India’s Grand Strategy – Part 5: Need for military modernization

By Nitin Bajaj


The two extremely difficult challenges that pose an imminent internal security threat to India are the insurgencies in India’s Northeastern states and in Jammu & Kashmir and the need for military modernization. Both of them have existed since India’s independence in 1947. To a lesser degree, there is also the threat of the insurgent group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, (LTTE) operating in Sri-Lanka. Though the tigers had largely subsided after the Indian Army’s decisive action through 1987-1990, there still remain occasional insurgency threats to the people of Tamil Nadu in southern India.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say that the problem of Naxalism is the single biggest security challenge ever faced by our country.”

                                      -Manmohan Singh

The tribals living in the Northeastern states, sitting at the feet of Himalayas, called the “Nagas,” had demanded for an independent sovereign nation for the tribals at the time of independence. They were eventually settled with a separate state of Nagaland. But the problems never subsided and in fact spread to most of the Northeastern states. These states share common borders with Bhutan, China, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. Today, there is emerging a different kind of extremism called the Left-Wing Extremism (LWE). The evolving Communist Party of India (Maoist) based on the Marxist philosophy is growing every day and currently claims a membership of over a million supporters. Domestic terror groups are growing in the lack of appropriate economic benefits to the deprived and a growing communalization of domestic politics. In all these states, there are estimated to be around 160 different tribal groups and over 400 sub-tribes. The situation becomes severe in the lack of any popular representation and hence violence plays its colours in the dark.

The Kashmir problem is not only a challenge from the national security point of view in the context of Pakistan. There is a growing domestic insurgency problem. It is true that much of the domestic upheavals are closely linked to the disturbances caused form the Pakistani side, but there has been a lack of domestic reforms and an elongated military control of the state has exasperated the masses. The current government under the young National Conference leader, Omar Abdullah, has failed to deliver the reforms. It would be an immense challenge to reconcile the separatist groups and bring economic development back to the state. China has continuously been increasing its military presence in the Pakistan occupied part of Kashmir.

Counter Insurgency Capabilities: In all the places, especially in Kashmir, the counterinsurgency operations in the last decade have been performed by the Indian army. The responsibility for India’s internal security is that of the Home ministry, which often coordinates and seeks help from the Ministry of Defense and sometimes the External Affairs ministry. Army is in the forefront of India’s counterinsurgency efforts. The Indian experience in COIN has shown that the Police do not have the training or the leadership to combat terrorism and insurgency without help from the Army (Colonel Behram A Sahukar). But India has built up various paramilitary forces to help the state police in these efforts. Special training camps are being held to train against the guerrilla tactics of the insurgents. The categories of the paramilitary forces to counter insurgencies have increased to include the names such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Border Security Force (BSF), Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP), National Security Guard (NSG), and the Rashtriya Rifles (RR). But the domestic intelligence agency- Intelligence Bureau (IB) has still not undergone the kind of modernization required to cope up with the insurgency prevalent in India, today. India has built the necessary personnel force but the strategy in the future would be to arm them with better rifles and other equipments. Equipments such as light armoured vehicles, night vision, etc. Also, it would be really important to back the counterinsurgency forces with the appropriate intelligence required to crack those insurgency operations.


“Power is a notoriously elusive concept. The question of how one can de?ne, list, and identify the different facets of national power is one that has long preoccupied social scientists. The numbers and characteristics of infantry battalions, ?eets of vessels and columns of tanks seem to provide clear, straightforward, and easily quanti?able indicators of a country’s growing clout.”

                                 -Iskander Rehmann, Fellow at Carnegie Endowment for Peace

Following the Indian parliament militia attack of 2001 by Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist organizations, Indian authorities decided to revamp its military expansion and modernization campaign rapidly. Today, India has the second largest standing army in the world with 1.3 million serving men and women. An additional one million is kept in reserves. In 2001, India’s defense budget was $11.8 billion but by 2011 it is more than thrice that number at $36.3 billion.

 The Indian Air force is based more or less on the cult of British Royal Air force and hence gives extra emphasis to flight capabilities. The Indian Air force possesses more than 665 combat capable aircrafts. Constant efforts are made to acquire fourth and fifth generation aircrafts. The capital expenditure to buy new advanced aircrafts and weapons from Russia and France is expected to touch $20 billion by 2015. India’s navy is focused around the aircraft carriers. It has had aircraft carriers since 1987. Currently the Indian Navy possesses one aircraft carrier- The HMS Hermes transferred by the British Royal navy in 1987 and renamed as “INS Viraat: Centaur-class carrier” by the Indian Navy.  The second one, the Soviet Admiral Gorshkov, renamed as “INS Vikramaditya” is expected to be delivered to the Indian Navy by the Russians in 2013. India has also started building it’s first aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant: 40,000 ton Vikrant-class carrier, which the Cochin Shipyard Limited is expected to deliver to the Indian Navy by 2017. The year 2009 also marked the launch of India’s ?rst indigenously designed nuclear submarine.

In order to meet future threats and challenges and achieve interoperability with U.S. and other friendly armed forces for joint operations in India’s area of strategic interest, the Indian military needs to modernize and create force structures that are capable of undertaking network-centric warfare on land, at sea, and in the air (Gurmeet Kanwal, 2012). Modernization is especially required in the air-defense system. In April this year, the retiring Indian Army chief wrote a startling letter to the Prime Minister saying that the army’s air-defense system is “97 percent obsolete” and the tanks are “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks.” Those are critical factors to be addressed as soon as possible.

With China’s rapid military expansion, India still seems to be far away. Many experts concede that India would have to rapidly catch up and invest more resources into technically advanced weapons systems in order to continue India’s rise as a global military power. Gurmeet Kanwal, a New Delhi based defense analyst estimates an approximate $100 billion worth of defense equipments that India would need to import in the next 10 years to sufficiently maintain its military rise. Much of that expenditure is based on India’s calculated threat assessments from China. Some would argue that India’s military modernization desires emanate from the need to having more prestige in the world. It might seem an obvious accusation levelled against a rising state. Talking about prestige, as Barry O’Neill said, “It is important even within a strategic approach to international relations since states may use it to judge quality or they may bandwagon, choosing who to support depending on what they expect others to do.” Prestige certainly plays its part in the Indian military modernizations as India strives to build important relationships in the 21st century. But it is not the most significant factor. In fact if that were so, then India would have already done a Pokhran-3 testing and enhanced its first and second-strike nuclear capabilities. India’s military build-up is a direct result of an increasing Chinese threat and Pakistan’s unrelenting animosity.