On the face of it, India’s military strength looks impressive. But what is worrying defense analysts is whether India can fight a war with Pakistan or China for more than 10 or 15 days without seeking foreign help.
The doubt arises from the Indian armed forces’ organizational and industrial shortcomings. Its defense industry is palpably weak.
The issue of preparedness has come up for discussion because of the continuing Sino-Indian military standoff at Doklam on the Sino-Bhutan border which is threatening to break into a shooting war any time.
Early this week, China claimed that India has reduced its deployment in Doklam from 400 to 40 men, in the face of Chinese doggedness. But India denied the Chinese claim on Wednesday saying that its force level remains the same as before (about 350 troops). Therefore, the danger of an India-China war persists.
With 1.3 million under arms, India has the second largest standing army in the world after China’s. Besides, it has 1.2 million in reserves and 1.4 million in its paramilitary outfits. It is believed to possess 90-110 nuclear bombs. Its defense budget is US$ 51.3 billion, which is 2.3 % of its GDP.
The much smaller Pakistan, has a 600,000 standing armed force, 300,000 men in reserve and 100-120 nuclear war heads. Its defense budget is US$ 9.5 billion which is 3.4% (higher than India’s figure).
The India-China gap in military strength is glaring and worrying. China’s Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA), which includes its navy and Air Force, has 2.3 million men and women. This is to be cut by 1 million soon, but only to arm it better and make it “lean and mean”.
China’s paramilitary comprises 500,000 persons. It has 260 nuclear warheads,. Its defense budget is a whopping US$ 214.8 billion. But as a percentage of the GDP it is a minuscule 1.9%.
India’s armed forces look good on paper. In addition it has a long fighting experience in a variety of terrains and situations. India has topped the list of global arms importers in Asia, and has also emerged as the second largest in the world after Saudi Arabia (between 2011 and 2016).
But it is palpably inferior to China and is, at best, on par with Pakistan, making it impossible for it to live up to Indian Army Chief Gen.Bipin Rawat’s boast that it can fight on “two and half fronts at the same time.”
According to defense commentator Ajai Shukla, India’s arms are of the 1970s vintage. According to Jane’s, the Air Force’s 45 MIG 29K jets are up to 40% not airworthy at any given point of time. India had 13 submarines at one time, but now it has less of them than Pakistan. India has been trying to devise or buy a suitable field rifle since 1982 but it yet to succeed. It has not made or purchased a medium range gun like the Bofors gun, since the Bofors guns were bought in the 1980s. The army’s officer cadre is short by 40%.
India lacks a unified tri-services command structure and the integration between the three services at the ground level is virtually non-existent.
But besides all this, India’s defense industry, though large (the outlay for it is a whopping Rs. 250 billion by the last count) is inefficient and incompetent. No country can fight a prolonged war without a strong defense industry to keep it going. But even after 70 years of independence, India is still importing 70% of its arms.
Even Pakistan is exporting its Al-Khalid battle tanks and J-17 fighters, while India is not in the world market as a seller. China, of course, is a major arms manufacturer, though it is still 20 years behind the top dogs in the field, namely the US and Russia.
Speaking at a public forum recently, the Vice Chief of Army Staff, Lt.Gen.Sarath Chand, said that Pakistan has a better defense industry than India. Being almost entirely in the public sector the Indian defense industry is weak because there is no competition and no motivation to innovate, do better and faster.
In an article in The Statesman on August 1, Maj.Gen. Harsh Kakkar, pointed out that the overheads in the Indian ordnance factories are as high as in other public sector undertakings in India. Therefore, costs and prices are high. Because of a lack of innovations and quality consciousness, products fail at the field level. Twenty officers were killed in an arms depot explosion at Pulgaon when anti-tank mines exploded due to a TNT leak. Complaints to the manufacturing companies went unanswered as usual.
Manufacture of arms gets delayed because parts are not available or are not made available on time. The tank factory at Avadi near Chennai, delays delivery because of non-availability of parts. There is also wanton wastage as in the case of truck manufacturing. The Vehicles Factory is located in Jabalpore, but the parts are made by Ashok Leyland at Bengaluru. The parts are transported to Jabalpore to be assembled over a thousand miles when this could easily have been done at Ashok Leyland at Bengaluru.
Writing in the Indian Defense Review, Brig Arun Bajpai says that India’s defense industry comprising 41 ordnance factories, 42 laboratories and eight Public Sector Undertakings is under performing because it is working on inherited pre-independence principles.
Recommendations of two committees to reform the system to meet modern needs, made since 2003, have been ignored. Bajpai notes that it is only now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unshackled the tri-forces from the mandarins of the Defense Ministry by empowering the Vice Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force to take financial decisions.
In the past few years,and especially after Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the “Make in India” project, the private sector has been roped into the hitherto highly restricted defense production area. But in a media interview, a private sector representative, Vinay Kaushal, said that annual policy changes make it very difficult for private sector to participate.
Furthermore, the interest rate on bank loans is high at 9.65%. And it takes months to get the required clearances from multiple agencies and ministries apart from the Defense Ministry.
And lastly, there are organizational problems. Apart from the absence of military involvement or representation in the Defense Ministry, there is no coordination between the services at the top.
The post of Joint Chief of Staff is a temporary one for any chief, as it goes from service to service on a rotation basis. But even with a Joint Chief of Staff, there is no coordination at the field level. With the result ,there is no coordination even in war time.
During the war over Kargil in Kashmir in 1999, it took 15 days for the army to get government permission to involve the Air Force. In the 1962 war with China, the Air Force was not used at all. In the 1965 war with Pakistan,the Navy was not used. It was only in the 1971 war to liberate Bangladesh from the Pakistan, that all three services were used for the first time.