India Adds US Army Strykers to Rival China’s Western Military Build-up Along Border
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India Adds US Army Strykers to Rival China’s Western Military Build-up Along Border

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The Indian and US Militaries are teaming up to build export variants of the US-made Stryker Infantry Carrier

by Kris Osborn

The Indian and US Militaries are teaming up to build export variants of the US-made Stryker Infantry Carrier to advance the two countries growing defence cooperation and reinforce a mutual interest in deterring potential Chinese aggression along its Western border with India.

The arrival of Strykers introduces near and long-term implications, particularly with regard to the tense border region between Western China in the Tibetan region and India’s North-East. It’s called the Line of Actual Control, a disputed area between China and India, and it is a place where tensions have flared in recent years. There have been several border “clashes” between Indian and Chinese troops which have resulted in losses on both sides.

“The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is an informal cease-fire line along India and China’s contested Himalayan border that was drawn after the 1962 Sino-Indian War. In 2020, clashes broke out between Chinese and Indian soldiers stationed along the line, resulting in deaths on both sides for the first time in more than four decades,” a news essay from Asia Nikkei states.

It would make sense that India might seek to strengthen its land war posture along this border area, particularly because China has in recent years been further militarizing its mountainous and plateau areas in Tibet.

In what could be seen as a massive modernization push and military build-up, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continues to plus-up its Western high-altitude plateau regions with new weapons systems.

Following announcements about mobile artillery and new armoured vehicles for the region, the PLA is now announcing the deployment of new self-propelled rapid-fire mortars to conduct “mobile, hit-and-run firing positions,” according to the Chinese Global Times. Due to the parabola-like trajectory of how they fire, mortar weapons can be particularly useful in mountainous regions as they can enable advancing forces to attack otherwise tough to reach enemy positions at higher or significantly lower altitudes. Precision, however, seems to be crucial here as the logistical burden would likely make it very difficult if not impossible to transport large amounts of mortar munitions up to higher altitudes, even if they were air-dropped by helicopters. The paper says the self-propelled mortar system is based upon a “four-wheeled off-road assault vehicle,” something which seems to indicate a possibility for mountain warfare in the plateau regions. A large-scale combat capability and warfare technology build-up in the plateau regions of Western China continue to receive accelerated attention from the PLA. The arrival of the self-propelled mortars are the fourth new type of weapons systems the PLA is bringing to the region, an effort including the addition of a new 122-millimeter calibre self-propelled howitzer, armoured assault vehicles and long-range multiple rocket launcher systems.

The Chinese Global Times notes that “PLA Xinjiang Military Command is forming a complete, modern ground combat system which is particularly of significance to plateau combat.”

Indian-Chinese tensions along the border region are well known given that they have occasionally escalated into minor skirmishes and exchanges of fire. At the same time, a large-scale, high-tech Chinese build-up near its border with India does seem a bit curious in some respects. Of course, any kind of capable land force could function as a deterrent against any kind of incursion India might be contemplating, the region’s plateaus, rigorous, uneven mountain terrain and high altitudes make it a location inhospitable to any kind of land war advance. Any kind of mechanized force or occupying army would be extremely challenged to advance through the territory, a circumstance which could only reduce the credibility of any kind of land war threat.

Given the mountains on either side of the India-China border, it seems very unlikely that either Army could substantially advance into the other country. Perhaps China sees value in mere “presence” despite the likely inability of mechanized ground forces to transit any measurable distance beyond the immediate border vicinity. However, there are numerous disputed border areas and territories spanning the Indian-Chinese border and it could be possible for a large-scale ground force, should it be assembled in the border area, to attack and occupy a disputed area without necessarily seeking to advance further inland.

Biden & Modi Defence Cooperation

India’s Defence Secretary recently said the Stryker deal is part of a broader roadmap for future defence outlined by the two countries in June to “FastTrack” defence technology cooperation. The understanding emerged following a consequential high-level meeting between President Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during which two leaders pledged a massively increased volume of defence-specific collaboration between the two countries. The arrival of US-Army Strykers, much of which will be built in India by its growing defence-minded industrial base, and the agreement was recently finalized during a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin with their Indian counterparts Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh in New Delhi, according to an interesting report in the Hindustan Times.

While the Indian Strykers will likely be “export” variants, meaning they will be slightly different than the most advanced US Army Strykers, yet they will be manufactured through a collaborative industrial effort.

The Stryker “has a lot of potential in the future to give India more capabilities in areas that are particularly relevant along the Line of Actual Control and some of the challenges that it has with the PRC,” the U.S. defence official told reporters, as quoted in Asia Nikkea…… “I think we continue to be very concerned and are watching closely what’s happening along the LAC. Although India and China have had multiple rounds of conversations about disengagement, the situation is largely similar.”

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