The Pulwama attack on the CRPF convoy on 14th Feb, followed by the Indian strike on Balakote on 26 Feb was an ominous start for the year. Pakistan hid the Indian success, including the downing of its aircraft, highlighting the shooting down of the MIG 21 and the capture of its pilot, Abhinandan. Pakistan was forced to release him within 60 hours with mounting international pressure and threats of further offensives including launch of missiles. The destruction of the camp at Balakote forced Pak to re-evaluate its Kashmir strategy.
On 27th Feb, when Pak attempted to launch its own strike, India lost a MI 17 helicopter with six air force personnel on board. Post the Indian strike on Balakote, relationships between the two countries went swirling downhill. Ceasefire violations increased and tensions remained.
Just a day before Modi had inaugurated the National War Memorial, India’s first war memorial dedicated to all who sacrificed their lives since Independence.
The year also witnessed some capability building by the armed forces, despite shortfall of funds. The navy inducted the second of its six Scorpene submarines, INS Khanderi, on 28 September. The third submarine, INS Karanj, launched in January 2018, is undertaking sea trials. Two other significant actions involving the navy include the launching of the first of the P17A frigates, ‘Nilgiri’ and inauguration of a dry dock, located within the Naval Dockyard in Mumbai. However, the rest of its inductions face delays due to multiple reasons, mainly financial, though multiple deals are in various stages of progress.
On 25th Mar, the air force inducted the Chinook heavy lift helicopters into its inventory. In September, eight Apache helicopters were inducted. A total of 22 will be inducted. These will give a major boost to the Air Force’s combat powers. The induction of the Rafale is in progress. In Oct, the air chief announced that the air force would have a total of five Tejas Squadrons. One squadron is already operational.
The air chief also mentioned that the Astra air-to-air BVR missile has been successfully tested, laser-guided bombs, precision weapons, Akash surface-to-air missiles have also been operationalised and development of indigenous fifth-generation fighter AMCA has been initiated. The MIG 27, which played a crucial role in the Kargil conflict, was decommissioned on 27th Dec.
The Indian artillery witnessed vast improvements in its firepower capability. The successful testing of the ATAG gun system leading to its production, induction of the Danush artillery guns, M777 from the US and the K9 Vajra have enhanced firepower of the artillery. Post the induction of the Bofor guns in 1984, the artillery lacked modernization. In addition, sniper rifles, modernized personal weapons and large quantities of higher quality bulletproof jackets are in the pipeline for induction for the infantry. The army has also tested and imported the Excalibur precision guided shells from the US enabling it to hit targets with precision at much longer ranges.
The army began its internal transformation by testing its newly created integrated battle groups in multiple exercises. Their success has led to the commencement of creation of battle groups on both fronts, Pakistan and China. The latest Agni 5 missiles were inducted into the armed forces. Satellites to enhance military surveillance and communication capabilities were launched. The setback was the failure of the night launch of the Agni 3 missile.
The army modernization has enhanced Indian response to Pak’s ceasefire violations causing greater casualties with increased accuracy and range. Fire assaults have resulted in destruction of terrorist launchpads and supporting posts. The development of Indian capabilities resulted in Pak realising that it cannot match Indian military power.
The abrogation of Article 370 in J and K, converting the state into two union territories and imposing multiple restrictions, pushed Indo-Pak relations further downstream. Pakistan responded by downgrading diplomatic ties by withdrawing its High Commissioner. Imran even threatened a nuclear conflict which was globally ignored. It also attempted to build international pressure on India, which failed. In desperation, it sought to enhance infiltration to revive the militancy in the valley, most of its attempts again failing due to strong Indian response.
Despite all attempts by Pakistan, the situation in Kashmir has remained by and large peaceful. There has been a reduction in encounters as also casualties. Post the abrogation of Article 370 there have been no widespread protests. The additional forces inducted into the valley have been moved out, indicating the confidence within the government. However, development in the region continues to be tardy.
The opening of the Kartarpur corridor was the only positive step taken by Pak during the year. While Pakistan claimed that the corridor is to meet the demands of the Sikh community, India is apprehensive of its ulterior designs. There has been no forward movement on improving relations despite the opening of the corridor.
India-China relations have remained steady during the year. There has not been any progress on border resolution, though no major incidents were reported during the year. India has continued to develop its capabilities against China and is far better equipped to counter Chinese actions. Joint exercises with China continue as also do flag meetings to resolve any disagreements.
Chinese PLA Colonel, Wu Qian, stated in Beijing in his monthly press conference last week, ‘It (military ties) is an important component of the overall relationship. Thanks to the efforts of the two heads of state, the military relationship is improving, and the two countries maintain strategic dialogues and conduct practical cooperation and (have) also strengthened their exchanges along the borders.’
He added, ‘We are willing to work together with the Indian side to follow the guidance of our heads of state and promote military to military relationship.’ Chinese submarines have been observed in the Indian Ocean as also a Chinese survey vessel was chased away from India’s exclusive economic zone in the Andaman Sea in September.
International military cooperation has been on the rise. More countries desire to participate with the Indian armed forces in defence cooperation. Indo-US relations reached new heights with the successful conclusion of the recent 2+2 meeting in Washington. India and the US signed the Industrial Security Annex (ISA), which opens doors for American companies to partner Indian state-owned companies and share sensitive defence technologies. Similarly, enhanced cooperation continues with Russia and Japan, India’s two close allies.
Major reforms in management of defence were announced towards the end of the year, with the Government announcing the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). This would change the way Indian armed forces would operate in the years ahead. It would enhance the involvement of the armed forces in higher management of defence. It is likely to lead to the restructuring of the armed forces into theatre commands in the coming years, a long-standing demand of the forces. For a start joint long term planning and procurement would be the responsibility of the CDS.
A major problem faced by the armed forces over the years has not yet been addressed. This is the shortfall of funds, forcing them to cut revenue expenditure and transfer funds for defence preparedness. With the economy moving downhill, further allocation of funds is unlikely only adding to gaps in capability in the coming years.
The year 2019 has ended with India conveying to the globe that it is willing to respond with force to any attempts at destabilizing the nation. It has also indicated that the Indian armed forces are a global power and are presently being restructured to meet modern warfare.
The coming year may witness no change in relations with Pak as tensions would continue. With China, there would be an uneasy calm. Within the nation as the CDS settles in, there could be a move forward in enhanced jointness and better management of defence.
(The author is Major General, Retd)