A War With China – Is India Prepared? Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Rets)


A War With China – Is India Prepared?
Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd) Fri, 07 Apr 2023 | Reading Time: 6 minutes

Col Grant Newsham’s new book “When China Attacks: A Warning to America,” is a wake-up call for the United States. The book argues that the dispute between the US and China cannot be solved by reasonable discussion. The West also thought that increasing commercial activities will make China more suitable to fit in the free world. Today they regret that step.

Is today’s India also repeating the mistakes of the West and past Indian leaders? India held 17 rounds of Corps Commander Level Meetings with China, where China tried to twist every discussion point in its favour, and the talks failed. India’s trade deficit is at an all-time high with China and the Indian markets are awash with Chinese goods. Is Indian leadership ignoring the obvious that the appeasement policy doesn’t cut ice with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or it is just biding the time?

Well, Indian leadership and the military are aware of the conundrum India is in. It is amply clear from Indian Army chief General Manoj Pande’s talk at the Savitribai Phule Pune University on March 27, 2023, where he said — China is seeking to replace the US as the global net security provider while believing in the policy of “might is right”.

Various political and military leaders have time and again expressed that the situation at the LAC is precarious. Any miscalculation from any side could lead to an irretrievable situation. So, the question arises, if that day comes, are Indian forces ready to take on China?

The Indian Compulsions

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) India’s defence spending had increased by 50 percent in the past decade, making India the world’s third-biggest military spender. However, 53 percent of the Indian defence budget goes to salaries and pensions, and only 23 percent is left for the procurement of new military ware.

Compared to this the official Chinese military budget is roughly $225 billion. However, as per SIPRI, China has many ways to camouflage its civilian spending on the military. Therefore, as per one estimate, the budget could be 25 to 50 percent higher or between $280-335 billion. That means China’s defence budget is 3.5 to 4 times the Indian defence budget.

That is a huge gap but the saving grace is that the territory under Chinese control is roughly 2.9 times the size of India. China shares a land border with thirteen countries (excluding POK) and all those borders are disputed. China also has maritime disputes with six countries. Therefore, China has the compulsion to keep a sizable military presence on all borders and at sea at all times.

Defence Forces and Defence Industry

But the question still lingers and the answer is not that simple. The biggest drawback for India is the defence industry which is in its nascent state. The burden of inaction in this direction in the last seven decades would always haunt India.

As per the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India report No. 6 of 2023 on Indian Army and Ordnance Factories, the following emerged:

The replacement of the existing artillery guns with state-of-the-art guns has been progressing at a slow pace over the last two decades. Only three out of six proposals for the acquisition/upgradation of artillery guns culminated into contracts.
In October 2007 Ordnance Factory at Korwa was tasked to manufacture two types of carbines viz. Close Quarter Battle (CQB) carbines through import with Transfer of Technology (ToT) and Protective carbines through indigenous production. None of those attempts have succeeded even after 15 years.
Ordnance Factory Khamaria (OFK) was unable to successfully test the indigenously developed Arming Device of ammunition even after a lapse of 17 years of the Transfer of Technology (ToT). The inordinate delay of more than 10 years was due to the non-procurement of the Flight Data Recorder.
OFBs produce 5.56 mm INSAS Rifle, 5.56 mm LMG, and 9 mm auto pistols, etc that have an 11-41 percent failure rate. Despite no demand or very less demand from the Armed Forces between 2015-2020, OFBs kept producing these weapons and amassed weapons worth ₹641 crore. Despite knowing the fact that the Indian Army finds 7.62 mm weapons to be more lethal as well as suitable for operational tasks, OFBs made no effort and the Indian Army had to import these small arms.
Indian Navy’s Procurement Challenges

The P75 Kalvari-class submarine project was approved in 1997, the transfer of technology (ToT) to build the submarine locally was signed with France in October 2005, and Indian Navy got its first submarine in the class in 2017. By the time the last boat would be delivered, it would be whopping 27 years.
The P75I submarine project was conceived in 1999, and approved in 2010, but is yet to see the light of the day.
INS Vikrant was conceived in 2009, commissioned after 13 years in 2022 has to make do with a fleet of 40 Mig-29K/KUB (average serviceability rate of 27/34%) due to inordinate delay in selecting new fighter (F/A-18 or Rafale-M) and Twin-Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF) that may make its maiden flight beyond 2026.
On the other hand, China will have a fleet of 440 ships and submarines by 2035.
Indian Air Force’s Achilles Heel

Currently, IAF has 31 fighter squadrons, with three Mig-21 squadrons retiring by 2025, phasing out of Mig-29, and Jaguars will commence in 2029 followed by Mirage-2000. That means the squadron strength may go way below 30 if drastic steps are not taken.
The IAF has ordered 40 Tejas Mk1, 73 Tejas Mk1A, and 10 trainers. Mk1A is likely to take to the skies by end of 2023. HAL promises to commence deliveries in February 2024 and complete the order in five years.
114 Medium Range Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) case is still lingering.
Tejas Mk2 is likely to make its maiden flight in 2027 and deliveries in 2030. The IAF may order up to 106 Mk2s.
As per Girish Deodhare, Head of the Aeronautical Development Agency, Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) will be ready to enter service by 2032 though the IAF is working on a 2035 timeline.
Even if all the above is achieved, the IAF will have only 35 squadrons by 2035. Whereas China is adding 90 4.5 to 5-gen aircraft to its fleet every year, making 90% of its fleet strength new-gen by 2035. They have also commenced work on 6th gen aircraft.
The shortfalls are not limited to the above-mentioned list. There are many areas like rare earth elements (RERs), semiconductors, innovation in artificial intelligence, and border infrastructure that are critical for any country’s defence. It was the Manmohan Singh government that adopted a plan to build 73 strategic border roads in 2006. Even in 2013, his government announced plans for 850 km (530 miles) of new roads in the border region, and proposals to upgrade airfields. Sadly, all proposals made little or no headway. In its September 2014 article Reuters reported that governments before BJP deliberately neglected infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh, partly to create a natural buffer against any Chinese invasion.

India Is Not Sitting Tight

Reviewing the operational readiness of the armed forces during the Combined Commanders Conference in Bhopal on April 1, 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the three Services to stay ready to deal with new and emerging threats while stating that all steps are being taken to equip the armed forces with necessary weapons and technologies. The information Prime Minister shared could be seen in the flurry of defence acquisitions and activities:

The Indian Army is acquiring an improved Akash Weapon System, 12 weapon locating radars Swathi, Nag anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), Indian-made AK-203 rifle, AT4CS AST ground combat weapon, Zorawar light tank, and several UAVs.
The Indian Navy is acquiring 13 indigenously developed Lynx-U2 fire control systems, Next Generation Maritime Mobile Coastal Batteries (Long range), 200 BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, 11 next-generation offshore patrol vessels, 6 next-generation missile vessels, Software Defined Radios, 2nd ballistic missile submarine Arighat, and Scorpene submarine Vagsheer.
The Indian Air Force is acquiring 90 units of Electronic Warfare (EW) Suite Equipment for Medium Lift Helicopter, induction of C-295 transport aircraft, Surface to Air Missile for Assured Retaliation (SAMAR) system, and the weapon.
Infrastructure: India has spent ₹20,767 crore on the construction of 3,595 km of roads to provide all-weather access to borders with China, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh between 2017-22. Out of this ₹15,477 crore were spent on road projects near the India-China border alone. After the Indian PM inaugurated seventy-five infrastructure projects along the LAC in October 2022, the Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh in January 2023 inaugurated 28 infrastructure projects — eight in Ladakh, four in Jammu and Kashmir, five in Arunachal Pradesh, three each in Sikkim, Punjab, and Uttarakhand, and two in Rajasthan.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working on 55 projects worth ₹73,942 crore that is termed to be on ‘mission mode’ for the three services. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning; Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, for Robotics and Autonomous Systems; IIT-Roorkee for materials; IIT-Madras for sensors, and IIT-Hyderabad for Autonomous Navigation. Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) is working on 150 contracts with private industry.
The Question Still Remains

India has to keep in mind that as of now, 45 percent of Indian Army equipment is vintage, 41 percent of the equipment is of current technology, and only around 12-15 percent of the equipment is “state-of-the-art.” India is aiming to get to 45 percent of the equipment in the state-of-the-art category and 35 percent of current technology by 2030.

So the question remains — ‘is India ready for a war with China?’. The answer is ‘Yes and No.’ Yes, if the war is imposed upon India, then it has lots of strengths to take China on, or else India sees an opportunity to recapture Aksai Chin when China is distracted by the invasion of Taiwan. No, if India can manage the border situation and incursions well while enhancing capability and capacity.

Xi & PLA are still smarting the wounds they got when their lies and professionalism were exposed on 9 December 2022, when 300 PLA soldiers attempting to cross the McMahon Line were trapped and humiliated by the Indian Army. One should be wary of a wounded hyena, and China is a wounded hyena.

Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd)
Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd)
A veteran of the Indian Navy, Cdr Dhawan served in the Navy from 1988 to 2009. He was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Flying Instructor. He is a geopolitical analyst and writes for various online websites and organizations.

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Cdr Hemant Salunkhe
APR 13, 2023
Sir, such a consistent and diligent analysis of Chinese threat. Like China is known for the so called Wolf Warriors and occasional rants by Global Times, is it not high time for India to enhance hackles for the Reds ? Talking selectively but, intelligently about how Tibet was historically independent country, the attributes of Taiwan and have delegates including officials visit the Island, talk about annexation of parts of Mongolia, the Yighur issue and human rights and mention of Senkaku Islands would certainly rattle them. Like Pakistan, let’s keep them at arms length and let them keep guessing while the infrastructure adds up and military keeps on enhancing their capabilities in the region. We must not hesitate to take the opportunity, if the Reds attack Taiwan, to retake the part in the North that rightly belongs to us and push back the so called perceived line north eastward.
R S Pathania
APR 13, 2023
China is very focused on it’s goals. The question is not ‘if’ but ‘when’. They will lull us all into believing that they will do nothing more than local skirmishes. Wisdom lies in preparing for the worst case scenario . And we are no where near where we should be. There is still time but are we going to make use of it?? I have my doubts.
Atul Dewan
APR 10, 2023
The asymetery with china is at all levels tactical, operational and strategic. it is in the realm of strategic deterrence that India can buy time and cover up the gaps in the tactical and operational level. Good analysis as always.
Cdr Deepak Singh
APR 10, 2023
Very informative as usual. I won’t go by the time lines given by our DRDO, HAL etc. Past experience makes me feel that way. Waiting for your next article.
Rajesh Dhawan
APR 09, 2023
Once again the recent facts kept in right perspective. A balanced article. My view is once again that China will not attack India till this government is there. It will take time and create budgets in coming years to compensate for the gaps created by earlier governments. Secondly, don’t be afraid what defence budget China is having compared to India as they require it to settle many issues created by them at each and every borders they have. China will not have a fight even with Taiwan after having lessons what is happening at Ukraine even after one years. So, be rest assured. There few things for the records purpose than for practical use.
J K Achuthan
APR 09, 2023
A well analysed article, especially from the financial and procurement Points of View. But what has been left unsaid is the requirement for having proper Force levels, and Organisational structures, should we have to face a Conflict at short notice or if we are ‘surprised’. Broadly speaking, the Force levels that China can logistically sustain against India are: 1. In Arunachal Pradesh – 6x Infantry Divisions. 2. In Sikkim – 2 x Infantry Divisions, 2 x Tank Battalions. 3. In Bhutan – 2 x Infantry Divisions, especially in the region bordering AcP & Sikkim/WB. 4. In Uttarakhand – 1 x Inf Div. 5. In Himachal Pradesh – 1 x Inf Div. 6. In Ladakh – 2 x Motorised Infantry Divisions, 2 x Tank Brigades & 2 x Infantry Divisions. To counter the above, Indian Army presebtly has adequate strength. But the quality of our Mountain Divisions has to be drastically improved. Specifically, additional 2 x Air Defence Units, 1 x Scouts Battalion, 1 x Electronic Warfare Unit, 1 x Anti-tank Unit, and 2 x Strike/Reconnaissance Drones Unit have to be raised for each of these Mountain Divisions.
APR 09, 2023
Hi Sandeep, Good to keep the thinking cap on always. Our think tanks and Armed Forces should, like all prominent military powers, be actively playing our various possible scenarios. The chief take away in those sessions would be the real power,quantitatively and qualitatively, that the adversary can bring to bear. It will not be a pure numbers game. For all its phenomenal numbers, China cannot project much of it in any given theater for reasons well elucidated by you. In fact our situation seems far more tenable given the number of adversaries that the Dragon has to deal with at a given time. The pace at which we are readying ourselves is unprecedented, yet no one is willing a wager on whether we would be able to stall the Dragon if not push it back. I think we are on the right track.
APR 09, 2023
Good thought provoking article. The Chinese vulnerabilities have not been listed. What percentage of their armament is old generation and obsolete?
Pradeep Sharan
APR 08, 2023
As usual, Sandeep, a well analysed article. Asymmetry against China, in terms of equipment is stark. We need to exploit China’s border disputes with other countries, diplomatically. Have we?
Praveen Bhaik
APR 08, 2023
Very informative and realistic.
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