India is a growing military power, which is evident with the number of nations seeking to enhance military ties with it. The recent comment by President Trump that the world’s two greatest democracies should have the two strongest militaries and terming Asia-Pacific as Indo-Pacific, indicates the growing proximity and dependence of the US on Indian military power in the region. For the US, presently the worlds sole super power, India remains a key element to its Asian strategy. The signing of the LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) has only brought the two militaries closer.
India has enhanced its naval presence in the Indian Ocean and is the only Asian nation capable of challenging a belligerent China in the region. Its forays into the troubled waters of the South China Sea, visiting ports of friendly nations including Vietnam has made the nations of the region, facing Chinese pressures, look upto India as a balancing power. The development of Port Blair into a major naval base would enhance the reach of the Indian military into the Indian Ocean and enable it to monitor all shipping activities. The navy has also successfully operated against sea piracy, rescuing ships of all nationalities. It remains the sole blue water navy of the continent, other than China, despite delays in its growth and acquisitions.
The Doklam standoff conveyed to the world that India is confident of its prowess and would support its smaller neighbours while simultaneously ensuring that its security interests are protected. Its policy of not claiming others territory, unwillingness to deploy forces in trouble spots, except under the UN banner has enhanced its reputation. India has indicated that while it remains a military power, it is solely for its own security, without any international claims.
India’s relations with all its neighbours (less Pakistan) are cordial with no major disputes. Further, Indian military experiences in many fields including counter insurgency, jungle warfare and operating in high altitudes have given its armed forces a unique character. Thus, nations have begun seeking to enhance military ties with India.
The Malabar exercise involving India, Japan and the US is now moving into a ‘Quad’ also including Australia. It was a ‘Quad’ earlier, but a pro-China Australian government pulled out. Having realized that it alone cannot counter a belligerent China,Australia has now re-joined the group. In fact, this exercise is very closely monitored by China. The formation of the ‘Quad’ has drawn adverse comments from China, which feels threatened by this grouping.
Simultaneous has been the desire of the French government to enhance its naval ties with India. France has two bases in the Indian Ocean, Djibouti and Reunion Islands, close to Mauritius and is aware that collaboration with India would enhance its military reach. It also desires involving Australia in the grouping making it into a trilateral event. This interaction would be separate from the ‘Quad’ therebyenhancing the navy’s role. India has increased its existing naval outreach with ASEAN nations, providing a sense of security to countries facing Chinese domination.
The army has been conducting joint exercises with a vast variety of nations spread across the globe. It has exercises with the US, Russia, China, all its neighbours and a host of others. The most recent seeking to join the bandwagon is Egypt, whose army chief visited India last week. The army’ expertise in handling insurgencies is well established. Nations seek to gain from Indian experience. The recent combined exercise with the Russian armed forces had elements of all three services participating.The air force has also been operating in joint exercises across the globe, from Alaska to Israel.
This international desire stems from the fact that the world has realized the professionalism and capability of the Indian armed forces. Despite lack of latest technology and limitations in some fields, the armed forces have displayed their determination and professionalism. In addition, this is the only armed force in the region, which has remained apolitical.
The desire of the international community to engage with the Indian military should make the nation and its leadership proud as the only service respected by the common Indian is the envy of the world. It has earned this reputation due to its determination to succeed and gain victory at any cost.
Yet, theycontinue to lack requisite capabilities essential for ensuring dominance in the region. The navy, whose role is enhancing at a rapid pace, is way behind in its capacity of ships and submarines. Most of its fleet is aging, hence requires considerable maintenance. All internal developmental projects for the three services are behind schedule, some by decades. With a poor defence research and development base within the nation, the military is compelled to seek weapons from the international market. Its recent action of refusing to induct Arjun tanks and Tejas fighters, solely because of shortcomings in technology, has come in for some criticism.
However, the armed forces have sound reason for rejecting domestically developed technologies. Equipment once inducted would remain in service for decades. Inducting an equipment which is unreliable would reduce efficiency and operational preparedness rather than enhancing it. With nations and companies willing to build in India as also transfer latest technology it makes better sense to induct battle tested and hardened equipment, which can be employed for a prolonged period.
While it remains a fact that no nation can become an international military power on imported equipment, yet India has been compelled to follow this path. The push for ‘make in India’ is moving at a snail’s pace and unless given due impetus, the Indian military would remain dependent on imported equipment. A military respected and in demand from across the globe desperately needs capabilities, which the government should address at a rapid pace.
(The author is a retired Major General of the Indian Army)