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Last Updated: Friday, 9 May, 2003, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
India-Pakistan military balance

By Jonathan Marcus
BBC defence correspondent

In straight numerical terms of population, economic might, military manpower and equipment it is almost meaningless to speak about an India-Pakistan balance.

"Imbalance" would be a more appropriate term since India dominates in every respect.

What has to be understood from the outset is that the two countries have very different military aspirations.

Indian Agni II missile
India is eager to project its power in the region

India sees itself as a rising regional actor, and it sees military power as one element in this process.

As any aspiring regional player must do, it looks around for potential partners and potential enemies.

China too has growing regional ambitions. The two countries need not be enemies, but clearly India's military planners must have at least one eye on China as they draw up their own modernisation proposals.

Pakistan is in an altogether different position. It seeks to provide itself with the military means to deter any pressure from India.

It cannot match India man-for-man or gun-for-gun. But as it modernises its armed forces, it can seek to invest in those technologies that maximise its capabilities and take an effective toll against any enemy.

India modernises

India's broader strategic goals mean that it is pursuing an ambitious modernisation programme across all of its armed services.

The air force is getting the largest share of new money, with plans for new combat aircraft, airborne warning and control systems and missiles.

The army is destined to get new tanks and new artillery.

The navy hopes to deploy new Russian-built warships, along with home-constructed vessels, new aircraft carriers and new submarines.

The plan is to spend some $95bn over the next 15 years. How far these plans actually come to fruition will depend both on economics and upon potential suppliers.

India also has huge maintenance problems, in part due to the poor supply of spares from Russia but also to inadequate local servicing facilities.

India is eager to boost its own impressive arms industry but for the foreseeable future, many "big ticket" items will come from abroad.

Russian supplies

Russia is still the principal source of advance weaponry and looks set to continue in this role.

A protocol signed between the two governments in June 2001 covers Russian supplies of some $10bn worth of weaponry and other military hardware over the coming decade.

In January, India agreed to lease four nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-22 long-range bombers from Russia along with two nuclear-powered submarines.

India is also developing a close and little-reported relationship with Israel, whose own arms industry has much to offer in terms of cutting-edge technology

India is seeking to blend Russian, western and local technology in an effort to tailor its military equipment to its own needs. The Sukhoi Su-30 Mk I fighter is a good example.

The first squadron of these advanced fighters entered service last September. Their hi-tech control systems incorporate a number of Indian and Western built elements, incorporated into the Russian air-frame.

Interestingly, India is interested in Russian air defence systems as well, with persistent reports that India's long-term aim is to deploy an anti-ballistic missile system of its own, perhaps based upon the Russian S-300VM system.

It is not surprising then that India has responded in generally positive terms to US President George W Bush's proposals for limited missile defence.

Delhi is also developing a close and little-reported relationship with Israel, whose own arms industry has much to offer in terms of cutting-edge technology, especially in fields like unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and air-launched munitions.

India's rise is acknowledged in Washington and there is a lot of talk about a potential US-Indian strategic partnership, though nuclear-proliferation issues continue to dog relations.

China helps Pakistan

In the face of India's growing military arsenal, Pakistan is seeking to modernise its forces.

Clearly, it has put a good deal of effort into the nuclear and missile fields - areas where it can at least offer some credible deterrent against a potential threat.

China remains Pakistan's principal arms supplier, though Pakistan's purchases are modest in comparison to India's.

Some sort of strategic understanding between the two countries is important

It has recently begun to receive the first deliveries of 50 Chinese F-7MG aircraft. And the two countries continue to collaborate on a joint programme for a new combat jet.

Pakistan also gets small amounts of sophisticated weaponry from France, notably eight upgraded Mirage III and Mirage V combat aircraft.

France is also supplying Pakistan with new, badly needed, diesel submarines. The first was commissioned in late 1999, with two more being built under licence in Karachi.

Pakistan is also eager to diversify its arms purchases - it bought battle tanks from Ukraine and is reportedly exploring the possibility of starting local production of an upgraded version known as the Al Khalid.

This is a priority since India recently signed a deal to buy over 300 Russian T-90 tanks.

But overall India's conventional dominance is something that Pakistan cannot match.

Its essential policy is to have sufficient forces to inflict heavy casualties on any attacker in the event of a war, while relying upon its nuclear forces to deter any conflict in the first place.

This is why some sort of strategic understanding between the two countries is important.

The development of their military doctrine - how and in what circumstances long-range missiles or even nuclear weapons might be used - has not kept pace with the physical development of such weapons.

India clearly has far more military options than Pakistan. But its chief strategic concern is China. Pakistan in turn is worried by India's military modernisation.

This is a complex triangular relationship which in purely strategic terms may be hard to isolate in terms of just the relationship between Delhi and Islamabad.

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