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Indian Army thwarts China attempts to alter status quo near Pangong Tso

NEW DELHI, Aug 31: China’s People’s Liberation Army soldiers made ‘provocative military movements’ on the southern bank of Pangong Tso on the night intervening 29 and 30 August, the Indian army said in a statement on Monday, accusing soldiers across the Line of Actual Control of trying to alter the status quo. The statement said Indian troops had been able to pre-empt the PLA from trying to change the facts on the ground.

The movement of Chinese troops in the East Ladakh sector is seen as an effort by the Chinese side to expand the border row to the southern bank of the lake. So far, much of the Chinese deployment around the lake has been concentrated around its Northern bank. The two armies have been locked in a stand-off at multiple points in the East Ladakh sector for nearly four months.

There have been several agreements between the two sides to disengage, particularly after scores of soldiers clashed in Galwan Valley on June 15 that led to casualties on both sides. But Chinese troops have been slow to step back, particularly around Pangong Tso, the saltwater glacial lake spread across 700 sq km.

In Monday’s statement, the Indian army called the movement of troops a violation of “previous consensus arrived at during military and diplomatic engagements during the ongoing standoff in Eastern Ladakh”.

“Indian troops preempted this PLA activity on the Southern Bank of Pangong Tso Lake, undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground. The Indian Army is committed to maintaining peace and tranquility through dialogue, but is also equally determined to protect its territorial integrity,” army spokesman Colonel Aman Anand said in the statement.

The army statement did not spell out the nature of the Chinese provocation and how soldiers of the Indian army blocked the effort.

The Chinese effort to enlarge the border row came just two days after the defence ministry in Beijing told India that it should look at the “big picture” of bilateral ties and work with it and take concrete steps to bring the relationship back on the “right track of normal development.”

India has made it clear that China should work on complete disengagement, and then de-escalation of troops in eastern Ladakh, underlining that this can be achieved only through mutually agreed reciprocal actions. The message from New Delhi has been that the Indian army will stay firm on Chinese efforts to alter the status quo and has stressed that the PLA will have to return to their April 20 position.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava last week said complete disengagement requires re-deployment of troops by each side towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and this can be done only through mutually agreed actions.

Indian Navy Warships at South China Sea

NEW DELHI, Aug 30: Two warships of the Indian Navy have set sail to join the US Navy destroyers in South China Sea, where Beijing has been expanding its presence since 2009 thorough artificial islands and military presence. The vessels have been deployed all along the Indian Ocean, especially the Malacca Straits as it is used by China to move towards other countries.

A report quoted government sources as saying: "Soon after the Galwan clash broke out in which 20 of our soldiers were killed, the Indian Navy deployed one of its frontline warship to the South China Sea where the People's Liberation Army's Navy objects to the presence of any other force claiming the majority of the waters as part of its territory."

The report further quoted its sources as saying that the immediate deployment of the Indian Navy warship in the South China Sea had a desired effect on the Chinese Navy and security establishment as they complained to the Indian side about the Indian warship's presence there during the diplomatic level talks with the Indian side.

During the deployment in the South China Sea, where the American Navy had also deployed its destroyers and frigates, the Indian warship was continuously maintaining contact with their American counterparts over secure communication systems, the sources were quoted as saying.

As part of the routine drills, the Indian warship was being constantly updated about the status of the movement of military vessels of other countries there, they said, adding that the entire mission was carried out in a very hush-hush manner to avoid any public glare on Navy's activities.

Around the same time, the Indian Navy had deployed its frontline vessels along the Malacca Straits near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the route from where the Chinese Navy enters the Indian Ocean Region to keep a check on any activity of the Chinese Navy, the report stated. A number of Chinese vessels also pass through the Malacca Straits while returning with oil or taking merchant shipments towards other continents.

The sources were quoted as saying that the Indian Navy is fully capable of checking any misadventure by the adversaries on either the eastern or the western front and the mission-based deployments have helped it to control the emerging situations effectively in and around the Indian Ocean Region.

The Navy also has plans to urgently acquire and deploy autonomous underwater vessels and other unmanned systems and sensors to keep a close eye on the movement of PLAN from Malacca Straits towards the Indian Ocean Region, the report quoted its sources.

India withdraws from multi-nation war games involving China

NEW DELHI, Aug 29: India has withdrawn from a multi-nation army exercise being hosted by Russia in which around 20 countries including China are expected to take part next month at a time when talks with China to reduce border tensions in eastern Ladakh are stuck in a stalemate, people familiar with the developments said on Saturday.

Exercise Kavkaz-2020 will be held in southern Russia’s Astrakhan region from September 15 to 27. The Pakistan army is also likely to take part in the joint drills that are part of a four-year exercise cycle of the Russian army.

“Russia and India are close and privileged strategic partners. At Russia’s invitation India has been participating in many international events. However, in view of the pandemic and consequent difficulties in exercise, including arrangements of logistics, India has decided not to send a contingent this year to Kavkaz-2020. The same has been informed to the Russian side,” said a defence ministry spokesperson.

The decision not to go ahead with participating in the Kavkaz-2020 multilateral exercise was made following consultations between the defence ministry and the external affairs ministry that took into consideration several factors, the officials cited above said on the condition of anonymity.

“There is a decision not to take part in contact exercises in view of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to ensure the safety of our troops,” the officials said. The expected presence in the exercise of troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both states that aren’t recognised by India, in Kavkaz-2020 was also a factor in the decision, said one of the officials.

Most UN member states see Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of Georgia, though both are recognised by Russia. India doesn’t recognise both as independent states as they are not members of the UN. India’s presence at such an exercise could have given rise to delicate diplomatic issues, a second official said.

Criticism of India’s possible presence at Kavkaz-2020 alongside Chinese and Pakistani troops has been growing ever since reports first emerged that New Delhi was extended an invitation to send a tri-services contingent to the exercise.

India was earlier planning to send around 180 troops from an infantry battalion, along with elements of the air force and observers from the Indian Navy for the exercise. A total of 13,000 troops from different countries are expected to take part in the drills.

Questions have also been raised about India participating in an exercise featuring Chinese troops amid the months-long standoff along the LAC and the death of 20 Indian soldiers in the violent clash in Galwan Valley on June 15.

The Russian exercise has also sparked tensions with Ukraine, which is organising its own command-staff exercise United Efforts-2020, for which it plans to involve NATO countries. This exercise too will be held at around the same time.

While it is not uncommon for the armies of India, China and Pakistan to be part of multi-nation exercises on neutral territories (they even deploy alongside in United Nations peace missions), India’s participation in Kavkaz-2020 had assumed importance because of the ongoing border row in the Ladakh sector.

India to stop import of 101 key military items

NEW DELHI, Aug 9: India announced on Sunday that it will ban the import of 101 types of weapons and ammunition for the next five years — from artillery guns to light military transport aircraft and conventional submarines to long-range land attack cruise missiles — in a significant step on the long road towards achieving self-reliance in the defence sector.

The detailed list of equipment published by the defence ministry has spelled out that the import embargo will kick in between December 2020 and December 2025 for different categories of military hardware.

The government has also created a separate budget for the purchase of locally produced military hardware.

“Our aim is to apprise the Indian defence industry about the anticipated requirements of the armed forces so that they are better prepared to realise the goal of indigenisation,” said defence minister Rajnath Singh, who made the announcement on Twitter.

Later in the day, the defence minister said at an online event that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will present a new outline for a self-reliant India in his address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15.

He also referred to his announcement on defence import ban and said the Modi government was taking “big and tough” decisions for a self-reliant India. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that a country may not be able to effectively protect its sovereignty if it is not self-reliant, he said, adding: “Our government will not allow any harm to India’s self respect and sovereignty at any cost.”

The move to ban the import of the 101 items is expected to give a push to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ (Self-reliant India Movement). In May, the government announced that it would notify a list of weapons and equipment that cannot be imported.

The military hardware on the negative import list includes assault rifles, sniper rifles, short-range surface-to-air missiles, beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, corvettes, missile destroyers, light combat helicopter, ship-borne cruise missiles, light combat aircraft, a variety of radars and different types of ammunition.

The ministry will take necessary steps to ensure that the timelines for the production of the equipment on the negative import list are met, Singh said. The list includes wheeled armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs), with an embargo date of December 2021. The army is expected to order 200 AFVs at a cost of more than 5,000 crore, he said.

The list of weapons banned for import will be reviewed every year.

“More such equipment for import embargo would be identified progressively by the Department of Military Affairs in (DMA) in consultation with all stakeholders. A due note of this will also be made in the Defence Acquisition Procedure to ensure that no item in the negative list is processed for import in the future,” the minister said.

This implies India will have to compulsorily develop technology for defence systems and platforms figuring on the negative import list, experts said. One of the key responsibilities assigned by the government to the DMA, headed by chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, is to promote the use of indigenous military equipment in the armed forces.

The list has been put together by the ministry after several rounds of consultations with all stakeholders, including the military and the industry, and factoring in the future capabilities of the defence sector to locally manufacture equipment and ammunition.

“Almost 260 schemes of such items were contracted by the tri-services at an approximate cost of ~3.5 lakh crore between April 2015 and August 2020. It is estimated that contracts worth almost ~4 lakh crore will be placed upon the domestic industry within the next six to seven years,” Singh said.

He said the ministry has split the capital budget for 2020-21 between domestic and foreign capital procurement routes. “A separate budget head has been created with an outlay of ~52,000 crore for domestic capital procurement in the current financial year,” he said.

From raising foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence manufacturing to creating a separate budget for buying locally made military hardware and notifying a list of weapons/equipment that cannot be imported, the government had announced a raft of measures to boost self reliance in the defence sector in May 2020.

It’s a good start to a very long journey ahead, said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.

“While the Indian private industry, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises, would be expected to perform as per a time schedule and a quality yardstick, the government will still have to handhold the small players through financial and policy support,” Bahadur added.

Imports account for 60-65% of the country’s military requirements and it has signed contracts worth billions of dollars during the last decade for weapons and systems including fighter jets, air defence missile systems, submarine hunter planes, attack helicopters, heavy-lift choppers and lightweight howitzers.

Defence Research and Development Organisation chief G Satheesh Reddy said Hindustan Times that the country had the capability to develop and manufacture the military equipment on the negative import list within the prescribed embargo timelines.

PLR Systems chairman Ashok Wadhawan said, “The items on the list can and will have to be produced domestically. If there are any capability gaps, they will have to be filled as there is no other option.” PLR Systems is an Indian joint venture with Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) and it is competing for contracts to supply assault rifles, light machine guns, carbines and sniper rifles to the military.

India was the third-biggest military spender in the world last year after the United States and China, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said in a report released in April.

Confederation of India Industry director general Chandrajit Banerjee said the announcement of the negative import list marked the launch of a “new glide path” for Atmanirbhar Bharat. “The announcement of ~52,000 crore for domestic capital procurement coupled with the list of 101 items for import embargo gives a tremendous boost to Atmanirbhar Bharat and indigenous defence manufacturing,” he added.

Former Union minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram said the defence minister promised a “bang” on a Sunday morning and ended with a “whimper”. He was referring to a Twitter alert by Singh on an “important announcement” an hour before the defence minister gave out details of the move to achieve self-reliance.

Chidambaram tweeted: “Import Embargo is high sounding jargon. What it means is we will try to make the same equipment (that we import today) in 2 to 4 years and stop imports thereafter!”

Chinese aggression increasing, LAC standoff likely to be prolonged: Defence ministry

NEW DELHI, Aug 6: Chinese aggression along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) has been increasing and the current standoff is expected to be prolonged, a defence ministry document noted, with specific reference to the Galwan Valley where 20 Indian and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers were killed in a brutal brawl on June 15.

In an official document listing out the major activities of the department of defence in June, the ministry said the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) transgressed into the Indian side in the areas of Kugrang Nala, Gogra and the north bank of Pangong Tso on May 17-18. It was uploaded on the ministry’s website on August 4.

“Consequent to this, ground level interactions were held between armed forces of both sides to defuse the situation. Corps Commander Level Flag Meeting was held on 6th June. 2020. However, a violent face-off incident took place between the two side s on 15the June resulting in casualties of both sides,” it said.

The document, which refers to only the month of June, said subsequent military talks took place on June 22 to discuss modalities of the de-escalation process. “While engagement and dialogue at military and diplomatic level is continuing to arrive at mutually acceptable consensus, the present standoff is likely to be prolonged,” it said.

The ministry said the situation in Eastern Ladakh arising from unilateral aggression by China was sensitive and required close monitoring and prompt action based on evolving situation.

Top Indian and Chinese military commanders on Sunday met in eastern Ladakh to discuss the next stage of disengagement along the LAC with negotiations entering a critical phase due to serious differences between the two armies in the Finger Area near Pangong Tso and the the PLA’s reluctance to vacate positions held by it in what New Delhi claims to be Indian territory.

The Finger Area --- a set of eight cliffs jutting out of the Sirijap range overlooking the Pangong Lake --- has emerged as the hardest part of the disengagement process with little hope of immediate resolution.



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