Reinforcing the belief that China is now the biggest territorial threat to India, the government on Wednesday cleared the raising of a China-specific mountain strike corps that could eventually become the largest formation in the Indian Army.
The cabinet committee on security headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which weighed the situation along the China frontier and the diplomatic ramifications of raising a China-specific force, has approved in principle the new formation which will comprise up to 50,000 troops, and cost around Rs64,000 crore.
Indian Army chief Gen Bikram Singh and Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne attended the marathon meeting at the Prime Minister's Office along with the CCS members, including defence minister A K Antony, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid and finance minister P Chidambaram.
The funds would be allocated over seven years, meaning the next government that takes over would have the bulk of the responsibility of raising the force.
The Mountain Strike Corps, as it will be called, would be given tactical airlift capability in conjunction with the Indian Air Force.
The strike corps would also be backed up by airlift and air-strike capabilities of the Indian Air Force. It would also have a fleet of helicopters of different classes (chiefly the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters Mark IV and Chinook twin-rotors choppers) integral to it.
The force would be the fourth strike corps in the Army, the only one operationally tasked for offensive and defensive operations on the China frontier. It would also be the 14th corps of the Army.
The proposal to raise the strike corps was brought on the table two years ago. But a concern over the diplomatic fallout of raising such a large offensive formation combined with worries over the capital required to raise such a force had stalled planning on it.
Coming hard on the heels of Khurshid's visit to Beijing last week, the decision shows the alarm caused to the government by recent Chinese incursions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the upper Himalaya.
The Army is expected to raise the new corps' headquarters at Panagarh in West Bengal, with two divisions in Bihar and Assam and other units stationed from Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh.
The Army will also get a number of new armoured and artillery divisions along with it to be deployed along the northeast region.
The existing strike corps in the armed forces includes the 1, 2 and 21 Corps – but they are all based along the Pakistan border and are not equipped or trained for high altitude fighting.