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Balakot shows India needs to take its technological military edge beyond Pakistan’s reach

Pakistan has bridged the gap as far as relative technological edge is concerned, and India’s numerical edge will be in play only in long-duration war.

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The air skirmishes between India and Pakistan on 26-27 February following the Pulwama attack had a very interesting fallout, which can bring a transformation in the armed forces — one that has long been overdue. The postmortem of the Balakot Strike and the air battle the next day, brought the Indian public face to face with military technology and its decisive role in modern warfare.

Capabilities of rival aircraft, their beyond visual range missiles, electronic warfare (EW) packages to neutralise enemy missiles and the support aircraft/ systems in form of Airborne Warning and Control (AWAC) aircraft, tethered Aerostat systems (a large balloon with radars and EW systems), EW aircraft, and ground controllers were discussed both in technical terms and in layman’s language. And it was clear to even the general public that victory in future conflict will be contingent on technology exploited by a highly trained human resource.

That the 90-hour military conflict ended in a stalemate with both sides proving their resolve and capabilities is a cause of serious concern for India, which is a larger power with a much bigger economy and a much higher defence budget. While a national security driven Lok Sabha election campaign may obfuscate the issue temporarily, the next government will sooner or later have to face up to the reality. Until we create an overwhelming technological military edge over Pakistan, our strategy to force compellence on Pakistan will remain indecisive.

Also read: Artificial intelligence-based warfare is the new space race among nations

Nuclear weapons and the international environment foreclose the option of a conventional decisive war in which absolute defeat is imposed on Pakistan. Apart from a quid pro quo counter fourth-generation war in Pakistan, we have two broad hard options – operations below the threshold of war without major ground operations, or a limited war. At the recent Army Commanders Conference, the latter was discussed in form of ‘swift and sustained retaliation of 10 days’ duration’. In my view, being a responsible world power and the world’s third largest economy, it is not in India’s interests to impose a reactive or proactive limited war on Pakistan. Economically, we have everything to lose vis-à-vis an impoverished Pakistan. At best, limited war should remain a Plan B option with Plan A being based on sustained operations below the threshold of a limited war. The success of this strategy will remain contingent on an overwhelming technological military edge.

Over the last two decades, Pakistan has bridged the gap as far as our  relative technological edge is concerned. We still have a numerical edge, which would come into play only in a war of longer duration. Our armed forces require a holistic quantum jump in technology and this costs money. A two-pronged approach would be prudent. First would be to increase the defence budget (not including the pensions) to 3 per cent of the GDP from the existing 1.44 per cent; and second would be to optimise the size of the army.

The technological edge that we must create should be so overwhelming that Pakistan is not able to match it economically. Its principal ally, China, will support it only up to a point because apart from bad economics of free military aid, Beijing desires peace around the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Once India’s superiority is evident, simple economics will compel Pakistan to adopt the easier option: stop its interference in the internal affairs of India.

Also read: Swift wars are a myth, India needs to prepare for other modern forms of warfare as well

Fast forward to 2022. After a major terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir,  the international media reported that multiple terrorist targets had been hit by armed drones in Pakistan which claimed to have shot down  one armed drone. India denied having launched the attack. The following night, India shot down two intruding Pakistani armed drones. Pakistan Air Force (PAF) also engaged multiple targets with standoff missiles/bombs being fired by aircraft flying in its own air space. India responded by using its long ranges air defence systems and shot down two aircraft 40-50 km inside Pakistan. Thereafter, all was quiet on the western front. Over the next one year, one more flare-up took place with similar results. Covert talks began between India and Pakistan and the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir underwent a turn for the better.

In the hypothetical scenario described above, I focussed on only two aspects of military technology – armed drones like the Predator and long-range air defence systems like the S 400. Both are well within our reach in near future. Weapon systems using precision guided munitions backed by state-of-the-art EW packages can be extended selectively across our land, air and sea capability.

Also read: With Balakot, India both gained & lost an opportunity to push Pakistan to act against terror

Of course, Pakistan can procure similar systems, but modern technology is contingent upon economy. India’s GDP is eight times that of Pakistan and its defence budget five times larger. Holistic national security reforms, ‘optimal right sizing’ of the armed forces, and increase of the defence budget to 3 per cent of the GDP will ensure that we create an overwhelming technological military edge that Pakistan cannot match.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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  1. Balakot shows that India should change its policies, which are based on immaturity. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear states so war is not an option between both the states. Any technological advancement requires big amount of money and such amount can be used for the betterment of Indian population rather than wasting it on defense equipment. Because, India’s dream to win war against Pakistan cannot be fulfilled in recent skirmishes between India and Pakistan it has been clearly shown that Pakistan is more skillful than India.

  2. It won’t be easy for India to bring such a disparity in military equilibrium. First Pakistan is well aware of India’s military advancements. Second, Pakistan’s military developments are only India centric therefore, Pakistan is in position to maintain strategic balance. India has long been trying to create room for conventional . For that India has introduced various doctrinal steps to facilitate such a scenario but every time India met with cold feet as Pakistan has reduced every aspect for such an adventure.

  3. This all the Balakot episode and the pulwama attack was just used to garner support and vote for the current elections that are being held in India. Modi government is interested in ratcheting up tension with Pakistan to solidify Hindu votes in the upcoming national election. Thus, the situation is alarming and demands a rational response from India and Pakistan’s ruling elites for avoiding a devastating war.

  4. Modi’s misadventure backfired. Now Indian military has low moral and embarrassed by tiny nation.

  5. Military personals are poor in thinking anything else other than pure mil strategy. Gen is no exception. Don’t ever think economics as weakness of Pakistan when it comes to any form of “sovereignty”. No matter how high-tech / long range weapons you buy, India will remain neighbour, ie within shortest possible range weapon. Watchout please🙏🏼

  6. Interesting obsevation. The only thing being the current govt saw such an eventuality and that is the reason why it ordered Rafales and S400 before Pulwama and Balakot happened. It is just that such high tech stuff cant be bought of the shelf overnight. They take time to come and get integrated into the defence apparatus.
    If today Pakistan gives an impression of parity with India, then it is we who are to be blamed, for having voted out Vajpayee in 2004.

  7. Sir
    No country has ever risen to be great power on strength of imported arms that have built in expiry date.
    India is far behind some third world countries in technology development. It doesn’t have capacity to manufacture world class infantry rifle on its own.
    In rapidly changing world of manufacture,only those countries that have education base will forge ahead. India is abysmal in this regard

    • Most western countries collaborate with one another on defence equipment. Look at state of the art F 35s. User countries including the US are equipping them with European weapon systems such as Meteor Missiles.
      The problem with us is we want to either make a system entirely ourselves or on not being able to do so, end up importing the same. That is why we routinely criticise Tejas for not being entirely indigenous, but fail to recognise that even if half of it is indigenous, it is a good beginning none the less. Even the Swedish Gripen, its closest competitor isnt really an entirely Swedish product after all.

  8. Would you have courage to criticise the drama done by Rahul Gandhi over Rafale deal which provides India a technical superiority over Pakistan? At least you should laud Modi’s effort in this direction for speeding up the effort to acquire Rafale and S-400 missiles. This is the reason that even Pakistanis are wishing the Rahul Gandhi to become PM because they know that Congress and its alliances would never let Indian forces acquire technical superiority over Pakistan.

  9. the general has very simplistic assumption about pakistan.
    ” the international media reported that multiple terrorist targets had been hit by armed drones in Pakistan which claimed”
    why would the international media report multiple terrorist targets being hit. It didn’t happen this time around.

    “Once India’s superiority is evident, simple economics will compel Pakistan to adopt the easier option: stop its interference in the internal affairs of India.”
    Again, a very primitive understanding of how Pakistanis think and sadly, of economics.

    • No need to wake our indian brothers from slumber. They have been dreaming these kind of fanciful outcomes for the last 50 years, let them enjoy!

      • Mr. Moazzam, your Finance Minister has just resigned. He had gone to IMF with a begging bowl and was not successful and yet Pakistan wants to compete with India. Pakistan is still on the gray list of FATF and will continue to languish there, unless it stops sponsoring terrorism. It is not India, but Pakistan that is in slumber. India can exist without having any thoughts about Pakistan, but can Pakistan exist without India? The very identity of Pakistan depends on India and hence the persistent enmity, terrorism and the hidden envy and awe. and need for persons like you to contribute unwarranted comments on Indian websites. Who bothers in India about what your think? So far as this article is concerned, it is very thought provoking. It means that we should have a technology that is not borrowed or imported and which no other country in the world has. This can only be done by focusing on indigenous R&D in the defence sector. India has to move to the next orbit, so far as defence production is concerned.

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