Guest Column | The Right Direction

It is the military power or ‘stick’ which provides the leverage to influence the behaviour of adversaries

Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha (retd)Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha (retd)

Military power forms a very vital component of Comprehensive National Power (CNP). The CNP is a catalyst that accentuates the efficacy, efficiency and effectiveness of statecraft and diplomacy of a nation to sustain a balanced relationship with friends and adversaries. The main ingredients of CNP, i.e., economic growth, human resources development, science and technological base, availability of natural resources, capability in space, IT, cyber and nuclear domains, as well as cultural prowess provide the ‘soft power’ or ‘carrots’ as a leverage to influence the behaviour of friendly nations. However, it is the military power or ‘stick’ which provides the leverage to influence the behaviour of adversaries or unfriendly nations.

The history of the world provides evidence that nations became great powers by achieving mastery in creation, deployment and use of military power to achieve national objectives. Therefore, there is a need to invest adequately in building military power if India wants to play an important role in international arena, as also deter a conflict with adversaries.

Military capability should be commensurate with national objectives and aspirations, threat perception and its mitigation and budgetary support, which in turn is a function of economic development. India desires and has worked for peace, tranquility and harmony in the world, especially in the region for sustained economic growth. Its good neighbourly policies are enshrined in the charters of the United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement and the Panchsheel Declaration in which India’s contribution has been significant.

India has no territorial ambitions and despite it good neighbourly policies, it has been drawn into several major conflicts since its Independence. The legacy of foreign rule stares at India with unsettled borders in terms of Line of Control (LC) and Line of Actual Control (LAC), incursions and stand-offs with two nuclear-armed neighbours. To deter a conflict there is hardly any option but to build adequate offensive military capabilities. The ability of the military to inflict severe punishment, if forced into a conflict is the key to deterrence. India should never be seen or perceived as a soft or weak state since it would encourage the bullies and invite trouble.  


Geo-Political and Security Environment

The recent developments in geo-politics and security environment have resulted in the shift of the world’s strategic centre of gravity to Indo-Pacific/ Asia. The major hub of economic activities of the world has also shifted to Asia. Instability and conflicts are raging in Asia, like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the Middle-East. These conflicts in the neighbourhood have a huge bearing on India’s security. The rise of fundamentalist forces, support of Pakistan to terrorist elements against India, the assertiveness of China in the region and Doklam-type of military stand-off have accentuated the security concerns for India.

Our western neighbour is the fountainhead of terror. Its army wields the real power, controls its external and nuclear policy and is obsessed with India as an existential threat. Its duplicitous behaviour is stark and audacious. It joined the Global War on Terror (GWOT) while using terror as a state policy. It is running with the hares and hunting with the hounds and yet it receives substantial support from some of the powerful nations.

In the 21st Century, the Asian nations would play a dominant role in world affairs. The rise of China has been phenomenal with sustained economic growth over two decades. It is an economic power dominating the world trade & commerce. It has not only made huge strides in creation of infrastructure within China but also across Asia and Africa. This effort has increased its strategic footprint and assertiveness in world affairs. Now, it is building its indigenous military power to buttress its claim to superpower status. The entire world hoped for peaceful rise of China, as a benevolent power. However, its assertiveness in East China Sea & South China Sea, enforcement of self-proclaimed 9-dash line and Air Defence Identification Zone, claims on various islands and reclamation of such islands to create infrastructure fit for military deployments and non-acceptance of ICJ verdict on territorial disputes in the region have raised apprehension amongst the littoral states of SCS.

India’s relations with China remain a multi-dimensional concern. There are both challenges and opportunities for the political, diplomatic and military leadership of India. There has been significant increase in defence spending of China with focus towards developing credible blue-water capability, boost to aerospace industry, extensive upgradation of infrastructure in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and conducting all year round air operations by large force levels stationed in TAR. Increased Chinese visibility in Indian Ocean Region (IOR), construction of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), unhelpful attitude towards India in its bid for permanent seat in United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) membership and repeated transgressions along the LAC are worrisome for India. Our security concerns vis-in-vis China has to be addressed at multiple levels. We should increase our military response capabilities while at the same time continue with our on-going pragmatic process to settle the boundary problem and enhance trade & commerce.

The comparison of India’s armed forces with any likely adversary is uncalled for and inappropriate. The army, navy and the Indian Air Force need to build capabilities commensurate with the overall security environment and India’s strategic needs to protect its sovereignty and legitimate strategic footprint. Its military power is not directed against any specific nation, but to mitigate the threats across the entire spectrum, ie, sub-conventional (terrorist attacks), conventional conflict as also non-conventional (nuclear) threats.

Troops boarding the C-130J during Exercise Gagan Shakti


Challenges for Indian Armed Forces

The challenges for the Indian armed forces in safeguarding the sovereignty of its land borders, maritime boundaries and aerospace frontiers are manifold.

Firstly, Peninsular India is the most prominent land feature of the Indian Ocean, jutting 2,000km into the sea. It has strategic implications both in terms of domination of the seas as also vulnerabilities of a porous 7,500 km coastline. The 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai is a testimony to our maritime vulnerability. The protection of the EEZ, island territories of Andaman and Nicobar, Lakshadweep & Minicoy and oil and gas exploration assets like Bombay High are very vital. The island territories provide India with enormous strategic advantages.

Secondly, India has nearly 15,000km of land border shared with China, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The terrain and climatic conditions are varied and unique and entails that the armed forces train and operate in some of the most hostile environment in the world. The Siachen glacier is the highest battlefield in the world, where we lose more soldiers to weather conditions than to enemy action. We have the highest airfield in the world, Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) in Ladakh at an elevation of almost 17,000 ft. The IAF operates AN-32 and C-130J transport aircraft at DBO for logistic supplies to our troops stationed there, though the maximum permissible altitude by the book for landing and take-off is only 12,000ft. Transport aircraft like C-17, IL-76 as well as Indian Army and Indian Air Force helicopters fly every day to air-maintain deployed personnel in the Himalayas. It calls for dedication, professionalism, skills and guts to undertake flying missions at those altitudes where the weather is very unpredictable and severe.

Thirdly, the Thar desert and the Rann of Kutch are very challenging to personnel, while the equipment performance deteriorates due to heat, dust and sand. The army and the air force operate in and over some of the most inhospitable tropical forests in the world located in the Northeast. The riverine terrain poses serious challenge to effective border patrolling and surveillance of the Bangladesh border. High humidity, salinity and corrosion in the coastal belts adversely affect performance of equipment, especially avionics.

Fourthly, the personnel have to be appropriately kitted and trained for effective operations in such diverse geographical conditions. Weapon systems and equipment have also to be optimised for specific areas because the flexibility of using them in all types of terrain & climatic conditions is limited.

Fifthly, the Indian armed forces are unique in many ways as compared to other major armed forces in the world. We operate weapon systems and equipment acquired from Russia, Europe, USA, Israel, as well as indigenously manufactured ones, requiring the best maintenance practices and a dynamic inventory management system. We have developed the expertise to integrate them and ensure interoperability despite differing operational, maintenance and exploitation philosophies of originating countries. Thus, when we conduct bilateral or multilateral military exercises with well-reputed countries, we get appreciated for the way we exploit weapon platforms and equipment so seamlessly despite their diversity of origin.

Sixthly, perception management is a very important aspect of effective deterrence. Stereotyping Indians as soft and weak by unfriendly states is another challenge that has to be countered to prevent misadventures. Some of the conflicts in the past, right from the time India became independent were perpetuated by adversaries with misperceived superiority over Indian armed forces’ personnel and its political leadership. They learnt their lesson in the 1971 conflict. But such notions which are not very flattering are being perpetuated in other quarters as well. This is a recipe for unwanted misadventure and conflict, because often the authorities are forced to act on popular beliefs.


Capabilities of Armed Forces

India’s military strategy is based on defence minister’s directive, which is governed by the ‘National Security Strategy’. The armed forces have their own ‘doctrines’ as well as ‘Joint Doctrine’ which provide the guideline on roles, tasks, composition, equipment, training and deployment of respective force to optimally fulfil its national obligations.

Currently, the Indian armed forces are the 4th largest in the world. They are a multi-spectrum, strategic force, highly regarded for their professionalism and achievements. The experience is several conflicts, counter-insurgency/ counter-terrorist operations, UN peacekeeping assignments, exposure to unique terrain & climatic conditions and diversity of weapon platforms are much sought after by established armed forces across the world.

I shall not delve into the details of manpower & equipment of the army, navy and air force. However, it would suffice to mention that the force structure, especially its offensive elements like strike corps of the army, aircraft carriers and nuclear powered submarines of the navy and heavyweight fighter/ fighter-bombers of the IAF is determined through logical analysis of the perceived threats, national objectives and budgetary constraints. The resultant Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) of the MoD prioritises the procurements to meet the overall defence needs of the country.

All the three components of military have vital roles to play both in terms of defensive capability against aggression as well as projecting offensive power for deterrence or achieving the desired end-state if drawn into a conflict.

Land Forces: The army must have adequate boots on ground and integral firepower, especially armour, mechanised infantry, artillery and air defence forces to defend land frontiers. The strength and number of strike corps has been rationalised, based on deployability in certain terrain and overall military objectives in various contingencies. The raising of the new mountain corps will help fill the existing voids in capability. Enhancing surface to surface conventional long and medium range rocket forces would soon provide a viable strike capability to the army. Deployment of a large number of UAVs and attack helicopters will enhance its intelligence gathering and offensive capability in the tactical battle area. Their augmentation is already under process. Internal restructuring as well as rebalancing its tooth to tail ratio will definitely enhance its overall operational capabilities.

Maritime Forces: The maritime domain is gaining importance exponentially. It will continue to play a major role, be it in peace or war. India has no option but to dominate the IOR for protecting its own interests and that of the friendly littoral states. India’s strategic frontiers have expanded with growing economic footprint, Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOC), and busy energy corridors. The Andaman & Nicobar island territories are strategically located close to choke points of sea routes for trade & commerce in SE Asia.

The navy has a reasonably good capability to meet its current tasks but to meet the future challenges, it needs to strengthen its sub-surface weapon platforms, both nuclear-powered and conventional submarines while simultaneously adding powerful warships to its fleet at sea and boost the anti-piracy and coastal water defence against sea-borne terrorist attacks, arms-smuggling, narcotics trade etc. Concrete steps have been initiated towards capacity enhancement of IN and Indian Coast Guard. Radars, rotary and fixed wing air-assets are being augmented to fill the voids in coastal surveillance.

The navy’s integral airpower is growing rapidly with the induction of several maritime reconnaissance aircraft and planned construction of indigenous aircraft carriers. Additional maritime reconnaissance aircraft are required for covering the entire IOR. While aircraft carriers are essential to project offensive airpower using maritime domain as launch pad, as also image or prestige of a powerful nation, but their vulnerability to long range missiles, stand-off weapons and sub-surface attack would determine the optimum number of aircraft carriers in the fleet. The effectiveness of shore-based combat aircraft in neutralising the envisaged threats vis a-vis carrier-borne aircraft in our context would determine the right force mix.


Aerospace Domain

Aerospace power provides immense relief and freedom from surface friction inherent in land and sea operations. Its ability to interface, integrate and influence operations on surface by providing a protective arm over own forces as well as launching offensive action against enemy forces to disrupt, delay, degrade and demoralise them before they join battle, makes aerospace power the war-winning factor. Victory in war without air dominance would be difficult. There is a compelling case for developing a strong aerospace power which provides the most efficient offensive capability to take the war to the enemy, hence an effective deterrence against conflicts.

The IAF is a well-balanced force with multi-spectrum capability. It is well-endowed with a large transport and helicopter fleet, operating round the clock to meet operational, air maintenance and civil tasks like Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) & aid to civil authorities in various contingencies. Large-scale induction of surveillance radars, surface to air missiles mostly indigenous and their integration through three-tiered communication network has enhanced the IAF’s air defence and Network-Centric Warfare capability.

It has almost all components of force enhancers like AWACS, Flight Refuelling Aircraft, UAVs etc, but needs further augmentation to meet future requirements. The area where there is a need to expedite action is the acquisition of combat aircraft to fill the voids in middle and light weight categories. Planned induction of Rafale, FGFA and LCA would certainly help in building up combat squadrons to the authorised 42. Induction of long range AD systems like S-400 missile, Anti-Ballistic Missile shield, ISTAR aircraft for surveillance in TBA and UCAVs would bolster its capability manifold.

Joint Operations: A very important aspect of war-fighting is the capacity of the armed forces to conduct efficient joint operations. The best example of joint operations is the lightning campaign of 1971 to liberate Bangladesh. While the structures for joint operations have evolved over a period and are in place, the template of 1971 war needs to be emphasised in all joint training for operations.

Currently, joint training, acquisition of equipment and conduct of HADR/ aid to civil authority contingencies are looked after by HQ IDS (Integrated Defence Staff) under the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC). Operational commands like the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) and Andaman Nicobar Command (ANC) are tri-services in composition under the COSC. Joint large scale exercises have been limited to army and air force in general, however, greater emphasis is required for large scale tri-service exercises.

Capabilities in space, cyber, net-centricity, AI & robotics would be the backbone of war-fighting and joint operations in the future. These domains are being developed as tri-services capabilities. The current space assets are limited but the planned development and deployment of satellites will fill the voids soon.


Other Aspects of Military Capability

Strategic autonomy is possible only when India develops the capacity to create critical technologies and manufacture military hardware to meet the needs of the armed forces. The Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) & Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU) have not been able to deliver adequately towards indigenous production and we continue to import large quantities of military equipment. Steps to revitalise indigenous efforts of the DRDO and DPSUs, as well as opening up defence manufacturing to private sector are in the right direction but needs concrete action on ground. The acquisition of equipment by the armed forces is very time-consuming, it is ‘process’ driven and not ‘outcome’ oriented. This is the main cause for loss of operational capability and needs to be corrected urgently.

Military diplomacy is one of the main pillars of statecraft and this aspect has not been understood adequately by the political authorities. India needs to engage all nations in the region, especially those with powerful armed forces through bilateral and multilateral exercises for strategic dividends.



The capabilities of the Indian armed forces are adequate to meet the current security challenges. Its military capabilities are not country-specific but are meant for the entire spectrum of threats. These are meant to deter a conflict.

The challenges before the armed forces are manifold in terms of unique & varied terrain, extreme climatic conditions, long coastline & porous borders. Its uniqueness also lies in varied source of equipment and its ability to make them interoperable despite different philosophies of operational exploitation and maintenance.

Our national security structure is in place but needs to be strengthened. LTIPP is well-formulated & prioritised but the acquisition process needs a revamp. Indigenous production of military hardware needs a huge push to ensure strategic autonomy.

The plans to enhance blue-water capability of the navy, raise mountain corps of the army and build-up combat aircraft strength of the air force to 42 squadrons need to be implemented expeditiously.

The tri-Services Space & Cyber Commands under COSC should be raised soon and ANC needs to be strengthened at the earliest to meet strategic interests of the nation. Finally, the nuclear capability triad needs to be constantly upgraded to enhance its operational viability.

(The writer is former Chief of Air Staff)


Call us