According to latest SIPRI Report India topped China as the largest single arms importer. Between 2006 and 2010 it received almost 10 percent of the total volume of international transfers of “major conventional weapons”. It goes on to add that India spent nearly US dollars 40 billion in 2009 to modernize its armed forces and protect itself against perceived regional threats, namely from China and Pakistan.
It further says that India is in the midst of a very ambitious re-armament programme. It is devoting large sums of money to the acquisition of a range of military equipment from abroad, most notably fighter aircraft but also naval systems and a number of other types of equipment and that looks set to continue.
It is interesting to note that despite above massive expenditure on defence purchases every year there is a clamour among strategic community and defence services about the inadequacy of defence allocation in terms of percentage of GDP to meet the minimum modernization needs of the armed forces. Response from the government is that the money will not be the constraint to meet the genuine needs of the countries defence.
From above discourse question arises is what has been the consequences of these massive imports in terms of threat mitigation. If the answer is ‘very little’ then the next question which unfortunately is never debated or discussed adequately is for ‘for what purpose are these large sums being spent and the nature of the military capability being developed? Is the aim is merely to maintain the territorial integrity of the state in a defensive construct or is it to develop hard power to secure and maximize India’s growing strategic space to cope with future challenges?
Unfortunately both the propositions i.e. territorial integrity and maximization of nation’s strategic space are interlinked given the nature of challenges faced by India. If we were to consider current threat perspective, Pakistan has been waging a proxy war against India with near impunity ensuring large amount of Indian forces are tied down in low intensity conflict operations. In addition Pakistan is slowly but steadily building both its conventional capability by on one hand leveraging war on terror and US’s TINA (there is no alternative) factor. Pakistan has been squeezing out of the US equipment like attack helicopters, armoured personnel carriers and surface to air missiles among host of other equipment all in the name of fighting a war on terror. On the other hand strategic collusion with China, has seen not only sale of conventional weapons on friendship prices but transfer of technology and joint projects as recently concluded strategic dialogue between Pakistan and China would indicate. Added to the above is the growing nuclear nexus that is helping Pakistan develop its nuclear arsenal. Pakistan is the only nuclear weapon state that has twin weapon production lines, based one based on enriched uranium and other on plutonium which it is producing at its Khushab I, and soon to be operational Khushab II and III allowing it to build a nuclear deterrent of over 100 weapons. Pakistani nuclear weapons development programme is backed by elaborate missile development capability resulting in majority delivery systems being based on missiles releasing its air force for offensive air operations. Above in effect allows Pakistan to wage unabated proxy war against India and squeeze so called space for limited war through cultivated irrationality in terms of nuclear war fighting doctrine and brinkmanship in terms of single rung escalation. Thus our ability to execute punitive strategy to deal with future acts of terror is getting incrementally restrained. What is worse we appear to have started to shoot ourselves in the foot by playing down our pro active response doctrine (Cold Start). Our response to Mumbai 26/11 unquestionably highlighted this strategic weakness.
Now let us turn to China. By all indications China is not only marching ahead in its military modernization primarily through indigenous capability development, but in the process acquiring capabilities to integrate military operations in all domains, ground, air, maritime, space, cyber space and information and can be said to be at the threshold of acquiring real-time net centric capabilities, backed by large standing armed forces. Under the overall rubric of active defence Chinese doctrinal thinking is veering toward two specific areas. One is what the Americans call ‘anti access strategy’ or what can be termed as ‘area denial’, this strategic thought is based on the strategy of the technologically weak to deal with the challenge posed by militarily and technological strong and construed to deny access to United States, in case of Chinese possible intervention over Taiwan and other areas like the South China Sea or the Indian Ocean. This is backed by clear and precise politico – military – technological thinking, in terms of developing capabilities for standoff attacks against both adversaries’ military resources like the carrier task forces and the air force assets deployed along the rim at places like Japan, South Korea and in the Pacific or in the West Asia. The overall aim being to ensure “effective strategic deterrence” through demonstrated capabilities such as anti ship ballistic missiles, anti satellite weapons, offensive and defensive use of space, through direct energy and electromagnetic pulse weapons, cyber attacks and information warfare etc.
Second is called a ‘no contact war’ this is a strategy aimed at political coercion through stage managed political, economic, and psychological effects – tactics apart from political and diplomatic coercion include demonstration attacks, with focus on both military and non military targets with low collateral damage to maximise political gains. The entire concept of “No Contact War” is aimed at striking at key points to paralyse enemy’s entire range of politico-military systems aimed at immobilizing its command structures. Two possible dimensions; include “intimidation warfare”. Comprises military pressure or show of force i.e. actions short of war, including build up and large-scale military exercises, computer network attacks, electronic attacks, psychological operations and provocative air and naval activity.
Targets of such a strategy include economic, infrastructural and networks aimed at producing political dislocation and coercion. Forces employed for such attacks include, Theatre-Range Ballistic Missiles (TBMs) - CSS-6 and CSS-7 equipped with manoeuvrable re – entry vehicles, short and medium-range ballistic missiles (S/MRBMs). Precision strikes by cruise missiles, counter network operations (attack, defence and exploitation), IW/EW attacks, in the backdrop of minimal force deployment to include regular and Special Forces.
At the high end of the intimidation spectrum is “Paralysis Warfare” that could include cyber warfare and electronic attacks, missile strikes including long-range precision strikes, special operations and sabotage. All aimed at achieving a quick, decisive victory by “rapidly paralyzing command and control system and political and military nerve centres.
A major deduction emerging from above is that both Pakistan and China either stand alone or in concert are engaged in what can be termed as ‘coercive and in many senses ‘no contact war’ one through proxy using militants and radical cadres for exporting terror attempting to destabilise Indian state and second through coercion and intimidation which include border tensions, enlarging its footprints in POK, cyber intimidation attacks, raking up visa of issue and nuclear collusion with Pakistan among host of other provocations to keep the political establishment destabilised.
Basic issue emerging out of above discourse is that our adversaries will engage us on their terms and are unlikely to fight us on our perceived conventional strengths. They will seek asymmetrical advantage and employ range of war fighting techniques which could be sometimes simultaneous in both time and space domain. What is more important is that their logic will not be our logic therefore understanding of their intent is the challenge that must confront us in our capability development programmes at great cost to the exchequer. Important issue thus is how we structure our response to these challenges, mere political response without demonstrable dissuasive deterrence of the type China is developing against the US to maximize its options will not work. Second issue thus is structuring of the response to the provocative challenges posed by our adversaries. This brings in the question as to the very nature of future wars that we need to fight and shape our doctrinal thinking on their conduct. Fundamental issue that needs to be addressed is do we continue to develop capabilities for fighting ‘force on force’ kind of attritional wars based on large scale conflicts employing corps and divisions or develop standoff capabilities for access and area denial, backed by conventional forces.
Above determination is a fundamental to our capability development that ensures ability of our antagonistic neighbours to interfere in India’s strategic neighbourhood and within India remains minimal. This demands development of capabilities that can either deny or increase the costs of unilateral strategic involvement on the Indian periphery. Current attritional platform centric thinking I am afraid does not fit the bill. If dissuasive deterrence is the leit motif of Indian doctrinal thinking backed by ability to manage escalation, then a serious review of our capability based perspective planning is required.
What India needs is the capacity to both prevent inimical interests to subvert India’s economic and political rise while maximising India’s sphere of influence in concert with its rising regional and global aspirations. Put in simple terms India needs to develop military capability that raises the cost of intervention in any asymmetric challenge posed by our adversaries. It is this perspective that requires debate and review, before India goes about spending billions of dollars on capacity building or modernising its armed forces, above entails not only force planning but more importantly doctrinal review.
Brig Arun Sahgal (Retd) is Consultant IPCS and Distinguished Fellow at the School of Geopolitics, Manipal Academy of Higher Education
(The views expressed in the article are that of the author and do not represent the views of the editorial committee or the centre for land warfare studies).