India's New Arms Have Pakistan in Focus


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Feb 19, 2009
A shift in India's strategic defense thinking has become increasingly apparent over the months following the Mumbai terror attack in November.

Before the Mumbai attacks, India's military infrastructure was predominantly oriented to building against a long-term threat from China, aided by some plodding from a U.S. keen to counter Beijing's rise in the region.

Post-11/26, however, there is every sign that India's defense preparedness is more focused on the immediate threat from Pakistan. India's massive $50 billion defense modernization plans are being tweaked accordingly.

Indian intelligence agencies have warned that a conflict situation with Pakistan could arise suddenly due to Islamabad's shaky political situation, as well as the potential for terror groups or rogue elements in the country to launch attacks, even via lethal bombs that may be stolen or secretly supplied.

"The military arms, Army, Navy, Air Force, have made it increasingly clear to the political establishment that India should not be found wanting in dealing with Pakistan," a senior defense official told World Politics Review. "While the threat from China is perceived and on paper, from Pakistan it is real and has to be addressed right away."

Accordingly, India last week successfully test-fired the advanced version of its indigenously developed nuclear-capable Prithvi II short-range ballistic missile. The missile has most of Pakistan's eastern cities within its strike range of 150 km to 350 km, and can deliver a nuclear payload of between 500 kg and 1 ton.

This is the third consecutive successful missile test for the state-run Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) within the last month and a half. All the tests have been aimed specifically at building the next level of defense capabilities to match Pakistan.

After failing the first trial, the new version of the 290 km-range supersonic BrahMos cruise missile -- apparently capable of delivering a nuclear warhead -- was successfully test-fired twice in Rajasthan, last month. BrahMos is an Indo-Russian joint venture.

The BrahMos test was followed by the third successful missile intercept test in Orissa last month as part of a plan to build an indigenously designed defense system against incoming ballistic missiles by 2010, one more powerful than the anti-missile system being procured from Israel. An effective ballistic missile defense (BMD) system is considered to be a key weapon in thwarting the threat of asymmetric elements firing stolen nuclear-tipped missiles at India from Pakistan or Bangladesh.

India has also been holding close talks with the U.S. to hasten BMD deployment. The first BMD test was in November 2006, and the second in December 2007.

New Delhi also signed a $1.4 billion deal with Israel to purchase a 70-km shore-based and sea-borne anti-missile air defense system. This is among the bigger defense deal between the two countries and the biggest military joint venture by India with a foreign country. Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) officially announced the deal last month, a month after it was inked, although corruption charges have threatened the project. (See Mayank Bubna's WPR Briefing).

In May this year, India should receive the first of three new Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) developed for the Indian Air Force by Israel Aerospace Industries at a price of $1.1 billion. Talks are underway for purchase of another three AWACS.

India's recent purchases from Israel also include aerostat radars to spot surreptitious guerilla attacks such as the one in Mumbai, where the attackers used dingy boats to infiltrate the city. The radars will be deployed at strategic points along the western border to warn against incoming enemy aircraft and missiles.

Pakistan, of course, continues to enjoy military aid and other largess from the U.S., given its status as an ally in the war against terror being fought in its northwestern tribal areas and Afghanistan.

The two main military suppliers to Pakistan are China and the U.S., while India's largest defense deals are with Russia, Israel and France.

In its latest move, the Obama administration has proposed a five-year $2.8 billion military aid package to Pakistan to fight militants. But the arms can as easily be deployed against India, which also believes that a bit of this U.S. assistance is being siphoned off for a low-intensity war against India. The military aid is in addition to $7.5 billion of civilian assistance from Washington to Pakistan over the next five years

Pakistan already possesses U.S. F-16 fighters, advanced artillery, radars and drones, while China has helped Islamabad develop its missile program. Though the Pakistan economy lags significantly behind India's and the country is seen as a failed state, it is no military lightweight.

The heightened tensions between India and Pakistan following the Mumbai attacks now mean that a South Asian arms race is imminent between the two neighbors that have fought wars in the past.

WPR Article | India's New Arms Have Pakistan in Focus

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