Defence on high
Early this month, Gen. Bipin Rawat, army chief, warned of the possibility of India having to fight a 'two-front war' with Pakistan and China simultaneously. He was speaking at a seminar of a defence think-tank – the Centre for Land Warfare Studies – in New Delhi. The possibility is, indeed, very real. In any future war with Pakistan, China may open a second front in the east. While China starting a local war (the face-off at Doklam might have led to one) is likely to tempt Pakistan into opening hostilities in the west. Keeping this possibility in mind, India's defence forces have undertaken a number of short- and long-term measures.
The present trend the world over is not to prune the numerical strength of the army but to give it more 'teeth'. China has decided to downsize its 2.3 million strong army – the largest in the world – to around a million, as a part of its restructuring programme. In India there is no plan, at least in the foreseeable future, to reduce the number of men-at-arms, but to give the armed forces more 'bite' and might. An army of dedicated scientists working in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is on the job, building hardware and software either purely indigenously or in collaboration with Russia – our time-tested friend.
In June last year, India became a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which it had till then been fighting shy of signing. Membership of the MTCR removed the obstacle for India to import missiles which have ranges over 300 km and carry payloads of over 500 kg.
Immediately thereafter, India and Russia undertook a programme of increasing the range of the supersonic BrahMos missile from the present 290 km to 600 km, while also making it more lethal. Eventually, its range may be increased further. A range of 600 km will bring the whole of Pakistan within the missile's range. The indigenously developed Agni V has a reported range of nearly six thousand km, though this is not officially confirmed. What is now officially confirmed is that India is working on Agni VI which will have a range of 8000+ km. China understands these implications for itself.
A corvette is a naval vessel. One of its primary objectives is to detect and destroy submarines. Last November, the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers of Kolkata delivered INS Kadmatt, an entirely indigenously built corvette, to the Indian Navy. The ship is named after one of the islands in the Andaman and Nicobar group of islands. Certain features of Kadmatt make it a 'stealth' vessel. It has low engine noise and low infrared radiation which makes it difficult for a submarine to pick up its IR 'signature'. It is designed to work in theatres of nuclear, biological, and chemical wars.
Yet another big defence project is on the anvil now. This is India's Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). India and Russia are to develop it jointly. It will be a multi-billion dollar project, the 'ground work' for which is being completed. The contract is expected to be signed by the year-end. The project was delayed because of certain complications like the transfer of technology of the aircraft to India for its eventual indigenous production and the number of aircraft that will be ordered by India for the first batch, took time to resolve.
In any future war with China, the navy will play a massive role. It will not only have to ensure the security of the Malacca Strait. As China has set up a naval base in the East African country of Djibouti, almost on the lip of the Suez Canal, in any future war the protection of the Suez Canal, to make it safe for the thousands of ships of every nationality that pass through it, has to be ensured. The task may have to be undertaken jointly by a number of countries including India. The South China Sea – over which China claims its absolute suzerainty – will be another critical area in any future war. It has already caused much bitterness between China on the one hand and India, Vietnam, Japan, the Philippines, and the USA on the other.
In any future armed conflict, whether localised or total, the three wings of the defence services will have to function in close coordination. The need has long been felt for integrating the three services and creating the post of a Chief of Defence Staff as the head of the proposed Unified Command. However, the Government, whether UPA or NDA, has been dragging its feet on the proposal, it is time an early decision was taken.
India is lagging behind in its defence preparedness in many respects – from infrastructure-building in the Sino-Indian border to acquisition of critical military hardware. The depleting fleet strength of the Indian Air Force needs special attention. The recent Doklam conflict found us with stores of ammunition, not enough to sustain even a ten-day-long war. This did not happen overnight but grew over a period of time. Such a situation should never be allowed to recur again. We must not be caught off-guard in any unexpected or unforeseen contingency.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)