Momentum that must be maintained
There is everything to be said for cordial India-China relations and moves to promote mutual ties. Equally, everything needs to be said for keeping one’s powder dry given the experience of 1962 when, thanks to Krishna Menon’s disastrous tenure as Defence Minister, an out-gunned and poorly-supplied Indian Army suffered a humiliating defeat at China’s hands. Significantly, 1962 did not come suddenly. That China claimed large tracts of Indian territory had become clear as early as 1957.
It reacted sharply when India gave sanctuary to Dalai Lama in 1959 and border clashes started. Yet, no serious effort was made to build up our military strength; nor was any effort undertaken to develop an effective network of border roads. Instead, an utterly ill-conceived strategy to set up isolated, difficult-to-supply border posts in the forward areas was devised. These posts fell in the face of Chinese offensive, despite heroic resistance by the men in olive green.
Talks notwithstanding, a solution to the border dispute remains elusive. Incidents have been occurring. Shockingly, thanks to the United Progressive Alliance Government’s procurement record, India is in no position to fight a war. The argument that the country’s nuclear arsenal and long-range missiles will deter China from launching a full-fledged war is engaging but ignores the possibility of its waging a limited war to coincide with a Pakistani invasion of Kashmir. Even if it does not lead to the loss of Kashmir, the loss of India’s prestige in the event of a drubbing, will be severe.
It is not only on land that New Delhi needs to be prepared. A recent policy statement issued by China’s State Council says, “The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.” It adds, “It is necessary for China to develop a modern maritime military force structure commensurate with its national security and development interests.” The policy statement also refers to cyber warfare and talks of the need to develop a cyber military force, describing cyber warfare as a “grave security threat.”
The need for a cyber command in India was sharply underlined in 2012 when Chinese hackers broke into the computer systems of the Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam where India’s nuclear submarine, Arihant, was undergoing sea trials, and again in 2013 when Chinese hackers reportedly breached Defence Research and Development Organisation’s network. Realising the importance of the subject, the three service – Army, Air Force, Navy – chiefs thereafter took the initiative in working out the contours of Cyber, Aerospace and Special Operations Commands.
The need to effectively operationalise each of the three is clear, as is that of enhancing naval preparedness which suffered horrendously during the two terms of the UPA rule. The strength of the country’s submarine fleet, for example, is a mere 40 per cent of the minimum requirement. Progress is being made. In October last year, the Defence Acquisition Council cleared deals worth Rs80,000 crore, including the indigenous manufacture of six submarines and Israeli Spike anti-tank guided missiles.
The fighter squadrons of the Air Force, whose strength came down to nearly 60 per cent of the mandatory minimum, will receive a shot in the arm with the arrival of the 36 Rafale aircraft; the decision to purchase them from the French Government has been announced. That, however, will provide only temporary and partial respite and the way to fill the numbers gap will have to be found now that the 126-aircraft Rafale deal has been scrapped. As urgent is the need to implement the procurement decisions to make up for the shortage of helicopters and other aircraft and 155 mm guns. While the recent developments have been encouraging, the momentum has to be maintained.