India’s Military Modernization is Stagnating

According to a recent KPMG report, India is likely to spend up to US$ 100 billion on the purchase of military equipment over the next 10 years. During the last decade, India acquired T-90S main battle tanks; the USS Trenton, an amphibious warfare ship that can lift one infantry battalion; AN-TPQ37 weapon locating radars; and, signed deals for six Scorpene attack submarines as well as for upgrading Mirage 2000 fighter-bomber aircraft. Admiral Gorshkov, a Russian aircraft carrier, will soon be on its way after a prolonged refit and INS Arihant, an indigenously designed nuclear-powered submarine is undergoing sea trials.

USS Trenton; Credit: www.defense.govIndia also acquired a host of low-end equipment for counter-insurgency operations and for upgrading the infantry’s combat efficiency. Besides these purchases, the acquisition or manufacture of 126 MMRCA fighter aircraft, almost 1,500 155mm howitzers, about 250 light helicopters, P8I Poseidon maritime reconnaissance aircraft, C-130J Super Hercules aircraft for Special Forces, C-17 Globemaster heavy lift aircraft and many other items of defense equipment, is in the pipeline.

Are these defense acquisitions part of a carefully structured strategy for military modernisation or are these piecemeal purchases that will only replace obsolescent weapons and equipment with more modern ones but not add substantially to India’s comprehensive military power? In their recent book Arming without Aiming: India’s Military Modernization, Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta aver that the process lacks political support and guidance, is haphazard and bereft of strategic direction and is not in consonance with evolving doctrinal and organisational changes.

In the absence of a resolute strategic culture and the gross neglect of long-term national security planning, it is difficult to dispute Cohen and Dasgupta’s finding that India is arming without aiming. Not only does India not have a coherent national security strategy, but also lacks the tools and processes necessary to formulate such a strategy. While there is a National Security Council for long-term defence planning, its apex body – which essentially comprises the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) plus the National Security Advisor (NSA) – seldom meets to deliberate over long-term threats and emerging challenges and the adversaries’ military capabilities that should together drive military strategy, force structures and the modernisation plans necessary to meet and defeat future threats.

The armed forces have drawn up a long-term integrated perspective plan (LTIPP), but it is yet to be approved by the government. The 11th Defence Plan (2007-12) is now in its fifth year and has not been accorded formal approval. The armed forces are left with no choice but to stumble along from one financial year to the next. The defence acquisition process is plagued by tardy decision making and large amounts of budgetary allocations on the capital account are surrendered every year, leading to completely haphazard military modernization.

However, not all is lost. The two new mountain divisions now under raising by the army clearly indicate that the emphasis in defence planning has shifted from Pakistan, whose military power is rapidly declining, towards a rising and increasingly assertive China, which shall indisputably remain a long-term military threat as long as the territorial dispute is not satisfactorily resolved. The acquisition of strategic sealift and airlift capabilities and air-to-air refuelling for fighter aircraft signals India’s attempts to build intervention and rapid reaction capabilities in keeping with its regional power status. The importance being given to upgrading command and control (C4I2SR) systems shows the aspirations of the armed forces to acquire the tools necessary to benefit from the combat synergies provided by network-centric and effects-based operations.

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