India’s Defence Modernisation – A Sordid Saga Of Negligence And Missed Opportunities

China has been making regular incursions into our territory on the northern and north-eastern front. Taliban, with the help of Pakistan, has taken over Afghanistan. All these developments have exponentially increased the security threat that India faces as a sovereign republic. In such a critical time, India’s military preparedness needs to be high.

With Pakistan increasingly becoming a vassal state of China, the entire geographical expanse comprising of Pakistan, Afghanistan and China has become one contiguous geopolitical entity inimical to India. Are we as a country prepared to face this three-front military threat staring in our face? 


The excruciatingly tardy pace of weapons acquisition mired in the labyrinthine bureaucratic red tape has rendered the brave Indian armed forces effete and ineffective. This unpreparedness has prompted Pakistan to indulge in brazen misadventures against India, like plotting the Mumbai attacks of 26/11 and an attack on our parliament before that.

China too has joined in the revelry and made incursions into Indian territory at many places, including Ladakh and Pangong Tso and in Arunachal Pradesh. A violent clash between the two armies in Galwan last year led to several casualties on both sides. All these incidents have sharply brought the focus back on India’s defense preparedness as these skirmishes may escalate into a full-blown war. A deeper analysis is warranted.

State Of Affairs

Since independence, our lawmakers have had a very lackadaisical approach towards national security, resulting in the loss of one-third of Kashmir to the marauding forces of Pakistan. This was a wake-up call for the policymakers in the government but to no avail.

The complacency in military matters continued and resulted in national shame in the year 1962 when we suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Chinese. As a knee-jerk reaction, we did purchase a few squadrons of MiG-21 to augment our airpower, but there was no overall strategy to strengthen and upgrade our defense preparedness.

The Indian Army has fought four wars since independence, but the soldiers do not have an assault rifle they can depend upon. Till now, they had been using the INSAS rifle, which has many problems sometimes leading to the death of soldiers operating them. It is only now, after more than 70 years of independence, that the government of India has signed a deal with Russia to manufacture AK-203 rifles in India. This modern rifle from the Kalashnikov stable would help our soldiers put up a good fight against the terrorists and our enemies.

After the Bofors scam came to light in 1987, the Indian Army has not purchased a single piece of a new howitzer. As a result, its artillery, which is the staying power of an army, is not battle-worthy and only has vintage value This is in sharp contrast to our enemies who manufacture their own artillery.

All attempts at producing state-of-the-art artillery indigenously have proved to be futile till now. The K-9 Vajra recently inducted has been a sigh of relief for the Army. The story is not very different when it comes to tanks.

The Arjun Main Battle Tank has repeatedly failed to come up to the expectations of the Indian Army even after several trials and many upgradations resulting in cost overruns. The savior in this regard has been the Russian T-90 which are manufactured in Russia. India has to depend on Russia for supply of spare parts to ensure the serviceability of these tanks.

This makes the army vulnerable as the supply can be constrained during war as geopolitical affiliations are very fickle in nature and can change at the spur of the moment. This can put India’s sovereignty in jeopardy.

This sorry state of affairs continues with the Indian Air Force as well. The IAF is currently operating with 32 squadrons whereas its sanctioned strength is 42 squadrons for a two-front war. Of the 32 squadrons, around 10 consist of MiG-21 of 60’s vintage and referred to as flying coffin because of high pilot deaths that occur. The MiG-29, the Jaguar and the Mirage are all nearing the end of their lifespan and need to be replaced.

The LCA Tejas (Light Combat Aircraft) project was sanctioned in 1983 to replace these. HAL was supposed to give them to the IAF in the year 2001. They have not been able to provide the IAF with these indigenous fighter planes till now. It is beset with many operational difficulties.

The attempt to manufacture an indigenous jet engine named Kaveri proved to be a complete failure as the engine could not generate the necessary thrust. Around Rs. 6000/= crores of taxpayer’s money went down the drain in this effort and now assistance is being sought from companies like Snecma of France and Rolls-Royce of UK to fabricate a new jet engine. Let us hope the venture becomes successful.

As a stop-gap measure, we have recently inducted two squadrons of Rafale multirole fighter aircraft from France. That has restored some confidence for the Indian Air Force as it is a very potent combat jet.

We need to remember that the enemy will not wait for us to get equipped properly before it strikes. In fact, the warfare tactics prescribe that you should hit your enemy when it is weakest, and no wonder China has done exactly that.

The navy is in dire straits too. The focus of naval warfare has completely shifted below the sea and nuclear-powered submarines are the name of the game. Under-sea warfare is where the Indian navy is very vulnerable because of lack of submarines, both conventional as well as nuclear powered. The Indian navy needs 24 submarines; 18 conventional and 6 nuclear powered to be able to protect the Indian shoreline. The Kilo-class submarines that the Indian navy operates were inducted in the mid-80s have served their life span and must be replaced immediately.

The first of the Scorpene-class submarines of French origin were inducted as late as December 2017. Of the six to be inducted, three have been inducted and commissioned and the other three are in last stages of completion. As far as nuclear powered submarines are concerned, the Indian navy is operating an Akula re-christened INS Chakra leased from Russia and talks are ongoing for leasing another one. India operates only one SSBN presently, namely the INS Arihant.

Indian Navy's fifth Scorpene class submarine Vagir launched - The Economic  Times

India has not been able to master the nuclear reactor technology required to be able to make SSNs and has to depend at the mercy of foreign nations like France and Russia for them whereas China builds its own nuclear submarines. This is the grim scenario in which the Indian armed forces operate and yet have been able to maintain the country’s territorial integrity while facing challenges on both fronts.

The Way Out

On the face of it, the situation looks hopeless but all is not lost. There is light at the end of the tunnel. There is a very good model to emulate in order to upgrade and improve the war preparedness of our military—the BrahMos model. It is a joint venture between Russia and India to manufacture supersonic cruise missiles. Initially, around 40% of the missile was manufactured in India and the rest was imported from Russia.

Over the years through a continuous process of technology absorption, the entire missile is now being manufactured in India. We could similarly enter into joint ventures with other countries for various other weapons platforms like jet fighters, submarines, helicopters, tanks, artillery etc. It also helps to strengthen strategic relationship with those countries.

It is like striking two birds with the same stone—we get the weapons platform we desire along with improving bilateral relationship between the two countries. Hope this can awaken the defense ministry officials from their slumber and the armed forces can look forward to being equipped properly before venturing out to fight another war.

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