Tuesday, March 28, 2023
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Close combat is so last century. China will use drones, PGMs, high-end tech against India

The three new areas of warfare, which constitute cyber, electronic and space domains, have been adopted well by the Chinese PLA.

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Status quo continues to prevail in Eastern Ladakh. There has been no progress with respect to disengagement for the last one month despite two rounds of Corps Commander-level talks on 14 July and 2 August, and the Division Commander-level talks held on 8 August in the Daulat Beg Oldi Sector, to resolve the impasse.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has refused to carry out any disengagement in Depsang Plains and Pangong Tso, claiming the current deployment to be as per China’s 1959 claim line. In Hot Springs-Kugrang River-Gogra Sector, the disengagement is restricted to approximately 1 km and not as per the decisions taken during the Corps Commander-level talks held on 30 June, which envisaged a buffer zone of 4 km. Only in the Galwan River the disengagement is complete, with a buffer zone of 4 km, of which 3 km is on our side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Reserves of both sides remain poised in depth areas to cater to escalation along with precautionary deployment all along the LAC.

Despite the presence of both forces in close proximities at various locations along the LAC and the unfortunate incident of 15 June, in the event of an escalation, we are not likely to witness the traditional close combat. Traditional close combat is a passé. What the attacking troops did in the bygone era in close combat was to locate and kill the enemy and destroy its defences as the same could not be done by the available surveillance/reconnaissance means and weapon systems of the past. Modern military technology has revolutionised the method of attack and the PLA has it in abundance.

As per my assessment of the PLA doctrine, war in high Himalayas would not play out in the traditional pattern.

Also read: 30,000 additional troops in Eastern Ladakh, Army faces stiff task housing them for winter

Traditional pattern of conflict in high altitude

The traditional pattern of defence in high altitude terrain is to hold dominating heights, which cannot be bypassed, prepare hardened defences with adequate fire power, and position reserves for counter-attack in case the enemy captures any position. Infiltration between defences is countered by holding positions in depth and keeping adequate reserves. At a higher level, reserves are also kept for a counter-offensive.

The build-up of the enemy’s attacking troops in the open is targeted with air power and long-range artillery/missiles. The defender has an advantage due to protection provided by pill boxes/bunkers. The movement of enemy infantry attacking uphill is laborious due to lack of Oxygen and it is forced to fight a step-by-step battle from a position of disadvantage. Vertical envelopment to get behind the defences suffers from limitation of reduced load capacity of helicopters and their vulnerability to air defence. Hence, the terrain favours the defender and for any success, the attacker has to pay a very high price. A classic example of this is the Kargil War of 1999. It took 85 days for two divisions plus additional artillery and infantry units worth another division under command, and extensive employment of air power to evict 3,000 – 3,500 enemy troops deployed in platoon-sized posts.

If this pattern is employed by the PLA to defeat the seasoned Indian Army, it is bound to come to grief and suffer defeat itself. The question that arises is, does the PLA have a more imaginative approach to fight in high altitude to achieve its political/military aim?

Also read: US’ decoupling from China has begun. Modi govt must work to minimise India’s losses

Likely pattern of attack by the PLA

In the last three decades, there has been a quantum jump in military technology in fields of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, air-delivered Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) and weapon platforms. Military technology is dependent on extensive use of computers, electronics and satellites. Hence, in addition to the traditional domains of warfare — land, sea and air — three more domains — cyber, electronic and space — have been added.

Since Gulf War I in 1990, the PLA has adopted and adapted to this Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). The PLA also adopted comprehensive tri-services integration in the form of theatre commands controlled by a joint headquarters in Beijing in February 2016. Today, it is a close second to the US in exploitation of high-end military technology in all six domains.

The PLA will neutralise the ‘predominance of the defence’ in high altitude terrain by not getting involved in “close infantry combat” over unfavourable terrain. If at all it chooses to use force, its pattern of attack will be driven by high-end technology with overwhelming use of PGMs, cyber and electronic warfare. The much romanticised ‘blood and guts’ close combat is a relic of the last century.

The high altitude terrain is devoid of any vegetation. Satellites, drones, and cyber/electronic surveillance/reconnaissance will accurately plot the details of the defences, headquarters, weapon systems and logistic and communications infrastructure across the entire depth of the defence zone. Depending on the military aim and level of operations, a PGM-based air and missile campaign may precede the ground attack along with cyber and electronic counter measures to neutralise the command and control systems of formations/units and weapon systems.  Alternatively, the scale of the operations may be restricted in terms of space. The area to be captured will be subjected to a similar attack of much higher intensity. Weather and climate have little or no effect on such an attack. Hence, the same can be undertaken even during the winters when operations in high altitude get restricted.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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  1. Though the majority has criticised this General,what he has said is probably 100% correct, because recently in a battle involving the Russians and the Ukrainians, the Ukrainians were decimated by the Russians PWH in a matter of minutes and the fate of the war was settled unanimously shortly.

    It was like this. Just before the Russians attack began some observer drones flew into the battle scene and passed out the exact coordinates of the Ukranian positions to the Russian battle electronics and communications head quarters from which flew the necessary data to the waiting Russian precision guided munition batterys,from which flew a volley of fireballs which smashed the Ukrainian positions in a matter of minutes to be exact. So this is the exact position of modern warfare and as the wise general said rather than troop concentrations it has to be widely distributed to face such adverseraires and tube defences like the Koreans has to be established. So what he said is 100% truth and I think our army will have employed such counter measures. Here the general has spoken only logic and nothing degrading our army. If people begin to call such people anti indian , I think they are just fools only.

  2. As if India do not have drones, or Anti aircraft missiles to shoot the Chinese drones down… Go get a life, the print, How much you got paid by your wuhan virus daddy

  3. Print must have got paid from Chinese agencies to publish as their media warfare…we dont give a shit, what Chinese have…we will blet with what we have…and this time Chinese will get befitting reply for any misadventures along LAC…and their generation will be known to come.

  4. Pakistani and Chinese trolls are in full swing on Print. I think even if all Indians perish in this fight , it’s still worth a fight to let the world know that you have to stand up for your mother land and wipe out anything that tries to set foot of your motherland.

  5. It’s so said to see the innocent people suffering with these silly thing China’s doing.the meeting is just a decor nothing will come out of it when China has made up its mind what to do.china needs independence ,new leader , democracy and law in the country.regardless of what nationality, race country we are we are humans who can talk think feel it seems few in power do not have brains to use machines and soldiers instead of brains for peace.the said part is humans haven’t learnt any lessons from past wars.any war will only kill or harm many and take the world many years back with diseases, sicknesses etc.

  6. Gen. Panag ( despite his long service ) seems to be a worried person. His vision of Chinese juggernaught, are emitted from his perterbed assumptions and, not on proven evidences. Historically mandarins had not won any major wars. 1962 walk over, was on an unprepared Army, led by an equally reluctant political leadership. Gen. Panag seems to be obsessed with the video game like omnipotence of eelectronic/ cyber weapons of mass annihilation.

  7. Gen Panag is fit for a 3rd party like AAP and equally despicable media outlet like Print.had this general joined the British Army he wouldn’t have been a sergeant Major.he is a very unbecoming of a soldier.

  8. The fact is that transparency of the battle field that the general speaks of will be on both sides with only minor differences.
    Targetting of static support and administrative elements well into the depth will be done by both sides with precision weapons available to both sides.
    Even though there is a distinct edge in technology that China enjoys, the application of this in a restricted battle space is very difficult.
    I believe that in the end the outcome will still be determined by the step by step slogging for heights.
    The impact of technology differential is seen only once the battle space is open like in plains or deserts. The general may not be right after all.

  9. Print can write anti Modi but why anti India. we know our strengths and weaknesses. we will work on them. yes there is a chance of defeat from China . but there is also a chance of a victory. We cannot sit compliant that since China is a Superpower we should not fight it. remember the Vietnam fought Both America and China. we are much stronger. Jai Hind

  10. In view of Great General Panag, India should accept its complete defeat in Ladakh. Entire Ladakh is been occupied by Chinese PLA except Leh City whether we accept this fact or not. We Indians are not able to handle Pakistan let alone China. Loud mouth Modiji made the issue of Kashmir more complicated after August 5 when they made Ladakh and Kashmir a UT. It automatically brings China as a third party to the Kashmir conflict. Even our ex army chief has said India is ready to fight on 2.5 front on Kashmir. The fact is that India can’t fight even a single front and it’s just fooling people for vote. Taking purposes. Thanks General Panag for this eye opener.

  11. India is facing two Rouge states on the north, north-west, China is additionally using Nepal to black mail India. Unfortunately India, unlike China, does not have deep pockets to buy loyalties of smaller states.
    India need to develope nukes as deterrent for any CHy- neese ( plus open or tacit Pak ) unjustified aggression and bullying in the nearest future. It is a serial land grabber hence will keep gnawing at Indian area a bit at a time. India must use all available means to stop this uncivilised n bad behaviour. So far the entire world has allowed it a Free Run, emboldening it to pick up bad habits of a spoilt brat.


  13. This Retd Gen Panaag is in my view a Traitor.Where was he during his tenure to give the Intelligent Inputs.??When he was silent then ,it all the more imperative that he holds his vicious wagging tongue against the current Political dispensation,keeping in view his AAP involvement..Does he consider himself above everything and holds the other serving Generals stupid and from a Gen.of the past??Why do you think thaUSA has brought in B2 Bombers on Diego Garcia.??So spreading lies and telling half truths is the hallmark of AAP & A.Kejriwal.

  14. A former Indian ambassador wrote on 31 July that, “China is a superpower. Although Indian military strength has increased in the recent decades, the fact remains that China has phenomenally modernised its armed forces with technologies that have a force multiplier effect that are way beyond India’s capability.”

  15. That is the reason China used 18th century method to kill our soldiers. They were not killed using drones etc. We pelt stones at each other. And some stones and pushing and shoving killed 20 soldiers. And for some stupid contract between two nations does not allow guns to be used even when people are thrown off the cliffs and dying. They carry guns to do fashion shows they have one sophisticated arm in their arsenal. Get out of this losing positions. We are defending a nation and we cannot negotiate on alacrity, toughness and agility. Unfortunately there are folks like this in all three services who think they are strategic in their thinking but devoid of basic stuff needed to react in a quick and Agile manner. Every option should be open on the table including what the author is pointing out. We cannot keep arguing with each other constantly we can do this but we cannot do that. That is where China, West and other nations are different from India and Indians who love constant bickering among themselves to say who is right. I have seen this first hand in all walk of life in India. Get over it and stay together as a nation

    General, DBO, Hot Springs, Gulwan (understandably A worry for China) are vulnerable and will be cut off by the PLA.
    But then the entire UT Ladakh with its very long logistical tail can be cut off too.
    So what do we do? How do you keep the four divisions supplied.
    As you have outlined everything that moves on the roads will be observed from space or via patrolling drones and be destroyed by the indigenous Chinese cruise missiles.
    Rockets will have destroyed bridges and culverts to our two roads to Ladakh.
    If these air attacks on our communication lines are kept up for a year Our army in Ladakh is in trouble.
    A Lightining attack can be made via Chusul, by these four Indian divisions at a very high cost, but then what? Without supplies the divisions will annihilate themselves in the vastness of Tibet.
    Our Army sitting on the Ladakh range will run out of fuel and food, six months? One year, you as a former Northern Army commander are in a position to make a good guess? The people of Ladakh will hide their grain and sheep from the Indian army but will suffer too.
    Senior Officers will be able to fly in and out Of Ladakh, there will be risky limited supplies by air at the cost of our planes.
    Eventually like Stalingrad our Corps commander in Ladakh will surrender to the PLA.
    But it will take many months and and our only hope is that other nations may intervene and come to our rescue.
    Perhaps China content with cutting of our off army in Ladakh from India, May just sit back and have Pakistan do the dangerous job of capturing territory via attacks from the connecting valleys.

    • Relax , Indian Army has already thought of all these eventualities and worked on the contingencies, You all can see what has happened till date , it is 19 Nov 2020. Present leadership of Army is much more capable than Gen Panag. The only thing is that they can not speak to public in details the way a retired officer can speak . What Indian Army has done on Pan gong Tso lake, did Gen Panag ever thought about it . So , Relax, enjoy the winters of Kargill.

  17. Sir, article looks incomplete. More information would be required for us couch strategists. We can easily visualize space and Cyber domain. Have no information about electronic domain. Would love to hear about it more.

  18. Good article if the people at the helm do read and plan their role accordingly .In today’s warfare the element of surprise will derived the win .The PLA also adopted comprehensive tri-services integration in the form of theatre commands controlled by a joint headquarters in Beijing in February 2016. Today, it is a close second to the US in exploitation of high-end military technology in all six domains.*This is the area where we are seriously lacking PLA*

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