Expert Speak War Fare
Published on Feb 22, 2017
Filling the capability deficit Poised to be the third largest economy by 2030 after US and China, India’s force structures and military capabilities are far below expectations.<1> Not just in comparison with the two world powers, vis-à-vis whom the gap is too wide to fill anytime soon, but also when assessed against New Delhi’s regional threat perception. For example, the inability of India’s “surgical strikes”<2> and diplomatic activism to quell cross-border terrorism from Pakistan and a costly purchase of 36 Rafale multirole fighter aircraft from France to fill the shrinking operational strength of the Indian Air Force underline the twin failures facing India’s defence planning.<3> Firstly, despite growing economic and military capacities in absolute terms, India’s defence “capability” (or enablers) remains underdeveloped. This is as much an issue of lacking the required technology (both hardware and software) to deal with a widening threat-spectrum, as much it is about outdated military doctrines and strategies. Secondly, though a long-term issue of wider scope, India needs to start developing its defence industrial base at a much faster a rate than it has demonstrated the will for. Instead of proposing a force outlay for India in 2030, this article concentrates on the various issues India faces today. Resolving some of these issues and addressing others, the article argues, will put India in a much better position to contain threats by 2030 instead of bogging down by “bean counting” exercises. The first section offers an overview of India’s evolving regional security environment, with emphasis on China and Pakistan. The reason for this is the endurance and potency of threats from these countries as opposed to instability in Afghanistan or Bangladesh, insecurity in the Indian Ocean, and cyber activism of the Islamic State elements. The second section highlights India’s existing doctrines and equipping the state to meet these threats. The third section analyses the state of India’s defence enablers such as Special Forces, interoperability and jointness, and C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance).<4> It advocates sharpening these enablers on one hand, and developing India’s defence industrial base with emphasis on R&D on the other. India’s Strategic Adversaries China and Pakistan have dominated India’s security and foreign policy thinking since Independence. Despite moments of conciliation, relations with Pakistan continue to remain tormented—and the trend is unlikely to reverse anytime soon. For instance, in December 2015, after a gap of over a decade, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a surprise visit to Lahore in Pakistan. Coming in context of heavy firing along the Line of Control (LoC), the move was cautiously celebrated and viewed as a step in the direction of peace. Another surprise breakthrough in Bangkok (Thailand), where the National Security Advisors of the two countries held talks, led to the institution of a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue. Prone to accidents, however, the dialogue broke down when four heavily armed militants attacked the Pathankot Air Force Station on January 2, 2016.<5> While Indian policymakers scurried for a response, militants associated with the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) executed the “deadliest attack on the security forces in Kashmir in two decades” in Uri in September 2016,<6> killing 19 Indian soldiers. This time, New Delhi openly responded by undertaking the aforementioned ‘surgical strikes’, wherein teams of Special Forces allegedly destroyed ‘launch pads’ along the LoC used by militants to infiltrate into Kashmir. Though not new, this was the first time India publicly announced an operation, signalling a shift in intent on how it plans to deal with cross-border attacks.<7> The surgical strikes, followed by escalation of violence along the LoC and India’s diplomacy to isolate Pakistan seems to be failing. As was visible in the 2016 BRICS Summit in Goa, neither Russia nor China were interested in entertaining Indian concerns. If anything, Indian armed forces lost nearly 89 soldiers in 2016 alone due to cross-border attacks,<8> prompting sections of the media to term it annus horribilis for soldiers posted in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The total number of casualties in the state for the period 2005-2016 stood at 6,012 (including civilians and militants)<9>—a sizeable figure when viewed in the backdrop of an existing ceasefire agreement since 2003 (the casualties were higher in the 1990s).<10> Pakistan’s strategy of keeping India off-balance and strategically frustrated, from this perspective, has been effective. Supported by Pakistan’s military establishment, which firmly controls the country’s foreign and security policy, a variety of militant actors are active in J&K (and in Afghanistan against the Kabul government as well as India). While the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is most powerful of these, others such as the JeM and the Haqqani Network (an Afghanistan-oriented group that helps LeT execute attacks against Indian installation in Afghanistan) form panoply of militant outfits threatening India. Deeply entrenched in Pakistan’s domestic sociopolitical landscape, clamping down on these groups can be exorbitantly costly for the Pakistani army. Therefore, even in the best-case scenario, where their capabilities are systematically degraded, these groups are likely to thrive till 2030. A terrorist attack similar to 26/11—with or without clearance from the Pakistani security establishment—would most likely lead to war between the two countries, even if under the nuclear umbrella. The violent status quo along the LoC ever since the “surgical strike”, in this context, plays into the hands of the Pakistani army without inflicting serious operational costs on them. Not only does it keep the Kashmir Valley on the boil, it also undermines India’s plan of using sustained military and diplomatic coercion as punishment, and shifts India’s focus away from its developmental goals. As the former Pakistani COAS General Raheel Sharif said before stepping down from office, “India should know that mistaking our policy of patience for weakness would be dangerous”.<11> Though India views it as rhetoric, coming from one of the most powerful and celebrated army chief in the history of Pakistan, the statement was loaded with intent, especially in light of the irrelevance of India’s conventional superiority over Pakistan. Islamabad’s expanding nuclear arsenal, a strategic weapons system that Islamabad wants to deploy even for tactical purposes, affords cover for asymmetric warfare, severely limiting New Delhi’s policy options (short of full-scale war). Even in the conventional domain, despite outmatching Pakistan by a ratio of 3.5:1 in per soldier expenditure, and fielding 1,346,000 active soldiers against Pakistan’s 644,000, India may not be able to overwhelm Pakistan.<12> Factors ranging from terrain and favourable deployment of Pakistani forces to a complete lack of surprise in most conflict scenarios, mitigate the few technological advantages India has over Pakistan. Thus, as noted by scholar Walter C. Ladwig III, “Indian policymakers cannot be confident that even a limited resort to military force would achieve a rapid result, which is an essential pre-condition for deterrence failure”.<13> Pakistan’s relationship with China offers strategic cover for its activities against India. Though longstanding, the strategic value of this relationship has increased (at least for Pakistan) in the wake of US tilt towards India, worsening relations with Islamabad, rivalry with China, and strained Sino-Indian relations. While there is good reason for skepticism about the extent to which Beijing would support overt aggression from Pakistan, there are equally valid concerns that China’s increasing economic footprint in Pakistan—in the form of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that comes under the umbrella of the One-Belt-One-Road (OBOR) development strategy—would make Beijing a stakeholder in a future India-Pakistan conflict. Though the viability of CPEC, given Pakistan’s precarious domestic security situation, is under doubt, China is unlikely to reduce its developmental footprint in Pakistan by 2030. In the military sphere, Pakistan accounts for 35 per cent of China’s defence exports, making it the largest recipient of Chinese equipment.<14> The two countries recently signed a USD 5 billion deal for transfer of eight conventional attack submarines (Chinese Navy’s Type 039 and Type 041 Yuan-Class), half of which would be supplied by 2023 and the rest by 2028.<15> In 2015, China promised to deliver 110 JF-17 Thunder jets, a lightweight single-engine multi-role combat aircraft, of which nearly 50 would be supplied by early 2019.<16> When viewed in context of India’s ageing fighter aircraft and submarine fleet—India shelved the Scorpene submarine deal with France after a serious data leak<17>—such Chinese support to Pakistan helps reduce (if not overhaul) the conventional military gap between India and Pakistan by 2030. Fluctuations in India’s own relationship with China exacerbates these concerns. Beijing’s muted response to Pakistan’s sponsoring of cross-border terrorism and proactive stalling of Indian attempts for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) have been two critical issues. Similar to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s celebrated 2014 visit, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited New Delhi and met Modi in September 2014. However, instead of becoming a historical breakpoint, the visit was sabotaged as a 1,000-strong contingent of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) crossed into southern Ladakh.<18> India responded by dispatching a 1,500-strong counterforce of its own, and called off talks unless status quo was restored. Not only did China refuse to clarify the Line-of-Actual Control as asked by Modi, but little emerged from the visit. Beijing’s proactive courting of India’s neighbours and moves in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) increases India’s strategic anxieties. In addition to seeking development of the Gwadar port (Pakistan), the Hambantota port (Sri Lanka), the Kyaukphyu port (Myanmar), and strengthening trade and political relations with both Bangladesh and Nepal, China recently invested in its first-ever IOR port in Djibouti.<19> Despite India’s access to Sittwe (Myanmar), Seychelles and Mauritius among other ports, the rate of Chinese expansion in the IOR puts stress on India’s “port diplomacy”. India’s capacity crunch is somewhat visible in Japan’s intervention to jointly develop the Chabahar port in Iran, which New Delhi views as strategically critical for access to Iranian, Afghan, and Central Asian markets.<20> In background briefings to journalists and analysts, Indian officials confess that the Sino-Indian relationship is undergoing its most difficult phase since 1962. Though the special envoys of the two countries have met frequently, and so have the National Security Advisors, there is little visible progress. Beijing’s support for Pakistan’s bid for NSG membership adds insult to injury. While intelligent and effective diplomacy from both sides can arrest this trend, the structural disparities between the two countries are increasing. In the economic sector, for instance, of the robust bilateral trade figure of USD 70.73 billion, India’s trade deficit stood at USD 52.68 in 2015-16.<21> Militarily, China’s defence budget stood at nearly USD 215 billion in 2015, more than four times that of India’s USD 51.3 billion.<22> With the number of active soldiers at 2,285,000, China’s manpower is also much higher—and so are its technological capabilities. India’s Response and Challenges   India’s strategic force structures (nuclear triad) and doctrines (no-first-use policy combined with credible minimum deterrence) are well developed. New Delhi has also begun investing in building transport and communications infrastructure along the China border, inducting Mountain Strike Corps, expanding its naval capabilities, and upgrading the Indian Air Force  (IAF) in response. However, there is still a wide gap between aspiration and reality. To bridge this, more recently, India emphasised on rapid military modernisation and redrafted the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP).<23> Intent on upgrading the lethality and mobility of its armed forces, India has been diversifying its arms import. This not only implies a shift away from its stockpile of outdated Soviet and Russian weaponry, but also suggests it becoming the biggest arms importer in the world (accounting for 14 per cent of global arms imports). In order to rectify import-centric procurement, DPP-2016 emphasises on ‘Make in India’ within the defence sector, and speeding up defence imports. Nonetheless, the Ministry  of Defence remains divided over the issue of strategic partnerships (SPs) i.e. whether to allow one company in one segment or allowing foreign players to ally with Indian companies in multiple segments such as ammunitions, aircraft, warship, target acquisition and other critical material.<24> Herein lies the dilemma. Indian companies require time to become internationally competitive—an investment the government can’t afford given the shortfall in India’s defence platforms. Heavy reliance on foreign players further hinders development of an indigenously-focused defence industrial base. While there is no end-date to reconcile such structural dilemmas, a clear vision with a workable plan should be articulated by the Ministry of Defence. One of the biggest and controversial decisions, for instance, was the purchase of Dassault Rafale multirole fighter jets from France in 2016 to fill an operation void in the IAF. After years of deliberations and failed negotiations over pricing with France, India decided on buying 36 ready-to-fly planes instead of its previous hope of procuring 126 fighter jets with a technology transfer clause built in. India is also inducting 3,000 indigenously produced 155mm/52calibre artillery guns and has signed a USD 737 million contract with US to buy 145 M777 Ultralight Howitzers. Aiming to ensure flexibility in mountainous terrain, these guns would replace the infamous but effective Bofors gun. Defence deals worth INR 43,000 crore were also signed with Russia to purchase air defence systems, jointly produce stealth frigates and Kamov helicopters.<25> Israel is keen on supplying cutting-edge technology, including ‘Litening-4’ targeting pods for IAF’s Sukhoi-30MMKI fleet, ‘Spice 250’ precision-guided munitions with a standoff range of 100 km as well as ‘Spike’ anti-tank guided missile systems, and missiles.<26> The Navy, too, despite various accidents in recent years, is inducting multi-mission platforms such as INS Chennai that are capable of shore bombardment, anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare, air defence, and defending strike groups.<27> Ostensibly promising, India’s military modernisation process (at the heart of India’s force structures) is wrought with systemic challenges. Firstly, most of these measures are stopgap i.e. India’s combat readiness and defence standards vis-à-vis China (but also Pakistan), till recently, have been despicably low. True, India is much better equipped to counter a Pakistani challenge similar to the 1999 Kargil intrusion or a Chinese aggression like in 1962. But it is not equipped to overwhelm Pakistan without crossing the nuclear threshold in case of a terrorist attack, thus reverting to old-style LoC battles. The infantry, for example, is still seeking a more effective rifle than the indigenous INSAS rifles, and there still is a dearth of tactical air mobility in the form of helicopters and night vision equipment (though drones have filled the gap to an extent, they are unavailable at brigade or battalion levels). This ongoing equipment acquisition then becomes an exercise in “catching-up” rather than being “competitive”. Secondly, despite the ambitious modernisation process, India’s military doctrines are woefully underdeveloped. Evolving from the Sundarji Doctrine, developed in the 1980s for “defensive” purposes, the Indian Army articulated “Cold Start” in 2004 after the failed Operation Parakram. Aimed at undertaking swift offensive strikes within Pakistan under the nuclear umbrella, “Cold Start” came under criticism for being operationally unviable.<28> Still, that did not stop Pakistan from developing battlefield tactical nuclear weapons to annihilate advancing Indian corps in the event of war.<29> While India has not responded by altering its own nuclear force structures, it evolved its doctrines from “dissuasive” to “active” deterrence, and begun to emphasise upon the use of offensive covert action (against Pakistan).<30> Thirdly, despite being aware about the need for high-quality indigenous defence production, there is little visible progress. This is despite the aggressive PR in favour of the domestically produced HAL Tejas and jointly produced (with Russia) BrahMos cruise missile. This is most indicative in the budgetary allocation towards ‘revenue’ and ‘capital’ expenditures by the government. In 2016, for instance, of the USD 52.2 billion defence budget (2.26 per cent of the GDP), nearly 52 per cent was allocated to the Army, 16 per cent to the Navy, and 22 per cent to the Air Force.<31> Of this total, more than 60 per cent is ‘revenue’ expenditure meant to cover operating costs, about 28 per cent is ‘capital’ expenditure on permanent assets, and the rest is for ‘capital acquisitions’.<32> Unless measures are taken to reverse this trend, without compromising on the welfare of soldiers, the dream of ‘Make in India’ will remain exactly that—a dream. A combination of strain in civil-military relations, questionable quality of tactical level military leadership, and inter-service rivalry form the fourth challenge. Lack of dialogue between military professionals, civilian bureaucrats and politicians has been a longstanding problem, often leading to mutual mistrust. Recent agitation over the one-rank-one-pension scheme and reports of alleged irregular movement of troops towards Delhi in 2012 highlighted the delicacy of India’s civil-military relations. Centralisation of security decision-making further erodes civil-military trust (NSA Ajit Doval was blamed for micromanaging counter-terror operations during the Pathankot attack).<33> Compounding this challenge is missing conversation between the three services itself. Undermining interoperability, competition between the three services has hindered development and implementation of joint doctrines. Enabling Indian Forces In the light of India’s widening threat spectrum, ongoing military modernisation, and the panoply of challenges it faces, how best can it secure itself by 2030? There are two broad issues that need to be worked upon with urgency. Firstly, India needs to sharpen enablers such as interoperability, Special Force capabilities, and C4ISR coupled with development of asymmetric capabilities. As scholar Shashank Joshi argues, more than the different land and air capabilities, such enablers are “crucial to India’s military power in both local and broader contexts”.<34> Secondly, India needs to take serious steps towards developing its defence industrial base with emphasis on R&D. Indian planners are acutely aware of the need for effective joint operations and C4ISR. Creation of the Integrated Defence Staff, the Andaman and Nicobar Theatre Command in 2001, the Strategic Forces Command in 2003, and the Defence Intelligence Agency after 26/11 were belated steps in this direction. However, without access to military assets and a limited resource set, these agencies remain toothless in comparison with the three services. Allocating more resources towards these agencies, which can then be tasked to overhaul India’s existing doctrinal state with emphasis on joinery, would be a start. To ensure further cohesion, establishing the position of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) would go a long way. Appointing a CDS has been a sensitive issue that brings out the insecurity of India’s civilian politicians vis-à-vis an all-powerful military position. In this context, the government’s recent decision to appoint a CDS, then, is a welcome move. A CDS can help bridge the operational gap between strategic and tactical level of warfare, which is often either taken over by politicians (Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962) or National Security Advisors. If instituted properly, a CDS can reduce civil-military mistrust and decrease inter-service rivalry. A separate Special Force Command for offensive clandestine operations should be created (akin to the US Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC).<35> The Indian Army’s Parachute Regiment can contribute towards this endeavour with active involvement from the Navy and the Air Force. Operating with limited technology, lack of centralised command, and poor skill sets, India’s Parachute Regiment does not currently fulfil the role of elite Special Forces. Directly under the CDS, such a Special Force Command can provide credible policy options to the government to undertake limited offensive action deep across enemy lines without majorly escalating conflict levels. It could, in fact, be a first step towards expediting India’s stated plan of developing integrated theatre commands that require effective jointness as a prerequisite.<36> Further, sharpening India’s intelligence gathering and analysis machinery is of critical importance. India’s aerial and satellite surveillance capabilities, for instance, have improved over the years. As Rajeswari Rajagopalan shows, a combination of IAI Searcher II reconnaissance drones, airborne early warning and control (AEWC) systems, and Israeli Phalcon radars have increased the IAF’s visibility considerably. India’s successful space programme has afforded a rich mix of military and dual-purpose satellites (RISAT-1 and 2, CARTOSAT-2A and 2B, GSAT-7, OCEANSAT-2, TES, and the INRSS).<37> HUMINT under the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), and TECHINT under the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), however, remain shrouded in secrecy—making assessment difficult. Functioning from the Cabinet Secretariat, there is no oversight of R&AW and NTRO’s activities. This has often led to both over and underestimation of these agencies’ potential. More worryingly, it is argued that R&AW’s capabilities have been undermined due to rivalry with other agencies such as the Intelligence Bureau, and the Military Intelligence. Intelligence observers remain sceptical about R&AW’s covert offensive architecture in the neighbourhood as well.<38> These agencies could be brought under parliamentary oversight, both to ensure reduced inter and intra-agency rivalries and also to develop efficient intelligence cycles and accountability. Finally, in addition to the above-mentioned aspects, India needs to allocate more funds towards developing a strong defence industrial base. This would be difficult in the light of 7 percent GDP growth rate. India could allow private companies to enter the industry (and not just support big businesses like Reliance), cut red tape within India’s premier defence research organisation (DRDO), and emphasise on higher resources allocation towards R&D. China’s sophisticated defence industrial base that allows indigenous production of conventional as well as asymmetric weapons such as Anti-Satellite (ASAT) systems (that could be transferred to Pakistan in future) is a challenge to India’s security and aspirations. Working towards narrowing this gap by 2030, in addition to plugging the “capability” gap, should be on top of India’s defence agenda. This article was originally published in ‘Defence Primer'
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