As tensions simmer along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, where aggressive military posturing by Indian and Chinese forces has garnered global attention, defence minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday made a detailed assessment of the ground situation at the disputed border, where 20 Indian and scores of Chinese soldiers were killed in a skirmish in Galwan valley, two senior officers familiar with the developments said on Sunday.
Singh held an hour-long meeting with chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat and the three service chiefs at his residence. He was briefed about the preparations of the military and its readiness to respond to any provocative actions by the Chinese forces, one of the officers said on condition of anonymity.
The meeting came before Singh heads to Russia to participate in the Victory Day parade in Moscow on June 24. He will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu during the visit (June 21-25), and the spike in border tensions with China is set to figure in the discussions, said the second officer cited above, asking not to be identified.
Moscow’s relations with New Delhi and Beijing are currently very good, and Russian diplomats, in recent remarks to the Indian media, have spoken about the need to ease tensions between India and China for regional stability.
The minister told the military brass that India will not escalate the border dispute but it will respond to threatening actions with firmness and reiterated that local commanders at the LAC have full authority to do what is necessary to safeguard Indian interests, as outlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an all-party meeting last week, the second officer said.
A significant change in the rules of engagement (ROE) by the Indian Army following the June 15 Galwan valley skirmish has given complete freedom of action to commanders deployed along the LAC to handle situations at the tactical level.
The commanders will no longer be bound by restrictions on the use of firearms and will have full authority to respond to extraordinary situations using all resources at their disposal, as reported by Hindustan Times on Saturday.
The government has given financial powers worth ~500 crore per project to the armed forces to fast-track the purchase of critical weapons and ammunition to deal with any kind of scenario, the second officer said. Similar financial powers for emergency purchases were bestowed on the military after the 2016 Uri terror attack and the 2019 Balakot air strikes.
While no violent face-offs have been reported after the deadly Galwan valley clash that has hurt bilateral ties, India and China have significantly beefed up their deployments in the extended region on both sides of the unmarked and volatile border, said the first officer sited above.
The two armies have marshalled thousands of soldiers on their respective sides of the LAC and the military buildup consists of fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, artillery guns and missile systems.
The army has strengthened its posture across the length of the LAC – from Ladakh to Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh – where reinforcements have been sent and the IAF has also has kept its contingency plans ready to respond to any provocative actions.
Apart from Sukhoi-30s and upgraded MiG-29 fighter jets, the IAF is operating Apache AH-64E attack helicopters and CH-47F (I) Chinook multi-mission helicopters – both imported from the United States – in the Ladakh sector that has been the focus of current border tensions.
Satellite imagery has revealed a Chinese buildup in the Galwan valley and fresh inputs also suggest heightened Chinese activity in the Finger Area (a cluster of strategic features) near Pangong Tso, where new Chinese positions, bunkers and observation posts have come up between Finger 4 and Finger 8 in the last seven weeks, restricting the scope of Indian patrols to reach areas that New Delhi considers its territory.
The Chinese PLA is fully deployed in Xinjiang and Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) with air, artillery and missile support, and the PLA Air Force has activated its bases in both Xinjiang and TAR, with fighter aircraft making a show of strength in Aksai Chin area, as reported by Hindustan Times on Friday.