Snapshot of 2016 military modernisation in India

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

 A mixed year of  hits and misses, what is most pertinent for defence policy is military modernization and overdue defence reforms

The year that has gone by has been a mixed one as far as defence forces of India are concerned. It started with an attack on Pathankot airbase . Observers were quick to point out that this was a reply to Christmas 2015 visit of Prime Minister Modi to Pakistan. Little do they realise that planning for an attack of this magnitude could not have taken place in a week. Nevertheless, this exposed a chink in the security of military bases in India. The subsequent attacks in Uri in which 17 Indian soldiers were killed kept the world waiting about India’s response. What India replied on September 29, 2016 with a ‘surgical strike’ has signalled a new normal in India-Pakistan face off. India’s defence spending at about US $ 48 billion as per the 2016-17 budget stood at the sixth position in the world rankings with China at number two.  The successful testing of 5000 plus Km range Agni V missile on December 26 has China genuinely worried.

According to defence economist Laxman Behera, the finance minister made a key change in the nature of allocation of defence budget. However, the capital expenditure component (that effectively indicates the acquisition) of about 10% (army), 30% (Air Force) and 40 % (Navy) is something that must worry the policymakers. There is a renewed thrust on Make in India as far as thrust on technological improvement is concerned. But how much it has impacted on capability is something that is highly suspect. The import bill is still phenomenally high. Prime Minister Modi rightly pointed about using technology to reduce manpower costs and making military leaner.

The Navy hosted an International Fleet Review that saw participation from more than 50 countries. With power projection and the goal being a ‘net security provider’ in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the naval display was undoubtedly the centre of attraction. With the nuclear submarine Arihant getting its punch in the form of an operational ballistic missile, the second strike capability has been completed. Of course, the Scorpene documents leak in August has put in a brake in the conventional submarine capability proving that dependence on foreign suppliers will always be with a caveat. In November, the largest ship made in India, INS Chennai guided missile destroyer was inducted. The year ended with Navy exercising with Russia in the Bay in Bay of Bengal. With a goal of 200 ship and 600 aircraft in 2027, the maneouvres of the Indian Navy would be closely watched by the US. For this is the capability that would be most vital if the US looks for a partner in developing its ‘pivot’ in East Asia as a counter to China. Justifiably, India is inching closer to sign defence agreements—the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) and Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA).

The Indian government signed the landmark Rafale deal to bolster the strike capability of the Indian Air Force. Although the outgoing Air Chief Marshal Raha stated the numbers are inadequate, he vouched for its exceptional technological superiority.  With Tejas being in the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) stage, the IAF is optimistic about the aircraft to replace its ageing MiG 21 and MiG 27.

While the recent appointment of army chief had its share of controversies, the government has indicated that it will move towards the much needed joint chief of defence staff in 2017. This long standing reform will hopefully propel the military toward greater potency and ‘bang for buck.”

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: India Gate by Arian Zwegers from creativecommons.org

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