India sets up strike force at China border

A candidate for the volunteer Indian Army is measured during a physical fitness test at a recruitment rally in Khasa, near Amritsar, on Monday. The go-ahead for a mountain strike corps comes after a tense three-week standoff between the countries' troops in Kashmir.

INDIA - India will be setting up for the first time a 40,000-strong mountain warfare strike force as part of moves to boost its military capabilities along the border with China.

The government gave its approval on Wednesday night for the creation of a rapid response unit with air capabilities to launch offensive operations in the mountainous terrain of India's eastern border.

The proposed strike force would be set up at an estimated cost of 620billion rupees (S$13.1billion) over seven years, sources said. It would be headquartered in West Bengal, with divisions in north-eastern states like Arunachal Pradesh that border China.

India has three other strike corps, but these are geared towards Pakistan and its members are trained to fight land battles.

Border disputes along the 4,000km boundary flare up regularly between India and China, which fought a brief war in 1962.

The go-ahead for the mountain strike corps - the proposal had been pending for years - came after a tense three-week standoff between their troops in the Depsang valley, in the Ladakh region of eastern Kashmir, where both sides have competing claims.

Even though the matter was eventually resolved through diplomatic negotiations in early May, it sparked concerns in New Delhi.

"Transgression issues have become more sensitive after the Depsang valley standoff," said Professor Srikanth Kondapalli of Jawaharlal Nehru University.

India currently has more than 100,000 troops in the eastern sector.

China is seen to have built up its defence on its side of the border known as the Line of Actual Control, with roads, a rail network into Tibet close to the Indian border, and air capabilities.

India, too, is in the middle of building up its capabilities.

"This strike corps will also have an army aviation division that will have units to transport troops to the Line of Actual Control... This is in line with moves to build 11 strategic roads - eight in Arunachal Pradesh and three in Ladakh - in the border areas," Prof Kondapalli said.

But analysts believe it is not enough.

"This is long overdue... we need more strike corps," said Professor Bharat Karnad, of the Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think-tank.

"The Chinese side can muster up 20 to 30 group armies in 28 days (at the border). That is extraordinary infrastructure that India is not likely to match any time soon."

A group army has 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers, he said.

India and China are set to hold a technical meeting soon over a border cooperation agreement that seeks to improve channels of communication over border issues.