Millennium Post

Speed up defence modernisation

The Union Cabinet has just cleared a Rs. 80,000 crore proposal for modernisation of our defence forces. Earlier it had sanctioned another Rs. 40,000 crore for the same purpose. The decision has come not a day too soon. Defence has been the proverbial Cinderella of the government ever since independence. Even the Chinese aggression of 1962 failed to make us realise the importance of defence.

Most run-of-the mill politicians who eventually become legislators and then ministers have very little idea of so vast and so complex a subject as defence. The general thinking among politicians, especially those of radical persuasion, is that a poor country like India cannot afford the luxury of huge military spending. This is a misconception. How many of our politicians know that a foreign multinational manufacturing toiletry products repatriates more profit from India than the total budget allocation for Army modernisation (Rs. 13,000 crore) in 2013-14?

For a country of India’s size with over 14,000 kms of land border with Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, China (Tibet) and Myanmar and a long coastline (6100 kms for mainland India and 7517 kms including the coastlines of Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Lakshadweep Island in the Arabian Sea) and having two hostile countries in its west and north, defence should have been one of the top priorities but unfortunately it had not been.

The significant part of the new defence projects cleared by the cabinet is the emphasis put on indigenous manufacture of military hardware. As is well known, India is the largest arms importer in the world. Indigenisation has been neglected. One of the new projects is to build six  ‘stealth submarines’ over the next ten years at a cost of Rs. 50,000 crore or Rs. 8.33 crore per sub. Even allowing for cost escalation in the coming years the cost will be considerably less than, say, some of the American stealth submarines which, according to a last year report, cost around $5 billion or Rs. 30,000 crore apiece.

Stealth submarines have several advantages over ordinary subs. They have an electric drive and a new reactor plant that enable them to prowl under water with near silence for a very long time. Electric drives are much quieter than the current direct-drive method. An engine which is near silent is harder to find, the more so if echo-free tiles are used for avoiding detection by sonars. 

Development of stealth technology will be a great advance for India. A submarine, it should be borne 
in mind, is not meant to be a ‘show’ of force like an aircraft carrier but a ‘killer’ which can sink a ship with all its crew.

With China unilaterally claiming sovereignty over the whole of South China Sea and setting itself on a confrontation course with India, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, the strengthening of the navy has become an imperative for all the littoral countries in the region. Vietnam has already acquired two Russian Kilo-class submarines. These are more silent and stealthier than most of the nuclear-powered submarines. When the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dun was in Delhi last week, India agreed to provide it with four patrol boats under a $100 million Line of Credit. Both countries know it will annoy China. So the decision sends a diplomatic message that India and Vietnam will not be cowed down by Beijing’s threat.

With the opening up of the defence sector to private investment, the Tatas are tying up with the French Airbus to manufacture transport planes for the defence forces. Hopefully, the $20 billion French Dassault MMRCA Rafale deal will also not get delayed.

The NDA government’s emphasis on strengthening and modernising the army, navy and air force was long overdue. All future wars will be conventional ones, not nuclear or thermonuclear. Pakistani generals frequently flaunting the so-called nuclear card deserve to be laughed out of countenance rather than taken seriously. 

Pakistan knows it well- as we do and the rest of the world does- that any first nuclear strike by Pakistan on India will be suicidal for it, because the retributive second strike that will inevitably follow will not only be swift but wipe it out. And India will not be alone in retaliating. This is also true of China. It is precisely this fear that has prevented Beijing from a military conquest of Taiwan.

Whether it is with Pakistan in the west or with China in Arunachal Pradesh in the north-east or Ladakh in the north, it will be a short, intense conventional war and India must have the capacity to defend itself against and win such a war. India has to revive its ‘cold start’ doctrine and be prepared for fighting a simultaneous war with both Pakistan and China, should such an exigency arise. 
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