive role an army needs larger numbers of boots on ground as compared to plains or deserts. Underdeveloped terrain and poor connectivity exacerbates the situation. Current force levels of the army, suffer from a lack of uncommitted reserves for restoring an adverse situation or launching offensive. The situation is particularly challenging in the central and eastern sector of LAC, where troops deployment is sparse and road communication underdeveloped. Movement of reserves and logistics is a major problem.

By mid-2021 India had deployed at least 50,000 additional troops to China-India border regions. Bloomberg described India's alleged move as a "historic shift toward an offensive military posture" against China. Citing sources, the report said India has dispatched troops and fighter jet squadrons to three border areas, and there are about 200,000 Indian troops along the border.

India has a large number of troops in the border area who are not just conducting a simple patrol. But even at the most intense time of the border dispute in 2020, India did not achieve the logistical support of 200,000 men.

India needed at least two Strike Corps to take the war into Chinese territory - one each for Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. On July 17, 2013, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved the Armys proposal for raising a Strike Corps for the mountains. Though the approval came after considerable delay, it was a pragmatic move that would send an appropriate message across the Himalayas.

It will help India to upgrade its military strategy against China from dissuasion to meaningful deterrence as the Strike Corps, in conjunction with the Indian Air Force (IAF), will provide the capability to launch offensive operations across the Himalayas so as to take the next war into Chinese territory, while simultaneously defending Indian territory against Chinese aggression. It would break through Chinese defences, cross over into the Tibetan plateau and capture territory that would be a bargaining chip in a post-conflict settlement.

Indias Cabinet Committee on Security agreed to proceed with the creation of a new Mountain Strike Corps of nearly 40,000 troops to be deployed along the disputed China border region by the end of 2016. But by mid 2014 it was reported that 17 Corps was likely to be ready by 2018-19. Undertaken at a cost of 64,678 crore[t1] rupees ($10.7 billion), the corps will have 90,274 troops, of which 22 major and minor units were made ready in December 2013.

The new 17 Mountain Strike Corps will have a strength of around 90,000 soldiers and it will take almost three years to become fully operational. It will consist of two new high-altitude infantry divisions and it will be spread from Arunachal Pradesh to Ladakh along the border with China. "As far as the Strike Corps is concerned, we already have three Strike Corps against Pakistan and these are for plains that is basically one, two and twenty-one Corps. However, we were not having the Strike Corps in use against Chinese in mountains and hence a 17 Strike Corps for mountains have been raised and it will be fully deployed along the China border. So far we only have a defensive mechanism against the China, however with the Strike Corps coming and being raised, we will also have an offensive mechanism," Major General (Rtd) AK Siwach, a former head of the Territorial Army, told Sputnik 29 May 2017.

But with no dedicated funding, and defence PSUs and ordnance factories yet to really step up indigenous production, the Army was forced to equip the new units being gradually raised for the 17 Corps from its already-depleted war wastage reserves (WWR). The Army cannot fight a war beyond 15-20 days due to crippling shortages in its ammunition stocks. This when the norm is to hold ammunition for 40 days of "intense" fighting under WWR. Out of the 250 headquarters/units approved for raising, around 90 had been raised by March 2016.

The new corps would be headed by Lt General Raymond Joseph Noronha on promotion. When Major General Raymond Joseph Noronha hoisted a newly-designed flag of the newly-sanctioned 17 Strike Corps in Ranchi on 01 January 2014, he kicked off the process of beefing up India's defence against China and simultaneously acquiring an offensive capability on the northern borders stretching from Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Ladakh in the northwest. From October 2013 onwards, the army HQ started posting key officers for the new corps, to be based at Ranchi until it moved to its permanent location at Panagarh in West Bengal some time in 2015.

Some of the brigadier-level officers posted on the staff of the 17 Corps were selected after they completed the prestigious National Defence College course in Delhi. Major General Noronha, who earlier commanded the 8 Mountain Division in Kargil and was posted at the Southern Command HQ in Pune before moving to Ranchi, was scheduled to be promoted as lieutenant general.

The new corps will have two high-altitude infantry divisions (59 Division at Panagarh and 72 Division at Pathankot) with their integral units, two independent infantry brigades, two armoured brigades and the like. It will include 30 new infantry battalions and two Para-Special Forces battalions. While the new corps will be based in Panagarh, West Bengal, the force will be deployed from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.

The biggest challenge comes from the poor state of border infrastructure. For instance, it reportedly takes 20 hours to drive a distance of 500 km (300 miles) from Guwahati to Tawang a reflection of the severe condition of the road network in the region. The Chinese roads nearly reach the line of actual control (LAC) or in some cases go beyond, while on the other hand most Indian roads stop well before the Indian side of the LAC. While the Cabinet committee on security approved the new corps, the Army also wanted the long-pending infrastructure and "capability development plan" along the "northern borders" with China to be speeded up. The price tag for this, in turn, was pegged at Rs 26,155 crore.

The immediate requirements for ably guarding Indian territorial integrity with assurance are many. The first and foremost among these is the necessity of building a road and rail infrastructure linking the border areas on LAC with the hinterland for logistics to move forward. Inter-state connectivity for force deployment and redeployment is required to reduce the sectoral isolation. The lay of Tibetan plateau is such that Chinese can build road or rail link almost parallel to the LAC. Whereas, the Indian side, is interspersed with valleys running north-south - laying of a road parallel to LAC may not be possible. Experts raised doubts over the feasibility of execution of the announced 1800 km long highway project in Arunachal Pradesh intended to connect Tawang, East Kameng, Upper Subansiri, West Siang, Upper Siang, Dibang Valley, Desali, Chaglagam, Kibithu, Dong, Hawai and Vijayanagar border areas of the state. Similar situation exists in the central sector in the state of Uttarakhand.

India was keen to acquire "quick reaction force (QRF) capabilities" against China. The Army already had three "strike" corps Mathura (I Corps), Ambala ( II Corps) and Bhopal (XXI Corps) among its 13 such formations but they were geared towards the land borders with Pakistan. India raised two Mountain Divisions (56 and 71), which actually was a move only to fill age-old voids in the Corps deployed on Indias North-Eastern borders. A Corps normally has three Divisions. The newly raised 56 and 71 Mountain Divisions constitute the third Division in the respective Corps.

The XVII Corps would ramp up to the "deterrence" level. In other words, it will get some "rapid reaction force" capability to launch a counter-offensive into Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in the event of any Chinese attack. Holding that the XVII Corps "is not only for war-waging, it's for war-prevention as well", Army chief General Bikram Singh in May 2014 said the overall roadmap is to "raise and convert our combat power into certain amount of QRF capabilities". In effect, the Army wants to ensure it can launch an attack into Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) if there is a Chinese foray across the border.

The Army had already raised two new infantry divisions (1,260 officers and 35,000 soldiers) at Likabali and Missamari (Assam) in 2009-2010 to reduce the adverse land combat ratio with China, which hovered around 1:3. But the costs involved are quite high. Apart from the Rs 64,678 crore on the new corps, of which Rs 39,209 crore is for capital expenditure, the price tag for infrastructure development on the "northern borders" with China is pegged at another Rs 26,155 crore.

The XVII Corps will in future be equipped with two force-multipliers: the TAC-4G broadband fourth-generation cellular network, and the Real Time Intelligence Center (RICent) multi-sensor modular Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) system both from ELTA Systems.

Slamming the previous UPA regime for "arbitrarily" approving the raising of the new 90,000-strong corps at a cost of Rs 64,678 crore spread over seven years, in April 2015 the Modi government began re-examining the ongoing project. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar told journalists that the UPA did not do due diligence about cost implications while clearing the plan in 2013. "We will have to work out the size of the corps. It cannot be the size initially approved. It will have to be trimmed down," he said.

There were questions as to whether the mountain divisions of the Strike corps were going to be manpower heavy formations of the type that are in existence, or would India introduce modern rotary-wing capabil- ity, modern means of surveillance and heavier firepower. In January 2014, Chief of the Army Staff General Dalbir Singh said "The Mountain Strike Corps will be an invaluable instrument for escalatory control as also for enlarging our politico- military options. It will be composed of all arms teams to include infantry, armour, artillery, combat engineers, aviation, as also other enablers like long-range vectors, communication assets, space and surveillance instruments, etc. The capacities that we seek to create are compos- ite and not predicated on manpower alone".

The 1.13-million strong Army had been cannibalizing from its existing war reserves to equip the new units being gradually raised under the new XVII Corps since its flag was raised at its "temporary" headquarters in Ranchi on January 1, 2014. Confronted with China's massive military infrastructure build-up all along the 4,057-km Long of Actual Control, the Army in 2013 pushed for approval of the new mountain strike corps for "swift counter-offensive capabilities" in case of an attack by the People's Liberation Army.

With tensions rising between China and India, by mid-2016 New Delhi deployed nearly 100 tanks to its eastern border. This marked the third regiment placed in Ladakh by India since 2014. The mountainous region of Ladakh, in northern India, lies in a tense location between disputed Kashmir and Tibet. In an effort to boost its military presence in the area, the Indian military sent Russian-made T-72 tanks to Ladakhs Chinese border. The tanks have undergone significant upgrades to be better outfitted for the regions climate. "We have procured special additives and lubricants for high-altitude terrain such as winter-grade diesel and additives for the lubrication system, which prevents it from freezing in the tank," Colonel Vijay Dalal told The Hindu.

The new Corps was to be supported by three independent armoured brigades, three artillery brigades, an engineer brigade, an air defence brigade, an aviation brigade and logistics support units. One more division from another corps may be converted into a mountain division and allotted to 17 Corps. A corps normally has three divisions.

The Armour regiments named Tipu Sultan, Maharana Pratap and Aurangazeb will be positioned in the eastern Ladakh region, where temperaturescould plunge to -45 degree during winter. To make the Russian-made tanks function smoothly at the barren heights and harsh weather conditions, they were even kept running during the nights. "The vast flat valleys along the mountain ranges allow for armoured movement; besides, there has been an increase in the force levels across the border," an unnamed military official told NDTV 19 July 2016.

In an interview in April 2015, Union defence minister Manohar Parrikar said that the government had halved the size of the corps - down to Rs 38,000 crore over eight years and 35,000 men - and blamed the previous government for making the higher estimates without catering for budgetary allocations. But he clarified in another interview the following month that the strike corps was only being slowed down, not scrapped. An internal review carried out in 2015 by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval recommended freezing the 17 Corps raisings at its present levels and absorbing it into the present holding corps along the China border. In December 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi triggered anxiety within the Indian army. "At a time when the major powers are reducing their forces and relying more on technology, we are still constantly seeking to expand the size of our forces," he said, addressing the Combined Commanders' Conference, the crucial once-a-year gathering of commanders from the three services. "Modernisation and expansion of forces, both at the same time, is a difficult and unnecessary goal."

On 13 January 2016, less than a month after the PM's speech, army chief General Dalbir Singh told the media that the strike corps was on course and would be raised by 2021. The 59 Mountain Division with 16,000 soldiers had been raised in Panagarh, West Bengal, but the proposed 72 Mountain Division in Pathankot was stalled.



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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 14:51:03 ZULU