Greater strides in defence
Amidst border tension, India steps up to be net security provider, pushes defence manufacturing, writes Anjali Ojha
Amidst tension on both the eastern and western borders, and continuing terror attacks, India in 2017 took a step towards playing the role of the "net security provider" in the region and also pushing domestic defence manufacturing in the country.
The year also saw India getting its first full-time woman Defence Minister in Nirmala Sitharaman who, since taking over, has visited a number of installations across the country, including the forward areas. The minister also started a new norm of meeting the services chiefs daily and vowed to clear all pending projects under consideration of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) by year-end by holding fortnightly meetings.
The year saw India bring in a new system to push the private sector in defence manufacturing in the country, with a chapter on Strategic Partnership being added to the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) in May.
The first contract under this arrangement, where an Indian private company will be selected for tying up with a foreign company to manufacture certain crucial defence equipment, is yet to be signed.
India being the largest importer of arms -- accounting for 13 per cent of global arms imports between 2012 and 2016 -- both former Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and his successor Sitharaman have talked about the significance of domestic defence manufacturing and the need for the country to have more local components in its military equipment.
Ceasefire violations spurted along the India-Pakistan frontier, with 771 being reported on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir -- that is under the Army's operational control -- up to December 10 this year. This is a three-fold rise compared to 228 by Pakistani forces in 2016.
Along the India-China border, while no bullets have been fired in 40 years, a 73-day stand-off was witnessed at Doklam in Sikkim over the building of a road by the Chinese military in the area that is claimed by Bhutan. Indian troops stalled the work citing the disputed status of Doklam and its proximity to a key artery in the northeast. The crisis was reportedly resolved on August 28 after both the armies retreated from the point of the face-off.
As the two nations were in a wait-and-watch mode, Indian Army tightened its preparedness at the eastern border and so did China. The period also saw a scuffle between Chinese and Indian soldiers in Ladakh and a spurt in the number of Chinese ships in the Indian Ocean.
Submarines and ships of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) have maintained a regular presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) in the name of conducting anti-piracy patrols, with an average of seven to eight PLAN ships in the region at any given time. But, in August, for about two weeks there were 14 Chinese Naval ships in the IOR, which has been attributed to the vessels heading for an exercise, and a changeover in anti-piracy patrol duties.
Maritime security came in the forefront of India's defence and diplomatic negotiations with a number of friendly nations, and the trilateral Malabar naval exercise between India, the US and Japan from July 9-17 that saw China bristling.
The Indian Navy re-oriented its deployment philosophy to Mission-Based-Deployments to fit its role of being a "net security provider" in the region and had its ships in international waters from the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden in the west to the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman sea in the east on permanent deployment.
A total of 65 Indian Navy warships had been deployed at various times on anti-piracy operations till December 17, safely escorting more than 3,788 ships, including 405 Indian ships. Till date the Indian Navy has thwarted 44 piracy attempts and apprehended 120 pirates.
Maritime security also remained at the forefront of India's diplomatic and defence engagements with a number of countries, including the US, France, and Singapore which has offered its Changi Naval base close to South China Sea to India for logistic support to Indian Navy ships.
While Malabar saw India's prominent naval exercise with the US, India and Russia held their first ever tri-services exercise -- Indra--in 2017.
The armed forces also pitched in for search, rescue and relief operations after a number of natural disasters in the country, including flood relief operations in several states, including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Bihar, the Ockhi cyclone in Kerala and also in providing aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
Some progress, though small, was made in the inclusion of women in the armed forces. The three women fighter pilots inducted in the Indian Air Force in 2016 continued their second phase of training and two more women fighter pilots -- Flying Officers Shivangi Singh and Pratibha -- were inducted in the force this year. Six women officers of the Indian Navy, meanwhile, started their circumnavigation -- Navika Sagar Parikrama -- on an Indian-built sailing vessel, INSV Tarini, the first by an Indian all-women crew under sail. The expedition was flagged off from Goa in September and is likely to conclude in March 2018.
Also in September, the Indian Army announced it would induct women in the Corps of Military Police.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)