Wednesday, April 4, 2012

India's Monsoon Strategy

Reproduced below is an atricle by me, which appeared in the Planning Commission's Yojana :

Indian Naval flotilla excercising in the Indian Ocean

Last August, an unidentified Chinese warship confronted an Indian naval ship near the coast of Vietnam and demanded it explain its presence in Chinese waters.
Many in India and elsewhere saw this as an unintended sampler of what the future may hold. As India and China grow, thriving on foreign trade and buying up energy supplies where they can, the two powers quite naturally look towards the sea-lanes which support their outward reach to the rest of the world.
While China earns a hefty 39.5 per cent of its GDP from exports alone, India earns a not insignificant 22 per cent from its sales to the rest of the world. 
Similarly, India depends on imported oil for about 80 percent of its crude oil requirement, needed to drive its $ 1.8 trillion economy. The giant Chinese economy which accounts for roughly 13.5 per cent of the global economy, also depends on foreign crude imports for at least 50 per cent of its needs and this figure is expected to move upwards as China has a mere 1.2 per cent of global proven reserves of oil and gas.
In ancient times, with the Monsoon winds, Indian fleets used to travel westwards to the Arabian peninsula and eastwards to the spice islands of Indo-China. Chola, Pala and much later Mughal fleets used to protect these shippers.  
In much the same way, as vast Indian and Chinese fleets scour the seas for trade and resources, naval fleets of these two nations need to follow to provide security in far flung seas. China is believed to be laying the groundwork for a naval presence along maritime chokepoints in the South China Sea, the Malacca Straits, the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf through acquisition of naval bases. While India, similarly, gears up to protect routes through which its oil supplies must traverse from the Middle East, Australia, Africa and Russian Siberia’s Sakhalin.
China’s interest in the port of Gwadar in Balochistan and in Arakanese ports in Myanmar along with oil pipelines and roads from these ports to mainland China is but natural. A casual look at the map of the Indian Ocean will show that the Straits of Hormuz, patrolled by the US and the Straits of Malacca, straddled by India’s Andaman Island which boasts of a new integrated command, are the natural choke points for China’s oil supplies. China wants to reduce risks and costs run up by its oil tankers, by offloading Middle Eastern crude at Gwadar and piping it to Sinkiang. Similarly, crude from South East Asia could be piped out from Arakan instead of being brought through the Straits of Malacca and then through the contested South China Seas.
It would be but natural, to expect India to respond to China’s strategy, termed by one writer as `String of Pearls’ (in reference to the far off Ocean ports the giant nation wishes to control) by seeking friendly access to the Vietnamese, Taiwanese and Japanese ports for deploying its Naval assets to protect India’s shipping and trade routes to the Far East and to access its equity oil at Sakhalin.
India’s race to reach out and defend its sea-lanes is supported by its neighbours in South East and East Asia. Asean and Far East powers found themselves increasingly worried about China's maritime claims, which cover about 3 million square km. Most of this is in two areas — the South China Sea, where Beijing's claims overlap mainly with those of Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, and the East China Sea, where its claims are contested by Japan.
Beijing has described its territorial disputes with Japan and Southeast Asian countries as ones involving its "indisputable" or "inalienable" sovereignty. Though it has not ruled out compromise, it has at the same time increased it naval presence in these areas and flexed its muscle from time to time.
No wonder then that some 31 percent of the Rs 79,198 crore capital budget for the defence forces have been earmarked for Indian Navy, hitherto the most neglected of India’s armed forces. The Air Force which wants to buy new French made fighter aircraft to replace ageing jets is slated to spend slightly more with an allocation of over 38 per cent of the capital budget. India’s vast land army with more than 1.2 million soldiers will, by contrast, be getting a relatively lower capital outlay.
Some 89 percent or Rs 66,459.43 crore of the total capital spend has been kept aside for capital acquisition or modernisation. In the case of the navy this represents a huge build up – it has managed to garner a 72 per cent increase in its budget on this count at Rs 24,151 crore. The Air Force’s modernisation budget is pegged at Rs 28,503 crore and Army’s at just Rs 13,804 crore. Navy’s demands for building new ships have been given more priority to the Army’s demand that new guns be bought to replace the more than two decades old Bofor’s 155 mm howitzers.
According to Maritime Research firm AMI, India will spend almost $45 billion over the next 20 years on 103 new warships, including destroyers and nuclear submarines.
China in contrast, will be spending around $25 billion for 135 vessels.
However, unlike Indian Air Force’s buy of Rafael or Army’s purchases of night vision equipment from Israel or search for an artillery gun abroad, the Navy has been depending largely on Indian dockyards to build its fleet.
This obviously gives it more bang for the rupee. Foreign equipment is costly. China realised this long ago and adopted the path of reverse engineering to build its missile forces, jet fighter crafts and assault rifles. Just one and half decade back, China, like India was a major importer of weapons. However, in the last decade and a half, it very consciously worked to `catch up’. It reverse engineered British missiles, worked on Soviet era fighter jet platforms to work in improvements. It used students and scientists sent abroad on exchange programmes to spy on rival systems, a few of which were openly available, some commercially buyable.  It hired out-of-work Soviet weapons scientists and specialists and restructured its own defence research and production labyrinths.
The Middle Kingdom has also strategised by coming up with innovative ideas to take on its arch rival – the US – whose military size, strength and spending - dwarfs everyone else. Beijing is believed experimenting with `bugs’ in telecom and power equipment which could cause power and communication systems in client countries to collapse. It has again reportedly trained armies of hackers who can play havoc with computer based command and control systems in a wide range of areas and is perfecting satellite warfare capabilities to take out the communication lines of the enemy. It has also reportedly strategised on using low cost, small yet very fast strike craft to disable enemy fleets including aircraft carrier groups.
India has yet to fully realise the potentials for indigenous manufacture of high tech weapons or for innovating new attack systems which could be cheap or involve less high tech inputs. Its creaking research and development organisation has been struggling to build a good main battle tank, a fighter jet and even a good assault rifle, even as its best brains have managed to break tech barriers to produce world class missile systems and rockets. Even today, India depends on Bulgarian and other former Soviet Union states to procure assault rifles for its crack commando forces, while successfully building nuclear shields and 3,500 km-range nuclear capable missiles.
This inability to build `nuts and bolts’ while making far more sophisticated weaponry, has meant a huge drain on the treasury and far less `bang’ for the rupee for the Indian armed forces. Attempts are being made to remedy it, partly by introducing the private sector to defence production, partly by letting them rope in foreign partners to build systems and sub-systems for aircraft, armoured carriers and other weapon systems. However, an overhaul of India’s basic defence R&D set-up and more extensive and leveraged use of India’s ordinance factory network are still awaited.
However, in terms of overall defence spending, despite the Chinese depending on low cost indigenous manufacture as opposed to India’s starategy of purchase of equipment from abroad, India’s spending on its armed forces will still be drawfed by China. India’s defence budget this year (2012-2013) will be just $ 40 billion compared to China’s gigantic spend of $ 106 billion for the current year. While India’s spend in rupee terms is 17 per cent more than last year’s, China’s is 11 per cent more in Yuan terms than last year’s.
The natural question which follows any discussion on India’s defence budget and its comparision with China’s is : Will this rise in spending on both sides of the border necessarily fuel an arms race or worse, a conflict between two rising powers? Not necessarily. Both are mature nations and both are aware of their vulnerabilities. It would be wise on the part of both to be ready, and wiser to be even more ready to negotiate points of conflict.