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The 73-day-long Doklam confrontation with China has left the Indian side with some lessons, with the government set to equip the border force at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with its own helicopter wing to keep an eye on Chinese activities and troop movements. The decision comes even as the government is considering raising nine fresh ITBP battalions to reinforce the force's presence at the India-China border.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) will be equipped with its own air wing, with two twin-engined helicopters being bought to begin with, the Times of India reported on Monday. According to the national daily, having its own air wing would allow the ITBP to carry out reconnaissance operations so that the government and security apparatus can be warned of transgressions by the People's Liberation Army (PLA), Chinese troop movements and build-up, and road construction activities at the border in time.
The acquisition process for the helicopters on the wet lease is already underway, the report said.
The decision will ensure that there is "no delay" from the Indian side "in case China tries something mischievous", an official from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs told the national daily, adding "The move is aimed at keeping an eye on Chinese activities across the border, including construction of roads, building permanent structures in disputed area across the LAC, PLA troop build-up and also to stay informed about transgressions into Indian villages and enhance mobility of our troops...."
The ITBP would use the helicopters for reconnaissance, carrying troop, evacuating casualties and injured or sick jawans, logistics and transporting VIPs at altitudes of 16,000-18,000 feet in the Himalayas. Further, according to the national daily, the helicopters, which would be equipped with features required for operating at high altitudes and forward locations, would carry up to 10 troops in a single trip and transport arms and ammunition to remote forward locations. The report added that the helicopters would be capable of flying for two hours without having to refuel, possess the capability of operating at night, and allow troops to deploy by fast roping down.
Operating from ITBP bases in Chandigarh and Guwahati, the report said that the helicopters would cover the entire 3,488-km stretch of the India-China border. Further, the report added, the ITBP has been instructed to ensure that the pilots and crew don't cross the LAC under any circumstance.
ITBP could get a manpower boost too
As reported on Sunday, the government is planning to raise 15 new battalions in the country's two important border guarding forces – the Border Security Force (BSF) and the ITBP – to fortify defence along the strategic frontiers with Pakistan, Bangladesh, and China.
A senior official in the Union Home Ministry informed news agencies that it is "actively considering" raising six fresh battalions in the BSF and nine in the ITBP force. Each battalion of these forces comprises about 1,000 operational jawans and officers.
Read more: India plans to beef up border security forces' manpower to secure borders with Pakistan, Bangladesh, and China
The ITBP has been trying to reduce the inter-BoP (border out post) distance at the 3,488-km long icy frontier that it is tasked with guarding.
The frequent instances of transgressions and confrontations with the Chinese army at the LAC are being seen as the major reason for the ITBP to enhance its numbers. Further, the mountain-trained force has recently received sanctions to set up at least 47 new BoPs along the border for effective control of the Himalayan border area.
Most of the ITBP's BoPs are situated in highly arduous terrain and it is difficult and time-taking to reach them. The ITBP is about 90,000-personnel strong.
How likely is a repeat of the Doklam standoff?
The development comes at a time when despite the tensions of the Doklam standoff cooling down, the PLA continues to remain in the area.
As reported by defence analyst Ajai Shukla last week, Army chief General Bipin Rawat admitted that while Indian troops withdrew to their side of the border at the end of the 73-day confrontation, the PLA continues to remain in Doklam.
Read General Rawat's full and detailed account of the Doklam standoff and the current situation on the ground
So far, the popular narrative on both sides has been that the other party was forced to withdraw even as both the government's remain non-committal.
Media reports have also emerged in the past, saying that Chinese troops continue to maintain a presence at Doklam, the site of the standoff that saw India and China almost come to blows and drew international attention/
"[After the negotiated disengagement of August 28] the PLA has occupied Northern Doklam. They are there...," General Rawat said, adding, "As of now, we feel the de-escalation has happened because of the winter months, maybe; or because he (the Chinese) felt it was time to de-escalate. But because the structures are still there – he has a lot of temporary structures – there is a possibility of movement again taking place once the winter months get over."
However, while General Rawat warned of the possibility of movement on the Chinese side once the summer months begin, the Army's Easter Command feels that Beijing is unlikely to disrupt the peace at the border.
The Indian Army is very well prepared everywhere and China is unlikely to try any misadventure any more, Lt Gen Abhay Krishna, the general officer commanding-in-chief (GOC-in-C) of the Army's Eastern Command, said on Monday.
He was referring to the latest incident of a Chinese road-building team entering Indian territory at Tuting in Arunachal Pradesh.
Krishna said the Indian Army was there and the Chinese had to retreat, leaving behind their equipment.
"We are very well prepared all over. In Tuting, we were there and they had to run away leaving their equipment behind. I don't think they will try any of these misadventures any more," Lt Gen Krishna told newspersons on the occasion of Army Day. The Easter Command's GOC-in-C said this in reply to a question on the preparedness of the Indian Army following the 73-day Doklam standoff at the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction over Chinese road-building efforts inside Bhutanese territory.
With agency inputs