Slumbering tiger, roaring dragon: How India's defence stacks up against its biggest regional competitor China
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The latest clincher in this list will be Prime Minister Modi's success at getting US, Switzerland and Mexico's approval for India's bid at the NSG. While the move gives India a realistic chance of getting past the door to the world's only nuclear cartel, it raises the country's stake in a region dominated by China.
But does all this give New Delhi an upper hand over Beijing? So where does India’s military might stand in comparison to its neighbour China? These four scenarios give us an idea:
India recently cleared the hurdle to join Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). This membership will make path for India to achieve high-end technology and also shape its engagement with nuclear proliferation group, which can positively impact India's bid to join elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) club.
A membership into 48-nation NSG will open wide-array of nuclear possibilities for India. India can get help from global markets to set up nuclear power plants. Apart from giving India the knowledge of state-of-art technology, it can also solve the problem of nation's energy crisis. Under this membership, India can also commercialize the production of nuclear power equipment. This, in turn will boost innovation and high tech manufacturing and can bring India into level-playing field with its dragon neighbour. Most importantly India's access to advanced nuclear technologies, will help it export power generators to other emerging economies.
However, China is a major stumbling block to country's NSG dreams. Backing Pakistan's membership bid, China asserts that India is not qualified to join the nuclear group, as the latter has not signed NPT.
China's military modernization, capacity-building, infrastructure development in Tibet, and moves into the Indian Ocean pose serious challenges to India's security. The alleged 'String of Pearls', an attempt to bring peripheral states into its circle of influence, only adds to India's geopolitcal concerns.
According to Pentagon's 2016 China military report, China is aggressively pursuing military modernisation. The report states, "The long-term, comprehensive modernization of the armed forces of the People's Republic of China (PRC) entered a new phase in 2015 as China unveiled sweeping organizational reforms to overhaul the entire military structure. These reforms aim to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) control over the military, enhance the PLA's ability to conduct joint operations, and improve its ability to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts at greater distances from the Chinese mainland."
India on the other hand is grappling to make available to its armed forces cutting-edge mobility, weapons and equipment. In the army, there is an urgent need to acquire approximately 3,000 155 mm/ 52-calibre guns to replace obsolescent guns and howitzers. In September 2015, Larsen & Toubro (L&T), in partnership with Korea's Samsung Techwin (STW), bagged a Rs 4,875-crore ($750 million) order for supplying the Indian Army with 100 self-propelled Howitzers-K-9 Vajra. However, the time of its delivery is still uncertain. The army is yet to acquire 'Dhanush', the indigenously-developed 155mm gun with 45 calibre having advanced features.
An assault rifle is a basic necessity for any military force. The Indian army's decade-long hunt for a new-generation assault rifle is still nowhere near finalization. Moreover, the army desperately needs 3,53,765 new bullet-proof vests. After almost 11 years, it will now get only 50,000 such vests for which it had to sign an "emergency" procurement contract worth Rs 140 crore.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is struggling with obsolete fighter jets. The MMRCA project to acquire 126 fighter aircraft to replace old MiG-21s is stuck. The deal to acquire 36 Rafale fighter jets from France still awaits finalization. The air force urgently requires AWACS early warning aircraft, mid-air refueller tankers, transporter planes, advance jet trainers, medium-lift helicopters, reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic warfare suites.
It was only recently when IAF admitted that it’s fighter squadrons are currently 33, much lower than the required 42 to ward off a joint threat from China and Pakistan.Taking stock of the threat, the IAF has prepared a 10 year modernisation plan. According to an ET report, "The plan is to share details of its requirements — from aircraft tyres to rotor blades and 3D printing technology, with specific quantities needed over 10 years — to enable private sector players to set up manufacturing facilities and replace imports." However, it is likely that we may have to wait for a long time to see the plan reaching actuality.
When it comes to naval fleet, Indian Navy’s strength is not as impressive as its neighbour China. According to the latest Pentagon estimates, China's PLA Navy currently possesses five nuclear attack submarines (SSN), four nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), compared to India's one functional nuclear Akula-class Chakra. India's indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant is still undergoing performance trials. Also, China has 28 destroyers and 46 frigates, whereas India has 10 destroyers and 14 frigates.
The Indian Ocean region (IOR) is the one of the most contested zones, where both India and China are trying to create a strategic influence. With two-thirds of the global oil, half of the container traffic and a third of the cargo traffic passing through it, the IOR holds a special significance for the entire world. With increasing signs that China is expanding its influence in the region, it is imperative for the Navy to have the best-in-class naval fleet to counter.
India accounted for 15 per cent of the volume of global arms imports in the last five years, more than three times as much as China, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Despite India's status as the world's largest arms importer over the last decade, the modernisation of its armed forces continues to take place at a snail’s pace. SIPRI notes that the reason for such large-scale import is that India's arms industry has "largely failed” to produce competitive indigenously-designed weapons.
China increased its defence budget by 7.6 per cent to $146 billion for FY17, citing militarisation of the Asia-Pacific, especially the disputed South China Sea, and deepening tensions with the US. This is almost four times that of India's outlay. At a time when India's armed forces are looking at modernisation, the capital outlay for defence in Union Budget 2016 has been slashed by 8.5% from last year's capital expenditure estimate.
Dissappointingly, an amount of Rs 78,586 crore has been allocated for capital expenditure. FM Jaitley in his last year's Budget speech had proposed a capital outlay of Rs 85,894 crore, which however was revised to Rs 74,299 crore.
The reduction in modernisation funds for the forces can prove detrimental to country's national security. An ET report states that over Rs 11,595 crore or 13.4% of funds earmarked for purchase of military equipment have been returned unspent. This limitation of non-availability and non-expenditure of funds for new procurement is reflected in the fact that the defence ministry has been unable to sign many new major deals this year (Rafale fighter deal, Self-propelled howitzers, M777 artillery guns, and additional P8I aircraft). "Army which is struggling with shortages in several areas ranging from modern assault rifles, bullet-proof jackets and night-fighting capabilities to howitzers, missiles and helicopters, is the worst spender," states the report.
The way ahead
The Centre must make efforts to revamp performance of defence PSUs, DRDO, shipyards, ordnance factories so that they are well equipped to indigenously manufacture nation’s defence requirements. Their laggard performance is a roadblock to India’s military prowess.
It is to note Modi-led government’s ‘Make in India’ vision allows greater participation of country’s defence industry and foreign companies to jointly manufacture warship, submarine, aircraft, helicopter and aero-engine . This gives Indian industry access to international technology and, the offsets policy allows them to export the products. In the new DPP , Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured procurement (IDDM) category under ‘Buy Indian’, has not only been introduced, but also been accorded the highest priority. This will surely help bolster the indigenous defence industrial base.
Making India self-reliant in production of its military requirements is the need of the hour. Also, a modernisation plan for each service must be created and the government must give high priority and assistance in achieving those goals.
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