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Indian Defence Planning Has No Strategic Direction

Updated on July 11, 2019
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An air warrior, MG has a checkered and also wields the pen forcefully with two novels and over 100 short stories


India was free from the yoke of the British Raj in 1947. Freedom from the British was achieved when the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence act 1946, that created the states of Pakistan and India. At that time India had the most advanced infrastructure in industry and defense, second only to Japan which had been defeated in World War II.

India at that time also had an aircraft factory( Hindustan Aeronautics) at Bangalore which serviced the US transport planes that operated in India to carry supplies over the "hump," that is the Himalayas to the American allies, the nationalist party army in China.

Concept of the Indian leadership

The Indian leadership that came to power had no comprehension of what is world domination. They also had no ambition to dominate the world and were content to live in an imaginary world hoping that India's great power status would be recognized on the strength of Mahatma Gandhi and his policy of non-violence. The net result was that heavy industry was neglected and the defence was given the lowest possible priority. For long years, the armed forces were given a step motherly treatment. India was led by leaders who hoped they would be recognized as a "great third world " leaders and India would be given global recognition, which would come through diplomacy.

This was projected by Nehru himself. Unfortunately, Nehru lived in a dream world and did not know that one cannot dominate the world without a strategic initiative backed by a strong military-industrial complex. The result was that Nehru who strutted about the world as a "great third world leader" was shown to be a man which very poor strategic sense as the Chinese in a brief border war completely routed the Indian Army. They consolidated their hold over vast areas of Northern India. The defeat and the Chinese "betrayal" had a deleterious effect on Nehru. He died a broken man whose last two years were a shadow of his earlier personality.

All the weaponry is imported
All the weaponry is imported

Great power status

Successive Indian governments had no plans to aspire for great power status of India. Defence was relegated as a necessary evil and over the decades it got the least priority. `This was despite the defeat and aggressive posture of China and the failure to defeat Pakistan in three wars in 1965, 1971, and 1998.

India's new strategic budget that has just been unveiled by the finance minister Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman brings out some startling figures. One can see that India's defence spending figure of dollars $46.3 billion is well below that of China which has a defence budget of one $177.5 billion. This underscores the mounting power gap between the two Nations, who are rivals in Asia.

it is worth pondering that India’s defence budget is smaller even than China’s trade surplus with India. The low budget hampers military modernization which continues to lag due to stalled defence reforms. Another facet is that two third of the defence budget every year is marked just for salaries and day to day running costs. The money left for military hardware is very low. The army spending on modernization, for example, has been just 14% of the budget and most of the money is eaten up by vast import of arms from foreign countries.

We must remember that all the great power are major arms producers and exporters. Most of them consider India as a cash cow. This is unfortunate as India produces no weaponry of any significance and over the last few decades no attempt was made to have a strategic vision and set up a military-industrial complex. Make no mistake that no nation can build security and become a great power on the basis of military imports. Indeed with this reliance on imported weapons, India can never be a power to contend with.

In the past decade, India has accounted for almost 10% of the global arms sales by volume. This is nothing to be proud of and is one of the bugbears to India’s step forward for becoming a power of international standing. We must remember that when we import arms from one country, that country holds the tab for the supply of technology and a further improvement in the weaponry. It has veto power and this has never been recognized by the Indian political leadership. I am afraid India's dependence on arms imports has a corrupting role and one of the root causes of the Indian armed forces equipment shortages and the erosion in combat capability.

The more arms India imports the more it lacks the capacity to decisively win a war. This is no surprise that even in the 1998 war with Pakistan on Kargil the Indian armed forces failed to win a decisive victory and at the end were content to have a ceasefire.

A strategic vision is important when one realizes that it really means the capacity to define oneself. Having its own resources is the first test a country must pass on the way to becoming a great power. The Indian leadership from Nehru including popular leaders like Indira Gandhi and Narasimha Rao and now Narendra Modi do not have a clue to this important axiom of international power so excellently brought out by Sun Tzu in his theory of warfare.

Strategic vision

The Indian political leadership will have to give importance to the armed forces and not get into unproductive contests with pensioners and retired soldiers on pension and other matters. Wasting time to score a point against the military leadership will lead nowhere. The importance of the Army is below civil services. There is no doubt the civil services are important in a democracy but as Donald Trump said in a meeting with Modi, the democracies to dominate the world have to maintain the highest state of readiness and a strong military.

This message is simple but has to be learned by Mr. Modi. One is not sure he really understands the concept of strategic domination over the world. It is a sad commentary that India is not even able to dominate its neighbors and as far as the military is concerned India seems to be two decades behind China which is now challenging the United States as the world's number one power.

One wonders if this apathy has something to do with the Hindu mindset. The concept of the "meek and mild" Hindu was cultivated by Gandhi has no place in real politics. We must remember that history shows that famous Indian emperors like Vikramaditya, Samudragupta, and Chandragupta maintained massive armies that dominated the entire subcontinent and even Central Asia. Emperor Kanishka's empire extended to Samarkand.

Last word

Modi and BJP must formulate a long-range strategic vision to make the "make in India" statement a reality. It's about time the political leadership changed gears and the pacifist concept thrown overboard. In the modern world, the Indian political leadership realizes that China and Pakistan will try and foment trouble in the Indian subcontinent. Who will guard against this without a powerful military? Modi should not score brownie points on OROP with veterans but concentrate on countering China which looks like a dragon over India, not forgetting Pakistan which was created because of the Muslim expression and fear of domination by Hindus. In other words, the two nation theory is alive and kicking. Modi and the BJP government have a tough task and it's not going to be easy


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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      15 months ago from Singapore


      Thank you for your comment

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      15 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I believe you laid out the problems and the solutions very succinctly. This is a well-written article that gives us history and what the future should look like.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      15 months ago from Singapore

      Lt Col Singh,

      Thank you for commenting. Yes! I am also awaiting a great leader. Subhas Bose could have been that Bismark but he died early.

    • profile image

      Lt Col Parduman Singh 

      15 months ago

      An excellent article that sums up the strategic scenario very well. It's about time a leader of the caliber of Bismark or our own Chandragupta emerged to set the balance right.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh emge 

      15 months ago from Singapore

      Wg Cdr Rajesh Khosla,

      Thank you for a lucid comment. I, as a nationalist, feel an intense sense of loss at the present and past national leadership.

    • profile image

      Wg Cdr Rajesh Khosla 

      15 months ago

      A great Article. Everything put up together so simply and succinctly.


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