India’s Military Modernization and South Asia’s Crisis Dynamics

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India seeks to modernize its conventional and strategic forces to gain influence in shaping a favorable regional security landscape. It has engaged in constant efforts to transform its outdated ground-centric army into high-technology forces with an increasing emphasis on integration of tri-services. The launch of offensive Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD)-2018 validates changes in the strategic thinking of Indian Armed forces that focuses on joint operations for naval, land and air power projection. Its offensive posturing and technological advancements reinforce New Delhi’s objectives to build a modern military.

India’s military tension with Pakistan (2019) and China (2020) shows that despite military modernization push and doctrinal changes, its military has its own limitations and weaknesses that depreciate operational effectiveness of Indian military forces including operational planning, preparedness, interoperability, jointness and training.  In this regard, it is significant to explore operational deficiencies in India’s vision of an offensive deterrence doctrine and veracity of its military’s operational preparedness in the backdrop of Balakot-Rajouri crisis (2019) and Sino-Indian Galwan Crisis (2020).

Geopolitics has always been a predominant feature of the South Asian security landscape. Currently, the strategic security triangle between China, India, and Pakistan, the Indo-US strategic partnership, and the U.S. power politics in Asia-Pacific determine the course of the South Asian security dynamics.

Spurred on by its economic power and global diplomatic heft, India has tried to pursue hegemonic ambitions and offensive military strategy in South Asia. India’s resort to false flag operation against Pakistan, its territorial expansion in Nepal, and its construction of military infrastructure along the disputed region with China have demonstrated New Delhi’s assertive foreign policy in its neighborhood.

The latest major South Asian crises have been the Indo-Pakistani Balakot-Rajouri Crisis of 2019 and the Sino-Indian Galwan Valley Clashes of 2020, and both of which were outcomes of the Indian military assertiveness. The former crisis was the result of Indian airstrikes in the Pakistani mainland, which resulted in Pakistan’s retaliatory airstrikes in the Rajouri town of the Indian-occupied Kashmir. And, the Galwan Clashes were the consequence of India’s illegal construction of road infrastructure in the disputed Ladakh region along the border with China. The Chinese and Indian soldiers exchanged fisticuffs in the Galwan Valley that resulted in the death of over twenty Indian soldiers. Notwithstanding the deaths of soldiers, India refrained from escalating the conflict with China militarily, exposing its military incapacity to fight against Beijing.

 

Key takeaways from Balakot-Rajouri and Galwan crises are as follows. First, India’s conventional deterrence is compromised and there is no space for a limited war in the region. Second, operational planning and military preparedness are not about strategic thinking only, it demands function in the battlefield.  Third, Indian forces face training and interoperability challenges. Forth, India’s recent crises offer its military planners were unable to manage its offensive deterrence doctrine and false sense of superiority might instigate risk of miscalculations.

ndian military has failed to deliver deterrent messages despite its aggressive action during recent crises with its neighbors.  Indian aggression in Balakot marked its “abnormal act of breaching the sovereignty of opponent into New-Normal”. India’s attempt to establish new normal by carrying out a limited war with Pakistan fell flat as the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) conducted proportionate retaliation inside the Indian Occupied Territory. Later, owing to the fear of uncertain escalation dynamics, India remained hesitant from launching counter-military strikes and instead threatened the use of nuclear-capable missiles. In essence, India’s conventional deterrence failed, and Pakistan successfully reinforced the credibility of its conventional deterrence. On the other hand, India’s failure to respond militarily against the movement of the Chinese soldiers beyond the previously delineated boundaries along the LAC underscored India’s military inferiority and inability to fight against or deter China.

Balakot-Rajouri & Ladakh Crisis demonstrates Indian army’s shortcomings in the battlefield performance. Remarkably, Indian air defense system, based on Base Air Defence Zones (BADZ) and Air Defence Ground Environment System (ADGES), was unable detect or target the PAF aircraft on February 27, 2019, and rendered IAF’s operational readiness ineffective. Additionally, IAF personnel shoot down one of their own Mi-17 V-5 choppers by hitting an Israeli-made SPYDER-MR surface-to-air missile, results in the killing of all 6 military personnel. Loss of chopper by friendly fire during combat operation exposes the most glaring deficiency of IAF that its military personnel are not assertive to improvise decisions during a crisis. Similarly, Indian army could not detect or collect intelligence regarding China’s movement of thousands of troops and military equipment toward the LAC, and was caught off-guard, nor could it plan and prepare an effective counter-military response to thwart Chinese troops’ advance.

Border standoff between China and India in Ladakh and India-Pakistan tension on Pulwama incident underscores Indian forces difficulties to adopt technological advancements and incorporate military strategies as defined in its military doctrine. Prospects of false flag operation and India’s two-front war theory to acquire political, diplomatic, and foreign military is adding more vulnerabilities in the already fragile strategic stability of South Asia. Thus, Pakistan-China’s expanding military and strategic relations comprising naval and military exercises, civil nuclear power cooperation, and growing economic ties under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a viable strategy to counterweight destabilizing impacts of Indo-US strategic partnership and maintains stability.

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