What ails India’s defence forces

Image result for pics of Indian tanks on maneuver

Size and brass buckle traditions are what the Indian military is known for internationally — third-largest army, fourth-largest air force, seventh-largest navy — and not for its quality, operational dexterity, or innovative use of technology.

Worse, it is growingly tainted by ‘big’ corruption — with uniformed officers in the defence ministry’s procurement loops partaking, along with their civilian counterparts, of the usual goodies on offer — ‘commissions’ channelled into secret offshore accounts, or bribery in kind such as foreign trips, shopping sprees in Paris, London, Stockholm, and ‘scholarships’ and ‘green card’/resident and work visas for progeny, etc. for facilitating deals for foreign armaments and hardware.

Very occasionally, due to sheer bad luck senior officers get caught with their hands in the till, as Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi was. The former air force chief was indicted by the CBI for taking a bribe from Italy’s AgustaWestland Company in a 2010 deal worth Rs 3,600 crore for 12 of its AW101 helicopters to outfit the Indian government’s VVIP fleet.

More advanced militaries periodically transform themselves to conform to evolving technology and best management principles. So, post-World War II vintage forces emphasising mobility and firepower acquired proficiency in network-centric warfare and are now sharpening their fighting capabilities in the cyber warfare realm. The Indian armed services, however, have been slow and often tardy.

The problem, in a nutshell, is this: After 20 years of discussion, the armed services are yet to agree on a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) system of centralised command and control — indispensable for the conduct of modern war. In the realm of digital communications and data fusion where owing to a multitude of land-, air- and space-based sensors, the unfolding battlefield is clearer in real time to a CDS sitting in Delhi than it will be to the frontline unit commander, and will permit him to take decisions to fortify the defensive posture here, switch the axis of attack there, insert special forces in a third place.

Just in Asia, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fully transformed itself thus in less than a decade. The Japanese military accomplished it inside of two years, inclusive of a radical operational reorientation away from the Russian-occupied Kurile Islands and the Kamchatka Peninsula southwest-wards to the Senkaku Islands and the East Sea, and the setting up of seven theatre commands, to confront China. Not surprisingly, even when it comes to cyber warfare, these two militaries are top-rated.

Unfortunately, the Indian military resembles the turgid Indian bureaucracy. Set in their old ways, the armed services flub the basic test: instead of the main security challenge —  China — they key on Pakistan, which is more nuisance than threat. So the country pays through its nose to sustain an entirely inappropriate force structure featuring three armoured strike corps boasting thousands of useless tanks that are only good for the Rajasthan desert, because the Punjab plains on the Pakistan side are crisscrossed by an impassable grid of ditch-cum-bunds.

On the other hand, the army lacks offensive corps for mountain warfare capable of debouching on to the Tibetan Plateau and taking the fight to the PLA. Without three such offensive mountain corps, the PLA will always have the initiative — it can choose the time, place, and scale of engagement, leaving the defensively-arrayed Indian land forces to always scramble to respond. As happened in the 2017 summer at Doklam.

The Indian Air Force, likewise, is geared principally to take on Pakistan. In theory, aircraft can fly and fight anywhere unless they are so short-legged they cannot optimally be used other than on the western border. In fact, the bulk of the IAF inventory is filled with short to medium range aircraft that will be of limited utility against China. So tactical and myopic is the IAF’s thinking, it refused a genuine strategic bomber — the Tu-22 Backfire offered by Russia as far back as 1971. In similar vein, the Indian Navy is fixated on building aircraft carriers, which look obsolete in the face of supersonic and hypersonic missiles.

This highlights the other big problem. There is no mechanism in the Ministry of Defence for inter se prioritisation of defence expenditure programmes. Absent such means, procurement funding is haphazard with funds allocated to acquire this or that weapons system on a purely arbitrary basis, or as per political whim and fancy (such as the decision to buy 36 Rafale combat aircraft from France). The real scandal is this: There is no real dearth of financial resources, but there is a pronounced tendency to buy the wrong armament for the wrong reasons and, mostly, for the wrong front.


[Published in MoneyControl.com, July 26, 2018,  https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/india/opinion-what-ails-indias-defence-forces-2761471.html





About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Japan, Military/military advice, Northeast Asia, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, South Asia, Tibet, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to What ails India’s defence forces

  1. Ankit Hooda says:

    We want pakistan armies favour and this is both a political and defense challenge. I think a limited war such as occupation of Hyderabad in pakistan. And giving them a choice of paying pok in ransom or forming a millitary alliance, or some kind of treaty which removes both forces from the indo pak border along with permanent solution of kashmir, such as instituting ceasefire line as boundary.

  2. avkirankumar says:

    Bharat ji,

    I wanted to ask you – that no media reported regarding the defence advisory board appointed by nirmala sitharaman which had USA citizens in it and her connections with USA. ( As you have pointed out in you old article https://bharatkarnad.com/2018/04/12/is-the-indian-military-more-sovereign-than-the-indian-government/ )

    Please give more details about that.

  3. San Mann says:

    Mr Karnad, when you call Pakistan “more nuisance than threat”, you make it sound like 26/11 Mumbai attacks were a mere nuisance. When we lost hundreds of thousands of people to insurgency conflicts fed by Pakistan, was that a mere nuisance? The only way to prove that Pakistan is a mere nuisance would be by swatting them down, and destroying their ability to carry out nuisance against us – but I don’t think it’s very likely that we’ll see India trying this against nuclear-armed Pakistan, so obviously they have more than mere nuisance capability. By contrast US President Donald Trump doesn’t see North Korea as a mere nuisance – he sees their threat in dire terms, and expresses a willingness to act against their clear and present danger (“Fire and Fury”). We Indians, on the other hand, like to rationalize our laziness and complacency by declaring a real threat to be a nuisance, just to avoid having to act against that threat. We cannot reach the grapes, so we declare the grapes to be sour and worthless. Israelis hit Osiraq on the mere suspicion that it could be used for nuclear weapons development – but we choose complacency, and now suffer terror as the inevitable consequence.

    • San Mann@ — Who stopped India from retaliating instantly to terrorist strikes after the attack on Parliament in 2001 and 26/11? No one except ourselves. We thus enhance a nuisance into threat.

      • San Mann says:

        Mr Karnad, perhaps it was Pak’s nukes which stopped us from retaliating, thus upgrading them from nuisance to threat in perpetuity. I see that we didn’t refrain from retaliation in the era preceding their nuclearization. Likewise I don’t see other large powers engaging in casual military action against nuclear-armed states. I’m therefore led to believe that nukes do have deterrent value.

  4. AD says:


    Here is another meta question related to the topic of this post..

    Why do the problems ailing Indian armed forces in 2018 sound a lot like those faced by many kingdoms throughout Indian history? I mean.. everything from systemically corrupt and highly compromised leadership, heavy reliance on foreign weapons combined with lack of indigenous production, zero coordination between military and diplomatic policies and a miserly supplied but often large force.

    How is it possible for people in positions of power within the current Indian establishment to have learned nothing from history? Why do they keep making some of the same fundamental mistakes as kingdoms in 11th century Rajasthan, 14th century Deccan, 17th century Bengal etc? Are a large number of people in decision-making positions within Indian establishment that greedy and short-sighted? And why do we keep ending up with such people at the helm?

    • AD@ — Indians are a remarkably unhistorical people (except, in terms of mythifying our ancient past) — learning nothing from our own history and condemned, therefore, to endlessly repeat it.

      • AD says:


        On a somewhat related note- have you noticed that, over the past decade or so, sites such as Bharat-Rakshak went from places with a reasonable diversity of views on international relations to ones where most commentators are desperate to crawl and grovel before USA and rest of the declining West. And all this, so they can pay through the nose for highly compromised technology which has never been battle-tested against even a marginally competent adversary.

        The sheer degree of delusion surrounding the acquisition of worthless baubles such as a seat in UN security council, building the most problematic french nuclear reactor designs or mindlessly investing in “clean” energy without carefully thinking over the pros and cons. What won’t these people do if they think that somebody in the rapidly declining west will acknowledge their presence and throw some money in their direction. Sad to watch..

      • Vishnugupt says:

        “Indians are a remarkably unhistorical people (except, in terms of mythifying our ancient past)”

        How i wish those who advocate “friendship” with a country run by Mullahs in military uniform remember the encounters between Prithviraj Chauhan and Mohammed Ghori.
        What Indians have always done is forgive and forget and extended the hand of friendship to its “self professed” enemy despite repeated back stabbings.

        Successive “Blind men of Hindostan” have let the so called “fly” to grow into a “wasp” which if not exterminated immediately has the potential to blind the elephant.

        The biggest issue with the Indian politicians historically is the fact that they have always fallen prey to the “sweet tongue” and “Kebabs” of the Punjabi elite of Pakistan and failed to see their perverted,unscrupulous and treacherous nature.

        One can only hope to see New Delhi dealing firmly with Pakistan only when corridors of North & South block are no longer crowded by ethnic Punjabi babus and Netas who still hold the pitiful dream of visiting their ancestral home in Rawalpindi,Lahore or Sialkot and shop in the Anarkali market and enjoy the unscrupulous yet famous Pakistani hospitality.

        This toxic love could have been avoided had Nehru(allegedly a great strategist) allowed Patel to act and open another front in Punjab in the 1948 war, we could have easily forced the Hajis to accept the barren jannat called Kashmir and give us the fertile and productive Paki Punjab.After all back then(in 1948) we had 75% of the British Army stores and men and the Pakis just had 25%.

        HIndus lack strategic vision because their morality is misguided and this is mainly because they don’t know crap about their own religion.

        If they have the patience and the required intellectual acumen to read and understand their religion by themselves they will understand that Kautaliya’s Arthashastra was just a continuation of India’s strategic legacy which has a firm backing of religion.

  5. Veeru says:

    Bhai Sahib there are no muslims in India’s Punjab.All hindus or sikhs in Pakistan after partition were wiped out.The only place from where muslims have been thrown out completely in India is Punjab.It was done by ethnic Jats of Punjab.
    India’s main problem is the GREAT GENIUS OF HINDU CIVILIZATION(CASTE SYSTEM). By the laws of Manusmriti, 75% of Hindus were never suppose to be warlike or masculine at all.Apart from that there are many adivasis and untouchables(Dalits).By the very Hindu Laws , forefathers of more than 75% hindus never held a sword for more than 5000 years.Well some may have but they should not have actually by the scriptures of Hinduism.RSS and many hindus like to blame Budhism for the Passive nature of Hindus.Well Budhism may have done some damage in that regard.But caste system originated before Budhism and i do not think that it would have made much difference had there been no Budhism at all.
    Rajputs and Jats descended from Huns and Scythians who invaded India before Islam Came.Had not been for Rajput Resistance, it would have been all over long time ago!!!!

    • Vishnugupt says:

      Bhai Sahib i am well aware of the anthropological constituents of Indian Punjab and Pakistani Punjab, what i am saying is that the “Indian Punjabis elites” hold a silly dream of a “unified greater Punjab” in their timid hearts.

      You see the Pakistani Punjabis still retain their ancestral surnames, for example like the current Military General Qamar Javed Bajwa(a Hindu surname), this ignite a certain misguided sense of belongingness among the Hindu Bajwas in our side to their pakistani long lost cousins.

      The Pakistani Punjabi’s have used this “misguided longing” of Indian Punjabis to their advantage for decades.This is why we haven’t fought any decisive battles with Pakistan yet, when we had the chance.

      To your other points on Rajputs and Huns & Scynthias.

      I hope you have heard of a certain emperor named “Ashoka”? Try to recollect why he left Hinduism to embrace Buddhism.
      And before you say this is a one off incident, how do you think south India remained out of reach mughals?
      Try to look at incidents from the point of view of an Individuals capacity not his religion. If your think religion is the most important factor in ones military successes, the tell me why the mighty Islamic invaders surrendered to Ghengiz Khan?( Now don’t say Ghengiz Khan was a Muslim, he wasn’t). And why didn’t the Mongols produce another warrior like him ever again?

      On “By the very Hindu Laws , forefathers of more than 75% hindus never held a sword for more than 5000 years.”

      So are you saying the foot soldiers in the army of Hindu kings were only Brahmins and Kshatriyas? Even if one were to assume that this is true, it would be as ignorant as saying that more than 99% Indians in India today have not held a gun. Do you think this is why India is a weak state?

      My friend the leftist historians have built a narrative to glorify the Islamic invaders and buried the valor of Hindu kings and demonized Hinduism to suit their rabid world view of socialism.

      And Manusmriti is a perverted text( with no divinity) which was written by the upper caste Hindus to use the veil of religion to protect their superiority.( This BTW was MK Gandhi’s view)
      Manusmriti do not define Hinduism, the Vedas,Upanishads and the Puranas do PERIOD.

      BTW you are free to imbibe the lefitst narrative and claim that Manusmriti is the Koran and Bible of Hinduism, because only then their agenda to break India will frutify.

      Feel free to blame the tool than the idiotic workman using it.


  6. Veeru says:


    First of all there are no Punjabi Hindus with Bajwa Surname. Bajwa is a Jat tribe.Most of the Bajwa’s in India’s Punjab are Sikhs. THe only place in India were muslims were given a beating and thrown out completely were in rural Punjab by Jatts.

    When I say that forefathers of more than 75% of Hindus never held a sword, this includes Brahmins also.Well the forefathers of original Kshatriyas may have held a sword, but in Northern India they gave up sword for trade.
    BRAHMIN – BANIA HINDU Middle class simply do not have the ANIMAL KILLER INSTINCT.Congress was at independence mostly a Brahmin – Bania machine. Had India been dominated at independence by any other warlike race like Gauls, Saxons,Jats,Rajputs, Tartars they would have been done with the muslims atleast in India forever.
    The reason why India has never fought a decisive battle with Pakistan despite having a decisive military edge and a much larger economy is beacause bulk of the Hindus simply do no have the fire in their belly and they were not suppose to have Animal killer instinct because of Hindu Caste System.

    South India remained out of the reach of Mughals or Turks because of Geography.WHAT DO YOU THINK WHY MONGOLS WERE NOT ABLE TO TO CONQUER JAPAN ?

    I agree with you that Leftist historians Glorified Muslims invaders and Islam in general.

    Success of muslim invaders in India was due to Horse stirrup equipped Cavalry.Not because of their religion.

  7. Vishnugupt says:

    Ok, Bajwas might technically be a “sikh tribe”,but they are jatts, so all the jatts(Hindu,Sikh & Muslims) have the same ancestry. So my larger point remains.

    You see buddy, India has been the most prosperous regions of the ancient world(golden bird) with a favorable climate and good rain, which meant that Indians didn’t had the incentive to invade and capture other barren lands of central Asia, this is why we became good traders than warriors.(Let this sink in)

    This is why we were defensive in our military postures. The Muslims and Mongols(their land were mostly barren) had no choice but to invade other rich lands to feed themselves, this gave them the “animistic instinct” to capture or plunder other lands.


    The Mongols had to cross the “east China sea” to invade Japan and if they would have been easily defeated if they did that, and even if manage to win somehow, the rewards were very limited when compared to the loss that they would face.

    “BRAHMIN – BANIA HINDU Middle class simply do not have the ANIMAL KILLER INSTINCT.”

    Man, to build global business empires one need animal spirit, and the Indian Baniyas has it in plenty, they are “the best business community on the face of the earth”.The fact that Reliance,Flipkart,Airtel,Mittal steel,Birla,Jindal,Ruia are baniyas proves this beyond doubt.

    So building a business empire takes a much higher level of animal spirit and brain power than conquering and mindlessly slaughtering peace loving people.

    “Had India been dominated at independence by any other warlike race like Gauls, Saxons,Jats,Rajputs, Tartars they would have been done with the muslims atleast in India forever.”

    Man if they were so good, what stopped them from grabbing power after independence? One has to take power by themselves, POWER IS NOT HANDED DOWN IN A PLATTER.

  8. San Mann says:

    Mr Karnad,

    I remember you previously commenting that some needless myopia by Indian decision-makers tilted India against acquiring the Tupolev Backfire bombers, whose missile capabilities make them very potent weapons against naval surface fleets (far more useful than expensive aircraft carriers). The Russians have now recently announced their intention to develop and use the exotic Ekranoplan idea for patrol and resupply in the Arctic regions.


    As you may know, the Ekranoplan exploits wing-in-ground effect to generate more lift than is otherwise possible for an aircraft, while flying very low. I was thinking that if India were to become a customer for such technology, then these low-flying/low-observable vehicles could potentially be even more deadly than the Backfire, while also affording a rapid logistical transport capability to Andaman & Nicobar or other island bases in the Indian Ocean region.

    I was thinking about this in regard to China’s String of Pearls strategy, as well as their increasing emphasis on building up large Marine forces to support their Belt & Road strategic ambitions. I’m worried the day isn’t far off when they’ll be able to occupy the A&N islands with ease.

    • Great idea. But try wrenching such hardware and tech from Russia while getting into bed with America!

    • Vishnugupt says:

      @San Mann
      But even the Russians themselves didn’t prefer the ekranoplan.
      Fixing the bugs itself will be a whole new project running into billions, don’t you think?

      • San Mann says:


        Yes, after initial development the Soviets then abandoned the Ekranoplan due to safety issues (various crashes). However, technological advancements since that time can make the Ekranoplan idea feasible again. I agree that an established proven weapon is quite preferable to one that has yet to be developed. And yet the Russians are badly short of development cash, thanks to US sanctions mania. This may provide useful opportunities to us in making the Russians more negotiable on tech transfer to ourselves, so that we could get a better share of the technology and manufacture it ourselves (Make in India). The Russians have a deep heritage of engineering talent that we need to tap for our benefit, while providing them reciprocal benefit through cost-burden-sharing. The key is to negotiate strong deals with which get us technology upfront, while enabling us to pursue employment-generating industrial production at home. Whatever we don’t get from the Russians, the Chinese will get (for future use against us).

  9. Vishnugupt says:

    @ San Mann

    “The Russians have a deep heritage of engineering talent that we need to tap for our benefit”

    Precisely, we missed out a humongous opportunity in 1991 when the soviet union collapsed, but it is another fact that we too were almost bankrupt.

    But the Chinese took full advantage of this and employed soviet scientists and engineers in their weapons programme, the Nuclear submarine and space programs being the most successful ones.
    But i am not confident about collaborating with the Russians through DPSU, it has to be private sector or like always we will end up paying the Russians to revive the project for their advantage and requirement.

    But the fact remains that the Russians are allergic to collaborating with private players in India. They haven’t come of the “socialist hangover” yet.

    • San Mann says:


      The Russians shouldn’t mostly have to collaborate with private Indian players – it should mainly be DRDO, ISRO and other Indian public sector entities including IITs which collaborate more closely with the Russians. Or we form joint entities like BrahMos, which was a significant example of successful collaboration.

      Perhaps both ISRO and Roskosmos could benefit from collaboration in developing reusable rocket technology that uses Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) like SpaceX and Blue Origin in the US. Perhaps large transport airships like Russia’s Atlant concept could be jointly developed. Or the Ekranoplan idea, etc, etc.

      It’s too late for us to do an Operation Paperclip along the lines of what China did to make quantum leaps in advancement, but we still have our traditional ties with Russia and of course both countries have some complementary needs. As India’s economy grows to join the top 5 in the world, we can increase our capital outlay for vital technology transfer arrangements, instead of inefficiently trying to reinvent the wheel on our own.

      • Vishnugupt says:

        @San Mann
        The Russian mistrust of Indian Private sector is partly strategic, because they very well know that Indian private companies has the burning desire to absorb technology unlike HAL,OFBs etc, who at the end of the day are paid nevertheless they deliver or not. Other wise, how do you explain the fact that we have been license manufacturing SU-30 for a decade now and still haven’t gained any note worthy tech for it.

        I think the best way forward is to make DRDO get the blueprints break it down understand it and teach Indian private sector defense players.

        I think what ISRO did with the Lithium ion battery technology is the perfect template which DRDO needs to replicate with other hi-tech defense technologies.

        And lastly DPSU barring DRDO needs to be dis-invested at the earliest.

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