After a nine-month-long standoff, the satellite images from the banks of Pangong Tso show India and China are pulling back troops. The area has been one of the flashpoints for a long time.
In late January, the Chinese military had built multiple camps, along with the deployment of soldiers and placement of military equipment. All of these have been removed.
China has already withdrawn 150 tanks and nearly 5,000 soldiers. And more will follow but this will not end the standoff as some flashpoints still remain. And China has not really had a change of heart. It is just the change of tactics.
So, what should India do? What should be Delhi’s post-Ladakh strategy?
India is revamping its defence strategy in three broad ways – processes, procurement and partnerships. It is integrating its armed forces, upgrading weapons and strengthening its military alliances.
First, the reorganisation of the armed forces. It began with the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff. A position that was created by Modi Government. Besides being the single point military adviser to the defence minister, the CDS was given another critical job, which is the integration of the operations of the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy.
General Bipin Rawat was appointed as India’s first CDS last year. A year into the job, he is now ready with a plan. According to a report, the first joint commands are ready for a roll out.
What are joint commands?
They are units and resources from different branches of the armed forces. They are combined under a single branch with a dedicated commander. This commander takes care of what is called a geographical theatre. The air defence command and the maritime theatre command could be launched by May.
Both of these commands will pay a critical role in boosting India’s defences against Pakistan And China. The air defence command will be set up in Prayagraj. This command will control all the air defence resources of all three services.
The maritime theatre command will be headquartered in Karwar on the west coast. Its job will be to protect the Indian ocean, India’s island territories and to keep the sea lanes free and open. It is essential, not just for India but the country’s allies too.
The maritime command will have assets from the Indian Army and Air Force.
India plans to reorganise its forces into five theatre commands by 2022. So, we expect three more to come in by next year. The reports say there will be one command each for China and Pakistan. India’s defence resources will be integrated into these commands.
Secondly, the country will also be procuring the much-needed weapons upgrades. The work on this front already began last year. In the last six months, India has signed at least 10 defence deals. It includes 83 new light combat aircraft Tejas, 118 Arjun Mark-1a tanks, and tactical drones worth $20 million.
A $200 Million deal was also struck for Israeli spice bombs. These were used by the Indian Air Force during the Balakot air strike.
Even in the budget this year, the focus was on procurement.
While the overall defence budget was hiked by just over one per cent, the budget for military modernisation has been hiked by almost 19 per cent.
The Indian defence minister said this is the highest-ever increase in capital outlay for defence in 15 years. New and better weapons will improve India’s defences.
Thirdly, closer ties with like-minded countries could be a booster shot for India’s defence strategy. One of the possibilities could be The Quad and India is already on the track.
In a recent interview, Japanese ambassador to India Sato Shi Suzuki said both allies, India and Japan, had collaborated within India’s neighbourhood countries, such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Maldives.
It is to strengthen the Quad under the Indo-Pacific framework and this would be welcome news in the US. The new Biden administration is serious about the Quad. It wants this informal grouping to evolve into a formal alliance. Biden’s biggest challenge is China and he will need India’s help to deal with Beijing.