The Indian military modernization has posed threats on South Asia strategic stability and the fragile balance of power in the region. Also, India’s national interests of becoming a regional hegemon and fighting the China-Pakistan nexus militarily underscores its aims to bolster its military power. Undeniably, such efforts by India would trigger an arm race in South Asia which ironically, in the backdrop of balance of terror, would beget instability and hamper any prospect of solving contentious Pak-India issues through dialogues.
Indian military modernization through increased defense budget
India, a key player in the South Asian region and a strategic partner of the US, is the world’s third largest military spender after the United States and China. India, having the second largest standing army, fourth largest air force and fifth largest navy in the world, stands out in the list of regional powers.
The Indian government has announced a defense budget of $49.6 billion for fiscal year 2021-2022, which is a significant rise as compared to the defense allocation of $47.98 billion for 2020-2021. The Indian army, air force, navy and state-owned Defense Research and Development Organization will get $4.9 billion, $7.2 billion, $4.55 billion and $1.55 billion respectively.
Furthermore, $18.48 billion have been set aside for weapons procurement. These figures give a clear signal that the Indian government is focused on modernization of the armed forces despite the economic downturn as India’s GDP shrank 7.3% in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19.
Russia, France, US and Israel pumping life to Indian military
India is seeking to buy advanced and high technology weaponry globally, mostly from Russia. Over 60% of India’s arsenal, including submarines, aircrafts and armoured vehicles, continues to be of Russian origin. India has also received the first batch of Rafael jets from France in July 2020. It has also signed a deal worth $200 million with Israel for the procurement of bomb guidance kits, anti-tank guided missiles and software-enabled radios.
But Indian military planners can face some challenges such as maintaining a large military force equipped with hardware purchased from several suppliers like Russia, France, US and Israel. Another challenge could be assured availability of funds for future procurements.
Becoming regional hegemon by modernizing Indian military
The process of military modernization by India reflects the national ambition of becoming a regional power, and becoming a major power at global level. Keeping this aim in mind, the Indian government has decided to spend $130 billion to modernize its armed forces in the next 5 to 7 years.
Besides, India has made efforts in construction of roads along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and building of steel fence along the Line of Control (LOC) in order to address its disadvantages.
Furthermore, the Indian navy has decided to increase the number of conventional submarines from 15 to 24 and to add six more nuclear submarines which could take another decade to enter into service.
The Indian navy also needs more surveillance assets like the manned P-8I Poseidon and the unmanned Sea Guardian drone. Indian Air Force (IAF) needs Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).
Fighting a two-front war with Pak-China
The Indian military planners are also preparing to fight a two-front war with Pakistan and China. The Indian policy makers need to factor the cost of such a war in their planning as it might impact the outcome of war.
The Indian military planners have estimated that the Indian Air Force needs 42 fighter squadrons for a two-front war, and the navy needs 200 warships and 500 aircraft to control the Indian Ocean.
While the Indian navy is currently operating only 140 warships and 220 aircrafts according to an Indian journalist and retired Colonel of the Indian army, Ajay Shukla. A major challenge to the two-front war situation could be the vast geographical separation and rapid movement of troops from one sector to another sector.
Threat to overall South Asia stability
Indian military modernization has grave implications for the South Asian strategic stability. Bilateral relations between India and Pakistan are characterised by “action-reaction syndrome” which means that any action taken, voluntarily or involuntarily, by either of the countries will certainly have reaction from the other country because of the security dilemma and threat perception of each state.
Conventional superiority of New Delhi and its rapid military build-up have increased pressure on Islamabad to rely more on nuclear force, and also modernize its conventional forces. In order to operationalize a conventional response to Cold Start Doctrine (CSD), Pakistan has also conducted military exercises codenamed Azm-e-Nau since 2009.
India’s growing conventional capabilities and its more proactive military plans, such as CSD, are responsible for Pakistan’s acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons because Pakistan has signaled in various ways that it would use Nasr against a major Indian offensive breakthrough that threatens Pakistan’s sovereignty. With both countries sharing borders, Indian military aggression pose threat to Pakistan’s national and territorial sovereignty, thus eliminating any prospects of restraint through dialogues.
Indian military modernization triggering arms race
The Indian military modernization program is also promoting a security dilemma in the South Asian region because when India tries to increase its military strength, Pakistan feels insecure and tries to increase its military capabilities to maintain a balance. This could trigger a feverish armed race to maintain the fragile balance of power in South Asia. Security issues of India and Pakistan are interlinked and neither of the states can take decisions without considering its implications for the other state.
The Indian military modernization is causing instability in the South Asian region as tense relations between India and Pakistan are key features of the strategic environment of the region. Furthermore, domestic politics, counter-terrorism challenges, role of governments and military establishments, uncertainties, and absence of nuclear risk reduction measures are destabilizing factors for South Asia strategic stability.
Read more: Why India failed to emerge as a world power
Way forward for a stable South Asia
Strategic stability in South Asia would remain elusive until both countries address the contentious issues between them in a paradigm which is characterized by respect for each other’s sovereignty and coexistence. Both states need to focus more on economic development, confidence building measures and ways to keep conflict situations at the bay through mutual independency. Additionally, to have safe, secure and stable South Asia, Pakistan’s proposal for a Strategic Restraint Regime is a viable way forward.
The writer, Muhammad Usama Ali is working as an intern at Center for International Strategic Studies Islamabad (CISS). He studies Strategic Studies at National Defense University. He can be reached at email@example.com The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space