NEW DELHI - Although the
process has been slow and shaky, India's massive
defense modernization efforts, estimated at US$50
billion, are well underway.
highlight moves to achieve new levels of defense
abilities, even as the country emerges as an
economic powerhouse. The attempts aim to ramp up
land, sea and air capabilities, given threat
perceptions from China and Pakistan.
Delhi recently cleared the Indian Air Force (IAF) to
participate in the US "Red
Flag" multinational aerial in August 2008, along
with North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other
US military allies.
The aerial combat
training exercise has been hosted at the Nellis
Air Force Base, Nevada, and the Eielson Air Force
Base, Alaska, since 1975, to train pilots for real
"Red Flag" exercises
are said to be among the toughest and will allow
Indian pilots to witness at close hand the world's
best air forces. India has participated in many
US-led war games, but this will be at the highest
level for the first time.
Minister A K Antony has called "Red Flag" a great
opportunity for the IAF. It follows the massive
Malabar naval exercises in which US, Australia,
Singapore, India and Japan participated, to the
chagrin of Beijing.
India has been looking
to considerably enhance its air strike
capabilities. New Delhi recently signed a $10
billion agreement with Russia to jointly produce
fifth-generation fighter aircraft and multi-role
India and has also
invited bids for 126 medium multi-role combat air
crafts (MRCA). Global defense majors, including
Boeing, EADS and Lockheed Martin are looking to
bag the $10 billion deal.
tier-1 vendor, recently signed agreements with
five Indian firms, L&T, Wipro, Bharat
Electronics, Godrej & Boyce and Data Patterns,
that also anticipate offset requirements of the
Apart from meeting the offset
norms, foreign players have been keen to engage
local firms, especially in the aerospace sector,
as New Delhi has decided that all imported defense
equipment should have at least 30% Indian
Over 50 American defense firms
have offices in India now, including top players
such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon,
Honeywell and GE.
In the past two to three
years, India has spent almost $11 billion on
military arsenal, making it the largest arms
importer in the developing world.
onto another critical aspect, and also keeping in
mind the fragile political situation in Pakistan,
India has accelerated its ballistic missile
defense (BMD) program and successfully tested
an-"interceptor" missile over the Bay of Bengal
The new "endo-atmospheric
interceptor" put down a simulated electronic
missile that is a prelude to striking a live
Prithvi ballistic missile, modified to approximate
an attack. According to Indian scientists, the
"interceptor" missile could surpass the American
Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system.
India established its "exo-atmospheric"
hypersonic interceptor missile capabilities,
borrowed from an Israeli system, in November last
year when an incoming Prithvi missile was
Defense Research and Development Organization
(DRDO), the main coordinating agency, intends to
develop a two-tier BMD designed to intercept an
incoming missile at both the "second mid-course
and terminal phases". The design seems to be in
place and needs to be upgraded.
already developed short, medium and long-range
ballistic attack missiles, Akash, Prithvi and
Agni, capable of delivering nuclear payloads.
These are apart from the difficult-to-detect
land-hugging Brahmos cruise missiles, developed
jointly with Russia.
Over the next year,
DRDO also has plans to carry out advanced tests
for the 250-kilometer Prithvi and the
longest-range inter-continental 1,500-2,500km Agni
missiles that cover China. Defense officials say
that India is looking to produce 20 Prithvi
missiles and 50 Brahmos missiles annually.
New Delhi is also seeking to considerably
enhance its land-attack systems.
media reports this week say that New Delhi has
inked an agreement with Moscow to import another
347 T-90S main-battle tanks (MBT), worth $1.2
billion. These tanks, criticized by some observers
as too expensive, add to the 310 T-90S tanks
already imported by India, at a cost of over $900
million, under a February 2001 contract.
The Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi, Tamil
Nadu, has begun production of another 1,000 T-90S
tanks under transfer of technology from Russia.
India wants to build an inventory of about
4,000 MBTs (with Russia contributing almost half
the strength) to thwart any threat from Pakistan
from the western front. Pakistan has been
inducting T-80UD tanks from Ukraine and "Al
Khalid" MBTs developed with assistance from China.
India's ongoing defense relationship with
Russia is more than $10 billion, far higher than
any competitor country, Israel, USA, Britain or
Big-ticket Indo-Russian defense
deals have been announced even as India seeks to
tie-up oil and gas deals with Moscow, especially
at the Sakhalin blocks, where it already holds a
As in Africa, Myanmar and the
Middle East, New Delhi is wary of losing out to
competitor China in the energy biddings in Russia.
New Delhi has been willing to overlook Moscow's
tantrums to renegotiate the price of ongoing
defense deals, including aircraft carrier Admiral
Gorshkov that the Navy wishes to procure.
Indeed, unlike the army and the IAF, there
are murmurs of discontent from the navy. Recently,
chief of naval staff, Admiral Suresh Mehta,
warned, "Despite our defense public sector
undertakings being full from naval orders for the
next decade, we are unable to meet the demands of
A naval official
has been quoted as saying it could be difficult
for India to maintain current force levels over
the next decade as aging ships, mostly Russian,
are being decommissioned at a faster pace than new
warships are being inducted. This is a genuine
Due to high global demand for
cargo ships, along with the inability of market
leaders China, Japan and South Korea to meet the
requirements, Indian shipyards have registered an
almost 2,000% hike in orders over the past five
Although state-controlled units
(Cochin, Hindustan, Goa Shipyard Ltd, Mazagon Dock
Ltd) have dominated shipbuilding, Indian private
players (L&T, Adani Group, SKIL
Infrastructure, ABG and Bharti Shipyard Ltd) have
acquired capability. Thus, there is a need for the
navy to aggressively look beyond state units.
Mehta's statements followed admission by
Antony that the delivery schedule of aircraft
carrier Gorshkov is "running slow". Quite a bit of
India's naval strategy revolves around the
45,000-ton Gorshkov that is to replace the
outdated INS Viraat, a Centaur-class aircraft
carrier, purchased from Britain in 1986. Some
experts have said that the Gorshkov decision was a
very bad one and taken in haste to please a former
Cold War ally.
India has, however,
recently procured the warship USS Trenton from
America and a Russian nuclear submarine is to be
delivered by July next year.
Siddharth Srivastava is a New