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.