As India actively aspires to shape its security environment in South Asia and beyond, the future set of demands on the Indian military will be heavily influenced by its evolving global and regional environment. India is situated in a difficult neighbourhood where security threats are expected and predictable but can also be unexpected and unforeseen. Combined with the increasing need to project power in the extended neighbourhood, this extended threat spectrum posits a new challenge.
Future threats and conflicts cannot be won by copying past responses and older means of warfare. India's current defence spending priorities are, however, heavily weighted towards traditional means of war-fighting and conventional modes of deterrence. Current postures favour large-scale conflict in the form of a “two-front war”— an almost negligible forward presence, limited lower-end and versatile assets, and a lack of strategically mobile forces — which leaves India with limited options in responding to contemporary limited-intensity operations, like missions such as non-combatant evacuation, disaster relief, small-scale raids, and combat search and rescue.
Budgetary constraints also mean that the armed forces will not be able to invest in technological solutions wholly to leapfrog their war-fighting capabilities. Adapting legacy platforms to the changing requirements and bringing innovations in war-fighting doctrines and strategies will be the key in dramatically increasing the range and precision of the Indian armed forces to observe, nominate, and prosecute targets.
The government and the armed forces need to prepare themselves for this challenge. The Defence Primer
will lead off from the principal challenges to India — long, disputed, and militarised borders with Pakistan and China — and further explore visible technological and capability gaps vis-à-vis the ever-widening threat spectrum. It will also address India’s ambitions as net security provider in the Indian Ocean and the technological/ doctrinal innovations required for those capabilities.
Strategic Flexibility & Presence
India’s military capabilities will have to keep pace with its diplomatic outreach and geopolitical ambitions. In a fast-changing global scenario, the military deployments of the future will be dictated by challenges that may not be limited by traditional boundaries of a nation-state. These challenges, when coupled with conventional challenges, are likely to create deployment scenarios which need wide-ranging military tactics and platforms. They may at times seem redundant, but military capabilities cannot be created in a short period of time. Moreover, the best way to prevent a future conflict is to be prepared for it.
The Indian military thus needs to better invest in a diverse range of dynamic forces and assets to effectively counter adversary challenges along the full spectrum of conflict, particularly in those contests that may occur below its conventional strategic thresholds. Effective deployment, both in terms of speed and distance, is probably the greatest contemporary challenge facing the Indian military. As such, it may be useful to consider how the rapidity of a force deployment serves the policy objectives for which armed force is needed. Rapid deployment capability is expensive and weighing the costs involved in obtaining this capability against the benefits it accrues is therefore crucial.
Key in building on the potential to deploy and operate out of area will be Indian access to certain military bases in the region — like Diego Gracia, Djibouti, Bahrain and the Australian Coco (Keeling) and Christmas Islands — to extend out-of-area humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as anti-submarine warfare operations. Agreements like the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement with the United States, hold the potential to enable and extend these operations deep into the Indian Ocean. While mutual consent is a tenet of the agreement, Indian access to certain foreign bases would be mutually reinforcing, and is worth exploring given the potential to reduce the demands for logistical ships and tanker aircraft when combat assets need to be deployed.
If India intends to protect maritime approaches into the Indian Ocean at the Malacca Straits, Sundra Straits and the Gulf of Aden developing partnerships in the region needs to be central in its ambitions of sea control and maritime denial.
To do this in the short term (10-15 years), the Indian Navy will need to build up the ability to consistently maintain a deployed presence at key approaches in the Indian Ocean Region and the capability to monitor and prosecute targets in wide swathes across this space. Maintaining an approximate 3.0 presence (i.e., three platforms on station 12 months out of the year) in ships/submarines and anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare aircraft in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Gulf hence remains critical to Indian foreign policy and defence posturing.
(The table will be inserted in a small map of IOR)
|Bay of Bengal
|Maritime Patrol Aircraft
*Deploying one platform requires one more in maintenance and one in training.
Aviation assets and platforms supporting and complimenting them will remain key in giving New Delhi the reach it wishes to acquire. There is a corresponding need for acquiring force-multipliers and developing tactics to maximise the potential of such expensive platforms. Current disjointed procurement plans of aviation assets between all three services (Indian Air Force, Navy and Army) and the complete disregard for fleet standardisation by reducing the number of aircraft types have resulted in logistics-heavy platforms and little interoperability. These are important considerations because fleet standardisation reduces maintenance, training costs and improves interoperability/combined arms operations and platform availability for deployments.
The current organisational structure of the Indian armed forces, where each defence service operates in its own silo, is not conductive to joint military action. Jointness in command at theatre level is an eventuality that needs to be imbibed by the three services at the earliest. A future challenge cannot be met without a unified military head — not merely an advisor or coordinator — providing direct support to the top political leadership. The current government has repeatedly spoken about creating such a post, and clearly joined the debate on this subject.
This debate is especially urgent as jointness is linked to the funding issue which will drive New Delhi’s cooperative sourcing of capabilities. India’s defense preparedness and capability-development efforts will ultimately depend on building an efficient system of defense procurement, indigenous production capability, and acquisition reform in order to sustain this modernisation.
The fundamental issue relates to the quantum of funds allocated for national security, and the share of those funds for defence modernisation. While the defence budget has fallen to about 1.7% of India’s GDP, a larger share of funds is now being allocated towards salaries, pensions and other operating expenses. The shrinking amount for capital expenditure is leaving the military short of its desired state of modernisation. Reforms have been initiated to streamline the procurement and acquisition process, and create indigenous defence development and production capacities, but these will do little to ameliorate the current state of military equipping in the immediate future. The capabilities for the future, even if thought through and accepted by the government, can only be acquired if adequate resources are made available for them. This needs a change in mindset and approach, which can be expected from this government, which is showing greater signs of acting on India’s geopolitical ambitions.
The challenge to achieve the blue sky capabilities that are required under various circumstances and in different aspects as discussed in this primer, will be predicated on a stark assessment of the current state of play and an honest appraisal of the means available with the country. The Primer hopes to act as a catalyst for ideas and options for India’s security community as the Indian military goes through a number a structural and technological changes.
This article was originally published in ‘Defence Primer'
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