An Indian Jaguar taking off: Coping with Pakistan may be simple but a long-range Chinese air attack could pose problemsThree news items late in 1980 heralded a fundamental change in India’s defence policy and programmes in the ’80s. The first was news of India negotiating with the United States for,An Indian Jaguar taking off: Coping with Pakistan may be simple but a long-range Chinese air attack could pose problemsThree news items late in 1980 heralded a fundamental change in India’s defence policy and programmes in the ’80s. The first was news of India negotiating with the United States for a bag of sophisticated military equipment.Included was a $330 million (about Rs 250 crore) deal for Anti-Tank Guided Weapons. The second, in December, said that the Soviet Union had agreed to sell India its advanced MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’ interceptor-reconnaissance aircraft.And last month the Government announced that public sector defence undertakings were being geared up to increase their production of aircraft, warships and sophisticated electronic instrumentation by three to five times in the next five years.Coming hard on the heels of the Janata government’s Rs 2,000 crore purchase of the Anglo-French Jaguar in 1978, and the Congress(I)’s Rs 1,200 crore multi-purpose arms deal with the Soviet Union last May, these deals indicate that the country’s defence planners are at last looking beyond India’s own borders in coming to grips with its defence problems.With the dogs of war howling in the region, this is long overdue. India today sits at the centre of a great arc of crisis embracing the Indian Ocean. Pakistan and China no longer occupy its entire strategic horizon which has been dramatically extended since the late ’70s.One hundred thousand Soviet troops are in Afghanistan, and the Russians show no inclination to withdraw their bear’s paw out of the country back across the Hindu Kush mountains: the second traditional buffer in the region after Tibet has disappeared. Iran and Iraq are slugging it out in the Middle East, and Iran’s fervent revolution stands imperilled.advertisementSyria and Jordan nearly came to blows recently. As a consequence of the tumult, American Marines have taken up positions in the Gulf for the first time since 1958. To the East, Indo-China simmers, while the Indian Ocean has rapidly become a playground for American and Soviet warships.Pakistani Influence: India’s traditional adversaries, Pakistan and China, have quickly adapted themselves to the changed strategic climate. In the case of Pakistan, the earlier and simpler military collusion with China has been supplemented by a vigorous effort to link its forces with those of the oil-rich Arab nations.The British Harrier: Possible acquisition by ChinaPakistan now trains the combat pilots of the United Arab Emirates and Libya, and provides soldiers for Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and some of the Gulf sheikhdoms. In any future conflict, Pakistan’s arsenal could swell through arms transfers from these countries, or through sophisticated weapons bought by its Muslim brethren in the international arms markets.Also, the clout of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) could be considerably increased by the French Mirage IIIs and IVs and the American F-15 Eagles adorning the Islamic air forces.At home, the Pakistani defence set-up is going full steam. Defence expenditure has doubled since 1971, and, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Pakistan has been able to expand its army by 70 per cent over the last decade.An even more frightening prospect is the atomic bomb that the country is reportedly making with financial help from Libya, uranium supplies from Niger and the clandestine transfer of technology and equipment from western Europe.More than anything else, the bomb would make the conventional order of battle – the numbers of infantry and armoured divisions and the quantity and quality of combat aircraft and weapons systems on either side – less relevant than before.On the Chinese front, the warning signals are more insistent. Emerging from prolonged political isolation, the ‘dragon’ has forged a quasi-military alliance with the United States.Although these ties are directed primarily against the dramatic growth of Soviet power – in fact, China is often referred to as the “Eastern NATO” – they carry important implications for India, as Pakistan could be a link in the chain holding back the bear.But China, without its de facto allies, is still formidable. At present 10 Indian mountain divisions raised after the ’62 fiasco confront approximately 18 ‘main force’ and 11 ‘local force’ Chinese divisions arrayed along the south-western (India) and western (USSR) borders of China.Chinese Superiority: Despite the inferior numbers, the Indian logistical support systems are probably superior to the Chinese, and if the 1962 war were fought again, India would give a much better account of itself.A Centurion on rnanoeuv ye: In need of a complete overhaulHowever, nearly 20 years later, the 10 mountain divisions may prove to be India’s Maginot Line. Just as the much-touted French defence fortifications of 1940, based on outdated World War I notions, were overrun by the new German blitzkrieg tactics, India’s legions along the Himalayan heights may prove helpless in the face of Chinese advances in weaponry and strategy.For instance, the massive but hitherto aged Chinese Air Force is being modernised with more than a little help from the West. If Beijing were to acquire the British Harrier VTOL aircraft, that would give a big boost to its capabilities, both on the Indian and Soviet borders.advertisementAnother plane to watch is the Chinese Spey fitted F-12, which is reportedly an all-weather aircraft. Agile helicopter gunships would also be of immense value in the congested mountain heights.If the Chinese are able to overcome their earlier difficulties of launching aircraft from their high-altitude Tibetan bases, or develop long-range strategic bombers with mid-air refuelling capability, then those 10 Indian mountain divisions would have little to do but watch the murderous birds sail over their heads.The Indian Air Force (IAF) at present can cope with its Pakistani counterpart, but would falter before a sustained long-range Chinese air-attack against India’s industrial centres sprawled across the Gangetic plain and beyond. Also, China has been regularly adding to its nuclear stockpile since its first bomb test in 1964 and India’s conventional defence posture is of limited value before the mushroom menace.Complete Overhaul: With India’s old enemies sporting bright new weapons and ideas, the increasing tension in the region, and the new cold war brewing between the United States and the Soviet Union, the country’s military machine needs a complete overhaul.The turbulent ’80s will call for a swift revision in Army strategy towards greater mechanisation and mobility, an increase in missile capability and the general range of the IAF’s striking power, and a fundamental revision in the role of the Navy from coastal defence to the exercise of limited regional power. Likewise, India’s peaceful nuclear stance would also have to be seriously reconsidered.Today, the Army’s armoured divisions are equipped mainly with the Soviet T-54/55 medium and PT-76 tanks, the indigenous Vijayanta medium tanks, and sundry ageing British Centurion and French AMX-13 tanks. About 700 Soviet T-72 tanks are to be manufactured in India in the future.Indian ships during an exercise: Great need for the Navy’s expansionArtillery regiments are currently being equipped with the indigenous 105 mm field guns, which will replace the 25-pounders of World War II vintage. Anti-aircraft batteries use Indian L-70 guns and some 40 Soviet-supplied Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems mostly manned by IAF personnel.As for mobility, the Army maintains large fleets of indigenous Shaktiman trucks and Nissan jeeps, and in the air uses an assortment of Indian, Soviet and American helicopters and transport aircraft. These include the Alouette-III and its successors, the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, and the HS-748, AN-12, C-47, and DHC-3 transport planes.None of this will, however, suffice in the coming years. With a larger strategic role in mind, the Army in the future will need to raise two or three airborne divisions and increase the number of its paratroop regiments so that it can reach crisis areas beyond its traditional perimeters of defence.advertisementAircraft Obsolescence: In the case of the IAF, the Subramaniam Committee in the late ’60s envisaged a 45-squadron force built around the Indian-made HF-24 Marut fighter-bomber and the licensed production of the MiG-21 and Gnat/Ajeet interceptors in India.Other purchases followed – French Mysteres, British Canberras and Hunters, and Soviet Sukhoi-7Bs. But combat planes become out of date very quickly, and the Government pushed through the Jaguar deal in 1978. Then in December 1980 came the MiG-25 deal with the Soviet Union.Simple modernisation is not enough, though. The IAF will have to assess the trade-offs between emphasising air-defence and strategic bombing roles. In the Jaguar decision, for instance, a choice had existed between manufacturing an additional four MiG-21s or seven Ajeets for every Jaguar purchased or manufactured in India.Another alternative was a massive air-defence system consisting of early warning radar devices and surface-to-air missiles. However, without an adequate attack and counter-attack role for the IAF, the more passive air-defence system loses most of its menace.Early obsolescence and costly battle losses due to increasingly effective anti-aircraft technology mean that India must give up its earlier rhetoric of self-reliance for the hard reality of the international arms market. The planes that the Indian pilots fly must match those available to the enemy, and the ability of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to compete with foreign giants like General Dynamics, McDonnell-Douglas, British Aerospace and Dassault is, to say the least, limited.Today, while HAL is still experimenting with its newly developed GTX engine capable of Mach-2 performance, a suitable air-frame has not been developed. Ironically, in the past, the Indian HF-24 supersonic aircraft sought unsuccessfully for an appropriate indigenous Mach-2 aeroengine. This sort of leisurely performance record means that India will have to scout abroad for aircraft to fill its squadrons.Naval Development: More than the Army and the Air Force, the Indian Navy will have to undergo a sea-change. Although a Sino-Pakistani naval threat does not exist, and is unlikely to do so for quite some time, the Navy’s role should be more than that of mere coastal defence.One reason is the growth of Indian commercial shipping – the Gross Registered Tonnage of Indian shipping today is 55 lakh, up from only two lakh at the time of Independence and India’s sea-borne trade has spurted from Rs 1,799 crore in 1960-61 to Rs 12,528 crore in 1978-79. Also, the turmoil in the Persian Gulf vitally affects India’s security, and this, along with India’s off-shore oil interests, should make the Navy more venturesome.Under these conditions, the Navy needs to be expanded more rapidly than the other two services until such time as it constitutes at least 20 per cent of armed forces resources – up from its present humble 10 per cent.The fleet today consists of eight F-class submarines, 16-OSA-class missile boats, five Petya-class destroyer escorts and three Nanuchka corvettes. Five Leander-class frigates built at the Mazagaon docks with initial British collaboration have also been delivered. There is also the Vikrant, the re-fitted ex-British aircraft-carrier.This clutch of warships is hardly sufficient for a vastly expanded role in the ’80s. The Navy needs to upgrade its capacity at all levels, and develop extensive docking and repair facilities. Future operations may also call for enormous sea-lift capability and a Marine Corps wing.Expansion Drive: Finally, the nuclear question. Given the Chinese supremacy in this field and Pakistan’s strides towards the so-called Islamic bomb, the nuclear gap in India’s defence apparatus will have to be filled in somehow.As the nuclear ‘haves’ are not likely to turn into ‘have-nots’, the time has perhaps come for a hard look at the country’s peaceful atomic policy. There are several pros and cons on the nuclear proliferation issue, but on balance India will have to adopt a policy of self-interest.The chances that such an accelerated Indian defence effort would touch off an intense arms race are low. China is already competing with the other superpowers, and Pakistan, with its small resource base cannot go it on its own. Islamic friends might come to its aid, but this is precisely what justifies the Indian drive.At the same time, however, India need not give up its overall policy of reducing world tensions. There is need to foster regional economic cooperation within and beyond the Indian subcontinent. If such efforts bear fruit, then revisions and reductions in the expansion programme could be considered.There are no easy choices where national security is concerned, but with military paranoia increasing all around, India would do well to see that its fighting men have more behind them than just their courage and patriotism.