With all the press coverage given to events in the Middle East and the gradual buildup of China’s military power, it has been largely overlooked that India has recently started to rise as a military power with a more aggressive foreign policy within the region of Southeast Asia.
Towards this effect India has embarked on a series of military operations aimed at internationally and regionally expanding their mission beyond their borders. Recently Indian warships visited Cambodia and Thailand as part of a two-month long operational deployment in surrounding waters in pursuit of India’s ‘Act East’ Policy. Under the command of Rear Admiral Ajendra Bahadur Singh, the fleet entered the two Southeast Asian countries’ waters as part of a broader operational deployment to Southeast Asia and the Southern Indian Ocean. The ships were on a 45-day deployment, which included port calls to Jakarta (Indonesia), Fremantle (Australia), and Singapore, where they participated in the bilateral exercise SIMBEX-15 with the Royal Singapore Navy (thediplomat.com).
A further action that punctuates this expanded policy is the Indian Army’s rare strike on foreign soil on June 9. Indian paratroopers conducted cross- border raids on two insurgent camps in Myanmar –- across the Manipur and Nagaland borders -- inflicting "significant casualties" five days after 18 Indian soldiers were killed in Manipur’s Chandel district in the worst attack on security forces in 20 years. During this operation, two assault teams consisting of 40 solders each from the elite 21 Para (Special Force) Regiment had penetrated five to seven kilometers inside Myanmar and killed more than 20 insurgents in separate engagements that lasted less than 30 minutes, as first reported by HT on June 10. (www.hindustantimes.com).
This has all come at a time when the Indian political leadership has stepped up a tough dialogue regarding its long term foreign policy goals and strategy. In the latest ASEAN summit in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi used this week to unveil India’s new Act East Policy. He reiterated this point in his address at the East Asia Summit on November 13, stressing his government’s attention to the region in the six months since he came to power (thediplomat.com). As part of India’s ‘Act East’ policy Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a deliberate attempt to signal a more action- oriented policy toward East Asia (thediplomat.com).
At the same time, in recent weeks, India’s defense minister Manohar Parrikar stirred up criticism with a series of highly aggressive remarks towards Pakistan. He emphasized the need to resort to covert action in response to another major attack on India from Pakistan-based militants. “We have to neutralize terrorists through terrorists only. Why can’t we do it? We should do it.” This comes on top of previous comments where he advocated India initiating its own terror campaign in Pakistan (thediplomat.com).
As a further part of India’s ‘Act East’ policy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emphasized a deliberate attempt to signal a more action- oriented policy toward East Asia. (thediplomat.com)
At the same time, in recent weeks India’s defense minister Manohar Parrikar stirred up criticism with a series of highly aggressive remarks towards Pakistan. He emphasized the need to resort to cover action in response to another major attack on India from Pakistan-based militants. “We have to neutralize terrorists through terrorists only. Why can’t we do it? We should do it.” This comes on top of previous comments whereby he advocated India initiating its own terror campaign in Pakistan (thediplomat.com).
Issues: In accordance with this policy, India has embarked on a large scale overhaul and upgrade of technological portions of its military. In 2013 India launched its first indigenous carrier, the Vikrant, and in 2014 plans were put into effect to rebuild a Kiev Class carrier, the Vikramaditya. It has also pushed through plans to build a second indigenous carrier, the Vishal, which is expected to be nuclear powered and be able to launch larger strike fighters and other such fixed-wing aircraft that can be used for airborne rapid response missions.
This signifies a considerable increase in Indian naval power as India will now for the first time to be able to operate three Carrier Battle Groups. It is also acquiring General Atomics Electro Magnetic Aircraft Launch System from the United States Navy. If successful this program will ultimately give India naval superiority in the Indian Ocean as well as now obtaining global military reach.
In addition, the Indian navy is experimenting with N-2, a single seat light combat aircraft (LCA) which will possess a Beyond Visual Range Missile-To- Missile capability as well as tactical datalink integration. Russia has offered
to help co-develop an Active Phased Array Radar. Other fighter aircraft, the MiG-29K, will possess the fixed-wing fighter strike capability (Ansari, 12-13). They have also been negotiating with the French government to acquire several Dassault Rafale and upgraded Mirage 2000 jet fighter aircraft. Their current fleet of Mirage fighters is being further upgraded with night vision capabilities, electronic warfare systems, multi-layered/multi-mode radar, navigation and advanced missile capacities (Airforces Monthly Magazine, 30).
It is expected that by 2024 the Indian Air Force will have fully functional Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). A multi-role stealth aircraft, the AMCA is intended for a diversity of missions from air defense to effective striking of enemy air defense capabilities. If successful, the AMCA will have a projected maximum range of 2,800 km with abilities to deliver heavy combat payloads for deep penetration missions (Ansari, 12-13).
Additional Considerations: Aside from the international level, an aspect that must also be analyzed is the more regional concern of India’s relationship with Pakistan in the midst of all this. After a lull of nearly seven months, Pakistani Rangers once again resorted to mortar shelling without any provocation at forward Indian posts along the international border in Arnia in South Kashmir Himalayas.
Sources said that mortar shelling along with other small arms fire started from across the border around 6 pm and continued for nearly an hour. Though mortar shelling by Pakistan stopped around 7 am, its Rangers were continuously resorting to small arms fire until around 9 pm. Final reports came in attributing the Sunday firing by Pakistanis to desperation among Rangers to insert armed terrorists into India.
Last year, Pakistanis lobbed mortar shells even on civilian areas killing over half a dozen civilians and injuring many others at various places. As Rangers continued targeting civilian areas forcing migration, the BSF retaliated. The exchange of fire between the two sides continued for nearly a month causing Pakistan to approach the UN for intervention in an attempt to ensure peace on the borders (indianexpress.com). This comes at a time when the Indian military is conducting high altitude cold weather trials of their light combat helicopters in the mountains of the contested area of Kashmir (Simha, 20).
Perhaps more disconcerting is that at the same time Pakistan is also increasing its military capabilities. The US State Department recently approved the sale of 15 AH-IZ Viper attack helicopters to the Pakistan military. This is along with a one thousand AGM-114R Hellfire II missiles in addition to modernized communication, optical capabilities, target sighting systems, missile warning and joint mission planning systems. The acquisition of this equipment is part of Pakistan’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency campaigns being conducted in the South Asia region (where Kashmir is located). These aircraft are high altitude oriented designed for mountainous all-weather operations (Air Forces Monthly Magazine, 31). This only part of a much more extensive military development program the Pakistanis are engaging in to modernize their technological warfare capabilities (Air Forces Monthly Magazine, 68-69).
The current situation of the Indian military buildup has to be observed from different perspectives. On a more regional level, what is the long term consideration towards Pakistan? No matter what is presently being done, Indian military objectives are still several years away from coming to fruition with projected dates as far off as 2026 and 2033. This gives observers time to more thoroughly analyze the long term ramifications and intentions of India’s global strategy. Still it is obvious that if current trends continue India, will in the near term, be a world military power that will have to be dealt with more seriously in foreign policy considerations.
The more immediate concern is the regional trouble India has and will continue to have with Pakistan. It is dangerous enough that both countries are developing more modern and sophisticated militaries. What should not be overlooked is that both are also nuclear powers. India’s nuclear weapons program is a cornerstone of New Delhi’s security strategy for the 21st century.
For most of the post-war period, India badly trailed the established nuclear powers in weapon quality, quantity, and the sophistication of delivery systems. In recent years, however, India has indicated a willingness to take the steps necessary to becoming a first rate nuclear power. The current balance of nuclear power in South and East Asia is unstable, and likely to result in a nuclear arms race involving Pakistan, India, and China (nationalinterest.org).
India first tested a nuclear explosive device in 1974. That test spurred Pakistan to ramp up work on its secret nuclear weapons program. India and Pakistan both publicly demonstrated their nuclear weapon capabilities with a round of tit-for-tat nuclear tests in May 1998. As of last projections India has between 90-110 nuclear warheads; Pakistan between 100 to 120 nuclear warheads (www.armscontrol.org).
The current hostilities are part of a long running campaign between the two nation-states. However, since the Mumbai attacks a few years ago, political sentiment in India has become more aggressive towards taking a stronger stance against Pakistan, as reflected by comments above. This should then raise concern that while all-out war is not likely, the traditional policy that has governed the relationship between the two may change drastically for the more hostile and less predictable.
Recommendations: It is inevitable that India will gradually rise as a more serious global force. In light of that, the only viable option that can be pursued is for current global powers to factor India, and more precisely the India/Pakistan conflict into a greater international perspective whereby such issues as the future of Kashmir is negotiated by an independent mediating institution and monitored by outside security elements.
India will have to be considered in one of two lights, either a potential ally that must eventually be incorporated into a wider cooperation through NATO or a new independent alliance. Along these lines military support to Pakistan will have to be stopped or seriously decreased.
Or, alternatively, it may have to be viewed as a new potential threat along the lines of hostile states such as Iran, in which case a military strategy will have to be developed towards inhibiting India’s ability to see its military program completed. As a formidable military force with already developed nuclear weapons program, India will be a far more formidable adversary that could catapult the global spectrum back into a cold-war like state.
India’s First Upgrade Mirage 2000s Delivered, Air Forces Monthly Magazine, Issue #327, June 2015 p30
India to Order 36 Rafales for Early Delivery, Air Forces Monthly Magazine, Issue #327, June 2015 p30
Pakistan Requests 15 AH-1Z Vipers, Air Forces Monthly Magazine, Issue #327, June 2015 p31
Exclusive Interview with new Pakistan Air Force Chief: PAF’s Cutting Edge Grows, Air Forces Monthly Magazine, Issue #327, June 2015 p 68-69
Simha, Sanjay, LCH cold-weather trials: India’s Light Combat Helicopter heads to mountains, Combat Aircraft magazine June 2015 p 20
First Upgrade Mirage 2000s delivered, Combat Aircraft magazine June 2015 p 20 Pakistan: Block 2 JF-17 takes flight, Combat Aircraft magazine June 2015 p 21
Ansari, Usman, Full Steam Ahead For India’s Global Carrier Reach, Warships International Fleet Revealed, June 2015 p 12-13