Mr Modi’s agenda in Brazil - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 15 July 2014

Mr Modi’s agenda in Brazil

By Ajai Shukla

During the forthcoming BRICS summit in Brazil, India's new prime minister, Narendra Modi, will push hard for an endorsement of the need to expand the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

India hopes that its long running quest for permanent, veto-wielding membership can benefit from BRICS support; the bloc includes two permanent UNSC members and three aspiring entrants.

While pressure from BRICS may have limited use, New Delhi’s UNSC prospects would be better served if Mr Modi can return India to a trajectory of robust economic and military growth.

An early indicator of the new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s priorities came on July 10th, when its presented its first annual financial budget.

While campaigning for the May 2014 election, the right-of-centre party had railed at border intrusions by China and Pakistan, growing vulnerability to “Pakistan backed terror groups” and waves of illegal immigration from Bangladesh.

To counter this, the BJP declared it would modernize the military, a lip-smacking prospect for the global arms industry, given India’s status as the world’s biggest importer of defence equipment.

The BJP’s election manifesto also undertook to “revise and update” India’s nuclear doctrine, kicking off speculation that it might reconsider, even abandon, India’s policy of “No First Use” of nuclear weapons, or NFU.

The BJP quickly clarified that it was comfortable with NFU, yet apprehensions remained. The manifesto also promised a nuclear force geared towards “changing geostrategic realities”.

It remains unclear whether this referred to a larger nuclear arsenal, or the induction of tactical nuclear weapons in response to Pakistan’s apparent determination to deploy these destabilising and risky weapons.

India’s military spending

The budget disappointed many who had anticipated a wave of buying by India in the global arms bazaar.

Belying its pre-election rhetoric, the government allocated to defence Rupees 2,290 billion ($38.16 billion), Rupees 50 billion ($883 million) more than the outgoing government had provided in its interim budget in February.

By raising defence spending only cosmetically from 1.74 per cent to 1.78 per cent of GDP, Mr Modi signalled powerfully that social spending --- healthcare, education and jobs --- were as vital as national security.

Conspicuously, no additional funds were allocated for arms deals being negotiated, like the nearly $17 billion purchase of 126 Rafale fighters from French company, Dassault.

Instead, most of the tiny spending rise went to the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), the government agency that develops indigenous weapons systems for the military.

While the DRDO has several successes to its name --- including India’s ballistic missile programme, nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines, and a range of radar and electronic warfare systems --- it has also struggled to develop a light fighter and a main battle tank that have badly overshot budgets and timelines.

Part of the blame lies with the military, which has denied the DRDO funding and cooperation. If, as it appears, the government has thrown its weight behind the DRDO, India could well start producing a larger share of its weaponry within the country.

This would create jobs, a priority for Mr Modi, causing him to extend further support to this initiative.

That the new government regards defence manufacture as a vehicle for job creation, rather than as a firewalled security zone, is also evident from the decision to permit 49 per cent foreign ownership of Indian companies involved in defence production.

The earlier foreign ownership cap of 26 per cent had deterred foreign investment in Indian defence companies, since overseas investors felt that provided little control over the companies they were buying into.

Although the increased limit is short of the 100 per cent ownership that foreign vendors were demanding, it has been welcomed as a step forward.

Yet, these policy framework improvements will serve little purpose without harmonising the military’s force structure.

Flawed military management?

Paying for the army’s bloated manpower leaves little for buying equipment. True, defending thousands of kilometres of Himalayan mountain border needs large numbers of troops. Even so, India is the world’s only significant power that is adding soldiers, its 1.5 million strong military set to rise to 1.6 million this decade.

This even as the threat reduces, with a key potential adversary, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), having incrementally reduced its size by 1.7 million soldiers since 1985.

Currently, the army’s payroll accounts for half its annual budget, consuming thrice as much as the purchase of new equipment.

This obvious conundrum escapes attention because the higher management of defence remains deeply flawed. This is partly a legacy of British rule, when India’s military and police forces were instruments of colonial control; and of the political climate of the 1950s when numerous post-colonial, elected leaders were being overthrown by praetorian militaries.

While India’s military has remained conspicuously apolitical and is repeatedly polled as the country’s most respected institution, it remains confined in its corner with little political interest in its functioning.

The previous defence minister, AK Antony, spent more time troubleshooting for the ruling Congress Party; while the new minister, Arun Jaitley, who is also the finance minister, says he is a temporary incumbent.

With tri-service planning desperately needed, successive governments have feared appointing a tri-service commander, fearing that this would create an undesirable power centre. In the absence of joint planning, the army, navy and air force function at loggerheads, undercutting each other in a vicious contest for budgets, influence and turf.

Despite the military’s obvious shortcomings, India enjoys significant regard as an unusually benign power in a region where a rising China pays scant heed to smaller countries’ sensitivities. Over the preceding two decades, New Delhi has assiduously pursued “multi-alignment”, cultivating strong relations with every regional and global power.

Mr Modi has inherited this equity, but knows that he must back this with discernible muscle, both economic and military. It is this aim that will be guiding his conversations with his counterparts in Fortaleza and Brasilia. 


  1. Sir,

    I would like to make a request for information. In the P15A or INS Kolkata you said there are 64 Barak 8 but recent pictures show 32 VLS cells for Barak 8 apart from 16 Brahmos UVLM cells.

    Are the 32 other Barak 8 missiles reloads that are stored somewhere in the ship?

  2. How about govt to govt deals (like the US FMS for C130s)....wherein we force Brazil that we will make Legacy (and future versions) the platform of choice for VVIP and AEWS&C roles....which could potentially be another 30 aircraft over the next 15 years!!
    PROVIDED they make the ALH, LOH, and LCA mark-II their aircraft of choice for procurement too.
    NOTE Brazil has gone in for Gripen recently, so engine commonality will remain with LCA-II (in case of fleet expansions). As regards ALH/LOH...its already a win win, as Brazil has no helicopter industry to speak off.

  3. Modi is perhaps one of the first PMs who has made it a point to have monthly meetings with ALL three service chiefs to hear from them personally. He is also one of the few PMs who is deeply interested and invested in the defense services making the One rank, one Pension a priority that he has made every effort to fulfill. Further, Modi is also one of the rare PMs who has made visiting an Indian military asset so soon after his swearing in to office.

    While the defense budget could have been better - one needs to appreciate the fact that the government was extremely constrained in its ability to meet procurement due to the pathetic fiscal situation. However despite this several procurement deals have already moved forward and the Indian Army's budget has been expanded so as to allow the 17th crops plan to progress unimpeded.

  4. @aritra ghose

    32 VLS cells ready to fire and 32 missiles for reload

  5. The cause of de-stabilisation was Indian Armys Cold Start Doctrine. Pakistan TNW are the response. UNSC seat will never happen in your life time or mine, unless kashmir is solved.

  6. Sir any news of Putin raising sale of Mig 35 with Modiji? Regards

  7. Sir,

    Thanks a lot for answering my query but a few others have popped up as well. I humbly request that you may answer the same.

    1) How are the missiles loaded into the vls cells? Some sources say "electro -hydraulic mechanism" loads the missiles into the empty vls once spent canisters are removed using a crane. Is this true?

    2) Any elaboration to the first?

    3) Is th SR SAM program the same as or running parallel to the maitri program.

  8. Modi government is all but noise and playing to the gallery. He is turning out to be a sheep in lions clothing.

  9. Just read an interesting article on BRICS and its connection with downed Malaysian airline(?). The following is the link

  10. There is always a mention of the ARJUN Tank in one of your article or any other article of a indian defence analyst if it's such a good tank all you guys keep mentioning it, that it doesn't get bought by the army because of the Russian tanks but some secretary of defense or some top official should have read it somewhere or the other and still the army doesn't buy these tanks , than is the army so biassed towards indian military hardware even if the Navy is using more in digitized product .You should explain as you are an army veteran


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