India is bolstering defences in the North East with reorientation of existing troops, raising of new armoured units to take on the Chinese challenge and a fresh focus on increasing connectivity to ASEAN neighbours.
As part of a multi-pronged plan to improve border security along the contentious China border, revised scales have been planned for existing Assam Rifles battalions being de-inducted from counter insurgency roles that will equip them with heavy weapons and artillery.
With internal security situation improving in the North East, Assam Rifles battalions that earlier had a secondary role on the border are likely to be moved to forward locations, away from the hinterland in the next three months.
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Induction of these units near the border would increase troop density at vulnerable points along the border. The deployment plan is aimed at covering all major ingress points with a two-tier system, involving the army in front and the Assam Rifles in a support role to cover gaps.
These battalions will be given a revised scale of weapons in the border guarding role, including mortars, grenade launchers and anti-tank guided missiles. Besides, they are also likely to be equipped with 105 mm field artillery guns.
The Assam Rifles has 46 infantry battalions, out of which 20 are deployed on the Indo-Myanmar border. Army chief Gen MM Naravane recently said that the plan is to have 29 battalions in a border guarding role in the near future.
Plans are also underway to raise a new armoured brigade with fresh main battle tanks to improve defences in Sikkim, which has been emerging as a flashpoint with repeated efforts by China to test India’s patience at Naku La and Doklam.
While India already has one armoured brigade permanently deployed in the border state, its elements are divided between north and east Sikkim where there has been an increase in Chinese activity. With the raising of an additional brigade, armoured units will be available in adequate numbers at Gurudongmar Lake to cover transgression points in the north as well as to look after the Chinese increased deployment at Doklam.
The larger plan is to improve defences in the North East as India seeks to improve regional connectivity as part of its look east policy. Projects to connect Myanmar, Bangladesh and Thailand with road and rail networks are being focused on as a response to the Chinese One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.
Central to the border strengthening plans has been the improved internal security situation in the North East. Plans are underway to raise 18 India Reserve Battalions for Nagaland, Manipur and Assam, besides posting in four additional Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) units as the Assam Rifles and army refocuses.
As part of its recalibration efforts that have been on for two years, the army has already disengaged 14 infantry battalions from internal duties and two division headquarters that were part of the counter insurgency grid will be fully focusing on the border guarding role.