The recent turn of events regarding Pakistan’s maritime ambitions and development programmes, can be seen as an attempt to maximize power. This power politics is quite obvious, as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project sets new horizons for regional connectivity and trade for Pakistan, which concerns India to the very core. The theory of Offensive Realism provides an in-depth theoretical framework to explain these state affairs. According to realism, the international political structure is anarchic, which is why no state can fully trust the intentions of another state, however, interest-based cooperation is possible (Pak-China economic cooperation), but survival of the state is the top priority of every state. The most efficient way to secure state survival is to maximize their relative power, which implies that there will be a constant security competition in the world, which divides the state’s power into two components; Latent (economy and population) and actual power (military). This determines Pakistan’s ambitions to acquire modern technology and increase its naval power in the Arabian Sea, however, the theory fails to explain the importance of economy and the power maximization in the economic sense. The reason being addressed is the transition of politics in the post-cold war era, which is heavily centred on economy, rather than the previous model, which suggested a central focus on building conventional military strength only. Therefore, economy holds the actual power in the contemporary era, which means Pakistan would not only ensure safe navigation of commerce that China would attract, but also enhance its naval capabilities and technologies to maximise power through a Blue Economy.
This paper provides a qualitative analytical research of the subject matter, based on data collected through mostly secondary sources and a primary source. The paper is descriptive and provides a thematic qualitative analysis to interpret the subject matter under discussion.
The recent years have marked a steady shift in national and international level, towards maritime development and security of Pakistan. On 23rd March, 2015, the president of Pakistan deliberately announced the extension of Pakistan’s continental shelf from 200 nautical miles to 350 nautical miles, however, the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ remained 200 nautical miles. This announcement was made after the approval of United Nations Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf (CLCS) for extension, based on scientific data which was collected through a number of surveys, conducted by the National Institute of Oceanography in collaboration with Naval Hydrographic Department, under the supervision of the Ministry of Science and Technology. This meant that the Pakistani naval fleet can ensure maritime security from further deep into the sea. To do so, Pakistan has yet to acquire the required technologies and equipment, which it claims to be operational by the fiscal year of 2030. With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, the demand for maritime security has increased, as CPEC is a sub-project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, it holds tremendous significance in the entire mega-economic project. The reason being addressed, is the geo-strategic location of CPEC and future Gwadar Port city, which would attract a number of threats such as piracy, terrorism, illicit trafficking and other potential proxy skirmishes. Furthermore, the exploration of natural resources in EEZ would require more stability in the region to proceed with and large-scale investments to build and renovate Pakistan’s Blue Economy. This paper provides an analytical overview of the maritime development plans, Pakistan’s naval strategy, potential maritime opportunities and addresses research questions, such as What does Pakistan need to acquire for a blue water navy? What are the challenges that stunt our potential opportunities? And most importantly, what does Pakistan need to ensure credible deterrence and stability in the region? The paper also provides possible immediate implications of all the factors on the region and ends with a brief conclusion.
Blue Water Navy
The term implies a navy having the capability to operate in the deep seas far from its base, however, it lacks a proper definition, as it is varied according to different countries. ‘Blue-water navy’ was first used by United Kingdom Royal Navy, to address their naval expeditionary fleets. An Indian analyst defines it as “A Blue Water Navy is one that has the capacity to project itself over a much bigger maritime area than its maritime borders. Simply put, it is a Navy that can go into the vast, deep oceans of the world. However, while most navies have the capacity to send ships into the deep oceans, a Blue Water Force is able to carry out operations far from its borders, without being required to return to its home port to refuel or re-stock”.
Presently, United States Navy, Royal Navy, French Navy, Republic of Korea Navy, Russian Navy, Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force and People’s Liberation Army Navy are the navies which are considered to have blue-water fleets. Pakistan would be the ninth country of the world to acquire a blue-water navy. To achieve this purpose, Pakistan requires a lot of equipment and advanced technology to take its first step in the high seas by the year 2030. The assets being acquired or developed are as follows;
Frigates are anti-submarine warships and Pakistan has made an agreement to acquire four of these frigates from China, to replace their outdated Amazon Class Frigates. These Frigates incorporate cutting-edge technology, with a 32x cell vertical launch system armed with HQ-16 surface to air missiles. It has a displacement of more than 4000 tons. It is also equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles, advanced radars and remarkable self-protection system, which is why it holds crucial significance for the Chinese naval fleet. Also, Pakistan’s frigate fleet of f-22P will undergo a mid-life upgrade program to extend its life and capabilities. These frigates are expected to join service by 2025.
Hangor Class Submarine
These are of Chinese origins and their specifications are known to be classified, however, they are considered to be a variant of Chinese Diesel-electric submarines of unspecified class. Pakistan was the first to operate a submarine in the South Asian region and its French made Agosta class 70’s submarines are highly outdated according to the modern-day technological advancements. Pakistan has not only ordered eight of these Hangor class submarines from China, but also aims to modernize its Agosta 90-B submarines to the fullest. These are expected to be delivered and operationalised by 2028.
Jinnah Class Corvette
Corvettes are relatively small warships than frigates, they displace approximately 2000-2500 tons and are used in Stealth missions. Pakistan aims to acquire four of these corvettes, two of them are being built in Pakistan, in collaboration with Turkey and two of these Ada Class corvettes are being built in Turkey itself. These Ada Class corvettes, once operationalised, will be named as Jinnah Class corvettes, in the honour of our nation’s founding father. Pakistan plans to arm these corvettes with a locally-built Harba anti-ship cruise missile system, as Pakistan is known for its ingenious missile deployment tactics on air and water crafts.
Maritime Air Wing
The maritime air wing is needed to support the surface vessels in a rapidly escalated situation and the wing can also serve as a quick reaction force. Advanced aircrafts are being employed in the wing such as JF-17, having anti-ship capabilities to take out enemy’s surface fleets and ensure coastal and territorial security. The naval air units are meaning to replace their outdated aircrafts with the modern alternatives and some of them are meant to be upgraded. Minhas air squadron is upgrading its equipment and technology and the wing has also planned for other squadrons with the same abilities along the coast line. Furthermore, other unmanned aircrafts with similar anti-ship capabilities are also being employed in service.
Offshore Patrol Vessel
An offshore patrol vessel is a highly multi-purpose watercraft used to perform managerial operations in the state’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). It can carry out anti-surface and anti-air operations, maritime security operations, 24-hour helicopter operations, combat search and rescue, surveillance and intelligence gathering operations. In addition to mechanical and technological virtues, the vessel will also provide disaster relief and ensure coastal area security as well. Pakistan has ordered two of these patrol vessels from Netherland based Malaysian company Damen. One of them is under construction at Romania and both are expected to be delivered by the fiscal year of 2022.
Coastal Defence System
Including secondary support military support at hold, such as offshore multi-purpose patrol vessels and a marine air wing with anti-ship missile system, Pakistan has set up a Chinese C-602 anti-ship cruise missile system based, Zarb Defence System. Some analysts say that these up-gradations are being made in order to tackle the new aircraft carriers that India tends to acquire.
After employing a Naval Strategic Forces Command, which became a part of three major unified Pakistan Armed Forces commands, Pakistan Navy conducted the launch of Babur-III cruise missile from a submarine and ever since that launch, naval strategists are working on a second-strike capability through nuclear armed, nuclear propelled submarines to ensure the maximum ultimate security. Although there’s no news on this, but with a second-strike capability, Pakistan would again have the advantage of India’s self-deterrence and can most probably accomplish major national interests in that manner.
The current era holds a bad reputation of international politics, things have become extremely complex and alongside the psychological and Cyber Warfare, information warfare has also been contributing to military strategies for a long period now. Therefore, Pakistan is haggardly acquiring up-to-date modern technologies and other intelligence gathering assets, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and tactical air and water drones.
Pakistan Navy has recently commissioned a 17000-ton Fleet Tanker which was built in Karachi with help from Turkey, which consists of a state-of-the-art medical facility to provide disaster relief to combat and auxiliary units. Other than that, the navy requires more and advanced logistical assets to ensure better execution and a quick response to threats.
With growing advancements, replacements, up-gradations and employments, Pakistan navy is building Pakistan’s largest naval base, named after the country’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The Jinnah Naval Base will incorporate all the capabilities at a safe location, way outside the reach of the Indian military.
Every naval strategy is broken down into two sub-strategies; (a) a developmental strategy and (b) an executional strategy. Before looking in to a country’s naval strategy, one must be aware of all the aspects of the sub-strategies to gather a complete perspective of the whole, grand strategy. Among the sub-strategies, an executional strategy, is highly covert and confidential, even the naval leaders irrelevant to the project are unaware of the executional strategy, which is necessary to avoid leaking or outsourcing the confidential information to the enemy state and eventually, an inevitable failure. Executional strategy on one hand, provides practical operation information, short manoeuvring strategies and the actual date and time for every move. Developmental strategy on the other hand, lists out most of the tools needed in the executional strategy, for example, induction of offshore patrol vessels like OPV-1800, is a part of the developmental strategy. However, the outlined developmental strategy can indicate the thematic interpretation and presentation of the executional strategy, for example the OPVs are sought to be inducted in response to the Indian acquisition of new aircraft carriers. Similarly, with such new developments and advancements, the overall naval strategy of Pakistan seems to be much more of a power-oriented strategy, developed to assure efficient credible deterrence against the rival state and sustain a prosperous ‘Blue Economy’.
Since China is investing heavily in Pakistan, on CPEC in particular, it affects the political profile of Pakistan as a ‘heresy’ to the American ‘inquisition’. In all fairness, Pakistan may have its own set of national interests, but that does not matter, because China follows its ancient ‘Tianxia’, an “all under heaven” doctrine that sees the world as a shared community, while the United States follows a more rigid “Hobbesian state of nature” doctrine, that sees the world as a battleground of anarchy. Therefore, Pakistan being an under-developed country, could be submissive to China on a minute level and that being said, implies that Pakistan may support China’s national interests as well (which are in total opposition to the US’ national interests) and that’s how Pakistan has become a ‘heresy’ to its hegemonic ‘inquisition’.
Now is the time for India to maximize its naval capabilities and the work has already begun. In particular, acquiring aircraft carriers and making advancements to their practical weaponry execution systems, the Indian naval transition from being a ‘buyer’s navy’ to a ‘builder’s navy’, since “all 41 of the new vessels are being constructed in India”, whereas Pakistan has only a few vessels under construction. This maps out the difference between Pakistan and India’s magnitude of the state economy and to put a cherry on top, India is most likely be submissive to US national interests, meaning that Pakistan definitely needs to worry. Still, Pakistan could be able to circumvent Indian naval strategies with the acquisition of a nuclear-powered submarine.
India already has two nuclear submarines in service and with the Indian “plan to build six advanced attack submarines — to be nuclear powered but armed with conventional missiles and torpedoes — is being monitored closely and the first of the boats could roll out in a decade if things go as per plan”, there would be a constant threat to the maritime national security of Pakistan. Although Pakistan’s submarines have never been detected, during both; wartime and peace, even still these submarines are not capable of staying under the surface for longer periods of time, a few months top, in comparison to the thirty-year span of a nuclear-powered submarine. Therefore, if Pakistan is able to build a nuclear-powered submarine than it would acquire a second-strike capability and a reputably untouchable navy in the ‘Indian Ocean Region’ (IOR). A former naval expert, Ex-Director General Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral (Retired) Abdul Hameed Meer stressed on the significance of a nuclear-powered submarine that “Pakistan must acquire nuclear propelled submarines in order to outgrow India’s numbers and mark a flag of dominance in the Indian Ocean Region”. Henceforth, acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines would be considered as a milestone in all of the Pakistan Armed Forces achievements combined.
With projects under construction and developments being made, a lot of opportunities come to light, both tapped an untapped. The state’s heavy naval build-up is not the aftermath of power maximization entirely, but a necessary antecedent to assure a prosperous ‘Blue Economy’. This term has a proper background to it and reviewing so, it was analysed that the particular term was used decades ago, but none paid heed to the matter at all. Earlier than that, its descendant, ‘Green Economy’ was used to promote environment-friendly economic solutions to boost economies through a greener environment and less pollution. However, that failed, as exploitation of the finite land resources had devastating effects on the overall earth’s climatic behaviour, up to this day. Hence the gradual transition towards naval build-ups and expansion of EEZs, portrays a steady locomotive in the global community. Economists suggest “Blue Growth is usually determined on three main factors; first the value addition into global economy, second the potential of sector with respect to the future economic trends, and thirdly the categorisation of sector in terms of being sustainable”, implying that the state’s fisheries and aquaculture sector demands severe strategic up-gradations and expansions in order to contribute a lion’s share of revenue to the net GDP of the state, through ‘Blue Growth’.
Fisheries experts have stressed on the required developments in the fisheries and aquaculture sector, “Capacity-building programmes and improvement of infrastructure of landing fish and shrimp, as well as production facilities to enhance exports to new destinations for better returns”, implying that deep structural problems are one of the major internal issues stunting the growth of economy. Although, sea trade contributes about 95% of the world GDP, Pakistan’s fisheries and aquaculture sector only contributes a mere 0.41% in the state’s GDP, which is drastically low, as seen by economists. EEZ of Pakistan holds enough natural resources that, if they are tapped through proper domestic channels and techniques, through skilled human resources and attracting foreign investments (from countries like Turkey, Norway, Japan and other EU countries expand the area of expertise of the fisheries sector), then the state’s economy would no longer need to thrive on the hook of an internal collapse. The expert also said, “We have the renewable natural resources, technology and human resources which can be put to gainful employment with net benefits to exchequer in the shape of foreign exchange”, implying that the current rate of the Pakistani Rupee can finally regain its worth after a long time. Therefore, Ministry of Commerce, and Ministry of Food Security and Research should take a proper notice on the cruciality of the matter at hand.
Keeping the ‘Blue Growth’ aside, there are a number of possible regional implications which are hard to enumerate. Matters of international stature, their internal politics and intangible threats such as the Covid-19 are some of the many fuelling components that make up the contemporary chaos around the globe. Anyhow, major regional implications include the following;
- Diplomatic ties among the nations of Central Asia, Middle East and Pakistan would strengthen, resulting in new markets for trade, favourable terms of imports and a decent amount of recovery to the value of Pakistani Rupee.
- Heavy naval build-up is expected in all of the countries that China has invested in, that is for the core reason of safeguarding the maritime security of their mega-economic Silk Road project.
- On the other side of the fence, American Naval fleets have also indicated a certain interest in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the Indo-Pacific Ocean Region. Their plan to surround China from every possible corner is quite pessimistic and also away from the reality.
- India, would obviously enjoy a warm support from its hegemonic friend, implying that the Indian Navy being far ahead in numbers and advancements, would also then submit to the US’ national interests.
- Although, there are various ongoing ocean-friendly, sustainability programmes in the Indian Ocean, still there is a serious risk of increased water pollution in the region. With accidental oil spills, a massive quarter of marine life has suffered one of the most flaunting idiosyncrasies of mankind.
- Rising tensions in any part of the international waters, directly effects the possibility of a low-intensity conflict in the IOR.
- India would definitely seek to destabilize the region through chaotic aversions, a low-intensity conflict or perhaps another charade of brutality in Kashmir.
Conclusively, the emphasis on the importance of maritime security and coastal defence of the system, accentuates the well-being of a prosperous economy and a steady ‘Blue Growth’. Pakistan’s ambitious road to a blue-water navy may bring the state what it has longed for decades, ever since the independence; dominance. In the most uncertain of times, a highly complex nature of power politics limits the predictability of the distant future. Although there is much ambiguity in the matter, Pakistan has held on to the ‘slow and steady’ policy to build a sophisticated political profile, in order to progress as an influential power in the region. However, with such security advancements and complete surveillance, this security competition may lead to heightened tensions, not only in the Arabian Sea, but also far deep in the Indian Ocean Region. To avoid such skirmishes, cooperation and Confidence Building Measures should be taken in a proactive manner. By increasing cooperation, inter-dependence would most likely prevent countries from harsh political gestures and interpretations. Not to forget, the trade-war between the United States and China, and the rising tensions between the two states directly effects the very nature of the scenario. Therefore, if things go as per plan, the developments may take the state’s economy to new heights, alongside the improved political stature, Pakistan may be very close to becoming a ‘developed state’.
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India’s strategies short of war against a hostile China
Since India’s independence several peace and border cooperation agreements were signed between the India and China. Prominent among them was the Panchsheel Agreement signed in 1954. A majority of the agreements were signed between 1993 and 2013. Recently genuine efforts were made by PM Narendra Modi by engaging Xi Jinping at the Wuhan and Chennai summits. But China is nowhere near to settling the border dispute despite various agreements and talks at the military and civilian levels.
After the 1962 war peace was largely maintained on the Indo China border. During the Mao and Deng era consensus building was the norm in the communist party. XiJinping appointed himself as chairman of the communist party for life. Today power is centralized with XiJinping and his cabal. Through Doklam and Galwan incidents Xi Jinpinghas disowned the peaceful principles laid down by his predecessors. China’s strategy is to keep India engaged in South Asia as it doesn’t want India to emerge as a super power. After solving a crisis on the border China will create another crisis. Beijing has declining interest in the niceties of diplomacy. Under Xi Jinping China has become more hostile.
China has been infringing on India’s sovereignty through salami tactics by changing the status quo and attempting to own the border territory. At Galwan on Xi Jinping’s birthday the PLA demonstrated hooliganism by assaulting Indian border positions. China violated the 1996 and 2005 bilateral agreements which states that both armies should not carry weapons within 1.24 miles on either side of the border. India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar mentioned that the standoff situation with China in Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh is “surely the most serious situation after 1962.”China is constructing infrastructure, increasing forces and deploying weapon systems on the border.
Options for India
India led by PM Narendra Modi has implemented a realist foreign policy and a muscular military policy.India ended the age of strategic restraint by launching special operations and air strikes in Pakistan. Since the Galwan incident India has increased the military, diplomatic and economic deterrence against China. India is constructing military infrastructure and deploying weapon systems like SU 30 MKI and T 90 tanks in Ladakh. India banned a total of 224 Chinese apps, barred Chinese companies from government contracts and is on the verge of banning Huawei. Other measures include excluding Chinese companies from private Indian telecommunications networks. Chinese mobile manufacturers can be banned from selling goods in India.
India should offer a grand strategy to China. India has a plethora of options short of war. Future talks should involve an integrated strategy to solve all the bilateral issues and not just an isolated resolution of a localized border incident. All instruments of military and economic power and coercive diplomacy should be on the table.
China expects other nations to follow bilateral agreements and international treaties while it conveniently violates them. India should abrogate the Panscheel agreement given China’s intransigence and hostility. China claims 35,000 square miles of territory in India’s northeast, including the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. China occupies 15,000 square miles of India’s territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau in the Himalayas. India’s primary objective is to take back territories like Aksai Chin. While the secondary issue is the resolution of the border issue and China’s support to Pakistan. India can leverage the contemporary geopolitical climate to settle all issues. India can target China’s soft underbelly characterized by issues like Taiwan, Xinjiang and the economy. China raises the Kashmir issue at international organizations. As a countervailing measure India can raise Xinjiang at international organizations and conferences.
China has been militarily and diplomatically supporting Pakistan against India. Pakistan is a rentier and a broken state that sponsors terrorism. India can establish bilateral relations with Taiwan thus superseding China’s reunification sensitivities. China has territorial disputes with 18 countries including Taiwan and Japan. India can hedge against China by establishing strategic partnerships with US, Australia, Japanand Vietnam.
An overwhelming military is a deterrence for China’s belligerent foreign and military policy. The 1990Gulf War demonstrated the capabilities of high technology weapon systems. As compared to China’s rudimentary weapons systems India has inducted 4th and 5th generation weapons like the SU 30 MKI, AH 64 Apache and T 90 tanks. The deterrence capacity of fighter aircrafts is reduced as they cannot target China’s coastlines due to their restricted range. Full deterrence can be achieved by ICBMs and nuclear powered submarines. With these weapons India can target centers of gravity like Shanghai and Shenzhen.
China is not a signatory to arms limitations treaties like Start I and Start II. China continues to expand its nuclear weapons stockpile and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) like DF 21 and DF-26B which are banned by the INF Treaty. India is a law abiding stable democracy in an unstable region with two hostile nations on its flanks. US and Russia can relax the arms control mechanism considering India’s’ impeccable record on peace and non proliferation. This will allow India to buy Russian weapon systems like Zircon and Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, Topol and Bulava ICBMs and Yasen and Borey class SSBN submarines. While US can sell SSBN submarines and C4ISR gathering platforms like RC 135 and RQ 4 Global Hawk.
China remains a security threat for Asia. As China foments instability the APAC region from South Asia to South China Sea remains volatile. The Quad can be expanded to include Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, South Korea and Indonesia and multinational naval exercises can conducted in the South China Sea.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend. China fought small wars with India, Vietnam and Soviet Union. Vietnam defeated the PLA at Lang Son in 1979 with advanced weapon systems and guerilla warfare. India can increase militarily cooperation with Vietnam. China attacked the Soviet Union on the Ussuri river leading to heavy PLA casualties. Historically relations between Russia and India have been close. As a result of the Indo Soviet Friendship Treaty China did not support Pakistan during the 1971 war. India can enhance its military and diplomatic ties with Russia to the next level.
Strategic partnership with US
Its time for a partnership between the world’s largest and the world’s biggest democracies. India and the US have a common objective to preserve peace, maintain stability and enhance security in Asia. India’s reiteration at leaders’ level and international forums that both countries see each other as allies for stability in the APAC region is not enough. India has to go beyond the clichés of the need for closer ties.
Due to the China threat the US is shifting its military from Europe and Middle East to the APAC region.US and India can establish an Asian equivalent of NATO as China’s destructive policy frameworks and threatening postures remain a strategic threat. India should enhance and deepen cooperation with the US intelligence community in the fields of MASINT, SIGINT, GEOINT, TECHINT and CYBINT. Both countries can form an alliance of democracies. If China militarily or economically targets one of the member country then the alliance can retaliate under a framework similar to Article 5 of NATO. Thus power will be distributed in the APAC region instead of being concentrated with China. A scorpion strategy will ensure that China does not harass its neighbors. The strategy involves a military pincer movement by India from the west and US from the East against a hostile China. India can conduct joint military exercises with the US in Ladakh. China cannot challenge Japan and Taiwan due to the US security agreements with these countries.
The world has entered the age of instability and uncertainty. The 21st century is characterized by hybrid warfare through military and coercive diplomacy. South Asia is not a friendly neighborhood where peaceful overtures lead to harmonious relations. China is a threat to India even in the context of a friendly relationship. Diplomatic niceties have no place in India’s relations with China. India can impose costs on China which can be more than the benefits offered by normalizing relations. The application of measures short of war without engaging the PLA will reap benefits. India can fulfill its national security requirements and global responsibilities through a grand strategy.
A policy of engagement and deterrence is crucial against an antagonistic China. While India attempts to develop cooperative ties with China it will need to continue to enhance and implement its military and coercive diplomatic strategies. China does not represent a direct military threat to India but at the same time one cannot deny that challenges remain.
COVID-19 and Challenges to the Indian Defence Establishment
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an uncertain situation all over the world. It is defined as the greatest challenge faced by the world since World War II. At a certain point, the pandemic had forced world governments to announce lockdowns in their respective countries that led to more than half of the human population being home quarantined. Since then, social distancing, travel bans, and cancellation of international summits have become a routine exercise. Most sectors such as agriculture, health, education, economy, manufacturing have been severely hit across the globe. One such sector which is vital to national security that has been impacted due to the pandemic is defence.
The effect of influenza and pneumonia during WWI on the US military was huge. The necessity to mobilise troops across the Atlantic made it even ideal for the diseases to spread rapidly among the defence personnel and civilians. Between mid-1917 and 1919, the fatalities were more so due to the disease than getting killed in action. Due to COVID-19, there have been many implications within the defence sector. Amid the ongoing transgressions in Ladakh, it becomes imperative to analyse the preparedness of the Indian defence establishment to tackle the challenges at hand.
Disrupting the Status Quo
Many personnel in the Indian armed forces have been tested positive for COVID-19. This puts the operational capabilities at risk. In one isolated incident, 26 personnel of the Navy had been placed in quarantine after being tested positive for COVID-19. The French and the Americans had a great challenge ahead of them as hundreds of soldiers were getting infected onboard their Naval vessels. Furthermore, the Army saw some cases being tested positive as well. In one such incident, the headquarters of the Indian Army had to be temporarily shut down because of a soldier contracting the virus. These uncalled disruptions are very dangerous for our armed forces. These disruptions challenge the recruitment process and training exercises.
Since the Indian Army has been involved in quarantining tasks, this exposes the personnel to the virus. As a result of this, the first soldier was tested positive on March 20 in Leh. Among them, those who work as medical personnel are even more exposed to the virus. In order to enforce damage control to the operational capabilities, the Army made sure that the non-essential training, travel, and attending conferences remained cancelled. They called off any foreign assignments and postings for the time being. The Army also made it a point to extend leaves for that personnel who were already on absence. This was a major preventive measure adopted to prevent further infection.
As a result of the lockdown that had been imposed nationwide, the defence services were forced to temporarily stall all the activities that relate to soldiering during peacetime. These activities include training, pursuing professional qualification, fitness tests and regimes, equipment maintenance such as unit assets and stores, up-gradation of the cadres among others. Since the Indian Army boasts of a force that has signed up voluntarily to guard the borders, most of the troops are away from their families, which makes it even more difficult during the times of crises. The mega biennial naval exercises scheduled to be held in Vizag were cancelled due to COVID-19. A total of 41 navies were planned to be a part of the joint exercises called MILAN. The Service Selection Board (SSB) training and the recruitment process have been put to a halt as well. This will severely impact the intake process for this year.
The Army’s capable of operating in a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) environment and has sufficient equipment like infantry vehicles, helicopters and tanks which can operate without any hassles. Since instances of chemical warfare have been witnessed in West Asia and other regions in the last two decades, the focus of the Army has been on that and not on biological warfare. Most Armies believe that bio-weaponry is still fictional and won’t come into play any time soon. Naturally, due to this mindset, most Armies are not capable of handling biohazards. This is a major setback in the time of COVID-19 and has to be addressed.
Riding Down the Slope
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Indian economy has been nose-diving day by day. This is some bad news for the defence sector since the military spending will possibly be reduced as a result of the slowdown. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s GDP will grow at 1.9 per cent. This is one of the lowest in the history of post-independent India. Allocations and spendings will naturally take a hit and will take a long time to revive again. Defence manufacturing will also face a setback and discourage indigenous players who are looking at getting involved in the manufacturing and innovation sector. MoD has already received the Ministry of Finance’s circular that called for the defence spending to be limited to 15-20 per cent of the total amount allocated. This will ensure that the defence budget is not the priority for the finance ministry. A gap of Rs. 1,03,000 crore has been highlighted between the requirement and the allocated money. More than 60 per cent of this allocated amount anyway goes towards paying salaries and pensions. This means that the modernisation efforts will face a major slowdown in the next two years. Defence procurement is already difficult due to the bureaucratic hurdles, now the monetary crunch only adds more woes.
Moreover, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had announced earlier that more than 9,000 posts belonging to the Military Engineering Services (MES) will be abolished in the said industrial division. The reason cited was that this would bring about a balance to the expenditure. Due to the lockdown, the military development has taken a hit and has seen a decline in the production of freights. As of now, there is no manufacturing that is ongoing as far as fighter planes or aircraft, in general, is concerned. Some of the signed defence deals and contracts are said to be reviewed due to the financial crunch. India’s defence budget is expected to see some cuts due to the economy slowing down. The pandemic has worsened this even further. There is already an existing order to cap the spending for the first quarter of this fiscal year. Most of the payments that are being disbursed is largely that of paying for the existing contracts. This will diminish any scope for procurement of newer defence equipment that helps in modernising the armed forces in the long run. According to a report, it says that the Ministry of Defence is looking at a savings of anywhere between Rs. 400 and 800 billion in the 2020-21 financial year. To quote Yuval Noah Harari from his recent article in the Financial Times would seem relevant in this case, “Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours.” India has displayed the significant political will to make impactful decisions during the pandemic. The question is, how far and how soon can we push ourselves to be prepared on all fronts?
Rafale deal: A change in aerial balance in South Asia?
The induction of the first consignment of five Rafale jets in the Indian Air Force inventory is considered to be a game-changer in the aerial balance of the South Asian region. A multi-billion-dollar package will be beneficial to increase the air prowess of Indian Airforce. While equipped with weapons of tangible accuracy including long-range SCALP and Meteor missiles, it will be able to hunt any target with accurate precision. The arrival of French-made engines has concerned neighboring Pakistan and China due to its high accuracy of conducting sea and ground attacks.
The experience of operation ‘Swift Retort’ and Chinese intrusion in Ladakh, compelled New Delhi to introspect the efficiency of IAF in any major or minor engagement in the future. The deal to acquire Rafale fighting jets to plug the loopholes in the aerial power of IAF was inked in September 2016. This induction is meant to enhance the Indian Air force’s operational capabilities and will also assist it to overcome the technological disparity with the US manufactured Pakistan’s F-16 and Chinese Chengdu JF-17 thunder. However, the task for PAF to restrict IAF moves in the future has become more challenging. Despite its competence and better training of its personals as compared to IAF the air superiority is still not guaranteed if the technological gap between IAF and PAF gets wider. Notably, it’s hard to assess the proficiencies of one jet over another because the ‘man behind the machine is more critical’.
Rafale is a twin-engine Medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRC) whose design instigate from Dassault Mirage with an up to date frame of the 1990s, already used by the French Navy and air force as well as by Egypt and Qatar. Furthermore, these jets were also engaged in combat missions in Afghanistan and Libya where they demonstrated a high proficiency. Whilst JF-17 thunder holds a conventional design originating from Mig 33 having an airframe of 1980s and it also demonstrated its capabilities in PAF’s Operation “Swift Retort”.
In an overall assessment, JF17 is a lightweight, conventional, fuel-economical, and cost-effective jet aircraft. The most momentous factor in JF17 thunder is it’s beyond visual range capabilities and integration of AESA radar that will not only allow detecting the wide-ranged targets but also to detect and lock multiple targets instantaneously. Meanwhile, it is less disposed to jamming and leaves a low sign to radar that makes the detection of fighter difficult hence increasing its reliability. Moreover, a crop numerical advantage and training aptitude due to the use of a similar platform and its cost-effectiveness makes itself a suitable aircraft for the Pakistan air force. Similarly, the ability of any up-gradation domestically for JF-17 also increases the feasibility of this aircraft, while Rafale lacks this opportunity because Indians lack the platform that can guarantee any domestic up-gradation for Rafale. Generally, Dassault Rafale is advanced in airframe, delta wing Canard design, semi stealth specter to counter threats as well as MBDA meteor that makes it a very affluent fighter with a high operational cost.
Rafales are considered superior over existing fighter jets present in PAF inventory and with the advanced technology they will relish an edge over Pakistani jets. But in case of any aerial engagement on Pakistani soil, Experts orate that in such a scenario Pakistani fighters will enjoy an edge due to its enhanced Air defense ground environment (ADGE) and also a window will remain open for PAF that when and where to carry out a counter strike as it did during operation ‘Swift Retort’. In such case, Indian numerical advantage and war resilience will be of less significance because these factors are relished by the party having a counter-strike option and that party will decide that how much allocation of resources is needed to engage for a mission after having a careful assessment of adversary’s air defense capabilities.
It’s also important to know that PAF and IAF can carry out surprise air raids nearby to the international border in peacetime without the probability of interception by adversary radars. Neither sides have the strength and capabilities to maintain 24/7 air surveillance across a 3323-kilometer long international border. Hence it’s also necessary for Pakistan to counter or deter any kind of surgical or tactical strike in the future. But the concern is still there that after the Balakot experience will India be deterred for conducting similar strikes in the future?
While viewing this scenario and having an experience of Balakot episode, PAF efforts to enhance its capabilities of airborne intercept radar and BVR missiles in JF-17 thunder’s fleet are noteworthy. However, PAF should pursue an up-gradation on its existing F16 squadron. The presence of Rafale and S-400 air defense system will be challenging for PAF to retaliate, but the Indian S-400 and Rafale jets can’t shield the whole international border so the PAF needs a careful assessment to choose the targets that are not under the umbrella of S-400 or the access of Rafales while keeping in mind not to carry out an action that can trigger the adversary towards any escalation.
In a nutshell, the arrival of French-made engines equipped with long-range SCALP and meteor missiles having high precision is not only beneficial for Indian air prowess but it has also concerned its neighbors notably Pakistan for countermeasures. The experience of Operation Swift Retort and the recent military standoff in Ladakh has compelled New Delhi to modernize its Soviet-era air force by the induction of Dassault Rafales that will provide IAF an edge over the existing fighter jets in PAF’s inventory. However, the crop numerical advantage and training aptitude due to the use of a similar platform increases the feasibility of JF-17 thunder in PAF’s inventory. Hence in case of any aerial engagement in future the numerical advantage will be of more concern as 100+ JF-17 thunders will relish an edge over 36 Rafales and PAF will have the option of counterstrike that when and where to carry out a retaliation after carefully assessing the adversary capabilities in light of S-400 air defense system and Dassault Rafales. Hence Rafale jets have air superiority over existing Pakistani fighter jets but it can’t alter the aerial balance in South Asian region unilaterally.
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