Date : 09/10/2023
Relevance – GS Paper 3 – Security Challenges
Keywords – PLA, Six Wars Plan, INS Vikrant, DPSUs
In the face of an evolving and potentially hostile China, India finds itself at a crucial juncture, necessitating the acceleration of its military modernization efforts. The recent developments in China, particularly President Xi Jinping's call for the modernization of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the ominous 'Six Wars' plan, have raised alarms in India. The need for a pragmatic and strategic approach to procurement is paramount, considering the complex geopolitical landscape and the urgency to bolster India's defense capabilities.
Understanding the Chinese Threat
China's unpredictable behavior and aggressive posturing, as evident in its unresolved issues along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and militarization initiatives, pose significant challenges for India. The country's internal issues, coupled with historical precedents indicating external conflicts during internal crises, necessitate a proactive approach on India's part.
Current Status of Indian Defense
India's defense landscape reflects a mix of foreign and indigenous equipment, revealing both progress and challenges:
- Satellites: India operates two military satellites - GSAT-7 (Navy) and GSAT-7A (Air Force). Plans for a real-time satellite, GSAT-7 B, for the Army are underway.
- Aircraft Carriers: India possesses two carriers, INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya, with plans for a third. Timelines, however, remain unspecified.
- Submarines: India has two nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and intends to construct four more for an effective triad.
- Ships: 68 ships are on order, boosting India's naval strength to about 165. However, this falls significantly short of China's 556-ship fleet.
- Fighter Aircraft: The Indian Air Force has 32 squadrons, set to reach 35-36 by 2030. The Tejas Mk 1A order is in progress, with plans for Tejas MK2 and six squadrons of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). Notably, Tejas Mk 2 and AMCA are in the design phase. India collaborates with the US for manufacturing GE F 404 engines in HAL Bangalore for Tejas aircraft.
- Army Modernization: The Army is focusing on modernizing infantry, surveillance equipment, tanks, air defense guns, long-range artillery, drones, rockets, and missiles.
- Defense PSUs: Restructured defense public sector undertakings (DPSUs) face challenges. To retain skills, promoting these companies abroad is crucial.
- Defense Exports: In 2022-23, defense exports soared to nearly Rs 15,920 crores. Despite this, the share of exports from Defense PSUs declined, while private manufacturers made significant strides.
- Cyber Security: India is enhancing cyber security capabilities but lags in comparison to China's advancements in Offensive Cyber Warfare using Artificial Intelligence.
Despite progress, India faces significant challenges, especially in comparison to China, which leads in key military capabilities. Emphasizing indigenous innovation, enhancing cyber security, and promoting collaboration with the private sector are crucial steps for India's defense modernization.
Accelerating the Pace of Modernization: Strategies and Initiatives
- Setting Priorities: Modernization efforts should focus on critical assets such as fighter jets, hypersonic missiles, aircraft carriers, submarines, tanks, and cyber security systems. Each service should delineate its essential requirements to streamline the procurement process.
- Empowering the Department of Military Affairs (DMA): The DMA, under the Ministry of Defence, should spearhead accelerated modernization efforts. Specialized procurement processes akin to those of esteemed institutions like the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) could be adopted.
- Private Sector Collaboration: Collaborative efforts with the private sector, exemplified by successful projects like BrahMos, Pinaka, and ATAGS, should be expanded. Private players should be given a level playing field and actively engaged in defense production. Notably, India currently has two dedicated military satellites – the GSAT-7 (Rukmini) and GSAT-7A (Angry Bird) used by the Indian Navy and the Air Force respectively. The GSAT-7 B satellite would be provided to the Indian Army, needed for real-time functionality.
- Cyber Security and Artificial Intelligence: Prioritizing cyber security and artificial intelligence is crucial. Engaging experts from the private sector in these fields can enhance India's capabilities in defensive cyber warfare. The Indian Army as well as the other two services are to create specialised units to strengthen their cyber security capabilities, defend networks and counter threats in the key domains of Cyber Warfare. While China is a leader on Offensive Cyber Warfare based on Artificial Intelligence, we have yet to progress in this field.
- Task Force Creation: Establishing a Task Force comprising high-ranking military officials, representatives from the three services, and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) can ensure streamlined communication and innovation. These representatives, acting as 'Sherpas' of procurement, should have direct access to top defense officials for swift decision-making. Defence exports for 2022-23 have skyrocketed to an all-time high, touching nearly the Rs 15,920 crores in the Financial Year 2022-23. According to the Ministry of Defence, exports include Akash, BrahMos, Pinaka missiles, Dornier-228 aircraft, thermal imagers, 155 mm Advanced Towed Artillery Guns (ATAGs), radars, simulators, body armours, mine protected vehicles etc. Despite all this the share of exports from the nine Defence PSUs has considerably reduced. On the other hand, there is a quantum jump with regard to private manufacturers though that needs to be increased in magnitude.
The Chinese threat demands a proactive, strategic, and pragmatic response from India. Accelerating military modernization through collaborative efforts, prioritized procurement, and active engagement with the private sector is imperative. The establishment of a dedicated Task Force can facilitate efficient decision-making and innovation, ensuring that India's armed forces are well-equipped to counter any potential challenges. As India navigates this critical period, a holistic and accelerated approach to defense modernization is not just an option but a necessity to safeguard its sovereignty and national security. With an emphasis on innovation, collaboration, and strategic planning, India can bridge the existing gaps and emerge as a robust force in the face of evolving geopolitical challenges.
Source – Indian Express