The dragon smiles with a pinch all around. The conclusion of the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CCP) has thrown up a new dimension in the geo-politics of the region. Mao’s legacy is history, so it seemed after his enigmatic portrait was replaced by the one and only one towering visage, Xi Jinping. Selection of a 200 member central committee, a 25 member politburo and an Apex Politburo Standing Committee (PSC; having just five to nine most powerful party leaders) is the hallmark of the event at the Great Hall of the People. There are no surprises here, Xi Jinping will be central to all and central to the central leadership, that’s how it works, more work behind the curtain than what is seen and heard.
Welcome to the emerging new world order. Trump and Modi leading the two largest democracies of the world, Abe returned to power to institutionalize the reforms he has conceived and worked for, Xi returned with a larger than life enigma, and we have Kim Jong Un and leaders like Kim to provide for the balance of geopolitics. What are the major implications for the largest democracy in the shadow of these developments and how must we position ourselves in this new world order.
Xi has emphasised that the PLA is vital for the party and hence a need to keep them close to themselves, well it is no secret that Xi’s spouse is a serving Major General in the PLA. Idea is to have an expert system and yet retain complete control over them. The CCP now infiltrates all organs of governance and corporate. In an effort to woo the PLA, PLAN, PLAAF, rocket forces and others, the underlying emphasis would be on modernisation of the Armed Forces, to keep them loyal and ready.
The thrust of the PLA’s modernisation is based on the concept of non-contact wars which rely on psychological operations that compel the enemy into submission without an actual military engagement.
An effort in the reorganisation of the PLAAAF has witnessed a flattening of the apex structure with Xi calling all the shots, he is known to be present in the Military Operations Planning Room and in direct conversation with the theatre commanders. The concept adopted is a limited war under Informed conditions; smaller military objective with major political connotations. Information Warfare, Electronic Warfare and Surveillance are integrated and applied as a single homogenous entity. While the 21 group armies in the 1990s has reduced to just 13 Group Armies today, the quality of recruitment as wella s arms and equipment has improved considerably. They train in an exclusive area of about 10,000 Sq Km, a unique and tough concept indeed.
PLAN intends to incorporate 65 Destroyers and Frigates, of which they have 21 x Destroyers, 35 x Frigates, 20 x Corvettes and notably 56 Amphibious ships. They are progressing towards a Blue-Water Navy(PLAN); as they consistently increase their tonnage and can meet a wide range of operations. The Ari Craft Carrier capability is equally large.
Aircraft carriers can be bought off the shelf or for that matter a Strike Corps is not as much as a problem as it is to deploy them, train them to become battle worthy. Their combat capability has increased since the modernisation drive began in 2014.
While China is racing ahead in its drive to modernisation, we have not even been good spectators. China’s new round of modernisation of its Armed Forces began in 2010 indicating major progress in 2020 and to fight and win wars in the mid 21st century. They would keep talking and keep nibbling, confusing the world and yet eating into real estate on ground, at sea and in the air. A larger emphasis is on IW, EW, and ensuring information dominance. Their foray into Space is admirable, with the military(PLA SSF) in complete control of all Space programs and IW. They have 181 satellites in orbit from a meagre 10 (in 2000). What is of importance is the importance given to Cyber W and IW since Xi Jingping heads the Centre for Cyber Space Affairs. Investment in skill development is note-worthy with a demand of 1.2 million work force by 2020 from a present demand of 700, 000(of which the country is able to field only 30,000 as on today.
Where are we?
Acquisition of the Rafales from Dassault Aviation of France has brought about a sense of ascendency in the might of IAF, parity in capability was always in the favour of the IAF. Additional Rafales, the ongoing discussion needs to be taken to a logical conclusion, thus arming the IAF with a capability to set the Chinese thinking. Our military balance is more equal due to the SU MKI and now the Rafales.
Acquisition of the Single Engine aircrafts, is another important milestone that would set parity at a more equal level, both in quality and quantity. Gripen E next generation, is a natural choice given the advanced technology incorporated and the state-of-the art features. Aerospace industry in India is set to grow to levels never seen before. US would be happy with this choice for the important part of engines and few other systems belong to them. Single engine aircrafts will also help assist the AMCA program in stealth capability, while expediting its development.
Air to air refuelling capability has been put on the back-burner, needs to be revived.
Advanced US technologies incorporated in the Predators and Avengers would integrate such capabilities both in terms of passive and active intervention(when required). This would endeavour to enhance our IW capabilities in the Sub-continent. Cooperation with the US for being a part of the “Fish Hook”, the improved sound surveillance system as also the General Dynamics developed “DRAPES(Deep Reliable Acoustic Path Exploitation System)”, to get reliable information on the movement of submarines in our area of interest. As Russia, and especially China, have developed larger and more advanced submarine fleets, the U.S. Navy has had to re-learn old Cold War anti-submarine warfare competencies while developing new capabilities to tackle more challenging modern submarine technology. Using cueing data from those platforms, improved local anti-submarine assets like the P-8I Poseidon sub hunter aircraft(ASW capabilities) and surface combatants with new, improved towed sonar arrays of their own, like the Multi-Function Towed Array, can then close on a target, and track or engage it as needed. Use of UAVs in tandem is a force multiplier.
The acquisition of A-330 based AWACS is a long pending program, the government may like to pursue to achieve the over-arching capability in IW and command and control of the areas of Interest. This will be in sync with the other programs that are in the pipeline In addition, Amphibious aircrafts from Japan is an essential pre-requisite to project force in areas of interest, besides enhancing maritime amphibious capability both at sea and across the Brahmaputra.
Capitalising on the progress made in the Indigenous EW Program, it is a neighbourhood call to enhance capabilities in EW and IW, incorporating all facets of IW. Information Ascendancy is a battle wining factor. If the Chinese had a Sun Tzu, we have a Chanakya Niti. The greatest recorded war in history, the Kurukshetra war, is replete with examples of Information Warfare in aid of the greatest of Army Commanders ever on a battle field. Our leadership needs a lesson or two from the Bhagwat Gita, to improve upon IW, EW, Psy W, Cyber W and create a potent force to deal with Information and cyber.
Does a requirement exist for us to re-evaluate our capabilities in IW and space and initiate an effort to integrate the capabilities for a national benefit and not relegate it to a specific service, to create and enhance national capability.
The SSBN capabilities of China are not much to talk about and our own Prithvi has more than matching capability and Nirbhay successfully tested for more than 1000 Km range; with the steady progress in the IMDGP, we would retain the leadership position in the subcontinent. In the application of Force, we would retain a more than equal capability.
Is there more we can do?
Yes, much more, but then, we may like to address the programs that have been listed above, they are already in the pipeline.
The programs in the pipeline will provide us with a Airborne EW capability duly integrated with UAVs, UAS, shipborne sensors, ground based EW capabilities and an ascendancy in IW. This is an essential pre-requisite for launching of operations.
We are at a cusp of a Defence Industrial Revolution, with the more friendly Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP 2016), the implementation of Strategic Partnerships and a number of MAKE programs on the anvil, the government will do well to put into action all of the above programs to enable them to fructify by 2020.
We as a nation have little choice but to actively speed up modernisation for the Indian Armed Forces. Let the Armed Forces guard the nation effectively and let the nation equip the Armed Forces efficiently.