National and International Issues

India’s Defense Modernization and Strategic Stability in South Asia

India has been a revisionist state with regional and global ambitions since its inception. For that, throughout its history, it has acquired, maintained and showcased the military might that does not match with its security needs and economic conditions – hence giving the impression of a regional and global revisionist agenda at work. Bluntly speaking, India has never faced a tangible existential threat, neither from its neighbors, nor from any extra-regional power. Have we ever heard China, Pakistan, Russia or any other extra-regional power saying that it wants to attack India and occupy its mainland? Rather quite the opposite is the case. Pakistan was attacked and cut into half by India in 1971. It occupied a major chunk of the Kashmir Valley in 1948, which is still under its occupation. This implies that India’s perceived security threat perception is highly exaggerated and based on over-securitization of disputes and issues that it has with its neighboring states. So, if India’s obsession with military power is not based on any real security imperatives, then what else is it for? 



The answer lies in elementary logic. If a state is obsessive in accumulating more military might than it actually needs, then it definitely has some revisionist agenda. A revisionist state, like that of Germany during first half of 20th century, always becomes a problem for peace, stability and structure of the international order. A classic example of Indian revisionist policy is what many termed as ‘Fall of Dhaka’. When, for the first time in the sub-continent’s history, India waged a covert war against Pakistan by organizing, deploying and running the Mukti Bahini, followed by a full-scale military invasion. It got what it had planned for. Again, it tried the same recipe on Sri Lanka by organizing, training and employing LTTE, but failed. 
So India has always been a revisionist state with ambitions and intent to alter the realities around it. The fact of the matter is that India has never reconciled with the partition of the sub-continent and wants to reverse it at any cost, whatever it takes. It has fought three major wars; a small-scale localized war, and has gone through several serious episodes of crises with Pakistan. Does Pakistan pose an existential threat to India? It’s a serious question that needs to be understood to grasp and unveil the real agenda underpinning India’s foreign security policy, which is apparently covered with moralistic and rhetorical political dialects. For this very reason, it has the world’s fourth largest army, nuclear weapons, a fast growing navy, a modernizing air force and an aggressive military space program. 


Today’s India under the rule of BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, clearly reflects what Savarkar had desired throughout his life – a powerful and masculine Hindu Rashtra. This Hindu nationalist worldview guides Indian military modernization and its foreign security policy. Under this worldview, India is trying hard to become a leading regional and global power with a huge economy, formidable military and strategic strength as well as extra-regional interests and ambitions.


Majority among the Indian leadership and security thinkers consider the phenomenon of defense and military modernization as central to Indian grand strategy, and the biggest impediment in the way of India becoming a global power.1 In order to understand the collective wisdom behind this headless and directionless drive, one should look at the book titled Grand Strategy for India: 2020 and Beyond, published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in 2012-13.2 The book, which is a compilation of articles written by top gurus of Indian strategic thought, may not only surprise many but also provide an understanding of how narratives work to shape up ambitions, objectives and roles that are much oversized than the state’s actual capacity and need. From the global commons, to United Nations Security Council, and from nuclear weapons to the end game in Afghanistan, the book sheds light on Indian regional and global ambitions. 
Coming back to Indian obsessiveness with accumulation of military might, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a credible and well-reputed institute focusing on military and defense dynamics at regional and global levels, has ranked India at third position globally, among the top arms purchasers, spending 2.4 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in its 2020 report. As per SIPRI, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remained at the top of the list in terms of being the largest importer of arms. Nonetheless, for several years before Saudi Arabia jumped on to the top position, India remained a champion in this domain.3 
As per SIPRI, from 2008 to 2017-18, India remained the largest importer of arms in the world. The U.S. arms transfer to India has been observed to be exponentially increasing since 2008. As per SIPRI database, during the years 2008 to 2012, U.S. arms transfers to India increased by 557% and Russia (62% of total arms import during 2008-2018), the U.S. (15% of total arms import during 2008-2018) and Israel (11% of total arms import during 2008-2018) remained the largest arms suppliers to India.4 So it can be safely argued that India has exponentially increased and augmented its military might and capabilities in the past several years.
As per a recent report, India is all set to spend $130 billion to bolster the combat capability of its armed forces in the next five to seven years. According to the details given in the said document, India will work on a broad plan to speed up modernization of its army, navy and the air force, under which a range of critical weapons; such as missiles, fighter jets, submarines and warships will be procured in the next few years. However, the immediate focus will remain on modernization of infantry by equipping it with 2,600 infantry combat vehicles and 1,700 future-ready combat vehicles. Another priority area, which is under focus, is the procurement of 110 multi-role fighter aircraft for the Indian air force.5
As far as the nuclear weapons and their delivery systems are concerned, India has around 100-120 nuclear warheads. Out of these, 56 are ballistic missile tipped, 48 free-fall gravity bombs, while remaining are submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads.6 India has panoply of ballistic missiles. Ground-based ballistic missiles include Agni III (intermediate range), Agni II (medium range), as well as Agni-I and Prithvi-II (both short range). Agni-V, which is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), was successfully tested in 2015. It can engage any target in mainland China. India is currently developing multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) and more maneuverable warheads. In addition to MIRVs, it is also aggressively building and deploying a robust missile defense system and cruise missiles. It is in the process of developing a subsonic land-launched cruise missile named Nirbhay that ranges between 700-1000 kms. India also plans to develop its sea and air-based variants.7 
An ambitious ballistic missile defense (BMD) project is being pursued by India. Indian military R&D sector is aggressively working on indigenization of BMD systems. Currently, two types of BMD systems are being pursued by India; Advanced Air-Defense (AAD) and Prithvi Air Defense (PAD). In addition, a very destabilizing and advanced S-400 air defense system has recently been procured from Russia and added in the Indian strategic arsenal. S-400 is capable of engaging the short and medium range ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as any advanced fighter aircraft seconds after it has taken off. S-400 is being claimed by India as a game changer, as far as the military balance and Indian superiority over Pakistan in defensive-offensive weapons are concerned; hence, directly affecting the already fragile structure of strategic stability in South Asia.8
As far as Indian air-based strategic delivery means are concerned, Indian Air Force (IAF) has Mirage 2000H, which are multi-role combat fighter aircraft, capable of supporting air-combat missions as well as delivery of free-fall gravity bombs. In addition, IAF also has Jaguar IS and IBs fighter-bombers, a British-French combat aircraft, which make up a significant part of Indian ground attack unit and nuclear strike force. India is aggressively pursuing modernization of Mirage and Jaguar fighter aircraft in addition to the abovementioned procurement of 110 multi-role fighter aircraft. A much-politicized deal of procuring 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France is being claimed as a game changer by Indian authorities, as the claim goes, it will provide air supremacy to India over Pakistan.9
At sea, India is rapidly developing and enhancing its sea-based nuclear delivery means. It is developing sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and nuclear-powered submarines. India aims to invest $14 billion in developing three new nuclear platforms – the Arihant-class nuclear-powered submarine fleet. These platforms will be armed with K-4 and K-15 SLBMs and Agni-V ICBMs.10 The Arihant was first boarded for a sea trial in 2014 and 2016. A second Arihant class nuclear submarine is under construction and development of the third submarine is also underway.  Another nuclear submarine named Aridhman is also being built by India. In addition to nuclear submarines, India also has plans to purchase six Scorpène-class diesel-electric submarines from France. It is also aggressively building new destroyers, frigates and corvettes.11
Aircraft carriers, which are considered as a symbol of advance military power, has also been at the heart of Indian military modernization and procurement plans for the past few years. Indian Navy currently operates a single carrier – INS Vikramaditya – which is a modified Soviet-era Kiev-class carrier. India is vigorously building INS Vikrant at Cochin Shipyard, which is 44,000 ton carrier. Whereas, the plans for developing a third aircraft carrier named INS Vishal are in the loop.12
Moreover, to go beyond the traditional realms of military power, India is aggressively developing its outer-space military program. It is developing its dedicated cluster of military satellites to support its strategic command and control system, BMD, anti-satellite, surveillance and intelligence capabilities. In March 2019, India successfully tested an anti-satellite missile system. The test’s success made India the fourth country capable of destroying an enemy satellite in outer-space after the U.S., Russia and China.13


India’s expansionist and revisionist mindset, which is guiding its directionless military development and modernization coupled with offensive and aggressive force posturing pose a much greater threat to the already fragile structure of stability in South Asia. India is pursuing long term conventional and strategic force modernization including the high-end technologies and advanced systems.


Indian threat perception mainly focuses on two of its neighboring countries – China and Pakistan. China’s rapid rise as a peer competitor to U.S. has made the Indian strategic community and leadership greatly paranoid. India sees the rise of China as a direct threat to its regional and global ambitions. Despite the fact that India has a credible ground-based strategic arsenal that can engage any target on mainland China, Indian obsession to build high-cost sea-based strategic force is beyond any rational understanding. In contrast to the stated Indian perceived threat assumptions that see China’s rise and defense modernization as a major threat and the underlying raison d’être for an aggressive military developmental posture, its military force posture is Pakistan centric. Majority of its strategic and conventional force is deployed and directed against Pakistan. 
The size and quantity of power (mainly military and economic) a state holds defines the magnitude and range of its ambitions and influence. With a considerable increase in Indian economic, military and technological capabilities during the past thirty years, the magnitude of its ambitions to widen its sphere of influence and engagement has also increased considerably. This obsessive behavior to accumulate greater and superior military power is central to Indian strategic thinking or what Indians themselves sometimes refer to as ‘the Indian grand strategy’, which defines India’s regional and global ambitions. 
The ‘Indian grand strategy’ calls for enhancing India’s influence in the region and beyond. Over the last two decades, India has not only widened its sphere of geopolitical, economic and military interests, but also has deepened its ingress into the arena of global power. This extension in Indian sphere of interest and influence is not happening in isolation, rather in a competitive regional and global environment, where China, Pakistan and other smaller powers like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are trying to resist and keep in check India’s outward push. However, the core of this competition remains between India, China and Pakistan. This triangular regional power interface further connects itself with evolving alliance dynamics at global level, where America is trying to curtail growing Chinese influence by building alliance structures in various regions. In the Asian region, two blocs are emerging; one led by U.S. and the other led by China and Russia. India and several other regional and extra-regional players; such as the Gulf States, Japan, Australia, South Korea and Taiwan have made alliance with U.S. and the European bloc, whereas, Pakistan, Iran, China, Turkey and Russia seem to have formed an informal alliance in the region. In this emerging alliance structure and for a wider spectrum of regional and extra-regional ambitions, India needed a fundamental change in its old foreign policy of non-alignment (balancing between the great powers) and this is what India under the leadership of Modi precisely did.  At regional and global level, Modi seems to have changed the course of Indian foreign policy and foreign security policy from a rhetorical position of non-alignment to one that clearly puts India in an American alliance structure against China. Clearly drifting towards an American led anti-China (and anti-Pakistan) bloc, Indian foreign policy appears to have blended into a strategic alliance formation agenda of U.S. in Asia against China. 
Since India has a far wider spectrum of strategic, economic and political interests, and it has a revisionist agenda, it feels threatened by China’s rapid rise as a regional and global power. According to Shiv Shankar Menon, the chief strategic advisor to Modi, the main challenge that India faces at this point in time is how to rise and extend the Indian sphere of influence when at the same time China has risen up and has established a strong sphere of influence across the globe. Mohan believes that the under charismatic leadership of Prime Minister Modi and rapidly growing relations with the U.S., Indian economic, military, diplomatic and cultural spheres of influence are increasing swiftly.14
Apart from external factors that encourage India to have a strong and formidable military might, changes in domestic structure of Indian politics and society also fuel up this desire. Henry Kissinger, in his article titled “Domestic Structure and Foreign Policy”, argues that separation of foreign policy from domestic structure of states is not appropriate because states are not (and never have been throughout history) “unitary models” having similar “conception of rules of game.” He believed that in order to fully grasp the true motives and objectives of the Soviet Union, U.S. must understand the structure of its domestic politics. According to him, an in-depth comprehension of domestic state structure is essential to understand the external behavior of a state, as it provides necessary resources and a common understanding of the intentions and action of states.15
The election of Narendera Modi as the 14th Prime Minister of India in 2014 was considered by many around the world a significant development and a decisive phase in Indian history, as far as its foreign security policy is concerned. After completing his first term as the Prime Minister of India, Modi successfully secured a second term through a landslide victory in 2019 general elections. Under Modi, Indian domestic structure has changed to a large extent. This deep shift in domestic structure has also greatly changed Indian worldview and its foreign security policy. With the rise of politics, ideology and culture of Hindu nationalism, Indian worldview has reshaped itself from a cautious political and security foreign policy to one conceived and propagated by the prominent ideologues of Hindutva; such as, Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883), Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) and V.D. Savarkar (1883-1966). Hindu nationalist worldview now guides Indian policies at home and abroad. 
Hindu nationalist worldview (as propagated by abovementioned ideologues of Hinduism) presents Hinduism as a masculine, powerful, robust, aggressive and revisionist force for protection of Hindu religion, cultural and territory from outsiders, which essentially means Muslims and Christians. The fall of Hinduism as a glorious ancient empire and ideal religion is considered by these ideologues as a consequence of various alterations, reformations and non-Hindu teachings of non-violence, peace and harmony. In order to revive, protect and fight against foreign invaders and internal enemies (Muslims, Christians, Parsis, and lower-caste non-Aryans), Hindus should acquire formidable forces, build robust defenses, get hold of new technologies and gather unmatched military, economic and cultural strength.16
Today’s India under the rule of BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, clearly reflects what Savarkar had desired throughout his life – a powerful and masculine Hindu Rashtra. This Hindu nationalist worldview guides Indian military modernization and its foreign security policy. Under this worldview, India is trying hard to become a leading regional and global power with a huge economy, formidable military and strategic strength as well as extra-regional interests and ambitions. 
As stated above, India’s military modernization continues to be a central problem in its desire to rise as a hegemonic power at regional level and great power at international level. However, this directionless and aimless military modernization drive coupled with a revisionist agenda of ‘Akhand Bharat’ poses serious challenges to regional peace and stability, especially in the backdrop of India-Pakistan rivalry, history of wars and crises.  
In a nutshell, India’s expansionist and revisionist mindset, which is guiding its directionless military development and modernization, coupled with offensive and aggressive force posturing pose a much greater threat to the already fragile structure of stability in South Asia. India is pursuing long term conventional and strategic force modernization, including the high-end technologies and advanced systems. Its new military doctrine, the Cold Start Doctrine, is pro-active and aggressive in nature, which encourages for limited war options under nuclear overhang; therefore, increasing the chances of accidental or inadvertent nuclear war.
In line with its expansionist policy, after illegally annexing Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir with its mainland, India has raised the ante with Pakistan. Followed by annexation, it is pursuing a carefully calibrated campaign of narrative building through employing a mix of political rhetoric, propaganda and coercive diplomacy to pave the way for its expansion into Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Soon after annexation, it started with Jaishankar’s statement (on September 17)17, in which he revealed India’s desire to have jurisdiction over Azad Kashmir at earliest, followed by a surge in official references to Azad Kashmir both in military and political statements, coupled with issuance of domicile to non-Kashmiris, escalation along the LoC and weather forecast of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan on India’s national TV. This is not just political maneuvering, but a far deeper and sinister agenda seems to be at work. It seems that India is hell bent on a full-fledged war with Pakistan. 


The writer is a former Member Senate of Pakistan (2012-2018), where she remained member of various committees including Defence and Foreign Affairs. She is the founder and Patron-in-Chief of a non-partisan think tank; the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS). 
Twitter: @SeharKamran


1.   Cohen, S. P. and Dasgupta, S. “Arming Without Aiming: India's Military Modernization”, Brooking Institute, 2010.
2.   Krishnappa, V. and George, P. “Grand Strategy for India: 2020 and Beyond”, Institute for Defence Studies (2012).
3.   “India the second largest arms importer in the world, next only to Saudi”, The Week, March 10, 2020. https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2020/03/10/india-the-second-largest-arms-importer-in-the-world-next-only-to-saudi-report.html. Also see; “USA and France dramatically increase major arms exports; Saudi Arabia is largest arms importer, says SIPRI”, March 9, 2020. See at: https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2020/usa-and-france-dramatically-increase-major-arms-exports-saudi-arabia-largest-arms-importer-says. 
4.   SIPRI Fact Sheet, March 2018, https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/2018-03/fssipri_at2017_0.pdf 
5.   “India firms up USD 130 billion plan to enhance military capability”, India Today, September 2019. See at: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/plan-to-enhance-military-capability-government-of-inda-investment-1597702-2019-09-11. 
6.   Kile, S. N. and Kristensen, H. M. “Indian Nuclear Forces”, SIPRI Yearbook 2017 (Oxford University Press, 2017), 641-646.
7.   Kristensen, H. M. and Korda, Matt. “Indian Nuclear Forces, 2018.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (2018).
8.   Abbasi, Dr. Rizwana. “US & China and Impact on Regional Strategic Balance of South Asia.” Green Book (2020). Available at; https://ndu.edu.pk/downloads/Green-Book-2020-Final-06-Feb-2020.pdf.  
9.   Ministry of Defence. 2017. Annual Report 2016–17: 38. http://mod.nic.in/writereaddata/AnnualReport1617.pdf. 
10. O’Donnell, Frank and Bollfrass, Alexander, “India is building nuclear submarines and ICBMs. That’s a $14 billion mistake.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 26, 2020. See at; https://thebulletin.org/2020/02/india-is-building-nuclear-submarines-and-icbms-thats-a-14-billion-mistake/. 
11. Peri, D., and J. Joseph, “INS Arihant Left Crippled After ‘Accident’ 10 Months Ago,” The Hindu, January 8, 2018. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ins-arihant-left-crippled-after-accident-10-months-ago/article22392049.ece.
12. Ibid.
13. US Air Force, National Air and Space Intelligence Center. 2017. “Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat.” NASIC-1031-0985-17, July. Available at: http://www.nasic.af.mil/Portals/19/images/Fact%20Sheet%20Images/2017%20Ballistic%20and%20Cruise%20Missile%20Threat_Final_small.pdf?ver=2017-07-21-083234-343.
14. C. Raja Mohan, Modi's World: Expanding India's Sphere of Influence, (HarperCollins India, 2015). 
15. Henry A. Kissinger, Domestic Structure and Foreign Policy, Daeduls, Vol.95, No.2, Conditions of World Order (Spring, 1966), 503-529.
16. Jyotirmaya Sharma, Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism (Penguin Books, 2011).
17. “PoK part of India, one day we will have physical jurisdiction over it: EAM Jaishankar”; https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/eam-jaishankar-pakistan-occupied-kashmir-india-neighbour-1600129-2019-09-17.

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