In a bid to ascend the world stage, India is swiftly modernizing her military and upgrading the defense inventory. The recent induction of “Rafale”, French origin fighter in the Indian Air Force (IAF) and plans of acquiring the Russian S-400 air defense system are notable developments which indicates New Delhi’s ambitions of joining the major powers club. At regional level, these developments will create an imbalance in the existing ‘strategic equilibrium’ in South Asia which has been maintained after the acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan since1998.
The two states have been embroiled in multiple crises over the last 22 years yet the presence of nuclear weapons has averted the breakout of a full-blown conflict. However, with asymmetric arms buildup, the IAF will not only achieve operational advantage over Pakistan but also disturb the South Asian stability which is already fragile and conflict prone.
In 2016, the Indian government inked a deal with France for the acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter jets. In last week of July, the first batch of five Rafale jets landed at the Ambala Air Base in India. Apart from sophisticated design and specialized technical features that makes it a formidable challenge against an adversary, they are armed with Meteor air-to-air missiles, and with a range of 120-150 km, and they can easily out-range any missile in the Pakistani inventory. Furthermore, each Rafale, can carry two fire-and-forget SCALP cruise missiles to hit high-value targets over 300 km away. The Rafale jets, with a combat range of 780 km to 1,650 km, depending upon the mission, are equipped with advanced weapons package, advanced avionics, AESA (Active electronically scanned array) radar and electronic warfare suite to counter jamming ensure survivability in hostile airspace.
According to the Indian military experts, the operational dynamics for achieving dominance in air will evolve with the induction of the Rafale armed with the Meteor beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles, which are powered by ramjet engines to fly at speeds in excess of Mach 4. The Meteor missiles are arguably among the best in the world for air combat, with “a greater no-escape zone” than any comparable BVR weapon. The IAF sees this addition as a technological edge which will augment its deterrence capability.
New Delhi is already shielding its capital with the indigenous ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems comprising of Prithvi Air Defense (PAD) and Advanced Air Defense (AAD) systems. The S-400 is the world’s most advance air defense system capable of neutralizing incoming missiles, hostile aircraft and other aerial threats with a range of up to 400 km and a tracking capability of nearly 600 km. It is expected to reach India by 2021 and envisioned to play a major role in the multi-layered defense shield that India is aiming to develop against any retaliatory attack.
Indian defense experts believe that the combination of Rafale jets and S-400 will prove to be a game changer technological combination in the strategic equation with Pakistan will provide both quantitative and qualitative edge over Pakistan’s defensive and offensive capabilities. Furthermore, it is generally assumed that S-400 will also provide cover against any potential missile attack from China.
On the other hand, Pakistan is trying to fill in the strategic gaps by jointly working with China on the up gradation of JF-17 Thunder, Block-III armed with PL-15 missiles will arguably give a befitting response. The reports regarding the deployment of long-range Chinese PL-15 missiles on JF-17 Block-III jet have raised alarms in the IAF. Earlier this year, the IAF Chief warned about the shortcomings of Rafale jets in comparison to the JF-17 advanced variant.
India’s aggressive posturing and military modernization particularly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in 2014 suggests that India has hegemonic ambitions. It is determined to demonstrate itself as a regional hegemon. Furthermore, the ongoing asymmetric arms race between the two arch-rivals is posing a threat to the regional security. The underlying principle of deterrence is based on mutual vulnerability. The newly acquired, robust defensive and offensive capabilities might give India a false sense of security which might compel it to carry out cross-border surgical strikes with an assurance of invulnerability. Such situations can steer unwanted consequences as it will trigger Pakistan’s retaliatory response, and any miscalculation in such circumstances can lead to escalation between the nuclear armed states which can bring instability and chaos to the whole region. Hence, India’s military modernization under the Hindutva-inspired regime poses a dire threat to regional peace and prosperity.
The writer is working as a Researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies. He can be reached at [email protected]