With an eye on China’s growing military strength in Tibet, India has ‘fully raised’ two new mountain divisions with 30,000 troops in the northeast as a counter-measure and to shore up its mountain warfare capabilities.
‘We have now fully raised the two new mountain divisions in the northeast. They are fully functional. Only some support elements may join them soon,’ a senior officer at the Army Headquarters here told IANS.
The two new mountain divisions, raised at a cost of Rs 700 crore/ Rs 7 billion each, will be under the command of the Rangapahar-based 3 Corps in Nagaland and the Tezpur-based 4 Corps in Assam of the army’s Kolkata-based Eastern Command.
The two divisions with 15,000 personnel each will further enhance the tactical strength of the Indian Army in the strategically important areas along the borders facing its traditional rival China, which claims the whole of Arunachal Pradesh as its territory.
The new mountain divisions have come up at a time when India’s security top brass is warily watching the massive upgrade of Chinese military infrastructure along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the ceasefire line as there is no demaracated border – in all the three sectors – western (Ladakh), middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal).
The other China-specific plans include the raising of the ‘Arunachal Scouts’ and ‘Sikkim Scouts’ that was given the nod last year.
India has also deployed a Sukhoi SU-30 air superiority fighter jet squadron in Tezpur as one of the aerial offensive measures apart from upgrading airfields and helipads in the northeast.The Cabinet Committee on Security had approved the raising of the two new divisions in early 2008 and preparations for raising the offensive infantry formations began the same year.
The army, out of its 35 divisions, already has 10 divisions dedicated to mountain warfare and another infantry division earmarked for high altitude operations.
Though the plan for raising the two new formations was to be in two phases over five years, the army has compressed timelines to have them in place within three years, primarily in view of the defence ministry’s focus on building military strength in the northeast, the officer, who did not wish to be named, said.
Under the first phase, the two new divisions’ headquarters, along with a brigade each, have come up, including the headquarters’ support elements such as signals, provost, and intelligence units. Implementation of the second phase will be completed in the first half of this year to make them operationally ready.
The divisions have been armed with state-of-the-art technology such as heavy-lift helicopters capable of carrying 50 troops each; ultralight howitzers that can be slung under the helicopters for transportation; missile and cannon-armed helicopter gunships; utility helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
India is already in the process of purchasing 140 M777 ultralight howitzers worth $647 million through the foreign military sales route from the US under its Rs 12,000-crore ($2.7-billion) artillery modernisation plan.
The air assets, such as the helicopter gunships and attack helicopters, will provide the two divisions capabilities to carry out manoeuvres for countering the terrain impediments.
The gunships and attack choppers will be necessary for providing the two formations firepower in a mountain terrain, as the army will not be in a position to deploy tanks and armoured vehicles,’ the officer pointed out.
The firepower in the third dimension (air) was required due to difficulties the army would face in using artillery guns in an operation over a mountainous terrain.