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New Chinese Militia Units for High Altitudes

  • 28 Jun 2021
  • 9 min read

Why in News

Recently, Chinese Military has raised new militia units comprising local Tibetan youth for high-altitude warfare.

Key Points

  • About:
    • The new units named Mimang Cheton are presently undergoing training, and are to be deployed mostly in upper Himalayan ranges, both in the eastern and western sectors of the India-China border.
      • They are being trained for a variety of tasks, including using high-tech equipment such as drones on the one hand, as well as mules and horses to reach regions in the Himalayan range that can’t be accessed by modern means.
    • They have been raised near Eastern Ladakh, the site of the recent border tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as well as near its borders with Sikkim and Bhutan.
      • The LAC is the demarcation that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory.
    • Trained units have already been deployed along various locations in the Chumbi valley and at Rutog in Tibet, near the Pangong Tso (lake) in eastern Ladakh.
    • The deployment of the new Mimang Cheton units mirrors India’s elite and decades-old Special Frontier Force (SFF).
      • Just like the SFF which relies on the knowledge of Tibetans, the Mimang Cheton also relies on the local knowledge of Tibetans as well as locals' resistance to High Altitude Sickness, a problem in alpine warfare.
  • Objectives:
    • High Altitude WarFare:
      • The new units will be used for high-altitude warfare as well for surveillance.
    • Socio Cultural Aspect:
      • A new feature of the units is that upon completion of training, they are being blessed by Buddhist monks in Tibet, which is being interpreted as a sign of greater socio-cultural outreach from the PLA to ethnic Tibetans.
      • This is possibly a new strategy of the PLA to get some mileage in the Tibet region.
  • Recent Chinese Developments along the Border:
    • Railway Line:
      • China has started the first bullet train line in Tibet, linking Lhasa to Nyingchi near the border with Arunachal Pradesh.
      • It is the second major rail link to Tibet after the Qinghai-Tibet railway that opened in 2006.
    • Highway:
      • In 2021, China completed construction of a strategically significant highway enabling greater access to remote areas along the disputed border with Arunachal Pradesh in India.
    • New Villages:
      • In January 2021, there were reports of Chinese construction of three villages in Arunachal Pradesh 5 kilometres from the Bum La pass.
      • In 2020, satellite images emerged showing a new village called Pangda built 2-3 km into what Bhutan sees as its land.
      • In 2017, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government launched a plan to build moderately well-off villages in border areas.
        • Under this plan 628 first line and second line villages—referring to those right on the border and others in remote areas slightly further within—would be developed along China’s borders with India, Bhutan and Nepal.
  • Concerns for India:
    • Strategic Location:
      • Such development in view of the strategic location of Chumbi Valley creates a concern for India.
        • Chumbi Valley is a 100-km protrusion of Chinese territory located between Bhutan in the east and Sikkim in the west.
      • The valley’s location has long resulted in concerns that it could be used to launch operations to snap strategic communications links in the Siliguri Corridor.
        • Siliguri Corridor is a narrow stretch of land located around the city of Siliguri in West Bengal. It connects northeastern states with the rest of the country, and is also known as chicken's neck.
    • China’s Strengthening Position:
      • These developments have come against the backdrop of the border standoff that began in May 2020 and a rapid build-up of infrastructure on the Chinese side along the LAC, including airports, helipads, missile facilities and air sites.
  • Steps Taken by India to Strengthen its Border:
    • India has its own High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) in Gulmarg, Jammu and Kashmir.
    • India will spend 10% funds of the Border Area Development Programme (BADP) only to improve the infrastructure along the China border.
    • The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) constructed the Daporijo bridge over Subansiri river in Arunachal Pradesh.
      • It links roads leading upto the LAC between India and China.
    • A tunnel at Nechiphu in West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh will shorten travel time for troops till the LAC through Tawang, which China claims to be its territory.
    • A tunnel is being constructed under the Se La pass in Arunachal Pradesh which connects Tawang to the rest of Arunachal and Guwahati.
    • The state government of Arunachal Pradesh has advocated selection of 10 census towns along the India-China border as pilot projects for infrastructure development in order to stop people living along its international borders, specifically with China, from migrating to faraway urban centres in the State.
    • Sisseri River Bridge, located at lower Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh, connects Dibang Valley and Siang.
    • In 2019, the Indian Air Force inaugurated resurfaced runway at India’s easternmost Village-Vijaynagar (Changlang district) in Arunachal Pradesh.
    • In 2019, the Indian Army conducted exercise ‘HimVijay’ in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam with its newly created Integrated Battle Groups (IBG).
    • Bogibeel bridge, which is India’s longest road-rail bridge connecting Dibrugarh in Assam to Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh was inaugurated in 2018.

Special Frontier Force

  • About:
    • It was established in November 1962 in the immediate aftermath of the 1962 Sino-India war.
    • It falls under the purview of the Cabinet Secretariat where it is headed by an Inspector General who is an Army officer of the rank of Major General.
      • The units that comprise the SFF are known as Vikas battalions.
    • They are highly trained special forces personnel who can undertake a variety of tasks which would normally be performed by any special forces unit.
    • The recruits initially consisted of Tibetan refugees hailing from the Khampa community (now it has a mixture of Tibetans and Gorkhas).
      • Women soldiers, too, form a part of SFF units and perform specialised tasks.
    • SFF units are not part of the Army but they function under operational control of the Army
  • Major Operations:
    • Operation Eagle (1971 war with Pakistan), Operation Bluestar (clearing Amritsar’s Golden Temple in 1984), Operation Meghdoot (securing the Siachen glacier in 1984) and Operation Vijay (war with Pakistan at Kargil in 1999) and many counter-insurgency operations in the country.

Way Forward

  • India needs to be vigilant enough for any new development in China near its border to protect its interests efficiently. Further, it needs to build robust Infrastructure in difficult border areas in its territory to ensure movement of personnel and other logistical supplies in an efficient manner.

Source: TH

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