As tensions between India and China remain high on the disputed border following death of at least 20 Indian soldiers, a search for military options is leading to questions about the current status of the mountain strike corps, sanctioned seven years ago but stalled two years ago for lack of funds. With only one of its two divisions raised, it now exists in a truncated shape while being tested for Army’s new integrated battle group (IBG) concept.
“Preliminary role for the truncated mountain strike corps is for an offensive – not limited to the east, but in Ladakh as well – in that sense, it is a dual role. It will definitely come into play if a war breaks out,” a military official told The Indian Express. But others contend that had the full raising gone as per schedule, the mountain strike corps could have been an effective deterrent, raising costs for trans-LAC incursions by China.
Used as testbed for the IBG model devised under the previous Army chief General Bipin Rawat, the Panagarh-headquartered 17 Corps now exists in a different form than was sanctioned in 2013. The new IBG model was tested in a major exercise, Him Vijay, in the eastern theatre last October, to validate the concept of a swift offensive in the high mountains along the China border.
The first division of the mountain strike corps was raised in the eastern sector but the raising of the second division at Pathankot in 2017-18 was never completed. The raising was stopped due to a paucity of funds with the government, along with a rethink within the Army over the limitations in launching a full-fledged strike corps at the current levels of border infrastructure.
Funds had always been a major issue for the raising of the strike corps, even when the initial raising expenditure of about Rs 65,000 crore was not additionally allocated but considered to be a part of the normal budget. This led to the Army dipping into its resources for equipping the newly raised units, which caused an alarming fall in its War Wastage Reserves (WWR). WWR are collections of military material and ammunition with the Army that can sustain a 40-day intense war.
As the then defence minister, the late Manohar Parrikar, explained to journalists, the mountain strike corps was not a financially viable project and those funds could be better utilised to modernise the Army. When the concept of IBG was finalised in 2018, this mountain strike corps became one of the testbeds along with the Pathankot-based 9 Corps.
Under the new concept, 17 Corps is supposed to have three IBGs, each comprising around 4,000 soldiers under a Major General, directly under the operation control of the Corps headquarters. The IBG concept is envisaged to create in the mountain strike corps, an ability to move, deploy and launch limited offensives in the mountains very quickly.
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The aim of raising the mountain strike corps in a non-defensive role was to create capabilities to deter China’s aggressive behaviour along the 3,488 km long Sino-India border. This had followed the raising of two new divisions in 2010 to strengthen the deployment in Arunachal Pradesh, along with an armoured, artillery and infantry brigade for other sectors of the LAC.
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