For Indians, their first experience with modern military technology began in the 19th century with European military campaigns in India. But in early 19th century machine guns, mobility – by wheeled automated vehicles and more importantly railways- and communication through telegraph lines, changed the face of warfare completely. And now in the 21st century, there is the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) that has brought home the importance of lasers and fibre-optics that are used in so many hi-tech weapon systems, that even the straight legged infantryman – often the last to receive technology – is now expected to be equipped to operate like a robot. In today’s battlefield, a commander aspires for total “situational awareness”, to know exactly where all of his troops are and exactly how the enemy troops are deployed at all times, with the ability to receive real-time intelligence on target after target.
In the coming century, technology would continue to play a greater role in the way militaries operate and India is no different in the matter. India’s armed forces are currently on a comprehensive and capital intensive modernisation plan, and for good. Over the next two decades, the combat fleet of the IAF will hopefully have 15 squadrons of Su-30MKI fourth generation air dominance fighter aircraft of Russian origin, up to nine squadrons of the fourth generation Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) from Dassault Aviation of France, seven squadrons of the Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft and 10 to 15 squadrons of the indigenous Tejas Mk I and Mk II Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).With the help of IAI, the air force is also undergoing a major upgrade programme for its fleet of Searcher Mk II and Heron UAVs.
After the upgrade, the IAF will be able to operate the UAVs from thousands of miles away through satellite communication data link. The Indian Army is not far behind with heavy investments in the future soldier programme to equip Indian infantry with future weaponry, communication network and instant access to information on the battlefield; in short make every soldier a self-contained fighting machine. In addition, the SPYDER and BARAK 8 SAMs are expected to help India develop a good surface-to-air defence system. The Navy commissioned its indigenously built INS Vikramaditya earlier in 2013, and has acquired four of the eightP-8I Poseidon LRMR aircraft from Boeing last month which will help India enhance its maritime surveillance capabilities. INS Arihant class submarines, although behind schedule, will propel India into an elite group of countries operating underwater nuclear-powered vessels.
All this makes India perhaps the world’s largest importer of weapons and defence technology, with a projected outlay for purchases over the coming decade in the range of about a USD 150 billion. Many observers rightly feel that if we had a more efficient military-industrial complex, this money could have stayed at home. But this isn’t likely soon. However, it is only with these purchases and plans for modernisation that India can counter, what it sees as aggressive incursions into a region that India has long dominated. The force multiplication this modernisation is likely to achieve will help India in fighting a limited conflict along the disputed border, and would work well to balance Chinese power projection in the Indian Ocean. Prime Minister Modi’s tougher stance against external threats is a welcome deviance from previous governments, but to follow up on the rhetoric, strengthening the armed forces must be accorded the priority it deserves. And the first step in this direction is to provide all the technology that India’s armed forces have been desperately seeking, to protect India and project its influence abroad.