By Cdr Sandeep Dhawan
Col Grant Newsham’s new book “When China Attacks: A Warning to America,” is a wake-up call for the United States. The book argues that the dispute between the US and China cannot be solved by reasonable discussion. The West also thought that increasing commercial activities will make China more suitable to fit in the free world. Today they regret that step.
Is today’s India also repeating the mistakes of the West and past Indian leaders?
Is Indian leadership ignoring the obvious that the appeasement policy doesn’t cut ice with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or it is just biding the time?
Well, Indian leadership and the military are aware of the conundrum India is in. It is amply clear from Indian Army chief General Manoj Pande’s talk at the Savitribai Phule Pune University on March 27, where he said — China is seeking to replace the US as the global net security provider while believing in the policy of “might is right”.
So, the question arises, if that day comes, are Indian forces ready to take on China?
The Indian compulsions
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) India’s defence spending had increased by 50 percent in the past decade, making India the world’s third-biggest military spender. However, 53 percent of the Indian defence budget goes to salaries and pensions, and only 23 percent is left for the procurement of new military ware.
Compared to this the official Chinese military budget is roughly $225 billion. However, as per SIPRI, China has many ways to camouflage its civilian spending on the military. Therefore, as per one estimate, the budget could be 25 to 50 percent higher or between $280-335 billion. That means China’s defence budget is 3.5 to 4 times the Indian defence budget.
The territory under Chinese control is roughly 2.9 times the size of India and China shares a land border with thirteen countries – excluding POK – and all those borders are disputed. China also has maritime disputes with six countries. Therefore, China has the compulsion to keep a sizable military presence on all borders and at sea at all times.
Defence forces and defence industry
The biggest drawback for India is the defence industry which is in its nascent state.
As per the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India report the replacement of the existing artillery guns with state-of-the-art guns has been progressing at a slow pace over the last two decades.
Ordnance Factory Khamaria (OFK) was unable to successfully test the indigenously developed Arming Device of ammunition even after a lapse of 17 years of the Transfer of Technology (ToT). OFBs produce 5.56 mm INSAS Rifle, 5.56 mm LMG, and 9 mm auto pistols, etc that have an 11-41 percent failure rate.
Indian Navy’s challenges
The P75 Kalvari-class submarine project was approved in 1997, the transfer of technology (ToT) to build the submarine locally was signed with France in October 2005, and the Indian Navy got its first submarine in the class in 2017. By the time the last boat would be delivered, it would be a whopping 27 years.
The P75I submarine project was conceived in 1999, and approved in 2010, but is yet to see the light of the day.
INS Vikrant was conceived in 2009, commissioned after 13 years in 2022 has to make do with a fleet of 40 Mig-29K/KUB (average serviceability rate of 27/34%) due to inordinate delay in selecting new fighter (F/A-18 or Rafale-M) and Twin-Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) that may make its maiden flight beyond 2026.
On the other hand, China will have a fleet of 440 ships and submarines by 2035.
Indian Air Force’s achilles heel
Currently, IAF has 31 fighter squadrons, with three Mig-21 squadrons retiring by 2025, phasing out of Mig-29, and Jaguars will commence in 2029 followed by Mirage-2000. That means the squadron strength may go way below 30 if drastic steps are not taken.
The IAF has ordered 40 Tejas Mk1, 73 Tejas Mk1A, and 10 trainers. Mk1A is likely to take to the skies by the end of 2023. HAL promises to commence deliveries in February 2024 and complete the order in five years. Tejas Mk2 is likely to make its maiden flight in 2027 and deliveries in 2030. The IAF may order up to 106 Mk2s.
Even if all the above is achieved, the IAF will have only 35 squadrons by 2035. Whereas China is adding 90 4.5 to 5-gen aircraft to its fleet every year, making 90% of its fleet strength new-gen by 2035. They have also commenced work on 6th gen aircraft.
India is not sitting tight
Reviewing the operational readiness of the armed forces during the Combined Commanders Conference in Bhopal on April 1, 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the three Services to stay ready to deal with new and emerging threats while stating that all steps are being taken to equip the armed forces with necessary weapons and technologies.
The Indian Army is now acquiring an improved Akash Weapon System, 12 weapon locating radars Swathi, Nag anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), Indian-made AK-203 rifle, AT4CS AST ground combat weapon, Zorawar light tank, and several UAVs.
The Indian Navy is acquiring 13 indigenously developed Lynx-U2 fire control systems, Next Generation Maritime Mobile Coastal Batteries (Long range), 200 BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, 11 next-generation offshore patrol vessels, and Scorpene submarine Vagsheer.
The Indian Air Force is acquiring 90 units of Electronic Warfare (EW) Suite Equipment for Medium Lift Helicopter, induction of C-295 transport aircraft, Surface to Air Missile for Assured Retaliation (SAMAR) system, and the weapon.
Infrastructure: India has spent ₹20,767 crore on the construction of 3,595 km of roads to provide all-weather access to borders with China, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh between 2017-22. Out of this ₹15,477 crore were spent on road projects near the India-China border alone.
The Moot Question still remains
India has to keep in mind that as of now, 45 percent of Indian Army equipment is vintage, 41 percent of the equipment is of current technology, and only around 12-15 percent of the equipment is “state-of-the-art.” India is aiming to get to 45 percent of the equipment in the state-of-the-art category and 35 percent of current technology by 2030.
So the question remains — ‘is India ready for a war with China?’. The answer is ‘Yes and No.’ Yes, if the war is imposed upon India, then it has lots of strengths to take China on, or else India sees an opportunity to recapture Aksai Chin when China is distracted by the invasion of Taiwan. No, if India can manage the border situation and incursions well while enhancing capability and capacity.
Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd), a veteran of the Indian Navy, Cdr Dhawan served in the Navy from 1988 to 2009. He was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Flying Instructor. He is a geopolitical analyst and writes for various online websites and organizations.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times