China-India border dispute

Indian army would be no match for China if Doklam border row erupts

K.S. Venkatachalam hopes both countries will choose to talk to end the border impasse, as India is clearly underprepared to face any imminent Chinese attack while Beijing would have a lot to lose on the world stage

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 August, 2017, 10:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 August, 2017, 7:12pm

Amid the India-China standoff over the Doklam plateau, a report by India’s Comptroller and Auditor General, tabled in Parliament last month, has raised serious questions about the nation’s defence preparedness.

It pointed out that the army’s ammunition could last only 10 days – against the requirement of 20 days for any intense battle. And it questioned state-run ammunition suppliers, the Ordinance Factory Board, over quality and inordinate delays.

The report indicts the army, air force and navy over operational preparedness. It also raises concerns over the quality of India’s medium-range surface-to-air missiles, which have failed basic tests. The army has refused to accept the missiles and also questioned the quality of ammunition supplied. The report further pointed out that no missiles had been deployed at six designated sites near the Indo-China border to act as a deterrent.

In early June, Indian army chief Bipin Rawat said they were “fully ready” for war. That claim rings hollow following the CAG report.

India’s air force is seeking 42 squadrons of jets (750 combat aircraft), against the present 33 squadrons. Moreover, as many of its ageing Russian aircraft, in service since the 1960s, will soon be decommissioned, there is an urgent need to strengthen air power. The problem has been compounded by an alarming number of crashes of the ageing aircraft: 39 in the past four years.

China, meanwhile, has been steadily modernising its forces. Its defence budget stands at US$152 billion, against India’s US$51 billion.

China dwarfs India in overall defence capabilities. It hasaround four times as many submarines as India; almost double the number of fighter planes; and its missile system can hit targets 14,000km away, against India’s 5,000km range. Finally, it has double the troop strength of India and nearly three times the number of nuclear warheads. India’s well-trained ground troops, currently rated among the best in the world, are however a counterbalancing factor.

Explore the China-India border stand-off

To strengthen its armed forces, New Delhi recently decided to allocate US$416 billion over five years to ensure India is better prepared for war. The worry is that it will take another five to 10 years to overhaul its defence capabilities. Experts believe India is underprepared to face the Chinese in the event of an imminent attack.

Any war, especially between two nuclear-armed nations, is a zero-sum game. It is unlikely that China would attack India, as it could have too much to lose, regionally and globally. Let’s hope the leaders of both countries will show the wisdom to de-escalate tensions and engage in meaningful dialogue to end the impasse.

K.S. Venkatachalam is an independent columnist and political commentator