Modi’s big geopolitical challenge for years to come

Recently re-elected PM Narendra Modi has made boosting defence one of the cornerstones of his campaign. The task is tricky given the not-that-friendly neighbours, weak domestic produce, and rivalry among foreign suppliers.

India has been in quite a difficult security situation throughout its modern, post-colonial history, ‘enjoying’ quite a rocky relationship with its neighbours.

On one side, it has its arch-nemesis – Pakistan; the two countries dispute the region of Kashmir, and have repeatedly engaged in full-blown wars and smaller military conflicts, with the latest happening earlier this year.

On the other, it has China – a powerful regional competitor which has outstanding border issues with India as well. To make things even more complicated for New Delhi, Beijing and Islamabad have been engaging in quite close military cooperation, even jointly producing military hardware – namely the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet (known in China as FC-1 Xiaolong).

It’s quite unsurprising, given the tense security situation and vast population, that India has the second largest standing army in the world – nearly 1.5 million active personnel. While the size of the country’s military is exceeded only by China’s 2 million, it operates a lot of quite dated hardware.

Among it, MiG-21 Bison fighter jets – while modernized, the planes date back to the 1960s – as well as ageing MiG-29s. While such planes are still quite capable, modern Sino-Pakistani jets, US-made F-16s, operated by Pakistan, and China’s cutting-edge Chengdu J-20 stealth fighters are definitely a threat for them. Meanwhile, New Delhi has around 250 modern Russian Su-30 multirole fighters – it’s a capable force, arguably surpassing the potential of the whole Pakistani aircraft combined, yet it is no match for the vast and growing Chinese fleet.

With regards to land units, the situation appears to be brighter, the country has a very large amount of modern T-90 Russian main battle tanks, as well as older, Soviet-era models. It’s neighbours, however, have large tank armies as well, with Pakistan having a big arsenal of Chinese copies of Soviet-era armour, as well as modern jointly produced Sino-Pakistani vehicles. China, for its part, is well beyond merely copying foreign designs, and is actively re-arming all the branches of its military with modern, domestically-built hardware.

India’s recently re-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who made security issues an important part of his campaign, has appointed former Home Minister Rajnath Singh to tackle this dilemma, which may just be his greatest challenge so far. Basically, the country has three options to choose from – develop and produce its own equipment, buy it abroad, or try something in between by striking deals for licensed production on India’s soil. RT