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India’s War Preparedness Neglected and Worrisome

Paper No. 5354                                        Dated 10-Jan-2013

By Dr Subhash Kapila

War clouds may not exactly be hovering over India but the seeds of war lay overwhelmingly strewn on India’s borders with Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and China Occupied Tibet. China and Pakistan, singly and jointly constitute a potent military threat to India’s national security. War can suddenly erupt on India’s militarily turbulent borders and this dictates the imperatives of peak-high state of war preparedness.

Taking into account the historical propensity of China and Pakistan to resort to armed conflict on contentious issues of territorial sovereignty, the contextual restiveness in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir which includes Northern Areas and in China Occupied Tibet, India needs to be wary of the strategic intentions of its proven military adversaries------China and Pakistan

The prevailing international setting which has a bearing on the South Asia strategic landscape does not provide any assurance or confidence that Pakistan and China can be restrained internationally from any military adventurism on India’s peripheries. The United States as the global and regional countervailing power for its own strategic considerations can be expected to stand aside in any potential military conflict imposed by China and Pakistan, singly or jointly.

With such an unsettling and threatening security environment it would have been a logical expectation that India’s war preparedness should have been maintained at peak-high levels, especially when the seeds of war strewn by Pakistan and China on India’s peripheries could sprout at short notice without any long lead times of warning or military preparation.

Regrettably, India’s current state of war preparedness, going by open reports, does not induce confidence that India stands well prepared to meet Chinese and Pakistani military threats, both direct and indirect. Matching the propensity of China and Pakistan to resort to armed conflict is the ill-matched propensity of India to lapse into prolonged periods of complacency on India’s war preparedness prompted by vain hopes that China and Pakistan share India’s yearnings for peace.

India’s propensity for lack of peak-high war preparedness arises not from any lack of professionalism or competency of Indian Armed Forces but primarily arises from India’s political leadership’s over-reliance on the “piousness of intentions” of China and Pakistan. This Indian political leadership’s misreading of intentions of its military adversaries arises from Indian political leaders personal inclinations for peace at any cost to avoid ‘hard decisions on Indian security’ and out-sourcing India’s foreign policy to Washington.

This aspect needs to be addressed first and put aside before moving to the state of India’s current war preparedness. Indian Prime Ministers, both past and present, were not rewarded by the Pakistani Establishment for their obsessive penchants for peace with Pakistan at any cost. Contrarily, this was misread by Pakistan as India’s timidity in face of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal. India’s ceasefire agreement with Pakistan of 2003 stood broken in 2007 when the present Pakistan Army Chief General Kayani assumed command. Thereafter there has been a long sequence of unbroken border firings and shelling incidents. The latest brutal beheading of Indian soldiers on border patrols should tragically convince the Indian political leadership that its “Aman ki Asha” dreams are not shared by the Pakistani Establishment.

China‘s over-vocal professions of peace with India have not been matched by any progress by China in a resolution of the long-festering boundary dispute with India. Contrarily, China deliberately uses non-resolution of the India-China Occupied Tibet border dispute as a strategic pressure point against India. India’s lack of protests on constant Chinese military intrusions leads China to believe of India’s military timidity in face of repeated Chines provocations.

Symptomatic of the Indian policy establishment’s complacency is the annual exercise in December every year of imposing cuts of thousands of crores of rupees on the Indian defence budget to balance its deficits in its books. This was alluded to by a former Defence Secretary in a media interview some time back and this year stands repeated as per media reports of an Rs 10,000 crores cut in the defence allocations.

Regrettably, what becomes apparent from the above is that India’s national security defence expenditures imperatives are held hostage to the Government’s corruption-ridden politically populist schemes, all in the name of social development. In the end-game the Indian Armed Forces are starved of much-needed funds for acquisition of badly needed weapon systems and up gradation of existing military capabilities and sadly the intended aims of social development are not met.

India’s war preparedness in the beginning of 2013 appears to be neglected and is worrisome in that the chronic disease of subjecting Defence Budgets to cuts-imposition of thousands of crores stands repeated again when India’s security environment is emerging as more threatening to India’s external security and internal security too.

Are we to believe that the Prime Minister and his National Security Adviser have some other inputs unknown to the Indian public that lead both of them to divine that China’s and Pakistan’s unfolding intentions and strategic formulations towards India have turned around to be “pious and benign” and therefore Defence Budget cuts imposed would not jeopardise India’s national security? Do the Indian Prime Minister and his National Security Adviser are conscious that delays in acquisition of sanctioned military hardware spiral into longer times of materialisation and thereby jeopardise the war preparedness of the Indian Armed Forces besides adding avoidable heavy extra costs?

India has a right to know as to what are the readings of the Prime Minister and his National Security Adviser on the strategic intentions of China and Pakistan. India has the right to know because India’s peak-high war preparedness or lack of it is directly related to the Prime Minister’s and his National Security Adviser’s assessment in this direction.

Without waiting for the emergence of the above an attempt is being made in this Paper is to make the Indian public and its parliamentarians conscious of the serious impact on India’s war preparedness by existing Government decisions and formulations. Indian Armed Forces must never again be subjected to a repeat military humiliation like 1962 which primarily arose from grievously wrong readings of China’s intentions.  Lack of war preparedness arising from the Indian Armed Forces being starved of defence allocations by the political leadership of the day was the attendant major factor for the 1962 debacle.

Ideally, the best way to highlight India’ position is to carry out a brief analysis of the war preparedness of the Indian Air Force, Indian Navy and the Indian Army briefly and in a manner intelligible for the ordinary Indian and all this based on information available in the open domain.

Air Forces of any nation provide the cutting edge of the combat potential of any nation especially in the current scenario of unexpected conflicts of short duration and high intensity warfare. In case of India, the Indian Air Force provides a vital component of India’ nuclear deterrence. It also has to cater for twin threats from China and Pakistan both of whom are nuclear weapons powers.

For more than a decade the Indian Air Force has been woefully short of 126 combat fighter planes which in lay man’s terms amount to the Indian Air Force fighting with one decapitated arm. Political considerations, lengthy political procedures for acquisition and sheer political apathy have robbed the Indian Air Force of its combat teeth to bite hard the enemy. This amounts to culpable political negligence and reflects the same apathy of the political class towards war preparedness as was prevalent in the period leading to 1962. Similar impediments dominate the speedy acquisition of replacements of the ageing transport aircraft fleet of the Indian Air Force.

The Indian Air Force to offset the critical deficiency of 126 fighter aircraft has been undertaking up grades of its existing fighter aircraft. With the imposition of Rs 10,000 crores cut on the Defence Budget in December 2012, both these programmes would be grievously affected. Air Chief Marshal Browne commanding the Indian Air Force is on record to this effect after the announcement of the budget-cut imposition by the Finance Ministry.

The Indian Navy ship building and fleet expansion programme is not matching India’s naval commitments of dominating the maritime expanse from the Gulf of Aden to the Malacca Straits besides having a controlling influence on the vast Indian Ocean expanse. There too lack of adequate funds allocation is resulting in a crawling expansion of Indian Navy combat ships and submarines. India’s coastal defaces are woefully short of assets for maritime and air surveillance. India’s submarine fleet is ageing and inadequate in numbers to meet the challenges of the Chinese Navy entering the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Army has been entrusted with the task of defending over 9,000 km of land borders and that too borders which have become more militarily active than ever before. Indian Army’s artillery and air defence artillery are crying out for modernisation with no substantial inputs in the last two decades. Bullet proof vests and protective body wear need substantial inputs. The list is endless and cannot be gone into here. But what can be gone into is the major impact on the Indian Army’s defence postures on the borders with its nuclear-armed military enemies.

Conventional military deterrence becomes more acutely critical when India’s military scenarios are dominated by a nuclear weapons overhang. Indian Army is no match for the Chinese Army in terms of both numbers and military weapons holdings. The vastly improved Chinese military infrastructure in Occupied Tibet has not been matched by similar accretions on the Indian side. Defence budget cuts and tardy implementation of the border roads networks affects the war-fighting potential of the Indian Army.

In relation to China, the Indian Army’s projection for raising a Mountain Strike Corps has been delayed both by non-allocation of the requisite budgetary allocations and the proclivity of the Prime Minister and his National Security Adviser not to ruffle China’s sensitivities. A Mountain Strike Corps would greatly enhance India’s conventional deterrence against China by its sheer existence.

The Pakistan Army stands infused in the last decade with billions of dollars of US military aid and advanced weapon systems which had no bearing on the so-called Global War on Terror. Resultantly, the Pakistan Army has out-stripped the Indian Army in terms of military up-gradations.

The ideal situation for the Indian Armed Forces would have been in terms of conventional warfare to attain a 2:1 superiority over the Pakistan Army and to vastly reduce the differentials in Chinese Army superiorities on India’s borders with China Occupied Tibet. Regrettably we are nowhere near that mainly because of inadequate defence budget allocations, sizeable cuts in defence budgets every December by the Finance Ministry to balance the budget deficits and the Indian policy establishment’s propensity for peace at any cost with Pakistan and maintaining a low military posture against China in the mistaken belief that this would not ruffle China’s feelings and avoid make China more intractable.

Concluding, rather sadly one would like to offer the following observations:

  • Indian Armed Forces need to be maintained at peak-high states of war preparedness to effectively deal with the China Threat and the Pakistan Threat.
  • India’s war preparedness and national security cannot be made hostage to wasteful expenditure on politically populist schemes for so-called social development
  • India’s war preparedness currently stands neglected or not being given top priority at the apex political levels and no monitoring of the same is being done in a systemic manner by the Prime Minister.
  • India’s effective war preparedness can best be achieved by the Prime Minister being in “Direct Contact” with the Indian Armed Forces Chiefs rather than in in a “State of Severe Disconnect” and managing India’s national security through a fossilised Civil-Military Relations template.

For far too long India’s political masters have counted heavily on the Indian Armed Forces professionalism, dedication and meeting the China Threat and the Pakistan Threat with “Optimum Utilisation” of existing military resources. Far too long a reliance on such a political outlook  could lead to jeopardising India’s security and its international standing.