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How India hoodwinks the world about its real military budget

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India’s Union Budget for the financial year 2020-21 envisages a total outlay of Rs. 30,42,230 crore. Out of this, Rest. 3, 37,553 crore has been allocated for military (excluding military pension). For military pensions, an amount of Rs. 1, 33,825 crore has been provided in Budget Estimates 2020-21. There is an increase of Rs. 40,367.21 crore in the total military allocations (Rs. 4, 71,378 crore) including military over the financial year 2019-20. Total military budget accounts for 15.49 per cent of the total central government expenditure for the year 2020-21.

The allocation of Rs. 4, 71,378 crore represents a growth of 9.37 per cent over Budget Estimates (Rs. 4, 31,010.79 crore) for the financial year 2019-20. Out of Rs. 3, 37,553 crore allocated for the financial year 2020-21, Rs. 2, 18,998 crore is for the Revenue (Net) expenditure and Rs. 1, 18,555 crore is for capital expenditure for the Defence Services and the Organisations/Departments under Ministry of Defence. The amount of Rs. 1, 18,555 crore allocated for capital expenditure includes modernisation related expenditure.  A think-tank published the key indicators as shown in following table which slightly differ from some media reports.

India’s Military Budget: Key Indicators

Indicator        2019-202020-21
Military Budget (Rs. in Crore)3,05,2963,23,053
Growth of military Budget (%)     9.35.8
Revenue Expenditure  (Rs. in Crore)                     2,01,9022,09,319
Revenue Expenditure (Rs. in Crore)                     2,01,9022,09,319
Growth of Revenue Expenditure (%)         8.93.7
Growth of Revenue Expenditure (%)         8.93.7
Growth of Revenue Expenditure (%)8.93.7
Share of Revenue Expenditure in Military Budget (%)6665
Capital Expenditure (Rs. in Crore) 1,03,3941,13,734
Growth of Capital Expenditure (%)         10.010.0
Share of Capital Expenditure in military Budget (%)3435
Share of Capital Expenditure in Central Government Capital3128
Capital Acquisition (Rs. in Crore)80,95990,649^
Growth of Capital Acquisition (%)          9.212.0
Share of military Budget in GDP (%)1.491.44
Share of military Budget in Central Government Expenditure (%)         11.010.6
Defence Pension (Rs. in Crore) 1,12,0801,33,825
Growth of military Pension (%)3.019.4
MoD (Civil) (Rs. in Crore)           13,63514,500
Growth in MoD (Civil) (%)-15.96.3
MoD’s Budget (Rs. in Crore) 4,31,0114,71,378
Growth in MoD’s Budget (%)     6.6       9.4 
Share of MoD Budget in GDP (%)2.12.1
Share of MoD Budget in Central Government Expenditure (%)         15.515.5

Deceptive figures: India showcases its ‘transparent’ military expenditures on websites.  But the real expenditure in past years has been much greater than that exhibited on websites. In the past, India unnoticeably increased its military outlays in revised and then actual estimates.  Thus the actual military expenditure is much higher than the initial estimates, quoted in international media under a hypnotic spell.

To hoodwink general reader, India deflates its military expenditure through clever stratagems. It publishes its `demands for grants for “defence” services’ separately from demands for grants of civil ministries that includes its defence ministry (MoD).

It clubs military pensions in civil estimates. There are several other quasi-military provisions that are similarly shoved in civil estimates. Such concealed defence provisions include public-sector undertakings under MoD like dockyards, machine tool industries (Mishra Dhatu Nigham), and Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited, besides space-and-nuke/chemical/biological-research projects, border and strategic roads and a host of paramilitary forces (Border Security Force, Industrial Reserve Force, etc.).

Why India does so? It does so to `lower’ its military budget as proportion of Gross National Product. Through such ploys, India, as compared with its neighbours, gets a favourable image in The Military Balance, Jane’s Defense, and other international magazines.

The analyses of India’s military spending suffer from an inherent shortcoming. They have to rely on figures showcased by India on official websites. As such, the true quantum of military budget is deflated. The deflated figures are used to make inter-country, inter-region or endogenous comparisons like military budget as proportion of total civil and military outlay.

Without a hard copy of Explanatory Memorandum to Demands for Grants, it is difficult to analyse the budget. The approved outlays are further increased via revised outlays and upward readjustments of actual-expenditures.

The memorandum could throw light on India’s mega purchases. They include carbine rifles for army, Advanced Jet Trainers, Airborne Warning and Control system, additional Mi-17 Helicopters, MiG-29 upgrade, Low-Level Transportable Radar, Integrated Air Command and Control System and Surveillance Radar Element in respect for the air force. Weapon Locating Radar and T- 72 upgrade in respect of the Army, Rafaels, so on.

During his visit to India, president Trump of the United States It offered to sell India US$ 3 billion (per one unit) Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) missile defence systems as an alternative to the Russian S-400 system. India ditched Russia from whom it had decided to purchase five S-400s Russian S-400s air defence systems at cost of US$5.4 billion. With US tacit support, India is getting tougher with China. There was a 73-day standoff on the Doklam 

(Donglang in Chinese) plateau near the Nathula Pass on Sikkim border last year. Being at a disadvantage vis-a-vis India, China was compelled to resolve the stand-off through negotiations.  In the later period, China developed high-altitude “electromagnetic catapult” rockets for its artillery units to liquidate Indian advantage there, as also in Tibet Autonomous Region. China intends to mount a magnetically-propelled high-velocity rail-gun on its 10,000-ton-class missile destroyer 055 being  built.

India took up the development of the Sittwe Port in Myanmar as part of the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project for building a multi-modal sea, river and road transport corridor for shipment of cargo from the eastern ports of India to Myanmar through Sittwe. India upgraded its existing listening post in northern Madagascar. India has obtained access to the US naval base in Diego Garcia, and to the French naval bases in Mayotte and Reunion islands, besides Australian naval base in Cocos (Keeling. Robert Kaplan, in his book, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and Future of American Power, argues that the geopolitics of the twenty-first century will hinge on the Indian Ocean. Waters of the Indian Ocean reach 28 countries which together account for 35 per cent of the world’s population and 19 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. Sixty per cent of the world’s oil shipments from the Gulf countries to China, Japan and other Asian countries pass through these waters which host 23 of the world’s busiest ports.

China is currently exploring an area of 10000 Square kilometres in the South-West Indian Ocean Ridge through its state-controlled China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association It is  also exploring Clarion- Clipperton Fracture Zone in the Pacific. Simultaneously, it is modernising and upgrading its naval fleet on a massive scale. Besides, China is technologically augmenting its  indigenous manufacturing capability by empowering its two largest state-owned shipbuilders, China State Shipbuilding Corporation and Shipbuilding Industry Corporation.Conspicuously, India is set for big purchases in the new budget to master the skies and the Indian Ocean. It reflects her desire’to establish her hegemony in the region.

World’s third largest military spender: Earlier Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) has observed India’s military spending grew 6.8 % to touch $71.1 billion outpacing Japan ($47.6 billion) and South Korea ($43.9 billion). The US, China and India were the world’s three biggest military spenders in 2019, followed by Russia and Saudi Arabia. Now, the two Asian countries have become top three for the first time. The three countries were ahead of Russia ($65 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($61.8 billion) who together were world’s top military spenders. They accounted for 62% of the global military spend including salaries, benefits, operational expenses, arms and equipment purchases, military construction, research and development, central administration, command and support.

India’s spending rose by 6.8 % and touching $71.1 billion outpacing Japan’s ($47.6 billion) and South Korea’s ($43.9 billion).

Misconception:  Indian policy of increasing her military outlays is based on strategic misconceptions. India thinks it would be suicidal for Pakistan to increase her military budget pari passu with India’s.  In any case, Pakistan could not afford to spend more than half the increase in India’s military budget. A higher allocation would sap Pakistan’s resource potential for growth in future.

India thinks Pakistan has to choose between Scylla and Charybdis, that is economic collapse or military preparation. India’s perceptions historically have proved to be wrong. Pakistan neutralised the impact of this differential economic performance by, going nuclear, and developing tactical nuclear weapons like Nasr short-range missile.

Comparison with binary Pakistan: Pakistan conventionally mentions ‘a one-line cumulative military outlay’ in its defence budget. This gives the negative impression that defence establishment compels lawmakers to thumb-impress military demands for grants. Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy says, “Pakistan’s Auditor General has expressed reservations in the past at the Public Accounts Committee meeting at the National Assembly about the lack of auditing of the military budget.”  Her view is based on fact that, in 2016, the Auditor General of Pakistan, a constitutional body empowered to examine all government expenditures made from public money, told the Pakistani parliament that the funds given to military institutions were exempt from audit.

The truth however remain that Pakistan’s military authorities, including its defence ministry, publicly announced that they would provide whatever information the people’s representatives need. The reps have never been curious notwithstanding.

Pakistan’s defence demands undergo a rigorous scrutiny by relevant parliamentary committees and audit bodies.  Legislators and MoD babus are properly briefed about need for provisions.  Whenever demanded, the details of the defence budget for the current, as well as for the coming, financial year were placed before the parliament.  Even the expenditure on Zarb-e-Azb appeared more than once in media.

Most legislators lack acumen to analyse numerical rigmarole.  So they themselves do not wish to be bothered with the job being done by competent professionals in various ministries and parliamentary committees.

Pakistan should separate expenditure of forces to defend China Pakistan Economic Corridor and key installations including parliament from normal demands for defence grants.

Historically, a common feature of all strong states was that they had strong military and civil institutions, dejure capability to defend their territory and policies that favoured the citizenry rather than the dominant classes. Historically, a common feature of all strong states was that they had strong military and civil institutions, dejure capability to defend their territory and policies that favoured the citizenry rather than the dominant classes.

Let us see how our vociferous opposition strikes a balance between constraints of security and welfare. In case our lawmakers feel handicapped in understanding the intricacies of defence budgeting in the context of internal and external security situation, GHQ may arrange a briefing for them

Let us see how our vociferous opposition strikes a balance between constraints of security and welfare. In case our lawmakers feel handicapped in understanding the intricacies of defence budgeting in the context of internal and external security situation, GHQ may arrange a briefing for them.

Back in 1996-97, British Labour Party Defence Study Group tried to highlight defence burden on public exchequer. In that report, they drew comparisons between the defence and social costs. For instance, £ 7,000 million cost of Tornado multi-role combat aircraft project was more than the total cost of Britain’s health and personal social services projects for 1976-77. £ 16 million price of the Frigate Ambuscade could provide a new 50S-bed hospital in Bangor. The submarine Superb was more expensive than building 4,000 new homes.

 Lt Gen Attiqur Rehman in my defence course says: “In a democracy, the defence services belong to the people through their representatives in parliament. Thus, the people have the right to know what is going on, how their money is being spent, and how the defence services are being managed and administered. In fact, they have a right to know everything, except details of the actual war plans.”

Some concealed aspects

Nuclear research: Indian Air Force chiefs keep Indian Air Force ( IAF)  is capable of detecting nuclear targets in Pakistan and is ready to strike them out.  But, the decision has to be taken by the government. India’s another swaggering braggart, ex-army chief now CDS chairman is never tired of claiming India’s capability to fight a two front war with China and Pakistan, and win it. Any war could flare up into nuclear Armageddon. India conceals its real nuclear bomb-making capacity under civil ministries’ provisions.

Nuclear/Chemical capability: It  is pertinent to mention that: (1) Robert S. McNamara, in his address to the World Bank Annual Conference on Development Economics at Washington, DC, as far back as on April 25, 1991 inter alia classified India among the’ Countries reported by the Western governments as seeking a CW capability or suspected to be possessing chemical weapons’. The explanatory footnote to the Table 111-2: Distribution of Chemical Weapons, 1990, states that the classified countries denied possession of chemical weapons, or intentions to acquire such weapons (Source: The Post-Cold War World and its Implications for Military Expenditures in the. Developing Countries, by Robert McNamara).

Methyl isocyanates were being produced at the Union Carbide India when it exploded killing thousands of people. There were 27 factories producing products including Carbaryl through cyanates supplied by UCIL. Where does provision for CBW research appears in India’s military budgets.

The Washington Post reported in 2013 that the police in occupied Kashmir published a notice in the Greater Kashmir (now under black out), advising people about nuclear-war survival tips. The tips included constructing well-stocked bunkers in basements or front yards, and having a stock of food and batteries or candles to last at least two weeks.

Colossal expenditure on conventional weapons by a nuclear power is not understood. Nuclear deterrence does not mean matching bomb for bomb.

A US proxy: India is emerging as the US proxy against rising China, which is determined to surpass the USA in GDP by 2027. India is opposed to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Besides, it uses its aid, trade and border contiguity to obstruct Chinese influence in Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

At India’s bidding, those countries toe the Indian line in SAARC and other international forums like G-20. In 2005, Washington expressed its intention to help India become a major world power in the 21st century (according to K. Alan Kronsstadt, Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, 13 February 2007). It was later re-affirmed by Ambassador David Mulford in a US Embassy press in 2005. The USA’s resolve later translated into modification of domestic laws to facilitate export of sensitive military technology to India. The Nuclear Supplier Group also relaxed its controls to begin exports to India’s civilian nuclear reactor (enabling India to divert resources to military use).

Raj Mohan, Shyam Saran and several others point out that India follows Kautliya’s mandala (concentric, asymptotic and intersecting circles, inter-relationships) doctrine in foreign policy. It is akin to Henry Kissinger’s `spheres of influence’. According to this doctrine ‘all neighbouring countries are actual or potential enemies’. However, short-run policy should be based on common volatile, dynamic, mercurial interests, like the intersection of two sets.

Former Indian foreign secretary, Shyam Saran in his book How India Sees the World says, ‘Kautliyan [Chanakyan] template would say the options for India are sandhi, conciliation; asana, neutrality; and yana, victory through war. One could add dana, buying allegiance through gifts; and bheda, sowing discord. The option of yana, of course would be the last in today’s world’ (p. 64, ibid.). It appears that Kautliya’s and Saran’s last-advised option is India’s first option, with regard to China and Pakistan, nowadays.

Raj Mohan elucidates India’s ambition, in terms of Kauliya’s mandala (inter-relationships), to emerge as South Asian hegemon in following words:

‘India’s grand strategy divides the world into three concentric circles. In the first, which encompasses the immediate neighbourhood, India has sought primacy and a veto over actions of outside powers. In the second who encompasses the so-called extended neighourhood, stretching across Asia and Indian Ocean littoral, India has sought to balance of other powers and prevent them from undercutting its interests. In the third which includes the entire global stage, India has tried to take its place as one of the great power, a key player in international peace and security. (C. Raja Mohan, India and the Balance of Power, Foreign Affairs July-August 2006).

Henry Kissinger views Indian ambitions in the following words: ‘Just as the early American leaders developed in the Monroe Doctrine concept for America’s special role in the Western Hemisphere, so India has established in practice a special positioning the Indian Ocean region between East Indies and the horn of Africa. Like Britain with respect to Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, India strives to prevent the emergence of a dominant power in this vast portion of the globe. Just as early American leaders did not seek approval of the countries of the Western Hemisphere with respect to the Monroe Doctrine, so Indian in the region of its special strategic interests conducts its policy on the basis of its own definition of a South Asian order’ (World Order, New York, Penguin Press, 2014).

Zbigniew Brzeszinsky takes note of India’s ambition to rival China thus: ‘Indian strategies speak openly of greater India exercising a dominant position in an area ranging from Iran to Thailand. India is also position itself to control the Indian Ocean militarily, its naval and air power programs point clearly in that direction as do politically guided efforts to establish for Indi strong positions, with geostrategic implications in adjoining Bangladesh and Burma (Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power).

To woo India firmly into its fold, the USA offered to sell India Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD, for $3 billion per unit) and Patriot Advance Capability (PAC-3) missile defence systems as an alternative to the Russian S-400 air defence system. India ditched Russia from whom it had earlier decided to purchase five S-400s at a cost of $5.4 billion.

With tacit US support, India is getting tougher with China. There was a 73-day standoff on the Doklam Plateau near the Nathula Pass on the Sikkim border last year. Being at a disadvantage vis-à-vis India, China was compelled to resolve the stand-off through negotiations. China later developed high-altitude “electromagnetic catapult” rockets for its artillery units to liquidate the Indian advantage there, as also in Tibet Autonomous Region. China intends to mount a magnetically-propelled high-velocity rail-gun on its 055-class under-construction missile destroyer 055.

India’s ambition to become the South Asian hegemon is reflected in its successive defence budgets. Aside from the showcased marginal increase in the defence budget, the three services have been asked to devise a five-year model plan for capital acquisitions. The Indian navy wants a 200-ship strong fleet by 2027. Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh had in December pointed out China added over 80 ships in the last five years. The Navy wants to procure six new conventional submarines and 111 Naval Utility Helicopters to replace the vintage fleet of Chetaks. The IAF wants to procure 114 new fighters besides the 36 Rafales ordered in 2015, still in process.

Quaid on Indo-Pak joint defence: Pakistan’s founder Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah cherished desire for lasting Indo-Pak peace even before creation of Pakistan. During his last days, The Quaid was perturbed at the Cold War rivalry emerging between the USA and the USSR.

The Quaid keenly desired that the subcontinent and all of South Asia should remain aloof from the rivalry. Therefore, he proposed a joint defence pact with India. Had India accepted his idea, the two countries would not have been at daggers drawn after independence.

Before his final flight (Aug 7, 1947) from Delhi to Pakistan, he sent a message to the Indian government, “the past must be buried and let us start as two independent sovereign states of Hindustan and Pakistan, I wish Hindustan prosperity and peace.” Vallabhbhai Patel replied from Delhi “the poison has been removed from the body of India. As for the Muslims, they have their roots, their sacred places and their centres here. I do not know what they can possibly do in Pakistan. It will not be long before they return to us.”

Even Nehru, an ostensibly liberal leader, regarded the creation of Pakistan as a blunder. His rancour against Pakistan reaches a crescendo in his remarks: “I shall not have that carbuncle on my back.” (D. H. Bhutani, The Future of Pakistan, page 14). Will India stop its worldwide defence purchases to open a new chapter in relations with Pakistan?

Let India lower her expenditure first! It should be a leader to compel Pakistan to follow suit.  It must shun hegemonic designs, at least for the time being, when Covid19 rages.

Inferences: Any analysis of India’s military budget should be based on actual Demands for Grants coupled with Explanatory memoranda. The allocations concealed under civil ministries outlays should be ferreted out and added to military allocations. The successive increases n revised and then actual budget estimates should be taken into account. As a result of India’s rising military expenditures, Pakistan also increases her defence expenditure. If Pakistan weakens its defence by slashing its defence expenditure, will India guarantee that it will not attack Pakistan or go for a quasi-attack (Operation Parakram costing Rs. 74 crore). The colossal increase in big brother’s military budget is untenable in light of its teeming millions living below the poverty line.

Each year India increases her defence budget.  The estimated outlays are further increased via revised outlays and upward re-adjustments of actual-expenditures.

Indian policy of increasing her defence outlays is based on strategic misconceptions. India visualised it would be suicidal for Pakistan to increase her defence budget pari passu with India’s budget.  In any case, Pakistan could not afford to spend more than half the increase in India’s defence budget. A higher allocation would sap Pakistan’s resource potential for sustained growth in future.

India thought Pakistan had to choose between Scylla and Charybdis that is economic collapse or defence preparations (same quandary as of former USSR). However, India’s perceptions proved to be wrong. Pakistan has neutralised the impact of this differential economic performance by, going nuclear.

India’s rising defence expenditures appear to have been actuated by a misconception of national security. The national security of a country depends upon many factors, variously interpreted and defined like soldiers’ morale, scientists’ ingenuity, military and political leaders’ character and skill, geographic position, and economic wherewithal. Indian planners are oblivious of the fact that, in general, the more resources the nation devotes to national security, the less it will have for social security and vice versa. Some economists conceive of a ‘social welfare function’ to be maximized by an appropriate allocation of the nation’s resources satisfying various objectives (including defence).

National security, from the point of view of an economist, depends on three factors: (a) The quantity of national resources available, now and in future, (b) The proportion of these resources allocated to national security purposes, and (c) The efficiency with which the resources so allocated are used.

Resources are always limited vis-à-vis unlimited wants. As such, the problem of defence allocations should, in effect, be a problem of constrained resource optimization, not blind allocation of resources. Let India lower her expenditure. 

Amna Javed is currently working with Islamabad Institute of Conflict Resolution (IICR) as a research fellow. She is also a visiting faculty at School of Politics and IR, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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A Glimpse at China’s Nuclear Build-Up

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Photo:Xinhua

The People’s Republic of China is now the second largest military spender after the United States, and the country has proven that it has the technical capability to develop revolutionary outer space technology, which is often related to military purposes. Nevertheless, China’s armed forces continue to lag behind when it comes to nuclear military technology, as Beijing only has 270 to 350 nuclear warheads, slightly more than the French armed forces.

Thus, China is investing in innovative research on civilian thorium nuclear facilities to become a leader in civilian nuclear, while it is reportedly not investing as much in the military nuclear sector.

This article explores the latest developments concerning “Made in China” nuclear weapons to explain why China’s armed forces are rather sluggish to increase the number of warheads due to the parallel development of other components of the military (e.g. nuclear submarines).

A brief history of Chinese nuclear weapons

China’s first nuclear weapons experiment took place in 1964, followed by its first hydrogen bomb test in 1967. Further development continued well until 1996, when China signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

In order to do so, China started building uranium enrichment plants in Baotou and Lanzhou as early as 1958, followed by a plutonium facility in Jiuquan and the Lop Nur nuclear test site in 1960. It is no secret the Soviet Union assisted in the early stages of the Chinese programme by sending advisers to the fissile material production facilities, having even agreed to provide a prototype bomb, missiles and related technology in October 1957.

In 1958, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev told Mao that he planned to discuss arms control with the United States and Great Britain, while Beijing was adamantly opposed to Khrushchev’s policy of “peaceful coexistence” after the fall of Stalin. Although Soviet officials assured the Chinese leadership that the country will remain under the Soviet nuclear umbrella, the disagreements widened the emerging Sino-Soviet rift. In June 1959, the two nations formally terminated their military and technological cooperation agreement, and all Soviet assistance to China’s nuclear programme was abruptly terminated by July 1960, with all Soviet technicians withdrawn from the programme.

This brief history of nuclear weapons in China tells us a lot about the current reason for Chinese weak nuclear capabilities, which had to be developed without the support of the USSR since the 1960s. Moreover, the desire for nuclear capabilities is closely related to the conflict with Taiwan and, as such, Beijing does not need to radically increase its capabilities since the island remains a non-nuclear territory to this day. Furthermore, increasing capabilities would worry the United States and Russia, the other two major nuclear powers—and Beijing had no interest in doing so, especially during the Cold War.

China’s nuclear posture and policy

The Chinese approach is focusing on quality over quantity, which explains the low number of warheads to this day. As of today, most nuclear warheads built during the Cold War can be intercepted by anti-missile systems in NATO and Russia as they are relying on outdated technology, which explains Russia’s desire to build the hypersonic glide vehicle such as the “Avangard”.

The same is true for China. As the U.S. strengthens its missile defenses capabilities, China is likely to further modify its nuclear posture to first ensure the credibility of its retaliatory strike force, including deploying hypersonic glide vehicles rather than increasing the number of warheads.

Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has maintained a “low alert level” for its nuclear forces and keeps most of its warheads in a central storage facility in the Qinling Mountain Range, although some are kept in smaller regional storage facilities around the country. Although there are rumors that China has coupled warheads to some of its missiles to increase their availability, we have not seen official sources confirming this. In fact, the latest Pentagon report explicitly states that “China almost certainly retains the majority of its peacetime nuclear force—with separate launchers, missiles, and warheads”.

Both the United States and Russia operate early warning systems to detect nuclear attacks and launch their missiles quickly, and a Chinese early warning system could also potentially be designed to enable a future missile defense system to intercept incoming missiles. The latest Pentagon report indicates that China is developing an HQ-19 mid-course missile defense system that could intercept Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBMs) and possibly intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs), although this would take many more years to develop. In addition, the Chinese government has a long-standing policy of not using nuclear weapons first and not using nuclear capabilities against non-nuclear countries or nuclear-weapon-free zones.

Military nuclear capabilities on land, air and sea

China has continued to field the DF-26, a dual-capable mobile IRBM, and is replacing the older DF-31A road-mobile ICBM launchers with the more maneuverable DF-31AG launcher. It is also in the early stages of commissioning the new DF-41, a road-mobile ICBM that would be capable of carrying multiple independent target re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) like the old DF-5B based on a liquid fuel silo.

At sea, China is adding two more ballistic missile submarines and developing a new type. Additionally, China has recently reassigned a nuclear mission to its bombers and is developing an air-launched ballistic missile to have a nuclear capability.

It is estimated that China has produced a stockpile of about 350 nuclear warheads, of which about 272 are intended to be launched by more than 240 operational land-based ballistic missiles, 48 sea-based ballistic missiles and 20 nuclear gravity bombs assigned to bombers. The remaining 78 warheads are expected to arm additional land- and sea-based missiles that are being installed.

Land

The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, supervised by General Zhou Yaning (commander) and General Wang Jiasheng (political commissar), is in charge of the ground nuclear forces. Since the Cold War, China is continuing the gradual modernization of its nuclear-capable ground missile force, and it is estimated that the PLA rocket force has about 240 land-based missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Of these, about 150 can strike parts of the United States (Hawaii). The number of ICBMs that can strike the continental United States is smaller: about 90 missiles with some 130 warheads.

These capabilities are easily explained by the fact that land-based missiles have a greater range than sea- and air-based ones, at least until China upgrades its sea-based systems. Thus, land-based missiles increase range and allow targeting of distant nuclear counterparts—the United States, France and the United Kingdom—while ensuring capabilities against the other four nearby nuclear powers: Russia, North Korea, India and Pakistan. It is likely that land-based capabilities will remain a major component until submarine capabilities are expanded. Once submarines are as advanced as those of other nations, then—like the United States, Russia, France and the United Kingdom—China is likely to focus more and more on submarines rather than land-based capabilities.

Sea

China has introduced six Jin-class (Type 094) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), which are based at the Longposan naval base near Yulin on Hainan Island (only four of them are currently operational). The two newest SSBNs, which were handed over to the PLA Navy in April 2020, are said to be variants of the original Type 094 design, known as Type 094A. These boats have a more prominent hump, which has led to a speculation that they could carry up to 16 JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (CSS-N-14), instead of the usual 12. However, satellite images confirm that the new submarines are equipped with 12 launch tubes each.

Each JL-2 is equipped with a single warhead and, possibly, penetration assistance. The JL-2, which is a modified version of the DF-31, is supposed to have a range of about 7,200 km, although U.S. estimates of the range have varied over the years. Such a range would be sufficient to target Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, as well as Russia and India, from waters near China.

Unlike the land-based approach, the nuclear submarine can move around the world, have an unknown destination and a changing position, and it can retaliate up to several months after a nuclear conflict has ended. As such, submarines are now the main component of the French and British nuclear forces, and are vital to the U.S. and Russia. However, this requires advanced technology, which China does not yet have (nor do India and Pakistan). Therefore, the People’s Liberation Army is upgrading its submarine capabilities and technology, which should lead to increased relevance of submarines for nuclear operations in the long term. China’s new-generation Type 096 SSBNs will carry an extended-range SLBM, the JL-3, which, according to unofficial sources, could have a range of over 9,000 km. Chinese media describe the JL-3 as an SLBM “equivalent or similar to the French M51,” pointing out that its diameter has been increased compared to the JL-2 and that it incorporates a carbon-fiber casing, giving it an increased range.

Air

China developed several types of nuclear bombs and used aircraft to carry at least 12 of the nuclear weapons it detonated as part of its nuclear test programme between 1965 and 1979. However, the PLA Air Force’s nuclear mission remained dormant until the 2000s, presumably because its older bomb-equipped aircraft were unlikely to be relevant in a nuclear conflict.

Countries such as France, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and India, are not focusing on long-range bombers, as they are easier to track, they move slowly and they are no major asset compared to submarines and land-based missiles. In this respect, only two nuclear powers—the United States and Russia—are investing in bombers. China wishes to become the third nuclear power and has therefore developed the H-6 bomber, which is technologically advanced enough to compete with its American counterparts Northrop Grumman B-2 “Spirit”, Rockwell B-1 “Lancer” and Boeing B-52 as well as the Russian Tupolev Tu-22M, Tupolev Tu-95 and Tupolev Tu-160. The Chinese H-6 should be complementary to the Xian H-20, as the bomber world is rapidly evolving with the introduction of the new American Northrop Grumman B-21 “Raider” and the Russian Tupolev PAK DA.

In conclusion, China is most certainly on its way to becoming the third largest nuclear power with growing capabilities to rival Washington and Moscow. In order to do so, it will need to increase its nuclear submarine capabilities to catch up with France and the United Kingdom, as well as the continued development of the H-20 bomber project to compete with the United States and Russia. Beijing has surely decided to invest in quality rather than quantity, preferring to slowly and precisely increase the number of warheads when it will first have the ability to defeat anti-missile systems.

Interestingly, China’s military nuclear approach is more about catching up with the other nuclear powers, in contrast to the civilian nuclear sector where the country is more innovative, as evidenced by the two thorium nuclear reactors under construction in the Gobi Desert (China plans to bring thorium reactors into commercial operation by 2030). Thus, China could become the leader in civil thorium nuclear power before it closes the gap as a military nuclear power.

From our partner RIAC

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Defense

Developments on Korean Peninsula risk accelerating regional arms race

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A week full of missile tests; this is the current environment on the Korean Peninsula. On Wednesday, North Korea fired two rounds of ballistic missiles into the East Sea while South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) just a few hours later. Wednesday’s tests follow a week of rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the consequences of which can be felt beyond the two Koreas.

North Korea ramps up tensions

According to North Korean state-run media reports, the reclusive state carried out a series of successful tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend while referring to the missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance”. Calling the weapon ‘strategic’ may imply a nuclear-capable system. Although North Korea is banned from using ballistic technologies due to U.N. Security Council resolutions, these same rules do not apply to cruise missiles.

Despite the tests, Washington maintained its position to resume dialogue with the North and “to work cooperatively with the DPRK to address areas of humanitarian concerns regardless of progress on denuclearization,” US Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim said on Tuesday. Still, the US Indo-Pacific Command did acknowledge the cruise missile launches and said the tests highlight the “DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community.”

China reacted to the test by calling for restraint by all relevant parties and for a ‘dual track’ approach to be followed involving “phased and synchronized actions to continuously advance the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue.”

North Korea then upped tensions further by conducting yet another missile launch on Wednesday. This test marked the first time the DPRK launched a missile off a train-mounted ballistic missile delivery system, which they referred to as the “Railway Mobile Missile Regiment”. According to Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, the missiles were believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The location of the landings don’t seem to be a coincidence as earlier that day North Korean state media had criticized Japan’s newly unveiled defense budget, referring to the country as a “war criminal state”.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga strongly condemned the latest tests, calling North Korea’s behavior “outrageous” and a “threat” to “the peace and security of our country and the region”. The US State Department also called the tests “a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” while emphasizing the Biden administration’s commitment to trilateral diplomacy and cooperation with Japan and South Korea.

What’s more, North Korea appears to have resumed activities at its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, according to a report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency last month. The report stated that “The DPRK’s nuclear activities continue to be a cause for serious concern” while adding that “The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.”

In July, North Korea warned of a “major security crisis” in protest against the combined summertime military exercise between South Korea and the United States. This increase in rapid missile testing seems to be the result of North Korea’s dissatisfaction with both Seoul and Washington’s actions over the last few months.

South Korea joins in on the missile testing

Although the international community is used to hearing about North Korean missile tests over the years, what is much less common is to hear about a missile test conducted by the South. Hours after the North fired its missiles, South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong—the sister of leader Kim Jong Un— was quick to respond to the tests the same day, warning of the “complete destruction of inter-Korean ties” and criticized Seoul’s “illogical, antiquated and foolish attitude”, according to North Korean state media.

Through the test, South Korea became the first country without nuclear weapons to launch an SLBM. Besides the SLBM, South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement that the ROK military had also developed other new missiles, including a supersonic cruise missile to be deployed in the near future, and a new ballistic missile that has “overwhelming counterattack capability” by firing a larger warhead. Indeed, South Korea’s arms industry has grown exponentially over the last two deacades and continuous to expand rapidly. According to he SIPRI arms transfer database, South Korea rose from the 31st ranked arms exporting country in 2000 to number six in 2020.

Besides South Korea, Japan is also beefing up its military capabilities. Last month, Japan’s Defense Ministry sought a record $50 billion annual budget that would entail the largest percentage jump in spending in eight years. China was quick to criticize the move, accusing Japan of “trying to find excuses to justify their decision to increase military spending,” On the other hand, Japan blames China for “unilaterally changing the regional status quo,” affecting “the security of the Taiwan Straits, but also Japan’s security.”

The missile tests conducted by both Koreas this week further exacerbates the security situation in the region, negatively impacting far beyond the peninsula alone. The recent developments also don’t bode well for improving inter-Korean relations or US-DPRK ties. Diplomatic negotiations between the US and North Korea have been stalemated ever since the 2019 Hanoi Summit fell apart. So far, Biden has only verbally expressed interest in resuming talks, but is unlikely to do so unless North Korea makes concrete commitments to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

Inter-Korean relations are also unlikely to improve in the near future, given the time constraints. South Korea’s President Moon has roughly six months left in office, and it is unlikely significant diplomatic progress can be made in this timeframe.

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Defense

HTS enters Turkey’s plot against the Kurds

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Ever since Turkey entered the 2017 Astana agreement with Russia and Iran Ankara has been relentless in its efforts to sell the international community the idea of absolute necessity of Turkish military presence in North-East Syria to support the moderate opposition and deter the Assad government.

The Astana meetings that followed the initial agreement indeed resulted in making Turkey responsible for the state of the Syrian opposition in Idlib and Aleppo provinces but – and there is always a but when it comes to the decade-long Syrian conflict – Ankara’s mission was never defined as ‘support’ of the opposition. Instead, Turkey volunteered to perform an arduous task of separating moderate Syrian armed groups from those who were considered radical and posed a potential security threat on both regional and global levels. This process, dubbed ‘delimitation of the Syrian opposition,’ is hardly any closer to completion now than before raising the question of the extent of Ankara’s ability – and intention – to fulfill its pledge.

Shared goals

Turkey’s insistence on supporting the moderate opposition conveniently combines with the recent attempts of Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which is de-facto dominant power in the Idlib de-escalation zone, to recast the image of the group. Although HTS is considered a terrorist organization by the UN and a number of global powers al-Joulani made a number of high-profile media appearances to promote the group’s vision of the future of Syria and confirm that its ambitions are confined to national scale only.

Talking to the Turkish version of The Independent al-Joulani spoke against any foreign military presence in Syria, making no special mention of the Turkish army. Meanwhile in Idlib, a position of the Turkish military located next to those of HTS is a common, even natural occurrence. This co-existence of regular armed forces and radical terrorists is not affected neither by hard evidence of HTS involvement in committing war crimes, nor even by the fact that HTS is listed as a terror group by Turkey’s authorities.

Shared enemies

In his interview to The Independent al-Joulani has also touched upon the position of the Syrian Kurds, another key axis of Turkey’s policy in Syria. Commenting on the current developments in Afghanistan the HTS leader suggested that the aftermath of the US surprise withdrawal from Kabul will also have an impact on the Kurds or, as he put it ‘the US-backed enemies of the Syrian revolution.’ He also accused the Kurds of conducting attacks in living quarters in the areas of the “Olive Branch” and “Euphrates Shield” operations carried out by the Turkish military in Northern Syria.

HTS has never been in direct confrontation with the Kurds. However, al-Joulani’s words highlighted his open hostility towards the Kurdish administration, that, as the HTS leader purports, is only able to control a huge swath of Syria and maintain relative stability thanks to the US support. This Kurdish dream will crumble as soon as the last US plane takes off from the Syrian soil, according to al-Joulani.

Does this opinion reflects Turkey’s intention to put an end to the ‘Kurdish threat’ should the US withdraw from Syria? The events in the Afghanistan provide enough evidence to conclude that it’s entirely possible. Indeed, such concerns have been expressed in a number of articles authored by both local and international analysts.

The bottom line

Turkey’s regional policies and HTS leader’s statements confirm that Ankara seeks to transform HTS into a bully of sorts. The group’s primary task would be to exercise pressure on other armed units to facilitate the delimitation process orchestrated by the Turkish authorities. As the US grip over the region gradually loosens and HTS control over Syria’s north-west tightens thanks to its efforts to achieve international recognition with the tacit support of Turkey, the Kurds are facing an uncertain future. Moreover, close coordination between Turkey and HTS harbors negative consequences not only for the Kurds but rather for all of Syria.

To prevent this, the international community must intervene and deny HTS the opportunity to position itself as a part of the moderate opposition and gain the right to establish legitimate administrative bodies. Otherwise Syria will face law-twisting terrorists running their own statelet with all the support that Turkey is able to provide as a prominent regional power.

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