Unlike other great powers of the past New Delhi has encountered, China impinges directly on India’s geopolitical landscape in multiple ways. The rise of China has only exacerbated its intensity.

Chinese Dream,Defence Budget,Deterrence,National Security,People's Liberation Army,Xi Jinping
Photo: Jonathan Kos-Read — Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

This article originally appeared in the book ➔ Defence Primer 2018: An Indian Military in Transformation?


The 19th Congress of Chinese Communist Party (CCP), arguably the most significant political event in China, marked the emergence of Chinese President Xi Jinping as an undisputed leader of China who asserted his authority and leadership in the party to the extent that he has become the first CCP leader to have his contribution attached to his name when Congress unanimously approved incorporation of Xi’s ideological contribution into the Party Constitution as ‘Xi Jinping’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’.

The content and the tenor of the address reaffirmed emphatically that China will continue to be more assertive in advancing its interest with an integrated ‘soft and hard power approach’. As Xi charted for China a roadmap for the future, he did so by contextualising China’s global standing at a time when America seems to have become more inward looking and the global balance of power is undergoing a dramatic transition. His address, though largely focussed on domestic gains and achievements, was also a manifesto for China where he attempted to integrate both normative and ideational components, which he summed as ‘Chinese Dream’, and the hard power to realise the goals he has set out for China. China’s military modernisation and reforms are intrinsic to its goals of expanding its political and economic footprint across the globe, presenting a strategic challenge to India.

At the heart of Xi’s vision for China’s future was a two-stage plan he has put forward to achieve China’s second centennial goal of becoming a “fully developed nation” by 2049 — the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. The first stage — from 2020 to 2035 — aims at domestic transformation by realising the ‘socialist modernisation’. The socialist modernisation, he has reiterated would be modelled on socialism with Chinese characteristics. The second stage — from 2035 to 2045 — aims for a more global agenda to become “a global leader in terms of comprehensive national power and international influence.” This two-pronged vision, that sums up broadly as the ‘Chinese Dream’, was packaged as a panacea to all the Chinese problems, a remedy which can be exported by him to other parts of the world.


At the heart of Xi’s vision for China’s future was a two-stage plan he has put forward to achieve China’s second centennial goal of becoming a “fully developed nation” by 2049 — the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.


A critical feature of his address was the centrality of the role of CCP in its overall political system. He asserted that “the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the leadership of the Communist Party of China; the greatest strength of the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the leadership of the Communist Party of China; the Party is the highest force for political leadership.” In other words, he hinted that there will be no substantial political reforms and the nature of one-party political system will be more or less retained.

China’s disapproval for ‘western models of liberal democracy’ is not new and Xi’s address attested the disapproval. What was significant was the conscious attempt made by Xi to export what could be termed as the ‘Chinese model of governance’ to other developing countries. Moreover, it “offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.”  The fact that China was not just confronting the ‘West’ on its own but now was ready to provide the ‘Chinese alternative’ came out emphatically from the address. This was a prominent ideational angle of China’s ‘international ambitions’.

Though Xi had attempted to project himself as a responsible leader and China as a responsible global by power participating in various multi-lateral forums, China under Xi has displayed periodic proclivity in confronting the established international rules and norms and existing security arrangement when it adversely affected its interest. China’s rejection of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) tribunal’s ruling in the South China Sea was an excellent example of a belligerent China flouting international norms to suit its interest. This selective approval of international norms by China suggested that Beijing would respect the present order only to the extent that it suits its interests and would further re-order it that could satisfy its goal.

China’s military modernisation was a significant highlight of Xi’s address to the Congress as was the employment of hard power with the aim to realise domestic ideological goals initially, and then to further export it globally. Xi’s emphasis on Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the military might, in his entire speech, unambiguously conveyed the significant role he attributed to the Chinese military. He announced that the PLA’s focus will be on realisation of the ‘Chinese Dream’ for which it must develop “a new military strategy under the new situation” while national defence and military modernisation will be promoted. Xi assured that “by the end of the first stage in 2035, modernisation of our national defence and our forces will be basically completed”; and by the time the second stage comes to a full, China will be “fully transformed into a first-tier force.” This ambitious build up plan is undoubtedly intended to make China a full military power, observing directly that the “military is built to fight” and that it should concentrate on “winning wars”.

The geopolitics of China’s militaristic rise

China’s rise has supported a decade of sustained growth in Asia, but also placed unprecedented stress on the global balance of power and security order. Beijing’s modernisation of the PLA over the past two decades, coupled with its attempt to change the status quo in Asia’s strategic fault lines, has brought China to the forefront of any discussion on India’s ability to defend itself and its interests.

Notwithstanding its intentions, China’s rapid rise and its growing military profile has suddenly transformed the threat matrix for India. China’s economic transformation has given it the capability to emerge as a major military power. In 2017, Beijing’s total defence budget for the year was $152 billion, up from $146 billion the previous year, an increase of 7 per cent. And this is when vital elements of the Chinese military build-up, including cyber warfare and space capabilities (as well as foreign procurement) were not included in the announced budget. The bulk of the increased defence spending will go to the Chinese Navy, Air Force and the Second Artillery Corps, which runs the strategic nuclear forces.


China’s economic transformation has given it the capability to emerge as a major military power. In 2017, Beijing’s total defence budget for the year was $152 billion, up from $146 billion the previous year, an increase of 7 per cent.


This unprecedented military rise of China has created a unique geopolitical situation for India. For the first time in its independent history, the emergence of a great military power at its immediate frontiers now appears imminent. Both during the times of British India and the Cold War, India remained relatively insulated from the security and foreign policy challenges of being a ‘great power neighbour’ because of its geography as well as the existence of territorial buffer zones. China’s march towards being a great power and the ongoing transition of power in Asia has punctured that sense of relative security — unlike other great powers of the past New Delhi has encountered, China impinges directly on India’s geopolitical landscape in multiple ways. The rise of China has only exacerbated its intensity. 

First, the Sino-Indian border dispute continues to fester. [1] India-China border dispute is not only the largest territorial dispute in Asia but is also one of longest running conflicts in the history of Post-World War II Asian politics. [2] The two nations sharing a 2520-mile-long border are embroiled in a contest for over 47,000 sq mile of Himalayan territory. In October 1962, they fought a war across the Himalayan frontier in which India was comprehensively defeated. But even after 50 years of the border war, India and China have not been able to amicably resolve the dispute. Negotiations on the border dispute did begin in 1981 at vice-ministerial level and a total of eight rounds of bilateral meetings took place until 1987. In 1988, a Joint Working Group (JWG) was constituted to expedite the resolution of the conflict. By 2003, the JWG had met 14 times. In 2003, special representatives were appointed by the two governments “to explore from the political perspective of the overall bilateral relationship the framework of a boundary dispute.” Fifteen rounds of talks have taken place between the special representatives so far. If, on one hand, there is an increasing feeling in India that negotiations have dragged for too long, frequent and strident Chinese claims about the Line of Actual Control in India’s Northern sector of Ladakh and its North East have become a norm rather than an exception. The year 2017 was an exceptional year in India-China confrontation on the border as it suggested that not only the dispute is becoming intense but also expanding. The recent Doklam standoff represents the first confrontation between the two Asian giants in this area of the Himalayas since the clashes at Nathu La and Cho La in 1967. The Doklam standoff was unique, it revolved around territory disputed between China and Bhutan, and not China and India. The Indo-Sino border in this sector had been bereft of any major incidents and relatively quiet since the alignment of the Sino-Indian border in Sikkim is broadly accepted by both sides. But it now seems that the location of the disputed China-India-Bhutan trijunction border will likely remain a source of contention in the years ahead.

Second, the China-Pakistan ‘axis’ has always been a source of great consternation for New Delhi. [3] This nexus between Islamabad and Beijing has only grown stronger in recent years. Not surprisingly, recent revelations about China’s shift away from a three-decade-old cautious approach on Jammu and Kashmir, its increasing military presence in Pakistan, planning infrastructure linking Xinjiang and Gwadar, issuing stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir, and supplying nuclear reactors to Pakistan — all confirm a new intensity behind China’s old strategy of using Pakistan to secure its interests in the region. [4] The real concern for India however is the number of projects that China has undertaken in these areas; and that footprint is likely to increase much larger. [5] Meanwhile, America’s relative decline and the prospective withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan has only tightened the strategic embrace between these ‘all-weather friends.’ India’s “strategic encirclement,” which began in 1960s, only appears to be gaining momentum with China’s rise. Billions of Chinese dollars now being invested in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) suggest that this encirclement will continue to strengthen.


America’s relative decline and the prospective withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan has only tightened the strategic embrace between these ‘all-weather friends.’


Third, strategic encirclement from the North has now been accompanied by a maritime encirclement. For the first five decades of India’s independence, her geographical advantage in the Indian Ocean and its limited interests in the East facilitated her lackadaisical approach to maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region. China’s forays into the Indian Ocean has left New Delhi concerned with the shifting maritime balance of power. In the last one decade, China has developed naval facilities in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan; and is even planning to build naval infrastructure in Seychelles. [6] Though the Indian National Security Advisor has tried to allay the fears engendered by the “string of pearls” theory, the Indian strategic community remains wary of China’s ultimate intentions. [7] Indian Navy is particularly alarmed by China’s growing naval presence in the region. [8] China’s anti-piracy operations in Gulf of Aden and other out of area operations have also raised hackles in India. But the rivalry also extends to waters beyond Malacca. If for China, Indian Ocean is not an Indian lake, New Delhi’s imperative is to contest impressions in Beijing that the waters east of Malacca automatically fall under latter’s sphere of influence. India’s naval engagement in the East, therefore, has also been a reaction to China’s expansion in the Indian Ocean Region. The turf war between the two navies, as both nations further prosper and seek greater role in regional dynamics, is only set to grow.

Geopolitical frictions notwithstanding, Beijing is also extremely reluctant to accept India’s rise in the international system and to accommodate India in global regimes and institutions as an equal. China remains the only major power in the world that refuses to discuss nuclear issues with India for fear that this might imply a de facto recognition of India’s status as a nuclear power. It continues to insist on the sanctity of the UN resolution 1172, which calls for India (and Pakistan) to give up its nuclear weapons programme and join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state. [9] A large section of China’s political and military elite views India’s nuclear tests in 1998 not as an attempt by India to address its security concerns but rather an attempt by the US to contain China in so far as the US ‘allowed’ India to go nuclear. [10] China’s reluctance to accept New Delhi as a nuclear power was also evident in its efforts to scuttle the Indo-US nuclear deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008. Though, under American pressure, China hesitatingly agreed to the India-specific exemption at the NSG, it has in recent years repeatedly tried to sabotage India’s efforts to join the multilateral grouping, which controls the global trade in nuclear material and technology. However, this is also reflective of China’s long-held view against India’s inclusion in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Except China, all other veto wielding P-5 nations have in principal accepted India’s candidature as a permanent member of the UNSC. Beijing however has constantly tried to undermine this consensus by putting extraneous conditions on UNSC’s expansion.


China remains the only major power in the world that refuses to discuss nuclear issues with India for fear that this might imply a de facto recognition of India’s status as a nuclear power.


Therefore, managing China’s rise is a security and foreign policy priority for India. However, the question of ‘how should India manage China’s rise’ brooks no easy answers. The debates around this issue are highly variegated. More so because the current transition of power in Asia has presented India with stark choices, a situation which New Delhi’s political elites have long wanted to avoid. That avoidance seems no longer possible as the military implications of China’s rise are fast becoming apparent. The 73-day Doklam standoff between the militaries of India and China in 2017 brought this challenge into sharp relief. Understanding the change in Chinese military posture is now an imperative that can no longer be avoided.

Changing doctrine and capabilities of Chinese military

Since the 1990s, the PLA and its supporting air and naval arms have made impressive strides. Two events played a catalytic role in modernising the Chinese military of today — the first was the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 and the second was the Taiwan Straits Crisis of 1995-1996. The first event is most pertinent for China’s quest to acquire the strength and flexibility to execute combined arms warfare. A centralised military command structure for most of PLA’s history was much too inflexible and unsuited for the conduct of future wars. This has undergone a significant shift since 2015 with the introduction military reforms by President Xi Jinping. In this regard, China has made good on the relative tranquillity it has enjoyed since late 1970s and developed a range of conventional capabilities. The consequence of this modernisation is greater assertiveness in regional disputes.

China’s future, China, centennial goal, People’s Republic, economic transformation, military power, Beijing, defence budget, PLA, modernisation, military campaign, warfare, proliferation, military technology, military capabilities, Harsh V. Pant, Pushan Das
Photo: Jonathan Kos-Read — Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Massive military expenditures sustained by Chinese economy in the last 15 years have allowed the PLA a fair amount of defence modernisation, accumulating capabilities which are generally associated with the revolution in military affairs. [11] Consequent doctrinal changes accompanied Chinese military thinking with its emphasis on “local wars under informationalisation.” [12] Elsa Kania argues in her chapter that the PLA has made a focussed attempt for the advancement of new forces and capabilities for information warfare. In particular, the restructuring and integration of Chinese space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities to create the Strategic Support Force. Additionally, the focus on mobility has allowed China to operationalise its military doctrine of “revitalised war zone strategy” in which her enormous reserves could be forced into action at very short intervals. [13] This strategy is combined with doctrinal precept of “active defence”, embodying pre-emptive military strikes with “superior concentration of firepower” in order to “destroy the opponent’s retaliatory capability.” [14]

Alongside these doctrinal changes, the PLA is now going full steam ahead with technological force modernisation so that China can successfully pursue a military campaign that meets the demands of 21st century warfare. PLA’s ground combat equipment has improved tremendously and it now fields a variety of capabilities. [15] Richard A. Bitzinger’s chapter covers the wide gamut of capabilities that the PLA has accrued over the years and its impact on Chinese assertiveness.


The PLA is now going full steam ahead with technological force modernisation so that China can successfully pursue a military campaign that meets the demands of 21st century warfare.


If the PLA has undergone massive transitions, the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), too, has witnessed significant improvements in its capabilities through investments in tactical aviation. Changes in the PLAAF’s fighter fleet have been evident since the 1990s. The Chinese Air Force started acquiring a small number of fourth-generation fighters in 1996. Since the mid-1990s, and for a decade and a half thereafter, the PLAAF’s numbers swelled to 30 percent of the force. By 2015, the size increased to roughly 51 percent of the fighter fleet of the PLAAF and will grow further to 62 percent by the current year. [16] An estimate notes that the Chinese fourth-generation fighter fleet increased from 383 to 736 jets between 2010 to 2015, representing a 92 percent jump in fighter air combat power. [17] Today, China operates roughly 1,200 short-range fighters.

Operationally active in the PLAAF’s fleet are approximately 400 J-7 fighters, a reasonably effective aircraft. Yet the J-7 fighter strength will decrease in numbers, replaced with more advanced fourth-generation jets. The PLAAF’s current fleet strength stands at approximately 1977 aircraft. [18] It is also driven to developing stealth capabilities for a segment of its fighter fleet, testing a number of J-20A operationally and undertaking flight tests of a second stealth type in the form of the J-31. Stealth technology will be core component in the transformation of the PLAAF from a predominantly territorial airforce to one conducting both defensive and offensive operations. The induction of the J-20 A will present a fundamentally different threat compared to the Russian Sukhoi 27/30 derivates that form the mainstay of Chinese airpower. While the size of the Chinese Air Force is important, the strength of the PLAAF lies in its establishment of a dense air defence network. [19] Defending Indian airspace from any future PLAAF challenge with the proliferation of aircraft like the J-20A, presents a challenge the Indian Air Force (IAF) has few answers to numerically or in terms of capability. The PLAAF has the first mover advantage over the IAF, according to Arjun Subramaniam, with its superior space and information warfare assets coupled with its standoff weapons capability and superior multi-layered air defence systems.

Similarly, China’s growing naval capability has resulted in an impression that Beijing not only seeks primacy in near seas but naval dominance in far flung areas. The naval expansion of the PLA continues apace through its Anti-access and Area Denial (AAAD) capabilities. The Chinese navy has made progress in both the surface and subsurface segment of its fleet. The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has procured 12 Russian-made Kilo Class conventional submarines since the mid-1990s, and added four indigenously developed submarines. These include a Jin Class ‘Type 094’ nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and a new Shang Class ‘Type 093/093’ nuclear attack submarine (SSN). The latest addition to the PLAN is the SSN classified Song Class ‘Type 039/039G’. [20] Each of the Jin Class submarines will be equipped with 7,400-kilometre range JL-2 nuclear-armed submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Significantly, advances in the submarine arm of the Chinese are a by-product of Russian designs. [21] The Chinese navy’s surface fleet has also witnessed improvements. The latest addition is the first Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning ‘Type 001’ design vessel to the PLAN’s surface fleet. It is a conventionally powered carrier with a displacement of approximately 60,000 tonnes. A second carrier, the Shandong, is under construction and a third carrier is planned. [22] The air wing of the Liaoning could potentially consist of a combination of 36 fixed and rotary wing aircraft, including 24 J-15 fighters, six anti-submarine warfare helicopters, four airborne early warning helicopters, and two rescue choppers. [23] China expects to induct four to six aircraft carriers. The current and follow-on Shandong carrier might be limited by operating range, though not so, if reports are to be believed. The PLAN’s long-term ambitions include the acquisition of nuclear-powered carriers, resulting in two carrier strike groups operating in the Western Pacific and an additional two groups in the Indian Ocean. [24] The potential Chinese nuclear-powered carriers will inevitably use electromagnetic catapult systems for the launch of carrier-based fighter aircraft. [25] Notwithstanding an absence of experience in operating carriers, the PLAN’s introduction of aircraft carriers provides additional weight to the Chinese navy’s surface warfare and force projection capabilities. The Indian Navy, on the other hand, is floundering according to RADM (Retd.) Sudarshan Shrikhande, with its limited resources being squandered on ‘symbolic aircraft carriers’ and placing ship building orders for specious reasons like keeping yards, which alone do not make a strong argument for poor platform choices or the lack of anti-submarine helicopters.

China’s military modernisation has also resulted in the proliferation of military technology in the region, enhancing the military capabilities of a number of states, including Pakistan. Pakistan’s indigenous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, the ‘Shahpar’, bears a striking resemblance to the Chinese CASC CH-3. The co-development and production of the JF-17 in significant numbers for the Pakistani Airforce has a cascading effect on India’s conventional deterrence.


China’s military modernisation has also resulted in the proliferation of military technology in the region, enhancing the military capabilities of a number of states, including Pakistan.


Implications for India

India’s loss in the 1962 war against China had for the first time exposed serious deficiencies in post-independent India’s defence posture and capabilities. As a result, New Delhi made a sustained effort to build its defence forces. Much of the focus went to the Army and the Air Force, as New Delhi realised the “reality of having to make defensive arrangements along a vast frontier.” [26] By late 1963, a new defence plan was formulated and India decided to increase its defence expenditures from 2 percent of GDP to about 5 percent. [27] Under this defence plan, 10 mountain divisions were raised along the Himalayan frontier. India also upgraded its Air Force by procuring MIG fighters from the Soviet Union and advanced radar systems from the US. Long neglected, the Indian Navy finally started receiving some attention but its role in any conflict with China was considered miniscule. For long afterwards, India’s approach was to ensure that a repeat of 1962 could be avoided by putting up a resolute defence against any aggression from the Chinese forces. Defending the mountain passes in the border was the sole focus. [28]As an inadvertent result of India’s wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 and consequent military modernisation of its defence forces, India’s deterrent capability vis-à-vis China automatically increased. By mid-1970’s, India assessments of Chinese threat was reduced to Beijing’s support for insurgencies in India’s Northeast and military equipment to Pakistan. [29] If India’s military modernisation had created a deterrent, infirmities in China’s military capability became quite evident during its war with Vietnam in 1979. [30] By early 1980s, analysts predicted that the Indian Army was enjoying an “advantageous” position against China to the extent that it could make “incisive thrusts into Tibet across the Chinese borders in the North.” [31] Chinese threat in the Indian Ocean was also miniscule. China’s limited naval capability ruled out any sustained involvement in the Indian Ocean. India’s naval attitude was also largely defensive. India’s naval strategy towards the end of the Cold War was essentially one of creating a “cordan sanitaire around India’s waters. [32]


If India’s military modernisation had created a deterrent, infirmities in China’s military capability became quite evident during its war with Vietnam in 1979.


Such defensive strategy however is now under serious question, especially with the modernisation in Chinese military. In the last one decade, there has been a growing realisation in the Indian military establishment that on the face of growing Chinese military power, a defensive strategy will not survive. All the three services therefore have adopted certain offensive components in their war-fighting strategies. The Indian Army, with the development of two mountain strike corps, now intends not only to withhold any Chinese conventional thrust but also to take the offensive into the Chinese territory.

Brig. Arun Sahgal’s contribution in this primer however brings to fore the Chinese challenge in the Tibet Autonomous Region and limitations of the Indian Army offensive aspirations.

The Indian Air Force similarly has now placed its most advanced air assets along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Navy, on the other hand, has been arguing for economic strangulation of the Chinese economy by attacking China’s sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean, in case of hostilities along the land frontier.

Lt. Gen (Retd.) Narasihman argues that the three services operational and strategic deficiencies originate from an incoherent grand strategy and any offensive makeover remains uncoordinated at the highest levels. First, the lack of progress in adopting a capability-based approach versus the existing threat-based approach reflects the determination of bureaucratic interests in the individuals service branches to preserve their own interests, rather than maximise combat performance efficiency. Any integrated war fighting capability is dependent on individual services maintaining capabilities in their core competencies. All three services currently continue to operate in silos with number-based calculations versus capability-based approaches is a reflection of bureaucratic interests in the individuals service branches to preserve their own interests, rather than maximise combat performance efficiency. Given the constant referencing by the armed forces of the two-front war scenario against Pakistan and China, maximising the combat potential of limited assets available due to limited logistical availability or delays in modernisation will help services fill capability gaps. An ongoing research at the Observer Research Foundation based on quantitatively examined time-series data constructed from ten IISS Military Balance volumes from 2008-2017, depicts a depressing force ratios heavily in favour of the adversary, in this case China and of course Pakistan. Figures are reflective of China’s spend of 3.2 times more than India on defence.

Even when the Indian defence establishment recognises the need to counter PLA modernisation and adopt the operational concepts of “informationised warfare”, which has become the PLA’s key operational concepts, there exists a broader ambivalence regarding force integration among the three Indian services. There is little evidence to suggest that any of the three services have adopted a capability-based approach versus the previous threat-based approach. The Indian Army is still in the process of raising the Mountain Strike Corps to further add manpower to its standing strength of 1.18 million men. The Indian Air Force continues to press for 42-45 fighter squadrons to deter a two-front war while the Indian Navy wants to eventually operate 200 ships, including three aircraft carrier groups. Although there are plausible reasons for each of these demands individually, there is little to align these goals with a broader strategy shared among the three services. Arzan Tarapore’s chapter covers the doctrinal concept known as Multi-Domain Battle (MDB) designed to evolve the concept of joint war fighting, by more deeply integrating operations in the three traditional domains of battle — land, sea, and air — alongside the two, and by analysing how the Indian armed forces are far away from adopting the concept of jointness and how other increasingly essential domains of cyber and space remain missing.

And finally, do nuclear weapons have a role in the Sino-Indian dyad? S. Paul Kapur and Diana Wueger argue that nuclear option provides India an import measure of insulation and protection against an increasingly coercive China.

The aim of this primer is to assess India’s current military’s effectiveness and combat potential vis-a-vis China. While there are no easy answers or simple formulas for the assessment of Indian military effectiveness, it is vital to understand how the changing capabilities, doctrines and tactics of the Chinese military impacts the effectiveness of India’s conventional military deterrent. Given that China is unlikely to shift strategies away from relying on coercion and manipulating risk to achieve its territorial objectives, observing its military modernisation and development of power projection capabilities will influence the trajectory that characterises the Indian defence establishment’s strategy to counter the kinetic and geographic components of China’s growing capabilities. China’s lack of any combat experience for more than 30 years and or experience in conducting joint operation in ‘far seas’ or on land will remain a short-term advantage Indian military develops effective counters against.

India’s military effectiveness must be located at all the three levels of military activity: the strategic, the operational and the tactical. While overlapping, each is characterised by different actions, procedures and goals. This primer emphasises the operational approach, underlining the importance of doctrines, tactics, combined arms, inter-service systems and their proper utilisation on the battlefield, and makes a break from the narrative of observing capabilities centred on new military hardware as it is introduced in-service. If this primer succeeds in generating an honest debate on the military challenge China poses to India, it would have served its purpose.


[1] For a comprehensive treatment of India-China border dispute, see, David Scott, “Sino-India territorial Issues: The ‘Razor’s Edge’,” in Harsh V. Pant (eds.), The Rise of China: Implications for India, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 195-217.

[2] The Economist, “Fantasy Frontiers: Indian, Pakistani and Chinese Border Disputes”, 8 February 2012.

[3] Harsh V. Pant, “Rising China in India’s Vicinity: A Rivalry takes Shape,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs.

[4] Selig S. Harrison, “China’s Direct Hold on Pakistan’s Northern Borderlands,” International Herald Tribune, 26 August 2010.

[5] Pranab Dhal Samanta, “More than troops, Chinese projects in PoK worry India,” Indian Express, 5 September 2010.

[6] Jeremy Page, “Chinese Military Considers new Indian Ocean Presence”, The Wall Street Journal, 14 December 2011. Also see, Kamlesh Kumar Agnihotri, “ Chinese Quest for Naval Base in the Indian Ocean: Possible Options for China” National Maritime Foundation, February 2010.

[7] Shiv Shankar Menon, “Maritime Imperatives of Indian Foreign Policy”, National Maritime Foundation, 11 September 2009, p. 6-7.

[8] Government of India, India’s Maritime Military Strategy (New Delhi: Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defense (Navy). 2007). page 41.

[9] “China Against India, Pakistan Joining Nuclear Club,” Press Trust of India, 29 June 2004.

[10] Andrew Scobell, China and Strategic Culture (Carlisle: Strategic Studies Institute, 2002), 19.

[11] Also see, JayadevaRanade, “China’s Major Military Reforms and Their Implications for India,” Air Power Journal, Vol. 11, No.1, Spring 2016 (January-March), pp. 1-16;

[12] Kondapalli, China’s Military Modernisation, p. 87.

[13] IskanderRehman, “A Himalayan Challenge: India’s Conventional Deterrent and the Role of Special Operations Forces along the Sino-Indian Border,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Winter 2017), pp. 110-112.

[14] GurmeetKanwal, “China’s Growing Military Power: Implications for India,” in Srikant Kondapalli, China’s Military and India (New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2012), pp. 7-8.

[15]Ben Lowsen, “Overview: China’s People Liberation Army Equipment at a Glance”, The Diplomat.

[16]Heginbotham et al., The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power, p. 75.

[17] Ibid.

[18] “World Air Forces: China”, Flight International, p. 15

[19]Robert Farley, “China’s Military Has Nearly 3000 Aircraft”, The Diplomat, 17 May 2016.

[20]Ronald O’Rourke, “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities - Background and Issues for Congress”, Congressional Research Service, p. 10, 6 June, 2017.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid, p. 18-26.

[23] Ibid, pp. 18-19.

[24]Robert Farley, “China’s Under Construction Aircraft Carrier Isn’t the One to Worry About, It’s the One that Comes After”, War Is Boring, 5 November 2016.

[25] Ibid.

[26]Government of India, Ministry of Defence, Annual report 1963-64, p. 1.

[27]Summary of Records of Foreign Minister’s Discussion with General Maxwell Taylor, 21 December 1963. Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML), New Delhi: B.K. Nehru Papers: 1961-63, Subject File No. 17, (As Ambassador to the US, 1961-66), p. 153.

[28] Thomas, Indian Security Policy, p. 138.

[29]Yogesh Joshi, The Imagined Arsenal, p. 6.

[30] William W. Bain, “Sino-Indian Military Modernization: The Potential for Destabilisation,” Asian Affairs, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Fall 1994), p. 133.

[31] Thomas, p. 140-141.

[32]Tellis, Securing the Barracks Part 1, p. 81.

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