My thoughts are with Col Santosh Babu and our soldiers who sacrificed themselves for us in Galwan Valley. Their bravery will be an example and inspiration for future generations of Indians. They have given their today for our tomorrow. My heart goes to their families and near and dear ones. My salutes to them.
If you are a Chinese, you would say: One Swallow Does Not Make a Summer. If you are an Indian, you would say, Out of Small Acorns Grow Mighty Oaks, whenever Galwan is discussed. However in battle as in life, truth alone prevails, irrespective of the fact that it is the first casualty of war. However the truth I am alluding to is the sentiment which all Indian soldiers have learned through ages from this saying in the Mahabharata:
Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati Bharata
Abhythanamadharmasya tadatmanam srijamyaham
Paritranaya sadhunam vinashay cha dushkritam
Dharmasansthapanarthay sambhavami yuge yuge
There is greater clarity now as to what has happened at Galwan. There is no doubt that China premeditated an ambush. As per an India Today report, ‘outside’ troops planned, instigated, and sprung the ambush. A euphemism for specially trained crack troops for strike operations. I surmise they were handpicked and specially placed there to teach India a lesson using barbaric weapons which are totally in contravention to the Geneva Conventions. It has emerged that apart from casualties, some Indian Officers and soldiers were detained by the Chinese. Equally some Chinese soldiers were detained by India. Amongst them was the CO of this crack strike force who probably planned this operation. The Chinese agreed to release our boys only since we had their kingpin.
From a Chinese perspective, it is indeed creditable that their Commanding Officer was there on the spot to personally lead and control his men. However the execution of the ambush indicates poor training and battlefield leadership. PLA’s ‘peace disease’, ‘micro corruption’ and ‘lack of combat experience’ bubbled up in Galwan. Many paid analysts project that fighting in high altitude is a matter of 14 days acclimatization and it is a walkover for China. ‘Battle readiness’ in super high altitude and ‘acclimatization’ are two different things. In a battlefield tougher than even Siachen, operational effectiveness is much beyond acclimatization. It comes with considerable time spent there. The Chinese are extremely far from that. I hope the Western World realizes that. In fact Chinese deployment in prim straight lines in the Galwan Valley and elsewhere indicates one of the two things. Either they do not know the value of dispersion or they do not want to get into a fight, and all this is a scare and demonstration maneuver. Well, time will tell. Their influence machinery has also been mocking at our inferior medical facilities. It boasted how their casualties received better treatment due to superior medical facilities. By doing so they confirmed that they had significant casualties despite officially denying them. BTW, the Armies are deployed in Aksai Chin for battle and not for a medical evacuation or beauty contests. If the balloon goes higher, I am sure PLA will sorely need those facilities soon.
A major issue is the “Stability-Instability” paradox in the PLA. The PLA might have great equipment, sophisticated infrastructure, faster communications, and all those paraphernalia for the much hyped “local wars under conditions of informalisation”. Their Command and Control structure at Theater level must be great. At the lower levels, lack of battle experience and operational adaptability shines through. The higher-level Stability and lower-level Instability must be exploited. I also saw a video clip of one of their strategic/ military experts from Beijing. He was talking of getting Pakistan into the fray. WOW. Even without the first shot being fired they have already started banking on Pakistan to bail them out on the battlefield! India too hot to handle for the wannabe superpower. There are reports that some J10s have been deployed at Skardu. Who is going to fly them? Pakistan won’t since they did not dare cross the LC in 2019. They know what is in store for them. Chinese pilots operating from Skardu? IAF is chafing. Or, are these aircraft being shifted to Skardu for safekeeping?
Oh, by the way, the third Chinese aircraft carrier under construction at Shanghai has disappeared! Where? Obviously put under camouflage. Worried that the under-construction behemoth will be the first casualty of a war in that theater? Something is brewing on the Japanese front too. The Chinese seem to be sliding into two-front scenario, which is now beyond them. The longer we keep the Chinese here and under tension the more difficult it will be for them. A thought for the Commanding Officer we sent back. Has he been demoted or put against the wall in typical Communist fashion? We will never know. A country which does not honor its fallen soldiers will not hesitate to put its soldiers against the wall. Disgrace. There are already questions on Weibo/ We Chat after seeing the response and emotions of last rites of Indian soldiers at their hometowns. In Typical Chinese fashion they continue to hide casualties as they did with their infections in Wuhan.
On our side, our officers and men are in good fighting fettle. Col Babu displayed leadership of the highest order in the best traditions of the Indian Army. 16 Bihar, 3 Punjab, 3 Medium Regiment, 81 Medium Regiment and the Sappers and Signalers functioned as a battle team despite being outnumbered. It just proves the point that modern warfare is an all arms affair and every hand counts. The Biharis and Punjabis were ferocious in that no holds barred hand to hand combat that was on. However, the Gunners of 3 Medium Regiment (Sikh troops) and 81 Medium Regiment (South Indians), both pedigreed and tough unit seems to have tipped the scale in our favor. The role of 3 Medium Regiment needs elucidation. They nabbed the Chinese CO. After having caught him they refused to part with him till they were reassured that their officers and comrades detained by the Chinese were returned safe and sound. That is something great. The bonds of loyalty between our men and their officers at unit level are fantastic. Irrespective of the consequences, they were not willing to part with the hapless PLA CO. Such men and units are worth their weight in gold. And most importantly, Indian Army had four such units lined up that night. There are 1100 more such units lined for the Chinese to battle ahead. Eastern Ladakh is an ‘All Arms’ battlefield and I am confident that this incident will take Indian Army beyond the ‘Infantry Only’ mentality and imbalance that had set in some quarters. More about that later. Till then 16 Bihar, 3 Punjab, 3 Medium Regiment, 81 Medium Regiment, the Sapper and Signal units whose personnel were in action need to be commended by the nation. I think these men of ours, representing the best cross section of India, have taught us the value of joint-ness in the larger national sense. I am sure the CDS and all Service Chiefs will take note of this. Let us get back to Galwan.
Curiously, when the CO, 16 Bihar was targeted and killed by the Chinese that fateful night, it unleashed an inner unstoppable ferocity in the Biharis, which spread to the Punjabis, Thambis and Sikhs. When the Chinese CO was captured, the opposite happened, and it appears that the Chinese troops cracked. I think the PLA teaches their troops to target the leaders of the opposition with the premise that if the leader is killed the rest will fall. It represents a feudalistic last-generation thinking. It also appears to be a fatal flaw in PLA. I would recommend that hereafter we target their leaders remorselessly.
There is no doubt that PLA is in for the long haul. Having served there, I recommend the following to the GOC of the fire and fury corps for his kind consideration:
1. Please deploy a few low silhouette, highly mobile, 155mm guns with long-range night sights on the south banks of Pangong Tso opposite to Finger 4. Dig them in nicely, camouflage them and put overhead cover with ammunition boxes. After that please institute a direct firing competition with an Ex DG Arty Trophy, for which I will pay out of my old age pension. Every Gunner who shoots out a Chinese defensive structure on Finger 4 will be awarded. Flanking fire is always good for safety of own troops. Direct firing into the rear of the Chinese will achieve Kargil type of results or better.
2. Please practice your Gorhka boys in infiltration behind PLA lines with unsheathed Kukris. Every day in the morning, when PLA takes a head count, some heads could be missing. That is ok. Do not let the kukris rust.
3. Send some “Nunnus” for sightseeing in depth. They can burst some Deepawali crackers in and around Kashgar, Hotan, Ngari airfields or and anywhere else. It will give some sorely needed practice for QRTs of PLAAF.
4. Pun aside. Our opposition is brutal, unsoldierly, 100% untrustworthy and 1000% unethical. Do not underestimate these bat eaters. Our troops must never let their guard down. Now that all that nonsense of restraint is over, shoot first and talk later!
5. India is behind you. Do not worry about a few disgruntled voices or our noisy media. We are in a democracy. Let them chatter. They have their role. Ignore them.
I am also talking of unrestricted, nonlinear, three-dimensional warfare which is awaiting PLA ahead. Is this a mind game? Yes of course. Mind games are two way. Are they not? PLA troops should be nice and jittery by the time the next action starts so that they can be destroyed in detail. I am an old-fashioned soldier. I am sure the GOC of the Fire and Fury Corps and The Trishul Division and our Commanders, COs, Officers, JCOs and men have more tricks up their sleeves. By the time PLA leaves ‘Tibet’, it should be a fully battle inoculated force!
Overall, Galwan is not a sole summer swallow but an acorn growing into a mighty oak. It must be built upon. We also need to shift focus back to Pangong Tso and other emerging situations. China is rattled. The mixed signals coming from there indicate that. However we have miles to go before we take the foot off the pedal.
I was tempted to quote from Sun Tzu. However, most of us do not read him. After Galwan, I realised that the Chinese are also ignorant about him. That is why the quote from the Mahabharata. For those who do not understand it, the sense is as under: Whenever there is decay of righteousness, and an increase of unrighteousness, then I (Indian armed forces) will appear through ages, for the protection of the good, destruction of evildoers and to firmly establish righteousness.
Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernization and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology.