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BRI: The Infected Project of the Century

The closely guarded bilateral BRI partnerships are either with autocracies or economically weak and politically fragile nations. Financing is through enticing loans convertible into debt traps. No elements of grant or aid. No free lunches.




The BRI envisaged infrastructure and construction projects at a mega scale — Railways, Highways, Ports, Energy Projects, and Industrial Estate Developments across 70 odd countries. The crown jewel being the CPEC. The Chinese ambitions are to displace the US from the top. Engage countries in bilateral economic partnerships. Deploy excess Chinese capital and capacity overseas to boost the economy. Chinese merchandise was to flow in outbound streams. Inbound traffic ensures food, energy, and resource securities for China. BRI consolidates Xi Jinping’s role in perpetuity in creating a Sinocentric world.

The closely guarded bilateral BRI partnerships are either with autocracies or economically weak and politically fragile nations. Financing is through enticing loans convertible into debt traps. No elements of grant or aid. No free lunches. Execution by Chinese contractors. Locals excluded from even trickle-down employment.  All BRI projects are opaque, overpriced and tainted with corruption. That is par for the course and known. 

 The BRI, dubbed as “The Project of the Century”, has been infected by the “Wuhan Virus” and is in standstill mode. It was the main instrument to make China a superpower. In this context it is interesting to see how some similar economic corridors of the past have fared. Each is an interesting story. When seen alongside the BRI they show you the future. 

The Basic Model

Fundamentally, the BRI is a mega copy of the British Empire which was founded on trading posts and colonies. The British mercantile system established it with a strong Navy in the 16th17th centuries. The Empire was built over a century. However Xi Jinping wanted BRI in a hurry. The other superpower model is the US with its global network of military bases, strategic alliances, and reconstruction efforts of the post WW-II era. China lacked the sea power of the British, or the military might of the US. Hence it used cheque book and debt trap diplomacy as hard power currency to establish the BRI. As BRI expanded, its overseas military power could simultaneously grow to eventually consolidate China as the sole superpower.

The Panama Canal

 The Panama Canal (83 km), one of the seven wonders of the modern world, began operations in 1914. It was built by the US to connect its eastern and western coasts and avoid sailing around South America. To build and control the Canal, the US created Panama by carving it out from Colombia in 1903. The US has “as if it were sovereign” rights to the Canal “in perpetuity” though it is being run by Panama today. The traffic has grown from 1,000 ships in 1914 to approximately 14,000 annually. Its annual revenue of $2 billion is the biggest element in Panama’s GDP.

 Despite constantly increasing revenues, Panama went through political and economic turbulence. By 1983 it was in economic ruin under Manuel Noriega’s dictatorship (set up by the US). Noriega ran a parallel economy of drugs, money laundering and human trafficking. He supported guerrilla uprisings in neighbouring countries. Political opponents were assassinated.  Finally, he turned coat in the US too. Retaliatory US sanctions destroyed Panama’s economy. Ultimately the US invaded Panama in 1989 to safeguard its interests. The invasion pushed many people back into poverty. Later, Panama stabilised due to US intervention. In a loose sense, Panama can be termed as an “Independent” state of the US with limited sovereignty. In some sense it is a colony. Despite an economic boom and an upper-middle per capita GDP, more than 25% of Panama’s population live in poverty. Many debt-trapped BRI countries could end up as tomorrow’s Panamas including Pakistan. 

 A century after commencing operations, the Panama Canal has benefitted USA and the rest of the world immensely. Has it benefitted Panama as much? It continues to be a mosquito and insect infested tropical country with bouts of economic ruin, civil strife, and political instability. Its sovereignty is questionable.  Without the US, it might collapse.   

 Berlin-Baghdad Railway

 The 19th century Europe saw great opportunity in the resources of a weakening Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman agricultural system could whet European food requirements. Minerals (Chrome, antimony, lead and zinc mines and some coal) and abundant oil of the Middle East were on offer. Hence a transcontinental rail link through the Ottoman Empire was conceived with Britain, France and Germany competing. Ultimately, the Germans won out. Work began on the Berlin-Baghdad Railway in 1903.

 It was built from 1903 to 1940. It was approx 4900 km long, traversing modern-day Turkey, Syria, and Iraq to Basra, in the Persian Gulf. Germans wanted to counter the British Empire by bypassing the Suez Canal to threaten its dominance in colonial trade. Turkish interest was twofold. Firstly, countering its Russian rivals. Secondly control of Arabian Peninsula and expansion across the Red Sea into Egypt, then under British control. Expansion into Egypt was through an offshoot called the Hejaz railway (Aleppo to Damascus to Medina). The Hejaz Railway was targeted through guerrilla warfare by Lawrence of Arabia. He never let it function fully.

 The Berlin-Baghdad (and ultimately Basra) Railway would enable German goods to reach the warm waters of the Gulf. From there trade could be extended to German colonies farther. The return journey would bring oil. Axiomatically, economic interests would expand political influence. The Railway was to strengthen ties between the Ottoman Empire and Germany to shift the regional balance of power. Similarities to the CPEC are eerie though predated by a century. 

Funding, engineering and construction were mainly German. The Railway became a source of international disputes. It was one of the leading causes of WW-I. When WW-I broke, the Railway was still 960 km short of its objective. By 1915, the Railway was still 480 km short. It had limited utility during WW-I. Baghdad was captured by the British. The Hejaz Railway in the South was sorted out by Lawrence of Arabia.  Construction resumed in the 1930s. The last stretch to Baghdad was built in the late 1930s. The first train from Istanbul to Baghdad departed in 1940.

 Did it serve the purpose for which it was envisaged? Clearly no. By the time the Railway was built, empires and nations ceased to exist the way they were. Colonial contours had changed. Technical difficulties, funding issues, cultural outlooks, geopolitical alignments, and divergent interests stretched construction time to breaking point. The project was so contentious, and ambitious that it was bound to fail on all fronts. It failed — never to meet any one’s aspirations. Fits the infected BRI well? Of course it does.

Suez Canal

 The Suez Canal, constructed between 1859 and 1869, connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.  It opened on November 17, 1869. It has been operating for nearly a century and a half. In 2012, 17,225 vessels traversed the Canal. Initially the Canal was British owned. Nasser nationalized it. Suez Canal Authority of Egypt now owns it. Expansion and canal widening commenced in August 2014, to double its capacity from 49 to 97 ships a day. The “New Suez Canal”, was opened on 6 August 2015. In the fiscal year 2014-15, the revenues of the Canal were $5.7 billion.   

A highly profitable Suez Canal should have given stability and progress to Egypt over the past century and a half.  However, the opposite is true. President Nasser ran an inefficient Soviet style centralized economy. The Arab-Israel wars debilitated growth. The 90s saw a series of IMF arrangements once fences with Israel were mended. Egypt received external debt relief due to participation in the Gulf War coalition. Since 2000, structural reforms helped Egypt move towards a market-oriented economy and prompted increased foreign investment. The reforms and policies propelled growth, which averaged 8% annually between 2004 and 2009. However, the trickle-down effect was poor. Wealth distribution was inequitable. Economic conditions worsened. Unemployment burgeoned. After the 2011 revolution, Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves fell from $36 billion in December 2010 to only $16.3 billion in January 2012. Egypt’s long-term credit rating was lowered in 2013.

 Egypt has seen peaceful growth only for about two decades. It has been involved in strife – externally or internally. After the Arab Spring, growth rates have plummeted to 2-3% with double digit inflation. The economy is in poor shape. The stark lesson is that if successful projects did not guarantee growth of nations or people, the largely unsuccessful BRI projects can destroy nations. Have doubts? Examine Hambantota. 


 When seen in the overall context, the BRI has shades of all previous corridors but with its own defining characteristics. Old models had investors and invested nations. In BRI there is one creditor nation and a host of debtor nations. The creditor has been indemnified and guaranteed profits irrespective of the outcome of the projects. The host nations in BRI will end up with non-performing assets and a non-repayable loan with partial loss of sovereignty. The host countries need to see which model they fit in.

Pre pandemic indications itself were clear. All completed BRI projects were economically, politically, and socially unviable. They were being dubbed as “Roads to Nowhere”. Ever since the Wuhan virus has infected the BRI, the projects are firmly on the back-burner. As the virus rages, economies have shrunk. Tax revenues plunged, and expenditure is up. Supply chains from China are disrupted. Migrant Chinese workers have been quarantined, repatriated, or banned. BRI infrastructure lies unfinished. Upstream manufacturing has declined in China. Some projects are into legal problems. This will only magnify.  Many nations are seeking debt write offs/rescheduling. The status of the flagship CPEC is too well known. China is now shifting focus to concentrate on two nonphysical components of BRI namely “Health Silk Road (HSR)” and “Digital Silk Road (DSR)” which are only sops to save its image.

  The longer the Virus lasts the greater the effect. Even if a vaccine is found, the poor host nations are not high priority to get them. So BRI projects will languish to deteriorate. Restarting them means refinancing. Poor nations cannot afford it as they recover from the Virus. In case of defaults, China will own an asset which has no value. In the meanwhile Governments can change and politics winds can turn. The unfinished Chinese projects dotting the global landscape will constantly remind people of the Wuhan Virus.

There is a larger issue. Chinese investment in BRI is estimated to be anything between $1.5 Tn and $5.5 Tn. That is between 15- 40% of its GDP and at risk. As per reports $200-520 Billion have already been sunk with no tangible return. See this against the historic backdrop of fate of corridors analyzed above. All one can foresee shuttling in the BRI are bats and pigs carrying viruses up and down. Does the infected BRI seem to be an instrument to propel China to superpower status? In my opinion if the bats do not kill it, the pigs will.

Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology

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Ashish Singh



Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. announces that it has completed the second phase of Germany’s Transparent Battlefield study and performed a demonstration of its BNET advanced SDR communication and its Fire Weaver sensor to shooter system for the German Army. The event took place in Paderborn, Germany, in November 2020, in front of representatives from the Bundeswehr and various partners and industries.

The second phase demonstration of the Transparent Battlefield study included live traffic from the Aeronautics Pegasus Drone, along with the Fire Weaver Sensor-to-Shooter system, all carried over the BNET advanced Software Defined Radio (BNET Hand-Held and BNET Vehicular). The demo was hosted by Atos Information GmbH, which acts as the prime contractor for the Transparent Battlefield Study, and included its C2 software as an integral part of the demo.

BNET is a Spectrum-Aware SDR—utilising the spectral arena of the battlefield to the fullest in a cognitive way, using Multi-frequency Channel Reception (MCR), which enables it to receive and analyze information from numerous frequency channels, simultaneously, using a single RF head.

Fire Weaver is a networked sensor to shooter system which provides the tactical forces with a GPS-independent geo-pixel-based tactical common language among all the sensors and shooters, providing optimal situational awareness and improved understanding of the battlefield. Fire Weaver uses Rafael’s advanced artificial intelligence algorithms, processes the battle data, analyzes it, and prioritises fire allocation.

As was published in December 2019, Rafael has partnered with Atos Information GmbH on a project involving the creation of a program named “Transparent Battlefield”, in which unmanned aerial systems and combat vehicles are used to create a 3D picture of mobile operations in real-time. The work will be performed for the German Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support. Following the completion of the first and second phases, further phases are expected to take place in the coming years.

Yoav Wermuth, VP and head of RAFAEL’s C3I directorate: “Today’s battlefields are undergoing far-reaching changes that affect the operational needs of land, air and naval forces, with newly emerging real-time applications, such as sensor-to-effector cycle closure systems. Rising to meet these challenges, and relying on decades of experience in the development of C4I solutions, Rafael has developed the BNET Family, enhanced with patented technology, and the Fire Weaver, a high-precision, three-dimensional, GPS-independent common visual language system. Integration of these systems into the Bundeswehr will lead to a number of significant changes—it will provide a common visual language among different types of units, not only from the Bundeswehr, but also from allied forces, which share the same threats and missions, connecting multiple sensors and shooters on one single ‘flat’ network.”

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Thales, Bharat Dynamics to bring STARStreak air defence system to India

Ashish Singh



Thales and Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), a Government of India enterprise, have signed a Teaming Agreement to work in partnership on the STARStreak Air Defence system with the support of both the governments of India and the United Kingdom. The Teaming Agreement was signed by Thales and BDL in the presence of UK and Indian government representatives in a virtual ceremony in the third week of January 2021.

The representatives from the UK who witnessed the signature included Jeremy Quin (Minister for Defence Procurement) and Mark Goldsack (Head of UK Defence & Security Exports). From India, the Director General Army Air Defence and representative from Army Design Bureau, Indian Army, witnessed the ceremony. N P Diwakar, Director (Technical), BDL, Alex Cresswell, CEO Thales in the UK and Emmanuel de Roquefeuil, VP and Country Director, Thales in India, signed the agreement in the presence of Commodore Siddharth Mishra (Retd), Chairman and Managing Director, BDL.

On this occasion, the UK Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said “Co-operation between the UK and India continues to develop at pace with much closer ties within our defence equipment programmes and systems. Today’s signing marks the start of the next-generation of missile systems for the Indian Army and reinforces our commitment to work with international partners.” Through the agreement, BDL will become a part of the STARStreak global supply chain, providing the opportunity for export of Indian manufactured components to existing and future STARStreak Air Defence customers, including the UK Armed Forces.

BDL was established in Hyderabad in 1970 as a manufacturing base for guided missiles and allied defence equipment. In 2017, Thales and BDL had signed a Memorandum of Understanding to assess the opportunity for the transfer of technology for STARStreak. The signing of this teaming agreement confirms a positive outcome from that exploration process. This agreement will also provide the opportunity for BDL to offer a ‘Make in India’ STARStreak solution to the Indian Government, with a capability that will match the immediate air defence needs of the Indian Army and Air force, and with 60% of the system manufactured in India. It also represents an opportunity for further UK and Indian Industrial co-operation and will cement the ambition for closer collaboration and co-development between our two nations, supporting the ambitions of our governments’ recently signed Defence Technology and Industrial Capability Cooperation MoU.

Alex Cresswell, CEO of Thales in the UK said:“Today’s signing is a significant milestone for all parties concerned and I look forward to Thales and BDL developing a close working relationship. This is good news for our business in Belfast in Northern Ireland, for the strong supply chain of UK SMEs with whom we work and for our teams in India. The UK and India have a strong tradition of industrial partnership in defence, innovation and sharing technology and we are thankful to both the Governments for their strong support to this excellent initiative.”

Commodore Siddharth Mishra (Retd), Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Dynamics Limited, in his address stated that “partnership between Thales and BDL in this project with Transfer of Technology for STARStreak will create a new business opportunity for BDL and its Supply Chain Partners in India. BDL will be able to enhance its footprints in the export market in addition to domestic market with this new business opportunity. The Government of India’s ‘Make in India’ programme, the ‘ease of doing business’ and recent ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ initiatives have created a congenial ecosystem for the foreign OEMs to tie up with Indian Industries like BDL to establish the production facility in India,” he added.

The STARStreak missile system is in service in the British Army and has been procured by defence forces worldwide. The fastest missile in its category, STARStreak is unique due to its three laser-guided darts, which cannot be jammed by any known countermeasure. It has the capability to defeat any air target—even armoured helicopters—as the last line of defence.

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Ashish Singh



Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has entered into a framework memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) to strengthen collaboration in the field of technical exchange and co-operation on sustainable geohazard management.

The MoU was signed on Wednesday between Dr G. Satheesh Reddy, Secretary of DDR&D and DRDO Chairman, and Giridhar Aramane, Secretary of MoRTH. As per the agreement, DRDO and MoRTH will co-operate in various mutually beneficial areas related to geohazard management. The initiative will ensure safety against the adverse effects of landslides and other natural calamities on national highways in the country.

DRDO’s Defence Geo-Informatics Research Establishment (DGRE) is working for the development of critical technologies for enhancing combat effectiveness in various kinds of terrains and avalanches. The expertise of DGRE in mapping, forecasting, control and mitigation of landslides and avalanches in Himalayan terrain will be utilized for designing national highways including tunnels. Terrain and modelling simulation is an important asset with DGRE, which will play an important role in planning and building robust road infrastructure in difficult terrains.

MoRTH is responsible for development & maintenance of National Highways across the country. It has been agreed that the expertise of DRDO will be utilised in providing sustainable mitigation measures to damages caused by landslides, avalanche and other natural factors on various National Highways in the Country.

Some of the areas identified for collaboration include detailed investigation of the critical avalanches/geohazards, planning, designing and formulation of sustainable mitigation measures for geohazards on national highways including tunnels, monitoring and supervision of mitigation measures, etc.

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Defence Ministers of India and Singapore expressed satisfaction at the progress of ongoing defence cooperation engagements between the two countries despite limitations imposed by Covid-19 pandemic.

Ashish Singh



Defence Minister Rajnath Singh co-chaired the 5th India-Singapore Defence Ministers Dialogue along with Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence, Republic of Singapore, on Wednesday. During their virtual interaction, both ministers expressed satisfaction at the progress of ongoing defence cooperation engagements between the two countries despite limitations imposed by ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

During the virtual interaction, Singh conveyed his compliments on effectiveness of pandemic mitigation measures implemented in Singapore and the contribution of Singapore Armed Forces in restricting the spread of Covid-19. He also highlighted the role of our armed forces in combating the pandemic and various missions undertaken to assist in repatriation of Indians stranded overseas. Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence, Singapore, reciprocated the compliments and exchanged views on the role of armed forces in the government’s approach towards control of the pandemic.

Both Ministers also expressed satisfaction at the growing defence ties between the two countries. Both sides reviewed the progress of various bilateral defence cooperation initiatives being pursued over the last year and expressed commitment to further elevate the scale of engagements between the Armed Forces as well as in areas of defence technology and industry. During the dialogue both Ministers discussed new areas of potential cooperation and articulated their vision in this direction. The Ministers witnessed the Signing of the Implementing Agreement on Submarine Rescue Support and Cooperation signed between the Indian Navy and Republic of Singapore Navy. Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar was also present during the meeting.


The 5th Defence Ministers’ Dialogue (DMD) between India and Singapore was successfully held through a video conference and continues the substantial increase in bilateral cooperation and defence partnership over the years. Defence and security engagements between India and Singapore have broadened significantly in scale and scope across all three Services of the armed forces as well as in the areas of defence technology and industry. Both countries have also found common ground on multilateral fora and engagements.

At this 5th DMD, both ministers were pleased to witness the signing of the Implementing Agreement on Submarine Rescue Support and Cooperation between the two Navies. The Ministers also conveyed their full support towards the early conclusion of agreements to facilitate conduct of live firings and to establish reciprocal arrangements for the cross-attendance of military courses.

The Ministers further welcomed initiatives to expand bilateral defence cooperation including the implementing agreement on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) cooperation in August 2020 for the two armed forces to have closer operational collaboration in response to disasters and capacity-building activities of mutual interest. The cyber agencies of both armed forces have also stepped up engagements. During the dialogue, both Ministers exchanged views on the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic on the defence and security engagements, including the best practices adopted by their Armed Forces. Rajnath Singh conveyed gratitude for the role of the Singapore Armed Forces, in supporting foreign workers, many of whom were Indian Nationals, at the peak of pandemic. Dr Ng also complimented India’s successes in bringing down the overall numbers despite challenges of scale in terms of geography and population.

Both Ministers noted the commitment of their senior officials in sustaining the momentum of annual dialogues during the ongoing pandemic through virtual meetings. This has kept bilateral defence cooperation on a positive trajectory and laid the foundations for further cooperation in 2021.

The Ministers were pleased that the Indian Navy and Republic of Singapore Navy successfully conducted the 27th edition of Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise (SIMBEX) and also participated in the second edition of the Singapore-India-Thailand Maritime Exercise (SITMEX); both held in November 2020.Theseexercises enhance interoperability amongst the navies and underscore the shared responsibility of the countries to work together to keep sea lines of communications open.

Rajnath Singh reaffirmed ASEAN centrality in the regional security architecture and pledged India’s support to all endeavours of the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM)-Plus. Ng expressed support for India’s upcoming co-chairmanship of the ADMM-Plus Experts’ Working Group on HADR. Both Ministers were committed to further enhance bilateral defence ties between India and Singapore and supported multilateral initiatives to promote lasting peace and stability in the region.

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We need to redefine our doctrine of conventional war fighting with leaner, meaner and agile forces that are dynamic and capable of preempting an enemy action, supported by real-time and actionable intelligence and backed by effect-based operations.

Lt Gen Dushyant Singh (retd.)



India is probably the only country which faces multiple threats along our land borders which has been a consistent historical trend since ancient times. While threat from the western border has been in perpetuity, manifestation along the northern border has been a recent phenomenon. Further, if we consider the Chinese effort to isolate India along its maritime boundary, threat to India appears not only dangerous but ominous.

Chinese activities in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean Region such as development of a $1.5 billion gas and oil pipeline from Kyaukpyu port in Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal to Yunnan in China, development of CMEC (China Myanmar Economic Corridor), establishment of a Naval Base in Bangladesh, purchase of two submarines from China by Bangladesh, seizing control of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, presence in Gwadar and development of CPEC in Pakistan and establishment of military bases in Djibouti, Maldives and Seychelles have not only enlarged the presence of China globally but also added the maritime dimension of maritime threat to India. Maritime threat to India has further magnified due to Chinese effort to gain access to Iranian Chabahar and Jask ports in the Persian Gulf. Chinese effort while aiming to overcome the Malacca Dilemma also enables it to encircle India. China has also been testing waters against the US, Japan, Australia and ASEAN countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam by gradually pushing for its interests in the South and East China seas.



Security situation of India is assuming greater seriousness due to the China-Pakistan nexus disregarding existing bilateral and international treaties and laws. In this process the smaller neighbours of India are also under constant influence of China to adopt an unfriendly approach towards India. Although some of the blame for such a situation lies at the doorstep of India, the need today is to find a way to deal with the collusive threat of China and Pakistan. In addition, India also needs to take the rest of the neighbours on board before they are completely poached by China.

Internally too, the three prime trouble spots remain active i.e., Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), North East (NE) and Left Wing Extremism (LWE). This diverts considerable economic and human resources away from productive sectors of our economy. Disturbed internal security besides affecting the growth of our economy also adversely impacts on our conventional military capability development. Given the budgetary constraints due to pressing need of investments in other sectors of National Security such as economic, food, health, water and social security, we need to develop military capability that is able to respond to current and emerging challenges smartly and intelligently without depriving in any way our ability to effectively deal with the external and internal security threats. The way possibly lies not in playing the catch-up game with China in conventional capabilities but improvise our doctrine, strategy and force structuring in a manner to negate the conventional advantage enjoyed by China against India. The capability gap between our adversaries may be appreciated from the tables 1 to 4 given below.


Comparative Data of Military Strengths: To get a comprehensive picture, capabilities of the leading defence force has also been listed in the Tables. The comparative data has been taken from Global Firepower (GFP) Website. The GFP ranking of 138 countries is based on values related to manpower, equipment, natural resources, finances, and geography represented by 50+ individual factors. The tables below list the comparative capabilities on salient parameters of India (ranked 3rd), China (2nd), Pakistan (15th) and USA (1st).

Analysis of Relative Potential: Salient deductions that can be drawn from the above data are: a) Combat firepower of our primary adversary China (0.0691) is very high vis-à-vis India (0.091) and in fact it is fast catching up with the US (0.0606). Implying an urgent need for India to bridge the gap with China in order to deter China in the conventional domain. b) Economically both in GDP and PPP terms we are lagging behind China and in PPP terms China has already surpassed the US in 2016 and is rapidly increasing the gap. In comparison India is way behind and even if it wants to catch up it cannot do so in the near future. Economic constraint directly affects military capability building. Therefore, there is a need to find smart solutions to deal with the dual security threat. Answer lies in developing smart military security strategies and accordingly appropriate capabilities to deter our adversaries. c) As far as land forces are concerned gap in mechanisation should not unduly worry us as the theatre of operations along the Northern land borders comprises rugged, uncongenial mountainous, high altitude and super high altitude areas in which foot infantry, precision fire power backed by state of the art aero-space technologies will call the shots. Quantitatively the gap being large, Indian Land forces must become leaner, agile and capable of pre-empting the adversary’s salami slicing operations such as its actions in Chumar, Depsang, Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) sector, Sumdrong Cho, Galwan, Hotspring, and Pangong Tso. d) Despite reforms post Kargil war India has been consistently surprised. Even the Galwan incident is attributable to intelligence failure despite a number of indicators at the strategic level. There is a need to create a reliable intelligence gathering and information operations capability so as to become proactive rather than reactive in dealing with threats emanating from adversaries. d) In the Aerospace domain too the quantitative gap is significant even if we compare the sectoral forces likely to be available to China and India along the Northern borders. Qualitatively too the Chinese enjoy a marked edge. Numerical superiority of China has to be dealt with by doctrinal changes based on new and emerging technologies ex import in short term and indigenous production in the medium to long term. India would also need to make up the gap by ramping up production of alternate firepower delivery systems such as missiles and rockets in which it possesses decent indigenous capability. e) Amongst the three services it is the Navy which can prove decisive in the future as Indian Navy enjoys tremendous indigenous development capability in Naval Systems such as Submarines, Aircraft Carriers and electronics. Further given the shared threat from China to other leading nations in the Indo-Pacific provides a scope for alliances and partnerships for example Malabar and Milan Joint Exercise Platforms. Mutual threats and interest also give an opportunity for strategic cooperation and partnerships such as Quad. f) Inadequate integration/jointness results in lack of optimisation of effects in warfighting. The institution of CDS has just been created with the task of raising Integrated Theatre Commands. However, the institution of CDS needs to be further empowered and the formation of joint structures need to be hastened and strengthened. g) Ability to deal with grey zone threats remains grey. Capability of Indian Defence Forces to deal with the grey zone and hybrid threat needs to be further refined and developed especially in the information operations, cyber space, special forces and psychological warfare.


Given the economic and technological differential between India and China innovative solutions will have to be found for our security problems. Salient capability recommendations to manage likely future security challenges are as follows:

1. India must focus on developing smart military security strategies and appropriate capabilities to implement the revised strategies to deter our adversaries. Defence alliances are not only desirable but essential to ensure military security against China. Defence alliance under an expanded Quad with armed forces of US, Japan, UK, France and Australia standing at first, fifth, sixth, seventh and 9th spot respectively may offset our force differential. For this India needs to develop its maritime capability rapidly to have a say in the proposed alliance. A logical step in this capability development would be formation of a Maritime Theatre Command. In conjunction with the proposed expanded Quad members, the alliance would provide the necessary military impact to deter China. Also it will force China to look towards the Indo-Pacific to secure its maritime interests in the Indo-Pacific and IOR. India with a central position in the Indo-Pacific can provide the necessary pivot to dominate the region. However, while orchestrating such a strategy Russia will need to be managed carefully. It will have to be convinced that the expanded Quad is a benign alliance as far as Russian interests are concerned. The other stumbling block could be Iran. India must use its influence with the US and Iran to smoothen out the differences between the US and Iran and ensure its neutrality if not support the expanded Quad.

2. As far as land forces are concerned, the answer lies in refocusing development of combat capabilities to deal with hybrid and grey zone warfare threats, while at the same time creating conventional capabilities capable of dissuading China from undertaking all out conventional operations against India. Given the financial constraints and changing threat dynamics there is a need to create agile and lean Integrated Battle Groups rather than monolithic unwieldy Strike Corps. These forces must be backed by lethal, precision fire platforms from land and air under an integrated Theatre Command. Emphasis has to be given to enlargement of Special Forces capable of responding to threats of piecemeal territorial expansionism being practised by China. Further, the outdated concept of all-out war or no war as an option to salami slicing type of threats has to give way to dealing with such threats through special operations, non-contact warfare and war by other means.

3. In the Aerospace domain the Swarm Drone Attack concepts, Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, Armed Drones, utilizing Artificial Intelligence to target the enemy must become the norm. These systems need to be procured in the short term but developed in house in the medium to long term following the prototype development concept being followed by the UK and other leading armies.

4. As far as the Naval Forces are concerned they will prove decisive in any future confrontation as our Second Strike Capability will become more robust with commissioning of INS Arihant and induction of four more advanced SSBNs (S2 & S4) and six SSN of INS Chakra class into the Navy. A militarized expanded QUAD along with a robust second strike capability will provide the much needed maritime stretch to India in deterring a full blown conventional war with China. It must also quickly get its indigenous aircraft carrier commissioned to extend its influence in the IOR and in combination with Quad countries send a strategic message of caution and force it to operate in the maritime domain based on respect for international laws, bilateral treaties and not abrogate it unilaterally as it has done with India, Hong Kong, Japan and countries in South China Sea.

The institution of CDS has to be strengthened with powers to orchestrate conventional war fighting at the Strategic Level through the Theatre Commanders. He should also be able to deal with hybrid and grey zone threats by utilising special forces, technological, informational, legal and aerospace assets and resources. India must have a well-developed Strategic Support Command. It must have an Information Operations Agency (IOS), Cyber Warfare Agency (CWA), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Special Operations Division (SOD) comprising Special Forces from Army, AF and Navy with both offensive and defensive capabilities. HQ IDS could then be scaled down to provide Secretarial HQ of the CDS. Training command of the three Services too in the medium term should get integrated into a Joint Training Command till that happens TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Wing) of the IDS should manage joint and integrated training matters. The entire gamut of psychological warfare, media management, legal warfare and information campaign must fall under the purview of the Information Operations Agency. The staffing of the Information, Cyber Operations and Intelligence agencies must also comprise professionals from the civil with passion to undertake such activities. They must be the backbone of such organisations.


The article by no stretch of imagination is suggesting that the era of all out conventional wars are over and we should only focus in the grey zone. However, the luxury of undertaking such wars more often than not will force countries to resort to a system of war-fighting that is just below the threshold of traditional wars of the past. It is also true that a military must prepare for the worst but in doing so we should also not land up in a situation where we are left with only an option of either no military action or full scale war in response to situations that are being faced by India along its northern and western borders. Moreover, economic constraints are also restricting our conventional capability development. The answer therefore lies in redefining our doctrine of conventional war fighting with leaner, meaner and agile forces that are dynamic and capable of preempting an enemy action supported by real-time and actionable intelligence and backed by effect-based operations. At the same time the country must focus on harnessing new technologies to counter hybrid and grey zone threats. Unless we innovate and become creative in our military war-fighting doctrine we will end up developing capabilities that may not bear the desired results in a future confrontation with our adversary in any format of conflict.

Lt Gen Dushyant Singh (retd) has served in varied terrains and theatre of operations, in India and in the UN as Military Observer. He has commanded an Infantry Battalion, Brigade and a Division in Jammu and Kashmir. He is currently Professor Emeritus Defence Studies at GujaratRaksha Shakti University. Twitter handle: @dushy40098.

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Ashish Singh



Lt Gen C.P. Mohanty, GOC-In-C, Southern Command visited Eastern Naval Command on 17-18 January 2021. The visit assumes significance as the Indian defence forces are shifting towards integration of all components into Theatre specific Commands. During the visit, Vice Adm Atul Kumar Jain, FOC-in-Chief, Eastern Naval Command discussed the complete spectrum of security issues with the Army Commander.

The visit also included review of training of the Army component of the Amphibious Task Force which is presently undergoing joint training with the Indian Navy and Air Force at Vizag. The Army Commander was briefed on various aspects of joint training, integration of forces and validation of operational tasks.

The GOC-in-C visited various frontline ships of the Eastern Naval Command responsible for the maritime activities on the Eastern sea board. He interacted with the participating contingent and crew members onboard the ships. The General Officer commended the high level of operational preparedness and training standards of the Eastern Naval Fleet.

The Army Commander exhorted all ranks to utilize this opportunity for enhancing the scope and level of jointmanship and integration at all levels.

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