According to one recent official Indian document, India will spend a massive $130 billion to bolster combat capability of the armed forces in the next five to seven years. The document says the Indian government will work on a broad plan to speed up modernisation of the army, navy and the air force under which a range of critical weapons, missiles, fighter jets, submarines and warships will be procured in the next few years. “The immediate priority is to fast-track infantry modernisation, including procuring 2,600 infantry combat vehicles and 1,700 future-ready combat vehicles for the Indian Army. Another key priority is to procure 110 multirole fighter aircraft for the IAF.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to appoint a chief of defence staff (CDS), who will act as head of the Indian Army, Air Force, and Navy because there was sheer lack of coordination between the Indian Air Force and Indian Army during the Kargil war of 1999.
According to a report by Abhinav Dutta, “India’s defence industry, however, has failed to manage India’s defence requirements as of today. India is one of the largest arms importers in the world as the indigenous production of technology is one area where India continues to struggle. India’s defence preparedness, therefore, remains a question as some of the most crucial requirements in various services of the Armed Forces have not been fulfilled because of severe deficiencies in the defence industry. India’s land forces lack sophisticated weapons and armoury, the navy’s submarine fleet has dwindled down to 40 percent of the minimum requirements and the fighter squadrons are at the level of 60 percent of the mandatory need which, indeed, is a cause for concern considering the slow pace of India’s defence modernisation.”
However, given the track record of Indian government and armed forces, not much is expected. There are lots of obstacles in the way of the modernisation plan. In the past, the pace of modernisation of the Indian armed forces has been sluggish and technologically deficient.
Historical reviews of the Indian weapon imports show that India did not have a long term weapons procurement strategy while it also opposed the domestic private sector from intervening in defence manufacturing. There seemed to be no innovative break with the past and no aim to supply the armed forces with weapons to maintain strategic flexibility. There have been several reports of intense lobbying for senior positions at the Indian defence ministry and even armed forces personnel calling on Indian politicians so as to have a pie in the massive yearly Indian weapons procurement programme. If there is a well-meaning, long term, strategic procurement policy in place, such jockeying for lucrative posts and behind-the-scene corruption scandals cannot happen. The Bofors scandal is one example in which top Indian leadership was found to be involved. Now the Rafale issue is there for the Indian Supreme Court.
It is also true that foreign envoys in India are posted with the mandate to try and sell weapons by luring the top Indian armed forces officers, bureaucrats, politicians, especially those belonging to the Ministry of Defence. Because such foreign diplomats are welcomed by the top Indian brass, consequently the Indian Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) is ignored by the policymakers.
As such, the ‘Make in India’ wish has been mostly a pipedream for the domestic Indian industry, which has unable to produce even the required main battle tanks and light combat aircraft. The defence self-sufficiency and research are largely elusive and non-existent while there is little defence indigenisation and proper production. It takes time to select and induct a new weapon system and train proficient manpower to handle it.
According to Indian defence analysts, Pakistan is an immediate threat to India while China will be a medium term threat. Therefore, they believe that India should focus more on Chinese military threat because if India is prepared for China, it can tackle two-front wars.
At the same time, both Pakistan and China cannot ignore the modernisation of Indian armed forces and massive spending of $130 billion and have to take defensive measures of their own.