Establishment of High Altitude Firing Ranges
Currently, we sorely lack adequate facilities in high altitudes. There is great difficulty in inducting or developing new equipment or training troops with longer range weapon systems to meet operational and developmental requirements of High Altitudes. This is a long standing red flag and needs urgent attention.
On August 16, 2022, The PLA’s Xinjiang Military Command tested the HQ-17A surface-to-air defence missile at an altitude of more than 4,500 metres (14,760 feet). This test was part of the countdown to the forthcoming US-India military drillsin Octoberas per a report in South China Morning Post. In Jul 22, China tested its PHL-16 Multiple Launch Rocket System in high altitude along the LAC and released a video just two hours after the 16th round of the Corps Commander talks held in Chushul-Moldo as per media reports.
The highly publicised firings on the other side of the LAC and across Taiwan straits when seen in a continuum indicates that China resorts to aggressive diplomacy through intimidatory ‘firing drill’ tactics. These tactics are known and well established. However the major point to note is that China is carrying out extensive firing in High altitude. Many such firings have been carried out earlier
A webinar on ‘Aatmanirbharta In Defence – Call To Action’ was held on February 25, 2022, in which, all those who matter and deal with Defence in the Government and Industry participated. Our honourable Prime Minister addressed the webinar. The Honourable Raksha Mantri presided over it with the Service Chiefs in attendance. Four themes were deliberated upon. One of the themes was ‘Wide Ranging Testing and Certification Requirements – Setting Up An Independent Nodal Umbrella Body ‘ in which I was asked to present my views. I had then reiterated that our operational orientation has shifted to the high altitudes of our Northern Borders along the LAC.Hence our firing, testing and certification regime should be customised and be unique to our high altitude environment. The issue of ‘customisation and uniqueness’ was even directed by our Prime Minister in his opening address then. I had emphatically made the point that India lacks long range firing facilities especially in high-altitudes. This will impinge heavily on our operational effectiveness since the behaviour of any weapon in high altitude is far different from its performance in plains. Also, handling weapons systems in super high altitudes to be effective on targets needs a different approach and training. Further, adequate facilities are required in high altitudes if we are to design, develop and induct new systems indigenously and become Atmanirbhar. Currently, we sorely lack adequate facilities in high altitudes. Even when I was in service, I had difficulty in inducting or developing new equipment or training troops with longer range weapon systems to meet our operational and developmental requirements of High Altitudes. This is a long standing red flag issue and needs urgent attention. Previous attempts by Services and development agencies have come to nought due to the complexities involved in land acquisition or even notification for establishment of a long range in high altitude. It needs intervention at the highest level to establish Infrastructural capacities in high altitudes which are needed for training, R&D, trials, modifications and upgrades to war like equipment. The consequences of not doing anything is that neither will we be Atmanirbhar nor operationally effective.
I had also recommended that an expert committee be constituted to assess the overall requirement across Services and Industry to evolve a road map for the future. Based on the assessed requirement, the road map to create new firing testing and certification centresshould be executed in High Altitude. I do not think that the entire concept is being taken to its logical conclusion with the urgency expressed in the Webinar. However from information in public domain, there does not seem to be any proposal or being taken forward to ‘Setting Up An Independent Nodal Umbrella Body for our Wide Ranging Testing and Certification Requirements’. It appears the whole concept which was approached with urgent dynamism is caught up in bureaucratic tangles. That is a familiar Indian story.
During the Kargil War, we could overcome Pakistan since it was not prepared to fight in high altitude holistically. That will not be the case with China. I am sure that those at the helm of affairs are aware more than I, that China has been extensively preparing for a wide spectrum armed conflict across the LAC. The amount of long range firing it is doing does indicate its aggressive intent as also its preparedness. That isimportant as per my understanding. On the other hand we are not able to carry out practices, testing or certification of our long range systems in high altitude in a manner as desired. Very simply put, if we are unable to carry out firing in high altitude effectively, we will be disadvantaged when the time comes. I do not think I need to stress further on this. All one has to do is look at what is happening across Taiwan Straits, the spy ship docked in Hambantota as also the happenings across the LAC. It is better to be late than never. It will avoid an embarrassment which we will regret at leisure like we have been doing since 1962.
I RAISE SOME QUESTIONS TO ALL THOSE WHO HAVE READ THIS ARTICLE.
WILL WE EVER BE ATMANIRBHAR AT THIS RATE?
ARE WE REALLY TRYING TO BE ATMANIRBHAR OR IS IT ALL ABOUT BIG TALK?
WHY IS THERE NO ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE MOD?
WHY ARE THE SERVICES NOT PURSUING SOMETHING WHICH IS SO VERY IMPORTANT TO THEM?
ARE WE REALLY READY TO TAKE ON THE PLA?
IT IS A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE….BUT WHOSE?
AS WE PONDER ON THESE ISSUES, IT WILL DO WELL FOR US TO REMEMBER THAT THE ENEMY IS AT OUR DOOR STEP AND THIS IS NOT ABOUT CRY WOLF
The author is PVSM, AVSM, VSM, and a retired Director General of Artillery. He is currently a Professor in the Aerospace Department of IIT Madras. He writes extensively on defence and strategic affairs @ http://www.gunnersshot.com.
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