Sunday, October 26, 2014

India dozes as China modernises military

Though it has been more than six decades since we attained Independence, securing our nation and its inhabitants remains an overwhelming concern. Security threats, external and internal, have dogged us through our history, and even though we are stronger than we have ever been - indeed a nuclear weapons power - the sense of insecurity remains.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Narendra Modi government has made it clear that when it comes to security, terrorism remains a major concern. Rejecting Pakistan's criticism of Modi's "proxy war" remarks during his visit to Ladakh, the Indian official spokesman said last Thursday that terrorism was not only a "core concern in our relations with Pakistan" but that it remained a "real and present danger" to the country.

We may not have had a major terror attack since 2008, but terrorism remains an issue that worries people. This was brought out by a Pew Global Attitudes poll earlier this year which revealed that while people were concerned about economic, political and corruption issues, nearly nine in 10 respondents, some 88 per cent, said that terrorism was a "very big problem," and that Pakistan (47 per cent) and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (20 per cent) posed the greatest threat to India. Nineteen per cent said the Maoists were a threat, but just six per cent chose China.
The low figure for China is a measure of the Indian complacency about not just the rise of China, but the growth of its military capabilities - some of which are aimed at us. Already Chinese influence is lapping on our shores in the form of Chinese trade, and aid in South Asia matching or exceeding that of India. In 2012, India's trade with SAARC countries was some $17 billion, and Chinese totalled $25 billion.
There is little India can do in the short term to prevent the growth of Chinese influence in its geopolitical backyard. But the Modi government has shown itself to be clearly aware of the dimensions of the challenge. Its initial measures will, hopefully, clear the political detritus that has accumulated over the years and set the stage for a phase of more rewarding and friendly ties in the coming years which will coincide with the revival of high, sustained Indian economic growth.
What is more worrisome, and somehow largely ignored, is the growth of Chinese military power and the consequences it can have for us. In the last 10 years or so, India has become more aware of this and activated new airfields, fast-tracked border defence construction and raised new military formations on the border with Tibet and Xinjiang. Slowly, but surely, India's strategic deterrent capability with regard to China is shaping up through the Agni V long-range missile and the Arihant nuclear propelled ballistic missile submarine.

Narendra Modi with Chinese president Xi Jinping at the BRICS summit in Brazil.Narendra Modi with Chinese president Xi Jinping at the BRICS summit in Brazil.Nuclear forces
But these efforts pale into insignificance when placed against the massive and comprehensive modernisation being undertaken by China of both its conventional and nuclear forces. In this build up, it is benchmarking itself against the United States. But it is very obvious that the capabilities that the Chinese are building up for a possible conflict with the US, will have negative consequences for India.
Observers often tend to focus on specific Chinese achievements such as the J-20 fifth generation fighter, or the anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) or WU14 hypersonic vehicle. But the reality is that the Chinese developments have been comprehensive. In the naval area, for example it is not just the ASBM or the aircraft carrier, but cruise missiles, UAVs, submarines, destroyers, amphibious ships, patrol craft and so on.
More disturbing are reports on the Chinese strategic force modernisation. A report in the South China Morning Post in early August, sourced from official documents, indicated that China planned to increase its nuclear and conventional warheads held by its strategic force, known as the 2nd Artillery Command.

No first use
Most estimates of the Chinese nuclear arsenal place it at a "bare minimum" level of around 200-250 warheads, with land-based missiles as the primary delivery system. However, over the years, the Chinese have been modernising the landbased missiles, as well as developing their submarine-based arsenal. As of now their three Type 094 submarines do not have operational missiles, but these are being developed. An accidental release of information by a Chinese environment outfit has confirmed the reports of the existence of the DF-41 ICBM with sufficient range to target most of the United States from China. US intelligence sources say that these missiles could also have multiple warheads.
Like some Indians, the Chinese are also worried that their 'No First Use' pledge can leave them vulnerable to a surprise first strike. Chinese worries have centred around what the US calls "Prompt Global Strike" technologies - hypersonic vehicles, terminally guided ballistic missiles, reusable unmanned spacecraft and scramjets. The US says these are for use with conventional warheads, but they can also be armed with nuclear warheads, too, and so, the precision and speed of the strikes could have devastating consequences for global deterrence stability. To counter this, the Chinese have carried out ballistic missile defence tests in 2010, 2013 and in July this year. And in January this China surprised the world with its own test of the WU 14 hypersonic boost glide vehicle and experts say that they are just years behind the Americans in this area.
Such systems have huge implications for India because if China was concerned about US use of such technologies for a first strike, so does India have to worry that China, which is developing similar technologies, can pursue similar goals.
These are not technologies you can acquire off the shelf - they require an enormous amount of R&D effort, of the kind simply not visible in India. What is remarkable, however, is that no one seems to be even talking about these issues, leave alone doing something about them.
Mail Today August 18, 2014

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