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Worried India Shifts Defense Focus To China

India is turning away from its long preoccupation with declining Pakistan as rising Chinese power sets alarm bells ringing in Delhi.  That at least is the message of this important Reuters review of India’s changing defense posture.

In Reuters’ words:

Defence chiefs are hurrying to modernise ageing weaponry as China reinforces a 3,500-km (2,200-mile) shared but disputed border through the Himalayas.

It took 11 years to select France’s Rafale as the favoured candidate for a $15 billion splurge on 126 new combat jets to replace a Soviet-era fleet of MiGs dubbed “flying coffins” for their high crash rate.

At the same time, feeling encircled as China projects its fast-growing naval power from Hormuz to Malacca, India is rushing to firm up friendships the length and breadth of the Indian Ocean.

India is the world’s largest arms importer with plans to spend $100 billion on weapons over the next decade.

India’s air force, army and navy all face fundamental changes as the country seeks to cope with the ambitious modernization and rapid growth of China’s military might. The effort is putting an immense strain on the cumbersome bureaucracy (with more than a whiff of corruption) behind the Indian armed forces and there are those who think India can’t manage the complexities of overhauling, modernizing and expanding three service branches at once.

But the fear of China leaves little choice. India lost a 1962 war with China over disputed border territories and fears that a repeat conflict would have a similar or even worse result.  Part of what is happening is a massive attempt to rebuild and strengthen border fortifications in the northeast, where Indian territory borders on China — and where the boundaries are in dispute.

But longer term, the naval contest is likely to get more attention.  China’s interest in protecting its access to the Middle East and projecting power at sea to counter the US threatens India’s sense of security in the Indian Ocean. To address the consequences of China’s growing presence in the region, India is building up forces and developing deeper ties with like minded neighbors.

Again, from Reuters:

The relationship between India and China is complex, involving as much cooperation as competition. But while the generals and admirals rarely say as much publicly, India fears a repeat of a brief, humiliating 1962 border war and wants to be prepared for surprises.

Seafaring officers from 14 countries from New Zealand to the Seychelles have gathered on remote Indian islands in the Bay of Bengal this week for exercises and a “meeting of minds” about maritime security.

It is one of the largest such gatherings of maritime allies that India has organised, but China and Pakistan were conspicuously not on the guest list.

This meeting will not go unnoticed in Beijing and Islamabad. History is unfolding before our eyes.

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  • Anthony

    New Zealand to Seychelles covers a lot of blue south WRM but as Reuters immplies India’s concern is NorthEast as new era unfolds.

  • Jbird

    China & India both have McDonald’s restaurants and the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention means that there will be no war between the 2 mega-states. But if India’s worried about it the US should be happy to sell them plenty of boats and planes

  • Mark in Texas

    It is taking the Russians forever to deliver the aircraft carrier that the Indians bought. My suggestion is to sell India a few dozen F18s and throw in the Kittyhawk as a happy meal prize. What the heck, let them have all the F4s they want from Davis-Monthan. A bunch of them were reconditioned and have plenty of hours left.

  • RHD

    Preparedness and deterrence are almost always sensible policies in a dangerous world. But military conflict between major states requires that fundamental interests worth fighting about be in play. Small border areas of little intrinsic value don’t fit the bill, and the elites running both China and India and thier interests are very different today than they were 50 years ago. While it would certainly be sensible for India to be prepared to meet any challenge by the Chinese for hegemony in the region, the main threat to India remains the failed state armed with nukes next door. It’s anyone’s guess who will be running Pakistan in the short term, and it could quite easily turn out that fanatics like those running Iran may end up in charge. (The suicide raid in Mumbai a year or so ago was a stark reminder, if any were needed, about how that might turn out.) I suspect that thought gets a lot more attention in Delhi than any possible conflict with China. Of course, the modernization of the Indian military discussed in the Reuters piece serves both goals.

  • Multitude

    Don’t forget that India is in a multi-billion dollar venture with Sukhoi T-50 ( ) for the generation of a fifth-generation fighter.

    It’s unfortunate that the U.S. doesn’t produce leading defense technologies or has an interest in sharing development efforts in cooperation with other leading global interests. Obama’s clearly a “go-it-alone by not going at all” foreign policy failure.

  • PacRim Jim

    Too bad India’s old ally, the Soviet Union, is not around to protect them.

  • Mastro

    “It’s unfortunate that the U.S. doesn’t produce leading defense technologies or has an interest in sharing development efforts in cooperation with other leading global interests. Obama’s clearly a “go-it-alone by not going at all” foreign policy failure.”

    I think the F35 is about as international as you can get.

    We are selling a bunch of C17’s, P8’s and c130’s to India.

    I wonder if India’s immense corruption is why they favor Russia and France over US and UK for arms.

    To sum it up- we are making improvements with India- but might want to take it slowly- don’t need Russia getting F35 plans 5 minutes after we send them to India.

  • Rod McFadden

    Of note, until recently (as recently as 2006) the US was *encouraging* China to be more assertive in the area.

  • Ken

    “India lost a 1962 war with China over disputed border territories…” I dare you to go into a bar in India and repeat that statement. If you did the Indo-reporter bar fight would end with the reporter stomped. India lost no territory in the war, it was mostly just a series of skirmishes around border post that China felt were too close to the border line.

  • JeremyR

    India isn’t interested in buying our old junk when other countries will sell them more modern stuff. Which is why they bought fighters from the French?

    And the F-35? That’s the fighter equivalent of the Edsel. And I imagine China will get one from Israel, like they did with the Lavi, but what they would want with it is beyond me.

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