Budget 2018: India's armed forces need to worry about tech asymmetry

India's low budget for the armed forces should not be allowed to handicap our first-rate war fighters.

 |  4-minute read |   31-01-2018
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Technological asymmetry has been an understated cog that goes into deciding victors in interstate conflicts — for, it is finally the image of a victorious soldier, sailor or airman that lingers — on in human memory.

While the "man behind the machine" is important, there comes a stage where the superiority of warfighting implements overcomes the prowess of a warrior. We have witnessed that when the bow and arrow overcame the mightiest of land warriors only to be overcome itself by the lance; the bow, lance, sword, shield et al were steamrolled when gun powder came on the scene.

And so has been the story over centuries leading to tanks, submarines and now air power, whose instruments have become deciding factors in winning battles and affecting the way war progresses. Adverse technological asymmetry has been fatal down history; India is in the dangerous position of getting on the wrong side of the tech asymmetry curve vis-a-vis its neighbours, especially China — this should be lighting up red bulbs in South Block.


The Chinese military-industrial complex has matured to a point where it has become the world’s third largest major arms exporter. Though this is especially true in the field of air defence systems, UAVs and mid-capability fighter and transport aircraft. While the J-20 stealth aircraft has been inducted (production rate being ramped to 36 aircraft per year) and is going through its operational paces, there are reports that the J-31 is being converted to become a carrier borne stealth fighter.

This would affect Indian naval power adversely as there are no reports of a corresponding development for the Indian Navy, which is still debating after the shelving of the Naval Tejas programme, whether to get more trouble prone MiG-29K for the indigenous aircraft carrier or some other foreign aircraft. The Chinese have produced the sixth Y-20 Very Heavy Transport Aircraft which will become the mainstay of long range airlift as well as the base aircraft for AWACS and inflight refuelling.

They have tied up with the Russians for making a new Advanced Heavy Lift helicopter for the Tibetan plateau and have bought from Ukraine, lock stock and barrel, rights to the world’s biggest transport aircraft, the An-225. The massive airlift capability that will accrue to the PLA can well be imagined! Secure communications, that are so vital in war, will become their forte with research being done in quantum technology.

Similar advancements are happening in the land and naval armament arena but the advantage that India presently has with its superior aircraft and aircrew over its Northern frontiers may be slowly slipping away. Air power assets do not come cheap and it is necessary that a nation, vying for a seat at the table of the powerful, commits enough monies towards their acquisition. While the depleting squadron strength of the IAF is being regularly debated, it is the other equally vital aspects too that merit government’s attention. We have only three AWACS and six Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA) and no additional ones on the horizon.


Silver lining

This writer is witness to the selection of a new FRA in 2009, but the proposal was shot down on "high" costs. The reshoot of the project met a similar fate five years hence and now we have floated another tender last week! Will this be cheaper now? No way! Reports from HAL about the ramping up of Tejas are not encouraging and prototype testing of the Tejas Mk1A, eighty-three of which will be bought, is some distance away. The Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft seems a mirage while the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft project is still on the drawing board. The real silver lining is the transport aircraft and helicopter fleets of the IAF that constitute a very potent airlift capability, but these aircraft too are all imported – hopefully, their maintenance contracts are being addressed in time to have adequate availability on the flight line.

Budget hopes

A healthy combat-ready flight line demonstrates the deterrence that air power affords a nation. The forthcoming national budget is awaited with great anticipation by the armed forces. Technological asymmetry should not be allowed to handicap our first-rate war fighters.

PS: The Economic Survey for 2017-18 brings out the startling fact that India spends only 0.7 per cent of its GDP on Research & Development while China spends 2.1 per cent, the US 2.8 per cent and Israel 4.3 per cent. If the R&D spend is worked out in monetary terms the huge difference between China and India would be abundantly clear as Beijing’s GDP is five times India’s. It is a no-brainer that this is a clear indicator of the fact that technological asymmetry would only increase unless some radical steps are urgently taken by the government to ameliorate the imbalance.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: 4 reasons Venkaiah Naidu is the BJP nominee for India’s vice-president


AVM Manmohan Bahadur AVM Manmohan Bahadur @bahadurmanmohan

The writer is a retired Air Vice Marshal and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.

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