Govt changes Rules of Engagement across LAC, firearms may be used

Govt changes Rules of Engagement across LAC, firearms can be used in 'extraordinary situations'

New Delhi: The armed forces deployed along the 3,500-km de-facto border with China have been given "full freedom" to give a "befitting" response to any Chinese misadventure, government sources said after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the situation in eastern Ladakh at a meeting with the top military brass on Sunday.

They said the ground commanders of the Army have even been allowed to use firearms in rare cases, in a departure from the decades-old understanding between the two militaries to not resort to gun power in face-offs.

The government has also granted the three services additional financial powers of up to Rs 500 crore per procurement project to buy ammunition and weapons in view of the tense border standoff with China.

At the meeting, the defence minister carried out a comprehensive review of the entire security situation in eastern Ladakh and all other sensitive areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, the sources said.

The meeting was attended by Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, Army Chief Gen MM Naravane, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria.

India has already mobilised fighter jets and sent thousands of additional troops to forward locations along the border with China after 20 Indian Army personnel were killed in a brutal attack by Chinese military in eastern Ladakh's Galwan Valley on June 15.

The clash in Galwan Valley, the worst cross-border violence in 45 years, significantly frayed ties between the two countries, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi sending a strong message to China that "India wants peace but if provoked, India is capable of giving a befitting reply".

Govt changes Rules of Engagement across LAC, firearms can be used in 'extraordinary situations'

In the meeting on Sunday, Singh told the top military officers to maintain a strict vigil on Chinese activities around the land border, the airspace and in strategic sea lanes, the sources said.

Following the Galwan incident, the sources said, Indian troops will no longer be bound by the long-held practice of not using firearms in faceoffs. Indian Army is likely to convey to the Chinese military about the decision soon.

The armed forces were told to be fully ready to give a befitting reply to any Chinese misadventure, they said adding a "tough" approach is being adopted to guard the border.

The two armies had mutually decided not to resort to use firearms during face-offs in sync with provisions of two agreements on border management. The agreements were signed in 1996 and 2005.

"Henceforth, our approach will be different. The ground commanders have been given full freedom to take decisions depending on the situation," a top military official told PTI on the condition of anonymity.

The IAF has already moved a sizeable number of its frontline Sukhoi 30 MKI, Jaguar, Mirage 2000 aircraft and Apache attack helicopters to several key air bases including Leh and Srinagar in the last five days.

Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria on Saturday said the IAF is "well prepared" and "suitably deployed" to counter any security challenge along the border with China and even hinted that his force has flown combat air patrols in the Ladakh region as part of heightened preparedness.

Under combat air patrols, fully armed fighter jets can be scrambled at short notices for specific missions.

The two armies were engaged in a standoff in Galwan and several other areas of eastern Ladakh since May 5 when their troops clashed on the banks of the Pangong Tso.

The situation in eastern Ladakh deteriorated after around 250 Chinese and Indian soldiers were engaged in a violent face-off on May 5 and 6. The incident in Pangong Tso was followed by a similar incident in north Sikkim on May 9.

Prior to the clashes, both sides had been asserting that pending the final resolution of the boundary issue, it was necessary to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas.

Singh's review of the situation in eastern Ladakh came a day before he embarks on a three-day visit to Russia to attend a grand military parade in Moscow to mark the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Germany in the Second World War.

The government in 2018 enhanced the financial powers of the three vice chiefs from Rs 100 crore to Rs 500 crore, effecting a five-time increase for augmenting procurement of arms and ammunition and upgrade of defence preparedness.

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