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How India can hasten its climb as a superpower

February 27, 2009 14:23 IST

I was so wrong! About three years ago, I wrote an article on rediff.com wherein I mentioned the inability of the Indian Space Research Organisation to think ahead of its contemporaries. But Chandrayaan and the absolute stellar effort by ISRO proved me wrong and I feel so proud and happy to be proved wrong. As an Indian living in America, you want to see India progress faster than any other country in the world.

Post the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, there was an upsurge of rage amongst all Indians living outside India. We all thought that India cannot be perceived as a weak nation that is dependant on world powers for financial, military and diplomatic support. We all wanted India to go in and carry out surgical strikes and destroy the camps across Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and deep into northern Pakistan.

But, as time flies by, we all realised that rhetoric alone cannot be sufficient and any hastily concluded emotional decision would bring more harm than anything else to the Indian civilian population.

So, India must plan and plan for the long haul. Becoming an economic, military, political and geographical superpower needs a lot of planning. The next 25 years we have to invest to make sure that Indian military, space and other defence research organisations and of course building civilian awareness in crucial situations, are never compromised.

In my previous articles, I have mentioned what the Indian navy, air force and space research organisations need to do to set the tone and lay the foundation. In this article, I will mention specifics:

What the Indian military needs to do at the policy and planning level:

In the next 25 years, we are looking at a maritime force that is truly a large blue water navy and an air force that is in reality an aerospace force. To complete the vision, the following are bare necessities at the planning and implementation level:

  • Investing both in public and private military industrial complexes that are supplemented by uninterrupted material supplies
  • Developing and retaining a stable and well-trained maritime and aerospace engineering manpower.
  • A research arm that focuses on continuous supply and production of fuel, weapons and stealthy delivery systems.
  • Developing and camouflaging unsurpassed 2nd and 3rd strike capabilities.
  • Building a team of engineers that constantly come up with innovative stealth vessels.
  • Strategic partnerships need to be re-established with China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia.
  • Friendly collaborative relations have to be maintained with Russia, America, Europe, Brazil and Israel.

Now, specifics…What the Indian Navy needs in its arsenal for the next 25 years:

Aircraft Carriers Battle Groups: The Indian Navy will need at least three mid-sized strike carriers of the 40,000 ton capacity. The current Vikrant class carrier being constructed at Kochi should be the ideal test bed for future innovations in this area. This carrier should be powered by dual fuel or an indigenous nuclear fuel engine. The air complement needs to be a mix and match of several VTOL, STVOL and multi-role aircraft forming two full squadrons. The escort complement will anyway have to consist of warships, frigates, and attack submarines along with supply ships. Overall, the Indian Navy needs six carrier groups to fully justify the concept of Carrier Battle Groups.

SSBN's and Submarine Battle Groups: The ATV (Advanced Technology Vessel) project will be unveiled in the next 2-3 years. A full complement of 12 ATV's supported by 30 attack submarines like the Kilo, Scorpene, Amur and Akulas need to be built over the next 25 years.

Defensive Battle Groups: Most of the coastal engagements over the history of naval warfare have all been about protecting beaches, cities and coastal establishments. Indian marines needs to develop a very strong coastal patrol and interdiction capability with fast attack craft that are capable of operating in shallow waters. A very strong defensive mechanism needs to be developed that is networked to the nearest base that is designated to protect that area. This group should comprise of a large number of anti-ship capable missile boats, coastal aircraft/fighters and numerous coastal missile/radar batteries.

Offensive Battle Groups:  This group has to be the stealthiest and most tactical group of all. Stealth bombers (TU Blackjack's or indigenous UCAV/UCB's), stealth frigates and battleships should be the mainstay of this force. LST's and marine commando troops invariably will be the backbone of this group. A minimum of five brigades of naval troops should be trained for this role.

Strategic Battle Groups:  These are meant for special, covert and overt operations. The current MARCOS battalions should be fully expanded into 2-3 full brigades for naval special ops. The intelligence arm of this group needs to be fully integrated along with the capability to launch last resort weapons in case all fails.

What the Indian air and space command needs for the next 25 years:

Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles: India should put financial resources into joint initiatives with Russia, America and Israel plus jump start its indigenous public and private development initiatives. ADE is already working overtime to develop three new UAV variants. These UAV's have multi-mission, multi-strike capabilities with separate fighter and bomber versions. To keep up with the research on UCAV's around the world, the hypersonic plane concept needs to be revisited. India needs at least 20 squadrons (100 aircraft).

Fifth and Sixth Generation Fighter Bombers: The fifth generation Indo-Russian fighter aircraft will be ready for induction by 2017. A inter-governmental agreement between India and Russia has been signed for the co-development of the fifth generation fighter aircraft and the induction into the IAF is expected to start from 2017 onwards. At least 10 squadrons of these next generation fighters will be required to replace MiG 29's and Mirages which would have completed 40 years of service by that time.

Sukhoi-30MKI Fighter Bomber: Atleast 20 squadrons (400 aircraft) of Su-30 MKI will propel IAF into the best air forces in the world. An effort needs to be made to base these aircraft on overseas bases and on Indian controlled islands.

Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)/Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA): IAF is all set to order from HAL 40+20 LCA versions. At least five squadrons (100 aircraft) have to be integrated by 2010 without delays. Conceptualisation and complete testing of MCA test bed should be finalised in the interim.

MRCA (MIG 21/27) Replacement: The IAF was set to acquire 180 fighters from 2010 onwards to replace MiG-21s and the competition is between Rafale, Grippen, F-16, F/A-18E/F and MiG-35. These aircraft are solid 4-4.5 generation aircraft that will only last another 15 years in the manufacturer's inventory. The US, by its own admittance, is going for the JSF and F-22 for all of its forces. The Russians and the French are offering the latest from their stable but again the Indian government needs to seriously rethink this issue. History shows us that the Indians use a technology platform for over 30-40 years and unless the IAF gets the go ahead to purchase the JSF or the F-22, there is no point in getting older technology like the F-14/15/16/18.

Jaguars and Mirages: To extend the operational life of Jaguars, further improvement of avionics suite is now in progress under DARIN II. After DARIN II, the IAF will need to look out for a long range strike aircraft in foreign inventories. The upgraded Jaguars and Mirages (about 250 of them) will remain in service well past 2020. The French will halt the service lines for Mirages and though the Mirage has been the best performing aircraft in the IAF inventory, it does not make any sense in obtaining second hand ones with outdated avionics.

Helicopters: The major upgrade including Helicopter Multi-mission Optronic Stabilised Payload providing precise navigation and all-weather operations will take away the need for a mid-level attack helicopter for the time being. However, as the Mi-35's start getting older in 10 years, the IAF will sense the need for a replacement. The best option seems to transition the close support chopper role to the Army Aviation Corps and retain heavy lift and transport capabilities with the IAF.

Illyushin-78MKI In-flight Refueling Tanker: Six Illyushin-78MKI in-flight refueling tankers have joined the Indian Air Force fleet. These latest tankers have enabled the IAF to undertake long range missions over mixed geographical areas. An additional squadron each for the IAF and the navy will keep this area covered for a long time.

ICBM's and Cruise Missiles: Agni V, Brahmos, Akash and Trishul may be sufficient for now but a new range of undetectable stealth missiles have to be developed for the IAF by DRDO. These new generations of missiles have to be designed and enabled in order for a variety of Indian military users to be utilising them in tactical, surgical and strategic strike capacities.

I was so wrong three years ago when I thought that Indian defence and space establishment were not doing the right things. But like I said, I have been wrong before and India constantly amazes me. They have picked up the gauntlet I think 10-15 years ago during the regimes of P V Narasimha Rao and A B Vajpayee and the fruits of their R&D are now showing. I only wish, pray and want India to become and take its rightful place on the high table of world power.

Pramod Kumar Buravalli