Force Modernization: Challenges for India

Author Name: Etfa Khurshid Mirza      08 Apr 2020     Defense

India and Pakistan have not only fought three major wars but have also been engaged in low-intensity conflicts as well as military crises over the past decades. India is enhancing its strategic and military capabilities and undergoing force modernization to emerge as Asia’s great power, a fact that is viewed with concern by its neighbours. The Indian military modernization plans include the acquisition of Ballistic Missile Defence, development of sub-sonic and supersonic cruise missiles, nuclear submarines, acquisition of modern aircraft (Rafale), and the development of offensive cyber and space capabilities. Nevertheless, these developments have been hampered by inadequate allocation of resources.
India plans to spend $130 billion on the procurement of new military technology by 2025 in order to enhance capabilities of army, navy and air force by securing warships, new aircraft, missiles, and submarines. Being the largest force, the army is getting the maximum share for its modernization. The Indian navy and air force have also been given huge shares for their training, and acquisition of new technology and its operationalization and deployment. 
For the fiscal year 2020, out of a defence budget of $66.9 billion, 68.4 percent  is allocated to meet the defence forces’ expenditure (including army, navy, air force and Defence Research and Development Organization), 28.4 percent for pensions and other miscellaneous expenses, whereas 3.2 percent was allocated for modernization of its defence forces. The Indian army is receiving a major chunk of the budget i.e. 56 percent, air force receives 23 percent, navy 15 percent and DRDO 6 percent.  
In view of the modernization drive pursued by the Indian government, the Ministry of Defence has signed nearly 14 contracts in the first ten months of the financial year 2019-2020. Due to the recent financial depression, the military modernization budget remained low for the year 2020. Due to this, the armed forces have been barred from planning for further military equipment, which is not in sync with India’s military ambitions. 
As per Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) Arms Transfer Database for the year 2019, India is the world’s second largest importer of arms since 2014; other states include Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Australia. The top three countries from where India is procuring most of its arms and military technologies are Russia (58 percent), Israel (15 percent) and the USA (12 percent). In last four years, India’s arms trade has increased by 43 percent, which is far more than its regional rivals, China and Pakistan. Only the Rafale deal with France is worth 7.87 billion euros and 5.43 billion dollars for S-400 contract from Russia. 
If we look at the challenges that undermine military modernization, civil-military bureaucratic dysfunctionality is one of the main reasons. After the creation of Chief of Defence Staff position, the objective of India’s military modernization, in line with India’s expanding interests, could be seen in the midst of a positive shift in civil-military relations in India.
Another challenge is the dominance of Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) over public sector firms which created a monopoly over the defence industry. As a result, there is a dearth of indigenous element in Indian defence research. Consequently, increasing dependence on other countries to acquire modern technology and equipment is the alternate option for India. Due to the fact that India has acquired most of its weapons systems and technology through external sources, lack of self-reliance to strengthen India’s own security requirement remains questionable as its defence industry has failed to fulfil Indian defence requirements in the present scenario. 
In view of India-Pakistan relations prior to Balakot strikes, the Indian military made prominent progress to operationalize its Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) which requires major acquisitions and force modernization. It is related to the construction of military infrastructure, increased surveillance, built bridges and roads, and shifted its logistical units and Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) to its shared borders with Pakistan and China. Lack of proper planning and poor policy prioritization has generated the issue of funds for other major defence procurements planned under the military modernization drive. For the year 2020 and onwards, the modernization budget was expected to exceed 5 percent, but due to economic slowdown it will be less than 3 percent. 
The major challenge for the Indian government is to shift its focus to indigenous development in order to facilitate long-term strategic planning. Moreover, besides traditional and non-traditional security threats, preparedness of the defence force for a war-like scenario is key in terms of preserving national security interests. The Indian decision-making hierarchy on security and strategic matters is intensely complex which is in turn affecting their defence preparedness as well. Therefore, force modernization is a far cry for a country like India facing problems ranging from budgetary problems to decision-making lacunas. 

 

Etfa Khurshid Mirza is a Researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), her area of interest is nuclear and strategic affairs. This article was first published in DailyNHT newspaper.