The question that is often asked by military analysts is that: “given India’s changing profile as a nation on the rise- what are the security challenges that lie before India?” The answer is not easy, but with the hindsight of over six decades now, one could possibly categorize these challenges as non-conventional threats (read nuclear); conventional threats (like the wars of the past) or sub-conventional threats (from battling terrorists to insurgencies). To confront all these together – and not many countries have to deal with all of them together – India needs to make considerable investments in modernizing its armed forces and security agencies. Though normally clubbed together, they are separate entities, and fall under at least two different ministries (Defence and Home, by the way). But these differences have become blurred, no doubt, as the threat of war seems distant compared to the increasing herds of fanatical suicide bombers.
But as India is one of the few countries with two nuclear armed neighbours – an aggressive China and an increasingly unstable Pakistan – it has little choice but to arm itself with a ‘minimum but credible nuclear deterrent’ capability. What this requires is an annual investment of Rupees 20,000 crores (US $ 4 Bilion) for the next five or more years, to put in place an effective ‘nuclear triad’ to launch nuclear weapons from land, sea or air and an arsenal of ballistic missiles, long range bombers and nuclear armed submarines. As yet, India has only a few of these, like the yet to be perfected Agni missiles; and Sukhoi 30 MKI and Mirage 2000-5 fighters. But India does not have enough AWACS aircrafts, so essential for operational control from air, and is still to have effective nuclear submarines in its inventory. And therefore India’s coastal cities remain vulnerable. In fact, as the terrorist attacks on Mumbai on 26 November 2008 have shown, India’s conventional maritime surveillance is poor.
Moreover, India is yet to declare a clearly defined nuclear command authority (though there is a national strategic forces headquarters) nor does it have a clearly defined red line for a military response in the event of a nuclear and missile attack on India. But if what the West has done is anything to go by, then India would need a missile shield (like the patriot missile of the Gulf War on 1999, or Israel’s more advanced Arrow system now in place) and a defined set of standard operating procedures on how India might respond if attacked. During the Cold War years, it was argued that nuclear weapons allowed Governments to cut down the heavy expenses on manpower and standing armies, but that was in Europe, which had no insurgencies to battle. But India’s case is different.
Equally important is to prepare to battle several terror groups that could easily disrupt the stability that India so desperately needs, for its economic growth. Any one or a combination of these tensions could spark off a short but a dangerous limited conflict – like the one near Kargil in 1999 – which could then tempt India or Pakistan to use nuclear weapons to settle all scores. The biggest Indian concern is the agenda of the Pakistani establishment to target India’s economy and its modern temples of growth such as, the IT industry. The threats to India from hard-line Islamic groups – of the sort that Pakistan is infamous for – are now a major threat to global and regional peace. This was glaringly evident from the orchestrated Special forces with Tavor assault rifles attacks on commercial targets in Mumbai on 26 November 2009. Such high profile terrorist attacks gets them noticed. Either way terrorism is there to stay and to fight it successfully we would require the participation of every Indian, at all levels. It cannot be left to the Indian State since Governments today cannot do it all alone. However, conventional police forces and regular armies are often ill equipped, to counter terrorists.
Perhaps the best way to fight a terrorist is like a terrorist. That means, to have forces that are lightly armed, but highly trained with exceptional ability and mobility ( with planes and helicopters to move at short notice) and superb communications, so that every terrorist threat – and there would be many more as we go along – is a responded to with efficiency and urgency. India has a few such outfits- the NSG, the Navy’s Marcos and the Army’s SSG- but it needs more. As these are the wars of the future, so India must create more dedicated military units for such low-intensity conflicts, even though India’s armed forces abhor such ‘little wars’ and say that this isn’t their role (wanting instead to fight the next ‘big’ war). The truth is that big wars are passé, now that a nuclear equation prevails between India and Pakistan. It’s the little wars that’ll keep India’s forces, busy in future. In fact India’s conventional military forces, while remaining alert and suitably trained to thwart border intrusions, have had the longest experience with insurgencies since it began in Nagaland in 1954; and in Kashmir since 1990, and now in India’s entire North East. But to guard India’s borders, India’s armed forces desperately need better long range artillery and newer tanks (possibly T-90’s, Challenger, M1A2 Abrams, etc.) for the Army, two more air craft carriers for the Navy and air crafts that can hit the enemy sitting on fortified positioning in the mountains (like A-10 Thunderbolts) in case of another Kargil like Pakistani adventure. But India has none of these. And as the media brings up the ghost of the Bofors deal from time to time, it inadvertently puts the clock back on India’s desperately needed military modernization, because no one is now willing to approve the ‘wish list’ of India’s brass hats, fearing a controversy!
The picture therefore, is a mixed one. While India’s current defense budget of over US$ 46 billion, (with an additional $9 billion on its police forces) makes India the world’s seventh largest military spender, this is still inadequate, as its defence industrial sector yet to meet the bulk of India’s military wish list. This makes India perhaps the world’s largest arms importer – having overtaken China in 2013 – with 70 percent of its inventory still being imported. Analysts say that by 2020, India would have overtaken Japan, France and Britain to become the world’s fourth largest in defence spending, as India prepares to spend US $ 200 billion on weaponry over the next 15 years. This should prove as an incentive for those looking for a market, to quickly move into India, while preparing for long delays in the procurement process and being careful not to be clubbed with the increasing list of companies that have been black listed, for alleged irregularities.
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