Sino-Indian Border Infrastructure impact national defense

The Indian Ministry of Defense released its Year End Review 2023, focusing on defense production, exports, major defense acquisitions, border infrastructure, and individual service updates from the Indian army, navy, and air force. The review highlights India’s efforts in defense due to China’s growing military prowess, but past year-end reviews have been less overt in addressing China’s aggressive behavior. The review also examines the construction of border infrastructure along the India-China border, which is accelerating due to the ongoing conflict between the two countries.

Upgraded infrastructure offers numerous benefits, including better trade and commercial prospects, and is a critical enabler for applying military power. However, there has been an evident military imbalance between India and China in terms of defense platforms, military units, and physical infrastructure. China’s focus on building modern infrastructure across the border and in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) has significantly impacted its ability to mobilize troops. The extensive road network in Tibet and rail links have facilitated troop mobilization by road and rail in a short time span. Additionally, China’s establishment of oil and logistic depots along the border areas indicates China’s advanced infrastructure capabilities, which puts India at a significant disadvantage.

The Indian side of the Sino-Indian border faces challenges in troop mobility and logistics supply, despite rapid infrastructure development. A study by John Swartz in October provided a detailed account of the improvements to date, highlighting the increased number of tunnels and bridges, investment, operational capacity, and technical capability. India has enjoyed a topography-induced strategic advantage in air forces, allowing it to launch aircraft at full capacity even with a smaller budget. However, rail connectivity in the border areas presents a bleak picture, with Swartz arguing that there exists “a large asymmetry.”

In 2023, the Indian Defense Minister dedicated 118 infrastructure projects led by the Border Roads Organization (BRO), including 90 projects across 11 states and union territories. Notable projects include the Nechiphu Tunnel in Arunachal Pradesh, two airfields, two helipads, 22 roads, and 63 bridges. In January 2023, 28 infrastructure projects were kicked off at the Siyom Bridge on Along-Yingkiong road in Arunachal Pradesh. The BRO completed these strategically vital projects in record time, most of them within a single working season using the best available technology.

The review stated that 601 km of roads have been finished during the year, with extensive work done on India-China Border Roads and all other Op-Critical Roads along the Northern Borders. Major road projects near completion include Raqni-Ustad-Pharkiyan Gali road, Srinagar-Baramulla-Uri road in Jammu and Kashmir, alternate connecting road to DBO road in Ladakh, Chushul-Dungti-Fukche-Demchok road in Uttarakhand.

The Border Roads Authority (BRO) has begun work on 20 tunnels, with 10 under construction and 10 in the planning stage. The Shinku La Tunnel, the highest tunnel in the world, will be completed by December 2025, providing better connectivity to border areas around Ladakh. The Sela Tunnel in Arunachal Pradesh, with twin tube configuration, is also underway, potentially breaking another record in terms of being the longest bi-lane highway tunnel in the world at 13,800 feet. The Kandi Tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir, completed in October, strengthens connectivity between Jammu and Poonch.

The BRO’s budget reached a record high of Rs 12,340 crore in FY 2022-23, with a 100% jump in funds allocated under GS Capital Head over the preceding two years. This has been possible with better financial allocation and a sharper focus from the government, following the increasingly adversarial nature of ties between India and China. New Delhi is doubling down on its efforts regarding strategic border infrastructure, following China’s two-decade-long push to construct state-of-the-art infrastructure across Tibet and the Sino-Indian border areas. India’s defensive approach to infrastructure development changed only in the late 2000s after seeing China’s modern road and railway networks in the context of the Sino-Indian border conflict.

ChinadefenseIndiaIndian Ministry of Defensenational defenseSino-Indian BorderSino-Indian Border Infrastructure impact national defense