Friday, June 02, 2017

Some comments on the Dhola Sadiya/Bhupen Hazarika Bridge

I would like to take a moment in the steady flow of Donald Trump catastrophes to congratulate the people of India on a marvelous engineering achievement, the Dhola Sadiya bridge. Seeing the might Brahmaputra river crossed in this fashion is a truly stunning sight. I believe this will greatly benefit the local economy of Arunachal Pradesh and bring trade to regions of India that have long been economically depressed. Good job India - and great job by the Manmohan Singh administration which gave the approval for building this bridge!

There has been a lot of talk of "moving tanks" across this bridge and how that changes the economics of  armor transport across the Brahmaputra and much of what is being said there is essentially correct, however I wish to add the following caveats or comments. (Most of this comes from a chance conversation with a Nahan alumnus a decade ago, though I must also credit Ravi Rikhye for bringing some of these issues up a few years before that)

1) The Indian defensive positions in Arunachal rely on the last-mile costs imposed by adverse terrain on Chinese military planners. The eastern Himalayan range and the Hengduan Shan range pose a major problem for Chinese military planners as it expensive to ford and a major pain to get supplies to. Supplies have to cross a thousand miles across the vast expanse of Outer Tibet. In contrast to this the Indian defensive posture is largely situated on the flat land of the Brahmaputra river bowl  and one only has to cover a few hundred miles of road to reach the border.

2) The main issue with the Indian defensive position is that it is bisected by the mighty Brahmaputra river. Crossing the river is expensive  as it consumes gasoline on barges to do so and it is difficult to move large military formations by road in the region. This is not strictly a problem because you can drive out of West Bengal, past the Siliguri chicken's neck and on to the northern banks of the Brahmaputra. Once on the northern banks you can route forces to most of Arunachal's border with China.

3) India's logistical problems start with northern edge of Dibang National Park and spread south-east to the Lohit river valley. As one goes south of that - one has Myanmar acting as a buffer between India and China (which brings its own challenges but we leave that out of the discussion for now). In order to get to Indian defensive positions in the Mathun, Dri and Lohit river valleys, Indian forces would have to cross several rivers north of Pasighat. This is a major logistical bottleneck which imposes large costs on India.

4) If you put a bridge across the Brahmaputra at V. Dhola, Indian men and materiel on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra can cross over to the southern bank west of Dibrugarh and then drive on metaled roads to V. Dhola and cross over to  V. Sadiya and then drive to V. Majgaon. At V. Majgaon, they would have the option of continuing north to the Dibang wildlife preserve or going east to Tezu near the Lohit river valley.

5) Thanks to the Dhola-Sadiya bridge the distance between Tezpur and V. Majgaon can now be made in as little as 10 hours. That is about half the time it would have taken earlier and no weird ferry crossings would have to be arranged either.

6) Now before people roll out the tank brigades into Tezu, please remember there is no possibility of using tanks effectively in either the Lohit RV or the confines of Dibang NP. The northern border of Dibang NP is actually glaciated, so forget tanks, but what you can do is make it easier to get POL and munitions to formations in the Lohit RV and getting supplies to the picket lines in Mathun  and Dri RVs.

I hope this helps people understand the strategic significance of this bridge and why the Chinese are unhappy about it.

I feel this bridge stabilizes there eastern Arunachal region against local escalations.


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