Galwan Valley & Pangong Tso Clashes a Wake-Up Call for Military Reforms

In my previous opinion article “War Rhetoric doesn’t always Portray a Rosy Picture of our Armed Forces”, published in the previous edition of this newspaper, I tried to highlight some grave issues which affect our armed forces; like lack of adequate budget, lack of officers in the army, navy, especially pilots in the air force.
Moreover, the Galwan Valley Clash in June 2020 and the ongoing Pangong Tso confrontation should be a wake-up call for or military as well as political leadership to address some of severe issues plaguing our armed forces, which are otherwise considered to be one of the most strongest in Asia and in the world; such issues may continue to hinder their war preparedness and may limit them from utilizing their true combat potential in times of hostilities.
According to data of 2020 from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India continues to be the second-largest arms importer after Saudi Arabia, and remained the world’s second largest arms importer during the period of 2015-19.
This only reflects the dismal state of India’s domestic defence industry, which has been mired in corruption, inefficiency, bureaucratic red-tapism, lack of manpower, complex and overdue development cycles (take for example, the development of the indigenous Arjun Main Battle Tank and Tejas fighter jet, which took several decades) and have failed to produce some common equipment of acceptable quality and manufacture adequate spare parts for weapons of foreign origin. For example, the Arjun tank, although it proved itself better than the Russian-made T-90 tank (which is used by the Indian Army in huge numbers) in field trials, the army has expressed reluctance in purchasing it due to its heavy weight of over 60 tons (which would make it difficult to operate the tank in roads and bridges along the Pakistan border, and too heavy and wide to be transported by train or vehicles), lack of ammunition, lack of spares etc., and instead wanted to procure the T-90 tanks. In a 2018 report, it was mentioned that technical, reliability and maintenance issues rendered most of the Arjun tank fleet inoperable. Given that the tanks are highly dependent on foreign equipment — 60% of the tank is imported — the failure to get maintenance technology means that the systems have to be sent abroad for even minor repairs. Similarly, the army plans to purchase 72,000 US-made Sig Sauer and over 6.5 lakh Russian-made AK-203 assault rifles to replace the problematic indigenously-designed INSAS rifle.
However, it is worth noting that despite all these hindrances, Indian forces are using other numerous successful indigenous technologies produced by the Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO), including torpedoes like Varunastra, Maareech, Advanced Light Torpedo (TAL) Shyena; Electronic Warfare Technologies, radars, and missile systems like, Astra, BrahMos, and Nag missile.
Since 2014, there has also been a substantial increase in India’s defence exports. According to the latest official data given in the Rajya Sabha in February 2020, India’s defence export has jumped by 700% in just two years. The export authorization went up from $213 million in FY 2016–17 to $1.5 billion in FY 2018-19 (April to March period). Under the recent “Atmanirbhar Bharat” initiative, the government announced restrictions on the import of 101 weapons and military platforms, for which the embargo on imports are planned to be progressively implemented between 2020 and 2024.
But, for India to fully implement this plan in 4-5 years and become sufficiently self-reliant as a qualitative weapons-manufacturer, and also to increase her weapon’s exports, the government needs to root out many, including the aforementioned severe problems faced by our domestic defence industry.
The Indian Air Force (IAF), already facing a shortage of aircraft, continues to face several logistical and technical issues. In 2018, it was reported by the government that only 55% of the air force’s fighter fleet was operational, which was due to technical, maintenance issues and lack of spare parts. This had been further complicated by the arrival of the Rafale jets, as the air force already operates 6 different types of fighters (Su-30MKI, MiG-29, MiG-21, Mirage 2000, SEPECAT Jaguar, LCA Tejas) and the addition of an extra type will further complicate the existing problems as each type has its own unique logistical, technical, infrastructure and maintenance needs, as well as requirement of different spare parts. The air force needs to streamline its fighter fleet – reducing the number of types of aircraft is necessary to ease maintenance, logistical and spare parts issues. Perhaps the most viable option would be replacing the ageing platforms like Mig-29, MiG-21, Mirage 2000, and the Jaguar with the Dassault Rafale, which is the most advanced of all the other types. And for this the air force certainly needs way more than 36 jets.
The air force also needs to upgrade its BVR (Beyond-Visual-Range), surveillance, communication and reconnaissance capabilities. In 2019, during the February 27 aerial battle over Jammu & Kashmir, when intruding Pakistani F-16 fighters fired their AIM-120 AMRAAM BVR missiles at the defending Indian Su-30MKI fighters, the latter, fully defensive and desperate to escape from the incoming AMRAAMs, evaded from being shot down but were unable to fire back at the F-16s because they were out of position and their own missiles, the Russian-made R-77 missiles, did not have the range to realistically hit the Pakistani fighters; it cannot hit targets which are more than 80 kilometers away.
While it is hoped that the indigenous Astra missile with a range of 110-km will give adequate radius of deterrence against airborne missile threats, there is a renewed effort to negotiate longer-range RVV-SD and RVV-BD (K-77 ME) variants of the Russian R-77 BVR missile.
Against a requirement of 15 AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) and AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) systems, the IAF is equipped with only five. The requirement for two more AWACS and eight additional AEW&C is an urgent requirement for the IAF for readiness to face sudden escalations. In a war scenario, there could be many simultaneous missions, necessitating these numbers.
The IAF also needs to upgrade to sophisticated software defined radios (SDRs) in its aircraft because such data links integrated with Air Command and Control System is secure from interference and jamming by the enemy over normal voice radios.
India also needs to upgrade its cyber warfare capabilities. Our armed forces have been seized of the problem for the last two decades now, but not much has moved.
India has had Signal Intelligence and Electronic Warfare units for a long time. However, these are armed with outdated equipment. Indigenization has made no headway and import is extremely difficult due to reluctance of foreign governments.
We have yet to evolve a formal doctrine on Information Warfare. Although the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy are in a much better position than the Army, they too are well short of the desired capability. During the dogfight the day after Balakot, questions were raised about the electronic warfare capability of our aircraft in comparison to the F16s. We have done well to establish the Defence Cyber Agency and Defence Space Agency in 2018, but these are only baby steps and we have miles to go.
In sharp contrast, China has a head start of three decades and has been seized with Information Warfare doctrine since 1993. Therefore, our government must set up a task force with active participation of our Information Technology companies and IITs to catch up with China.
Keeping in mind the deteriorating bilateral relations between India and her two primary adversaries – an unstable Pakistan and an increasingly belligerent China, both of which routinely resort to tactics of border clashes and incursions, India’s effective military preparedness, backed by advanced and sufficient quantity of weaponry, manpower, and supported by proper intelligence gathering and modern command structure, comes as an imperative to at least act as a deterrent, even if not to wage full-scale war.

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