As a country, India still punches below its weight class in many fields of endeavour, including Defence. Its Armed Forces are undoubtedly powerful, but still nowhere near the actual potential. This has been understood more by Prime Minister Narendra Modi than those preceding him. In fact, India’s Defence Strategy, at one time, was based almost entirely on wishful thinking that the non-violent nature of the freedom struggle imparted a special strength that could do without armed security. The war with China, which laid to rest the make believe of ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’, and subsequent belligerence by Pakistan, did awaken India’s ruling politicians to the need for ‘minimum’ deterrence. Economic constraints and socialist doctrine ensured that India retained a crippling dependence on armament purchased from other countries. Naturally, this gave those nations the power to influence decision making, particularly during war time.
The 1971 victory against Pakistan came as a morale-booster but it did not mean that strategic thinking changed very much. It was Prime Minister AB Vajpayee’s decision to flaunt India’s nuclear capability that changed the approach, causing much heartburn among established powers.
Efforts to ‘indigenise’ India’s defence manufacturing capability faltered owing to the highly restricted private sector and it has only been after liberalisation of the economy that the concept is becoming something of a reality. The launch of the new avatar of INS Vikrant is, in that context, a very important milestone. In fact, below the Aircraft Carrier level, India’s warship building ability has already become quite formidable.
An important element in future wars is going to be Artificial Intelligence and Information Technology. Here again, India’s potential is enormous and, along with military hardware, it should be the focus of attention. These should be used to counter not just conventional military threats but also the non-conventional ‘fifth generation’ ones so fondly embraced by the likes of Pakistan. Thankfully, the present government under PM Modi is more than aware of these requirements and is energetically working on strengthening India’s military power at the strategic and diplomatic levels. Once capability is acquired after the initial struggle, such as building an indigenous aircraft carrier, it is only a matter of time that it spreads into other areas; bolsters confidence and encourages breakthrough research. This should lead to India rising from a ‘regional’ power to a global one.