By Xu Zicheng and Li Jiasheng
The Indian military has been quite busy recently, from commissioning the Rafale fighters to test-firing the Agni-V ballistic missile…, which Indian media described as the achievements of the country’s latest military reform. However, the Indian military’s reform toward streamlined, theater-based and information-based armed forces might still face a host of obstacles.
First, the relationship between civil officials and military officers remains tangled.
During the reform, the Indian military tries to strengthen the communication and coordination between civil officials and military officers to squeeze the military’s opinions into the government’s decision-making system and change the situation that only the defense minister, who usually comes from a civil background, participates in the decision making. For a long time, the Indian military has always been led by civil officials, with only obligations to follow the government’s decisions but no right to participate in policy-making, because the Indian government worries that having professional servicemen in important positions for the long term will increase the risk of them intervening in state governance. Now with the ongoing military reform, the military’s opinions will be incorporated into the decision-making process, which will be a new test for both the government and the military.
Second, different military services remain estranged.
India tries to transform its military commanding system to be theater-based. It has appointed its first Chief of Defence Staff to coordinate the army, navy and air force, and it also plans to integrate the original 19 commands into five theater commands. But the problem now is that the Indian army, navy and air force are so not-coordinated that they constantly fight for resources and position, all eager to secure national defense resources to develop their own weaponry and equipment and enhance their own scale and strength. Earlier on, India bought 22 AH-64E Apache helicopters that were intended for the air force, but the army insisted on having half of them and, when its request was rejected by the air force, turned to demand another 39 helicopters of the same type. Analysts said given the tradition in the Indian military, if the reform for a theater-based command system is led by an official with a strong army background, it’s unlikely to get support from the navy and air force.
Third, India has to postpone many planned military reform measures due to COVID-19 and economic slowdown
As the world’s largest weapon importer, India faces the headache of integrating its various complicated weapons and equipment. To shake off its over-reliance on foreign weaponry and achieve the so-called “defense independence”, New Delhi once issued a ban on the import of hundreds types of weapons, but that didn’t seem to take much effect.
India’s new round of military reform began in 2019 and has been strongly pushed by Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with many measures scheduled within Modi’s second term. Considering how slow the country has been in promoting its domestic reform, whether the new round of military reform will be another case of “much cry and little wool” is still to be seen.
(The authors are from the Air Force Engineering University of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Xi’an Jiaotong University)