Going into 2019, India’s defence challenges are shocking

India’s military is woefully underprepared to fight future wars and there’s little focus on equipping our armed forces with cutting-edge tech


The Indian armed forces, by habit, prepare to fight yesterday’s wars.

Not one of the services has a forward-looking plan for capability build-up for conflicts of the future, which will feature proactive and defensive cyber warfare wherewithal and Artificial Intelligence-driven robotic systems cued to assigned tasks by a multitude of space- air-, land- and sea-based sensors passing real-time intelligence on the enemy force disposition that are able to assess operational situations and even concert with other friendly ‘warbots’ in the field to attack the target(s).

Most such systems have progressed beyond the testing stage and are on the brink of deployment in the more advanced militaries. In India, there’s not a hint of any thinking about robotic warfare, and even less of robotic warfare systems being designed and developed. A basic rover to handle/disarm live munitions/improvised explosive devices is about the extent of our achievement in the military robotics field.

Rather, the Indian military remains committed to World War II-era genus of weapons platforms — tanks, artillery, combat aircraft, aircraft carriers, in the main and then they are nowhere near cutting-edge, technology-wise. This is evident in the force modernisation plans.

The army has the replacement of the venerable T-72 tank with the newer Russian T-90 tank as priority; the air force wishes to induct the French Rafale multi-role combat aircraft in large numbers. Except, 36 of these aircraft that have actually been bought are too valuable to commit to action and too few to muster operational clout; and the navy is so besotted by aircraft carriers that to afford them the country is compelled to make do with fewer, smaller, fighting ships (frigates and destroyers) and a thinned out presence in the Indian Ocean (unless the naval budget is increased manifold, which’s not on the cards).

Most such backward-looking schemes are deemed adequate because the political class and the military brass, quixotically, cannot think of danger beyond Pakistan, this even though China — the only credible threat — looms spectre-like. Thus, Pakistan is the adversary the Indian Air Force mentions to justify the Rafale buy and bungs in a nuclear bombing role for it to overawe the media and the people.

Likewise, the Indian naval chief assures the country in a Navy Day newspaper supplement that his force is superior to its Pakistani counterpart. The army chief on his part, when not advising Pakistan to become more secular if it wants to live in amity with India, warns of more “surgical strikes”. With the Pakistan bogey so much on the military’s mind, who has time for the real world?

Meanwhile, the Narendra Modi government, in lieu of any actual expenditure of scarce funds, gives the impression of buttressing the country’s defence effort with the periodic announcements of the Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) approving purchases of major armaments costing thousands of crores. However, because the DAC’s approval is about the first step in an onerous process that involves a lot of bureaucratic grind, little that is announced comes down the arms pipeline quickly, and military modernisation schemes, such as they are, mark time. Consider this: In the period October 2017 and October 2018, total capital buys worth Rs 86,030 crore were cleared by the DAC, but no contract was signed.

This is part of the pattern from when the erstwhile defence minister Manohar Parrikar boasted of the DAC clearing Rs 3 lakh crore worth of military procurement in the first three years, with only a small fraction of the sum actually translating into weaponry with the forces. Of course, the tortuous defence procurement system is to blame but no government has sought to simplify and streamline it — perhaps, because it serves the purposes of the vested interests that continue to grow fat on arms deals or through ‘Make in India’ schemes of ‘screwdrivering’ hardware from imported kits.

This essentially leaves India exposed in the basic binary areas — nuclear and conventional. Nuclear security has traditionally been the Indian government’s blindspot, with nothing being done to resume underground tests and augment capabilities. This even as established nuclear powers induct new thermonuclear weapons and delivery systems, a trend likely to accelerate now that the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty banning nuclear missiles of 500-5,000 mile range from being deployed in Europe is defunct.

Meanwhile, the Indian military doggedly acquires short-legged aircraft, like the Rafale, not strategic bombers such as the advanced ‘Backfire’ Tu-22M3M or the more lethal ‘Blackjack’ Tu-160M2, invests in tank forces long after they are of any real use, opts for aircraft carriers vulnerable to supersonic cruise and hypersonic guided missiles, and struggles to raise its first offensive warfare-capable mountain corps to take the fight to China on the Tibetan Plateau and spurns light tanks as its main equipment.


[Published in MoneyControl.com, Dec 19, 2018, at https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/trends/current-affairs-trends/opinion-going-into-2019-indias-defence-challenges-are-shocking-3308251.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 arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, 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, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Going into 2019, India’s defence challenges are shocking

  1. Brijesh says:

    Every word is true.

  2. Raj Singh says:

    Dr Karnad,
    A very apt analysis clearly spelling out the vested interests keen to keep the armed forces shackled. The power lobbies within the country are not mindful of the nation’s security but only their vested influence

  3. Rahul(Kol) says:

    Except the Rafale, every word is true….

  4. Shaurya says:

    Hope the Rakshaks take notice and the Bhakts wake up that just electing your preferred partisan politician is not good enough for India.

  5. TPS says:

    Dear Mr Karnad,
    For once I am in total rather absolute agreement with you. May I however submit few points;
    Firstly, biggest impediment in procurement from foreign sources is the fact that Defence Procurement Board (DPB) is headed by Defence Secretary. It should be headed by respective Service Chief. Ordinary citizen on street even today says ‘Hindustani Fauj Chini fauj se 1962 mein haar gayi’. They do not say PM,RM or Def Sec lost 1962 war. It is another matter that not a single Service Chief has challenged this arrangement.

    Secondly, we spend less on R&D that GOOGLE and Amazon. No change likely in foreseeable future.

    Thirdly, Platform compatibility is invariably a casualty. For instance in spite of Air to air refuelling capability, all platforms from east and west cannot use the facility.

    Fourthly, our progress in EW/ECM/ECCM field is next to nothing. I am not interested in technology demonstrators.

    Fifthly, the two giants HAL and DRDO must be given decent burial. Afresh start would produce better results. Co-located ISRO is world class. HAL and DRDO are unfit to produce same quality ‘TIN CANS’.
    Gp Capt TPS

    p.s. Burning national issues viz RESERVATION, RELIGION and POPULATION do not seem to interest you.

  6. Khatushyam says:

    Spot on analysis. Honestly, what can be expected from a man who spends nearly 20 BILLION DOLLARS ( About 1/3 to 1/2 of the official defense budget !) on a bullet train ?! At least connect Dehli with Mumbai you dotard ! Or better yet how about no bullet train ? Imagine what good use this money could be put in the hands of a capable regime ?

    As soon as Jaitley was appointed FM and DM I knew we were in big trouble. This PM trusts hardly anyone and does not know that he is nothing but an unimaginative middle-manager with extreme autocratic impulses. This Rafale Deal is yet another hairbrained product of his intellectual prowess, note-bandi being amongst the first.

    Btw, the Ganguly critique is quite off the mark. Just one question for him, what state of the art weaponry has good ol Uncle Sam sold us and how does it stack up to Akula, Brahmos, Sukhoi, S-400? I guess the F-16 block 70 makes up for everything lol ?

    As usual, amateur hour reigns supreme.

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