The year 2022 will be a critical one for India’s military. That is because the year will decide how our military shapes up over the next decade.
A senior government official recently told me that the coming decade will see a lot of developments in the global arena, especially on the military front.
The official’s argument was that China is attempting to create a new world order and the US, which he termed as “dada (big brother) despite having lost some shine in the recent past” will seek to assert itself and it would be interesting to see how players like Russia respond.
There is no doubt that India has emerged as a critical player in the game of thrones being played by the superpowers.
While the US is trying to woo India through partnership and collaboration, Russians are a bit like the jealous lover throwing tantrums and flirting with both China and Pakistan to catch New Delhi’s attention.
The Chinese seem to be more interested in arm-twisting India to ensure it does not get into an embrace with the US.
Hence, for India, the next decade is critical and 2022 will lay the foundation.
China’s controversial land law
On 1 January, China’s new land border law that seeks to unilaterally delineate and demarcate territorial boundaries with India and Bhutan will come into effect.
This new law will have large implications on the situation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), perception of which differs between India and China.
The law empowers both the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police (PAP) to carry out offensive actions against “invasion, cannibalization, infiltration and, provocation” at the land borders.
The Indian government has already red-flagged this development, saying China’s unilateral decision to bring about legislation is a concern. Notwithstanding China’s claims, the law can have implications on existing bilateral arrangements on border management as well as on the boundary question.
It is important to understand that as far as China is concerned, Arunachal Pradesh, Barahoti Plains in Uttarakhand, and multiple areas in Ladakh are ‘Chinese territory’.
One will have to wait and see how China reacts under this law along the LAC, which is already witnessing tensions since May 2020.
Former Northern Army Commander Lt Gen H.S. Panag has argued that this law is actually more sinister than it seems, and India will have to take a course correction.
In the latest publication of Centre for Land Warfare Studies, Maj Gen Ashok Kumar (Retd) writes that China has turned ‘territorial dispute’ into ‘sovereignty dispute’ by adopting the Land Border Law.
He argued that with increased settling of the civil population, that too Han Chinese, Beijing will bring greater difficulty to settle the border dispute with India on favourable terms.
“By bringing in such a law, and in conjunction with accelerated construction of 624 ‘Xiaokong’ villages along and inside the disputed land boundaries with India, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has created conditions for a ‘militarised solution’ to the boundary issue,” he said.
Much before the LAC tensions began in 2020, I had argued that Army chief Gen M.M. Naravane’s plans, which he articulated just days after assuming charge, to shift focus from Pakistan to China was the right step.
Unfortunately for him, the Chinese had already made up their mind to strike and four months into Naravane’s tenure, tensions broke out at the LAC.
The coming year would be crucial because while the Indian Army has built up reasonably well in Ladakh to prevent any further aggressive action by China for the time being, important decisions will have to be made to stay the course.
Theaterisation of Indian defence forces
A study ordered by Late Gen Bipin Rawat, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, on the relevant structures needed for Theatre Commands, will be submitted by mid-2022.
The new CDS, who will be appointed in due course, will have to take some tough decisions and do what is best for India’s interest in the long run.
The CDS will have to take the view of all the three Services – Army, Navy, and the Air Force – into consideration, deliberate upon them, and then take the next step.
In his paper, Maj Gen Kumar says that one way to counter Chinese aggression would be speeding up theaterisation, “albeit in revised format as against current land centric approach”.
New aircraft, submarines, carrier
The new year will also see key decisions being taken by the government and the armed forces on critical issues of modernisation.
One of the big developments mid next year would be the completion of the new Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP), a project that will be steered by the CDS.
This will replace the individual long-term procurement plans of the Services, which are not always in sync with changing realities of warfare, budget, and technology.
The Services often tend to work in silos; the ICDP aims to change exactly that.
The ICDP will also take a call on what procurement focus should be – whether there is a need for new submarines or a third aircraft carrier? Whether the IAF needs 114 new fighter jets or a much lower number of Rafale would do?
These key decisions will steer the procurement plans for the three Services.
A call will also be taken on a number of key administrative changes within the defence establishment.
This would entail a call on having a uniform retirement age for all the three Services, and raising the retirement age for some select branches in the Services among others.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)