The 1, 2, 3 of India’s Growing Military Might
A budding India-U.S. strategic partnership takes shape as India expands its military capacity.
The Bay of Bengal will soon be witness to the largest joint naval exercises between India and the U.S. Three aircraft carriers will participate in the war games, two from the U.S., and one from India. A total of 17 warships, 13 of them from the U.S., will join India’s in an annual exercise taking place from 4-9 September. Two will come from Japan, one from Australia, and one from Singapore. They will be accompanied by submarines and dozens of naval warplanes. (1)(2)
India’s communist parties, members of the governing coalition, have vigorously protested the emerging strategic alliance between India and the U.S., in opposition to policies set by Prime Minister Singh’s governing Congress party. The communists are critical of the naval exercise within the context of the recent India-U.S. nuclear deal, commonly called the 123 Agreement, which they believe threatens the country’s “independent foreign policy.”(3)
The 123 Agreement, yet to be ratified by the U.S. Congress, is intended to normalize India as a nuclear power and help remove restrictions on its imports of nuclear technology and uranium for civilian use.
The Agreement does not mention limits on India’s nuclear arms buildup, and it permits eight of its sixteen heavy water nuclear reactors to remain outside of IAEA safeguards.(4)
The former head of India’s National Security Council Advisory Board, K. Subrahmanyam, says that, “Given India’s uranium ore crunch and the need to build up our minimum credible nuclear deterrent arsenal as fast as possible, it is to India’s advantage to categorize as many power reactors as possible as civilian ones to be refueled by imported uranium and conserve our native uranium fuel for weapons grade plutonium production.”(5)
According to the Arms Control Association, an organization that analyzes arms control policies, the deal allows India to import uranium to meet its energy needs, freeing up its domestic nuclear fuel supplies “to help it increase fissile material production for weapons purposes from its current annual rate of 6-10 bombs worth of material to several dozen per year.”(6)
The expansion and modernization of the military has gained further momentum from an array of high quality and high quantity purchases for the air force and navy.
India’s air force, already one of the largest in the world, is likely to buy 40 Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter jets this September.(7) It has also put out a request for a proposal for the purchase of an additional 126 new multi-purpose war planes worth over $10 billion. (8)
India’s growing military potential does not stop short at material acquisitions. The country intends to reform its military capacity, such as by the possible establishment of a new Aerospace Command charged with ballistic missile defence, space technologies, radar, and communications. (9)
To protect some of its growing assets, India’s navy has proposed collaborating with Israel on the development of new unmanned helicopters designed to intercept shore-to-ship missiles, mainly China’s C-802. This missile, sold to countries in the Middle East and used by Hezbollah, struck Israel’s Hanit warship on 14 July 2006, during its invasion of Lebanon. India has similar concerns due to Pakistan’s purchase of the C-802 from China. (10)
India continues to secure its naval presence by increasing its surveillance capability. A new listening post has reportedly begun to operate in Madagascar, linked with two other similar listening posts off of India’s west coast. The system will allow for surveillance of navies in large swaths of ocean from Africa’s east coast to India’s west coast. (11)
New Delhi considers the security of these lanes as vital to its economic health. Asia Times reports that “most of India’s trade is by sea,” and that, “nearly 89% of India’s oil imports arrive by sea.” (12)
According to the Indian Express, India wants to have more eyes in the ocean with an additional monitoring station on an atoll it has leased from Mauritius, an island republic about 900 km east of Madagascar. (13)
India is not acting alone. The upcoming joint naval exercise confirms the country’s growing confidence and it serves as evidence of a budding partnership with the U.S. and its allies.
China’s Defence Minister has, on Thursday, made a rare visit to Japan in order to meet his Japanese counterpart. This will be the first such trip by a Chinese Defence Minister since February 1998.
Significantly, India’s joint naval exercise will take place only days after the visit.
“There is no, let me emphasize, no effort on our part or any of those (participating) countries’ part, I am sure, to isolate China, to put China in a closet,” comforted U.S. Admiral Timothy Keating on Thursday 23 August. (14)
Noticeably, China is the only regional power to be excluded from the war games.
Ashton B. Carter, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defence in the first Clinton administration, mentions in the Foreign Affairs journal that the 123 Agreement “is clear about what the United States conceded, it is vague about what India will give in return,” though one of the hoped for results is a strategic partnership. (15)
Mr. Carter also states that “the anticipation of such joint action could lead over time to joint military planning and exercises, the sharing of intelligence, and even joint military capabilities. U.S. military forces may also seek access to strategic locations through Indian territory and perhaps basing rights there. Ultimately, India could even provide U.S. forces with ‘over-the-horizon’ bases for contingencies in the Middle East.” (16)
(1) Steve Herman, Voice of America, 24 August 2007. US Official Reassures China on India Naval Discussions, Exercise. http://www.voanews.com/english/2007-08-24-voa4.cfm.
(2) Reuters, 23 August 2007. Bay of Bengal war games not aimed at China: U.S. http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSDEL13473920070823.
(3) Communist Party of India (Marxist), 23 August 2007. Central Committee Resolution – Press Release. http://www.cpim.org/.
(4) Zia Mian, A.H. Nayyar, R. Rajaraman and M.V. Ramana, Fissile Materials, September 2006, p. 7. Fissile Materials in South Asia: The Implications of the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal. http://www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/ipfmresearchreport01.pdf.
(5) Times of India, 12 December 2005. http://www.armscontrol.org/pressroom/2006/20060726_India_House_Debate.asp.
(7) India Defence, 25 August 2007. Russia to sell 40 Sukhoi Su 30 MKI fighter jets to India in September 2007. http://www.india-defence.com/reports-3510.
(8) India Defence, 28 August 2007. Request for proposal for Indian Air Force 126 medium Multi-role combat aircraft issued. http://www.india-defence.com/reports-3512.
(9) Vivek Raghuvanshi, Defense News, 27 August 2007. Indian Aerospace Command May Soon Take Shape. http://defensenews.com/story.php?F=2995414&C=asiapac.
(10) DEBKAfile, 18 August 2007. India proposes collaborating with Israel on a new unmanned combat helicopter to counter Chines C-802 missile. http://debka.com/headline.php?hid=4489.
(11) Sudha Ramachandran, Asia Times Online, 2 August 2007. India’s quiet sea power. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/IH02Df01.html.
(14) Reuters, 23 August 2007. Bay of Bengal war games not aimed at China: U.S. http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSDEL13473920070823.
(15) Ashton B. Carter, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006. America’s New Strategic Partner? http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20060701faessay85403/ashton-b-carter/america-s-new-strategic-partner.html.