4 Lessons for India From China’s October 2019 Military Parade

 In China, GDI, Defense, Cyber/ICT, Indo-Pacific, India, Air, Information

With the People’s Republic of China (PRC) mark­ing its 70th found­ing anniver­sary on October 1, the grand mil­i­tary parade at Tiananmen Square was the high­light of the cel­e­bra­tions. It show­cased China’s new­er arms, ammu­ni­tion, and tech­nol­o­gy. Over 15,000 per­son­nel, 160 air­craft, and 580 pieces of mil­i­tary equip­ment par­tic­i­pat­ed in the mil­i­tary parade, includ­ing sophis­ti­cat­ed weapon­ry such as hyper­son­ic mis­siles, inter­con­ti­nen­tal-range land and sub­ma­rine-launched bal­lis­tic mis­siles, stealth com­bat and high-speed recon­nais­sance drones, and fifth-gen­er­a­tion fight­er jets.

China intend­ed to address both domes­tic and inter­na­tion­al audi­ences through this parade. At home, the lead­er­ship hoped that the parade would stir up feel­ings of nation­al­ism. Internationally, the dis­play of force was intend­ed as a warn­ing to the United States and China’s neigh­bors. Further, the parade reflect­ed the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) progress toward becom­ing a “world-class mil­i­tary” by 2050.

Although pol­i­cy­mak­ers and mil­i­tary lead­ers across the world were keep­ing a close eye on China’s mil­i­tary dis­play, per­haps those in India should have been pay­ing the most atten­tion. The parade was not direct­ed at India, but New Delhi can learn a lot from China’s use of mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion and its ongo­ing defense reforms. Here are four key lessons New Delhi can take from China’s 2019 mil­i­tary parade.

Improve Electronic and Cyber Warfare Capabilities

The PLA Strategic Support Force’s (SSF) con­tin­gent made its debut appear­ance at the mil­i­tary parade. Created in 2016, the SSF is respon­si­ble for China’s space, cyber, and elec­tron­ic war­fare capa­bil­i­ties; it was formed to cre­ate syn­er­gies between these dis­parate war­fare capa­bil­i­ties and exe­cute spe­cif­ic types of strate­gic mis­sions in the future. For India, which is a late starter in cyber and elec­tron­ic war­fare, the SSF’s debut in the parade should be a wake-up call to work on its infor­ma­tion war­fare capa­bil­i­ties with greater urgency. Not only does India lack doc­tri­nal clar­i­ty with regard to these types of war­fare (the National Security Strategy due lat­er this year is sup­posed to address this), the lack of inte­grat­ed the­ater com­mands and the frag­ment­ed com­mand struc­ture make the deploy­ment of infor­ma­tion war­fare in ser­vice-spe­cif­ic mis­sions dif­fi­cult.

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India’s announce­ment ear­li­er this year about its new tris­er­vice Defense Cyber Agency (DCA) indi­cate that India is tak­ing steps to inte­grate its elec­tron­ic and cyber capa­bil­i­ties at an oper­a­tional lev­el. However, the Army Training Command, which is respon­si­ble for for­mu­lat­ing the tris­er­vice doc­trine, suf­fers from inad­e­quate inter­ac­tions with the tech­ni­cal enti­ties respon­si­ble for col­lect­ing mil­i­tary intel­li­gence, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Corps of Signals, the Defense Information Assurance and Research Agency (DIARA), and the National Technical Reconnaissance Organization (NTRO). Unlike in China, India’s civil­ian sec­tor plays a minor role in enrich­ing the country’s cyber and elec­tron­ic war­fare tech­nolo­gies. As the nature of war­fare evolves and these tech­nolo­gies become the bedrock of future wars, India needs to be pre­pared to fight in this new style.

Strategically Modernize for Conventional Deterrence

The parade was the first time that China dis­played to the world the DF-17, a hyper­son­ic glide vehi­cle; the Dongfeng-41 (DF-41), a road-mobile inter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile; and the JL‑2, an inter­con­ti­nen­tal-range sub­ma­rine-launched bal­lis­tic mis­sile. Enhancing China’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capa­bil­i­ties against the United States, these mis­siles as well as the Jin- and Shang-class sub­marines clear­ly indi­cate that China has mod­ern­ized its armed forces with the strate­gic objec­tive of deter­ring U.S. involve­ment in the west­ern Pacific.

Pursuing strate­gic and tar­get­ed mod­ern­iza­tion is an impor­tant les­son India can take from China. India enjoys the upper hand against Pakistan in long wars due to the size of its armed forces, but the air skir­mish between the two coun­tries in February this year high­light­ed India’s vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. These vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties are due to India’s aging mil­i­tary hard­ware, out­dat­ed equip­ment, and poor infra­struc­ture. India can only deter Pakistan from engag­ing in short-term con­ven­tion­al skir­mish­es by tar­get­ed weapons acqui­si­tion and deploy­ment. India should aim to acquire and man­u­fac­ture spe­cial­ized con­ven­tion­al weapons that enhance its con­ven­tion­al deter­rence against Pakistan. This includes long-range ultra-light how­itzers, mul­ti-role fight­er air­craft, heavy scout vehi­cles, bet­ter qual­i­ty long-ranged snipers, light tanks and armored vehi­cles, and heavy-lift heli­copters.

Additionally, if India is com­mit­ted to its role of serv­ing as a “net secu­ri­ty provider” for the Indo-Pacific Region, it needs to con­tin­ue to strate­gi­cal­ly mod­ern­ize its navy in order to deter Chinese pres­ence in the Indian Ocean Region. Although India has made some progress on acquir­ing the tools of sea denial, such as sub­marines, sur­face-to-sur­face mis­siles, minesweep­ers, and mar­itime patrol air­craft, much of this progress has been incon­sis­tent. Despite the Indian gov­ern­ment recent­ly buy­ing 10 new Boeing P‑8I mar­itime patrol air­craft from the United States, only two of the navy’s Scorpene-class attack sub­marines have been com­mis­sioned (Project-75 has under­gone exten­sive delays), and the navy has been forced to rely on tem­po­rary clip-on minesweep­ing sys­tems since its project to build new Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMVs) though indige­nous con­struc­tion was can­celled last year. If India is seri­ous about its desire to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region, it needs to focus on strate­gi­cal­ly and effi­cient­ly mod­ern­iz­ing its navy.

Strategic Acquisition and Use of UAVs

China dis­played three types of unmanned vehi­cles at the mil­i­tary parade: the Gongji-11, a stealth attack drone; the DR‑8, a high-speed recon­nais­sance drone; and the HSU-001, an unmanned under­wa­ter vehi­cle. Beijing has deployed a net­work of air- and land-based drones to watch over the South China Sea’s con­test­ed islands and reefs, as well as land-based drones for land bound­ary sur­veil­lance.

Taking a cue from China, India needs to invest in a much big­ger fleet of unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles (UAVs) to be able to ade­quate­ly sur­veil its land and coastal bound­aries. Despite its 15,200 km land bound­ary, 7,516.6 km coast­line, and 3 mil­lion sq km exclu­sive eco­nom­ic zone, India only has a fleet of 100 drones. UAVs are use­ful tools for sur­veil­lance since they are cheap­er and less detectable than manned plat­forms, and they can oper­ate at alti­tudes and in envi­ron­ments unsuit­ed to manned sys­tems. Considering the his­to­ry of Pakistan’s infil­tra­tion in Kargil and increas­ing Chinese incur­sions in Arunachal Pradesh, India’s need for effec­tive and afford­able sur­veil­lance is clear. There has been some recog­ni­tion of this recent­ly, with India adding 54 Israeli HAROP attack drones to its fleet. However, if India is going to con­tin­ue to use UAVs for sur­veil­lance, then it will be nec­es­sary to update its oper­a­tional doc­trines to reflect this change. Starting with the upcom­ing nation­al secu­ri­ty strat­e­gy, India needs to deter­mine how drone war­fare and recon­nais­sance fits with­in it over­ar­ch­ing mil­i­tary doc­trine, in what the­aters the usage of drones would be the most effec­tive, what types of drones are nec­es­sary to meet oper­a­tional goals, and how it should go about acquir­ing (for­eign bought ver­sus indige­nous­ly built) drones that it will need for the future. India should learn from China’s exam­ple and be more strate­gic about its use and acqui­si­tion of UAVs.

Focus on the Indigenization of the Defense Industry

According to the Global Times, all weapons dis­played at China’s mil­i­tary parade were indige­nous­ly made. Domestically pro­duced arms are one of the cor­ner­stones of the PLA’s mod­ern­iza­tion dri­ve and this is reflect­ed by the fact that six of the world’s top 15 defense firms are Chinese. In com­par­i­son, India’s track record for defense indi­g­e­niza­tion is poor. India relies heav­i­ly on defense imports, despite repeat­ed rec­om­men­da­tions of defense indi­g­e­niza­tion by sev­er­al high-lev­el com­mit­tees. In order to increase self-reliance and reduce imports, India needs to step up its indige­nous defense devel­op­ment by incen­tiviz­ing the pri­vate sec­tor to devel­op and man­u­fac­ture weapon sys­tems. A key strat­e­gy of China’s mod­ern­iza­tion has been the use of its civil­ian sec­tors for enhanc­ing its defense capa­bil­i­ties, and India needs to sim­i­lar­ly stim­u­late such an inter­ac­tion between its pri­vate indus­try and its defense indus­try.

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China’s jour­ney toward devel­op­ing a “world-class mil­i­tary” was inspired by the United States’ mil­i­tary tech­nol­o­gy and capa­bil­i­ties, and Beijing spent decades learn­ing from the U.S. mod­el. In that vein, China’s mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion should inspire and per­haps push India to strive for the same by learn­ing the right lessons from China’s recent mil­i­tary dis­play.

Author is a Research Analyst work­ing on China at The Takshashila Institution. He writes a week­ly newslet­ter on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army called The Takshashila PLA Insight.

Source: The Diplomat

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