More Men or Better Technology? Government Rethinking Strategy to Counter China: Sources

File photo: Army men near the Indo-China border

New Delhi:

India is said to be re-thinking a decision made two years ago to raise a mountain strike corps to guard the hilly northern borders with China. Sources said the government is now weighing whether it will make more sense to invest in better technology rather than raise an 80,000 strong force at considerable expense.

The Manmohan Singh government of the Congress had hastily cleared the raising of the corp after repeated transgression by Chinese troops in Ladakh in 2013, one of which lasted for over a month. The Mountain Strike Corps, or the Panagarh based 17 Corps, would add on about 80,000 men at a cost of Rs 64000 crore to be spent over eight years.

The corps headquarters have come up at Panagarh in West Bengal; a few battalions have come up as well.

For the last two years, no separate funds have been allocated to the Indian Army to raise the corps and neither has border infrastructure been built to house troops. The Indian Army has been forced use war reserves to raise and equip the corps.

Sources told NDTV that plans to reposition troops in the northern command were put on hold temporarily because the existing  infrastructure was found to be "incapable of absorbing more troops."

"Are we preparing for wars of the past or wars of future? Wars of the future will depend on disruptive technologies. The emphasis should be modern means of combat and not bayonet to bayonet or muzzle to muzzle war," Major General (retd) B K Sharma, who heads Centre for Strategic Studies at the United Services Institute told NDTV.

The Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and the National Security Council Secretariat have asked the government whether it wants a huge army or then a small but smart army with a focus on technology and non-contact fighting capabilities.

Besides, questions have also been raised about the huge cost by way of salaries and pensions, for the Indian Army. Already, manpower accounts for nearly 90 per cent of the Army's budget.

"Going by the average budget allocations, there may come a time when the Army finds itself unable to set aside money for capital expenditure, therefore, force accretion should be thought through," a top Defence Ministry official told NDTV.