The new 17 Strike Corps with 80,000 troops and a budget of Rs 64,000 crore will provided the much-needed offensive capacity against China. R S Chauhan reports.
When Major General Raymond Joseph Noronha hoisted a newly-designed flag of the newly-sanctioned 17 Strike Corps in Ranchi on January 1, he kicked off the long overdue process of beefing up India's defence against China and simultaneously acquiring an offensive capability on the northern borders stretching from Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Ladakh in the northwest.
The 17 Corps -- India's first mountain-specific strike corps -- was sanctioned last July by the Cabinet Committee on Security at a massive cost of Rs 64,000 crore to be allotted over the next seven financial years.
From October 2013 onwards, the army HQ started posting key officers for the new corps, to be based at Ranchi until it moves to its permanent location at Panagarh in West Bengal some time in 2015.
Some of the brigadier-level officers posted on the staff of the 17 Corps were selected after they completed the prestigious National Defence College course in Delhi.
Major General Noronha, who earlier commanded the 8 Mountain Division in Kargil and was posted at the Southern Command HQ in Pune before moving to Ranchi, is scheduled to be promoted as lieutenant general shortly.
Since he is among the toppers of the batch of 14 major generals about to be promoted as three-star lieutenant general, Major General Noronha, a Rajput Regiment officer with an outstanding career, has been designated the first corps commander of the 17 Mountain Strike Corps.
India currently has three strike corps (1,2 and 21 based at Mathura, Ambala and Bhopal respectively), all equipped and tasked with offensive capability against Pakistan, but none against China.
The 17 Strike Corps will overcome that shortcoming. It will eventually have a strength of 80,000 troops.
Two new divisions will be raised as part of the new corps. One more division from another corps may be converted into a mountain division and allotted to 17 Corps. A corps normally has three divisions.
The Mountain Strike Corps will have additional integral air assets (attack and transport helicopters, UAVs), an armoured regiment, perhaps a T-90 tank regiment, an artillery regiment with light howitzers easily transportable in the mountains and a component of Special Forces.
The C-130J planes, recently bought by the Indian Air Force from the US (six more C-130J have been ordered last week), will be concurrently based at Panagarh. These multi-tasking planes are the best special operations aircraft in the world and give quick mobility to troops that need to be deployed in the mountains.
India's disputed frontier with China is located all along the difficult mountainous terrain in the Himalayas. The new corps will therefore equip and train itself to meet any eventuality in the high altitude areas.
Of the 13 Corps that India currently has, only four are designed to defend India's borders against China.
The 17 Strike Corps will be the first formation -- after it is fully formed -- to have an offensive capability against China.