The military forces of the Republic of India consist of three services – the Indian Army, the Indian Navy & the Indian Air force. The Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces is the President of India and the Defence Ministry of the Indian Government manages the three organizations. The Armed Forces of India epitomises braveries, sacrifices & professionalism. With the changing times and warfare strategies, the defence forces are at utmost need of being modernized more effectively to counter the rising challenges along the border and insurgencies beyond the border.
As the country emerges as a global power, it must build its military power capable of fighting fresh challenges rising out of the responsibilities. The 1.4 million strong army, the second largest & fifth most powerful military force of the world, has been long pressing for faster procurement of advanced weapon systems in view of emerging threats to its security. According to reports, the ammunition capacity can last only for ten days in case the country faces an intense two-front war; i.e. from China & Pakistan. Thus, the debate on modernising the Indian Military has gained a huge consciousness among the Indian citizens, thanks to frequently witnessed duels along the Line of Control and infrequent face-offs at the north along the Line of Actual Control.
India’s threats & challenges in the military realm mainly emanate from the historically inherited territorial controversies and contentions which involve its two nuclear powered neighbours, so far over which already five wars have been fought. The rising nexus on military & nuclear affairs among our potential adversaries reminds us about the ‘two front threat’ that India might again face like it had encountered in the past. Simultaneously, the existing land-centric territorial disputes underline the pre-dominant role of the Indian Army in the national security context.
The Indian Army’s primarily role is ensuring territorial integrity of the nation through deterrence or by waging a war and providing assistance to civil authorities as and when requisitioned, which has become its secondary role. Thus, the army needs to ensure multi-dimensional capabilities for dealing with external threats from potential adversaries as well as keeping itself prepared to provide assistance in dealing internal security threats of heightened nature that includes secessionist uprisings against states or disaster managements.
Concurrent debates over allied issues of readiness & restructuring is becoming very urgent in the light of current & future threats both conventional & otherwise. Though the nature of war has essentially remained almost the same, there has been a major evolution in the strategies & technologies. Hybrid wars seems to be the new norm which involves combination of conventional or regular warfare, irregular warfare, asymmetric warfare, unconventional warfare and technological or information warfare. The Armed Forces of India needs to remain prepared to deal with conventional threats beside asymmetric and informational threats in the backdrop of nuclear coercion from across the northern border in long term and the western border in the short term. The aim of the Indian Armed Forces must therefore be to achieve cross-spectrum war fighting capability; i.e. nuclear, conventional and counter sub-conventional; in order to attain a favourable outcome even in case of a ‘two front war’ scenario. As militaries round the globe are attempting in shedding traditional trappings and adapt to the new & relatively unknown art of war, the debate remains open on how to manage the sudden changes. Therefore, it is high time to make an endeavour towards delineating conceptual underpinnings over which the efforts concerning modernization & force structuring, the two most requisite of such change, must be predicted.
Modernization Needs of Armed Forces
Modernizing the Armed Forces is a very complex process which involves cardinal changes of material capacities for the purpose of accomplishing all strategic objectives.
The aim of the Armed Forces should be to increase the qualitative level by transforming themselves into a professional force being well-trained & equipped with contemporary systems of technique & armament, modern & interoperable tools besides being capable of accomplishing operations of larger spectrum. Thus modernization of Armed Forces lays down its focus on several critical areas such as :-
- Command & Control System
- Systems & Equipment that would better protect and provide self-assistance to the troops
- Information system that involves framework for surveillance of air & maritime space and also provide the required system security to other intelligence equipment
- Means & equipment that ensures fast and secured manoeuvre & transportation of the troops.
However, only by focusing on these key aspects will not fulfil the ambitious objective of modernizing the Indian Armed Forces. If we look at the military reforms of China that were initiated as its modernization drive, we will find that the country had slashed down its army strength by over 3lakh troops. Additionally, it had initiated integration with the PLA, PLA Rocket Force, PLA Strategic Support Force, PLA Air Force and PLA Navy for better accomplishment of strategic objectives. India needs to understand this crux. In 1970, we used to call ourselves as the 5th largest military force whereas now we proudly say that we have the 2nd largest military force. It would be a mistake if we think that this rise from 5th position to 2nd position happened because we increased our troops exponentially rather it was due a drastic reduction in the number of troops of those countries who were greater military force than India in 1970s. As this is the era of advanced technologies, countries today focus on being a greater military power rather being a military force. India emphasis too much on manpower and as a result in order to maintain it, bulk of military resources are weakling out rapidly. A reduction in the army manpower specially in non-operational organisations would help in restructuring for better efficacy & effectiveness and will also transform the army into a lean & mean force.
Additionally, as mentioned earlier that today is an era of advanced technology, there has been a pressing need to modernise and revamp the existing infantry, artillery, UAVs, mechanised forces, army aviation (includes the strong felt need of inducting attack helicopters), air defence, night vision devices and also the defence engineers. Though there was procurement of M777 Howitizers & K9 Vajra as a replacement of decades old Bofors guns of mid 1980s, there still remains the urgent need for provisioning LMGs, bulletproof jackets & helmets and HHTIs (hand-held thermal imagers) beside replacing other outdated weapons & equipment such as carbines, rocket launchers, machine guns, anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) etc.
Similarly, the emergence of India as a strategic actor in the sub-continent has drawn immense attention over the role of Indian Navy and its role in providing security in the Indian Ocean and in dealing with irregular threats in the surrounding seas of India. The strategic nature of menaces has underlined the significance of technology in expanding the naval offensive & defensive capabilities. The future maritime environment demands employment of modern weaponry into the Navy for posturing & deterrence. It includes use of unmanned combat vehicles, precision-guided missiles, advanced munitions, hypersonic, networked systems and quantum computing technologies for achieving theatre dominance. Maritime analyst predicts that in future marine wars and conflicts, remote sensing, long range sensors, precision strikes, stand-off capability, unmanned and autonomous systems are going to play a major role. The Indian Navy lacks in indigenous development of cutting-edge technologies and thus highly depends on foreign technology in constructing its warships which leads to a huge capital outflow. In the modernization drive, the naval engineers need to indigenously develop these cutting-edge technologies and induct infra-red seeker, high-definition radars, sonars & electronic warfare suites.
In addition to these, there is an utmost need of urgently inducting aircraft carriers. Aircraft carriers play a major role in establishing effective command over the sea, ensures continuous & visible presence which influences the enemy commanders’ cost benefit calculus, fosters flat-top operations with its monstrous ability to surveil & strike littoral targets beside enabling a crucial tactical air-cover which is an operational imperative in littoral conflicts. India presently has only one aircraft carrier – INS Vikramaditya. Thus, in order to deal with the future threats from the potential adversaries, it is essential to urgently induct atleast one more aircraft carrier and initiate modernization of the other essentials as analysed above.
The Indian Air Force is said to be among the best funded in the world, but paradoxically it is among the most underfunded for the huge task allocated to it. In order to defend the nation from potential hostile actions & deliver deterrence against both China & Pakistan, the IAF remains highly ill equipped. The IAF has been for long trying to convince the politicians for shifting towards an air power-centric approach that has been absorbed by most global powers. One of the largest drawbacks faced by the IAF is respect to operational efficiency is that it operates multiple types of fast jets concurrently than most other air force round the globe – however this paradoxically indicates how well is IAF funded in comparison to other air forces which considers themselves as ‘reference air forces’. IAF had intended to raise its fast jets squadron strength to 44, however with the decommissioning of the last MiG-27 squadron – said to be scorpions, IAF will be left with only 28 fighter squadrons. This means, almost a quarter of the intended numerical strength has become obsolete in a little over decade, without even considering normal attrition that remains high on its older fleet. This will leave the bulk of air defence duties on Su-30MKI multirole fighter fleet, the air-to-air Mig 29s and multirole fleet of Mirage 2000 until the ‘omnirole’ Rafale and Lockheed Martin’s the multi-role F-21 fighter jets fully gets procured and becomes operational as indigenously produced Tejas has proved to be inadequate for the requirements of IAF.
Essentially, IAF is trying to equip itself with those air type defences that are adequate for facing the current threats which is likely to encounter also but it still numerically remains a understrength stage; consecutive delays in the process of modernization suggests that by the time India gets equipped with new force composition, countries such as China is likely to operate its 5th generation fighter aircrafts in relatively large numbers – against which there would be adequate answers from IAF’s end. Analysing the present challenges, it would be better for the IAF to stop chasing an unrealistic target of having 44 squadrons of advanced combat aircraft and rather focus on eliminating costly duplication of platforms over various missions and try to more efficiently defend its airspace from potential intruders from China in future & maintain credible aggressive strike capabilities for ensuring stable deterrence at sub-nuclear level to counter Pakistan.
Challenges in Building the Capabilities
There are numerous challenges in the path of modernizing the Indian Armed Forces. A few critical ones are discussed below:-
Firstly, the military planning is crippling under inadequately articulated & integrated military strategy. Consequently, the military’s three wings are left with nothing but to conceive their own military philosophies & strategies which ultimately lead to overlapping or cross purposes between one another. The possible reason that can be held responsible for such state of affair is undoubtedly the lacuna at the apex level of military expertise in matters of national security & defence aggravated by not having a Chief of Defence staff who would meaningfully coordinate long-term planning, policies & strategies and offer seamless tri-service views & single-point advices to the executive.
Secondly, inordinate delay while and after acceptance of proposals for upgrading old equipment & procuring new advanced equipment and technologies have shackled and decelerated the modernizing drive which consequently have increased the ratio of old equipment and thus have become a Hobson’s choice in using them.
Thirdly, different weaponries are required for dealing with different situations. Weapons and equipment that are necessary for a conventional battle are different from those needed for counter insurgency operation and counter terrorism activities. Hence, this again necessitates the need for having a Chief of Defence Staff to decide over which department to modernize before another and most importantly how much to modernise.
Fourthly, it is very painful to accept the failure of developing a defence industrial base. Past experiences have highlighted that DRDO have significantly failed to produce and provide basic hardware required by the armed forces. There lacks efficiency & accountability among the various organs of the MoD namely DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation), OFB (Ordnance Factory Board) and DPSUs (Defence Public Sector Units). It had significantly slowed down the process of indigenisation. The DRDO-DGB nexus had been a complete failure and thus this urges the need for having systemic as well as structural changes. The DRDO cannot be irresponsive to the needs of the Armed forces. It needs to operate, be responsive, accountable and answerable if not able to stand up to requirements. A small example is they have failed even to produce multi-mode grenades.
Fifthly, the most important hurdle to overcome in the modernization drive is the cash crunch. Lack of capital budget aggravated with inadequate defence budgetary allocation has proved to be a major obstacle for new acquisition schemes especially for ‘big-ticket items’. A major issue is that a dominant portion of the defence budget gets swallowed by pension holders and in salaries. At lesser than 2% of the GDP, sufficient amount is not left behind in the defence budget for modernizing the three wings. The issue gets more compounded by bureaucratic shenanigans in defence ministry.
Road Map for Future
India needs to emphatically construct the capability of both hard as well as soft military power and demonstrate that power in its quest of becoming a regional power having global influence that can deter menaces to its stability & integrity. It is crucial that we look at our defence needs in a holistic manner. Indian Armed Forces needs to be prepared to combat wars of the future so that it can substantially contribute in the interests of defence & security of the nation. However budgetary constraints along with inordinate stress on sub conventional warfare have resulted in adverse effect over building capabilities for conventional deterrence & war fighting.
The Government has recently decided to spend a whopping $130 billion in coming five to seven years for modernization of armed forces & bolster their combating capabilities. The plan includes procurement of a wide range of weapons, air defence systems, missiles, warships & submarines, fighter jets, drones, surveillance equipment & developing infrastructure for comprehensive use of artificial intelligence. It is expected that the key focus would on modernizing infantry. According to sources, priority will be on procuring 2600 infantry combat vehicles; 1700 future ready combat vehicles for Indian Army and will also pave the path for provisioning 110 multirole fighter aircraft to the IAF. The Navy has also finalised its plan for having 200 ships and 500 aircrafts along with 24 attack submarines within coming three to four years. Presently the Navy has 15 submarines, 220 aircrafts and 132 ships.
Additionally, the government has invested in a mega defence project that will make the airspace over major cities virtually impregnable. Apart from this, the first batch of intercontinental ballistic missile system – Agni V is in the process of induction. Agni V has a strike range of 5000km and is capable of carrying nuclear warhead. Induction of this missile will significantly bolster the air defence system.
There is no question on the urgency to modernise the armed forces of India. To achieve this goal, the government and the Armed Forces needs to work together to analyse the issues and develop innovative solution for addressing the various hindrances that comes along the path. Appointing a Chief of Defence Staff will highly help in addressing various challenges. Unless we address the challenges, all the plans of modernization will keep on floundering as has been happening in the past. Nonetheless, if the government is serious about modernising the armed forces, it has to increase its defence budget and start the system of ‘roll-on’ so that the money once gets allotted for the purpose of modernization can never be re-appropriated for fulfilling some different purposes.