The United States and India have been strengthening their alliance particularly to contain growing China. However, India is no match to the Chinese military capability.
China-India relations never fully recovered from a 1962 war in which Chinese troops seized territory from India on their Himalayan border.
Recently, the Indian and Chinese forces faced each other across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which is 2,521-mile long border between five Indian states and Tibet. China has also heavily built-up infrastructure in Tibet to improve access to the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). It has also fielded Type 15 light tanks designed for the mountainous regions.
China has developed its military power in a quantum leap vis-à-vis India in the twenty-first century. India possesses around 600 combat aircraft to China’s 1,700; 14 submarines to the PLA Navy’s roughly 60; and 214 rocket artillery systems to China’s 1,550.
India is unable to match China due to various reasons. India is not as wealthy and devotes less of its budget to defense spending. Moreover, India’s defense acquisitions process is corrupt and politicized. Its Rafael like procurements run decades behind schedule.
India wants foreign arms producers to follow their “Made in India” idea which often complicates negotiations and results in costly delays and quality shortfalls.
Moreover, Indian Army consumes the lion’s share of defence budget and allocates it to fielding manpower-heavy World War II-style divisions, instead of funding modernization and expansion of the Navy and Air Force.
These problems are unlikely to be resolved in the near future. Therefore, it’s unrealistic for India to try to match China’s military power symmetrically.
Indian Military Capibility: The Himalayan Situation
Though India has significantly built up ground forces in the Himalayas in recent year, its assets on the border with China are siloed in their respective services and lack a unifying military headquarters to coordinate their activities in a crisis.
Currently, India’s strategy to relieve pressure on its Himalayan defenses is to threaten counterattacks into Chinese territory. Towards that end, India has prepositioned mechanized units could launch offensives into Tibet in the event of a war. But though armor may be useful for supporting infantry forces in mountainous terrain, it won’t fare well spearheading an offensive.
That’s because the border’s mountainous geography channels possible routes of attack into parallel finger-like corridors, preventing forces in one sector from reinforcing its neighbors. And mechanized forces advancing down those narrow avenues would be highly vulnerable to the precision-attack capabilities of the PLA, potentially resulting in Highway (or rather, mountain pass) of Death scenarios.
While China has built up extensive road infrastructure on its border with India, India has been slower to reciprocate. One issue is that a road intended to facilitate Indian troops movements could just as easily end up aiding the rapid ingress of attacking forces.
India’s Weak Air Force
India’s underfunded air force officially is required to field 42 squadrons—but due to retirements of aging inventory and inadequate procurement of new aircraft, it will fall in strength to just 26 squadrons in the 2020s.
Unless there’s a radical change in funding and acquisition speed, the IAF will have to accept the reality that it will field fewer than 42 squadrons.
India does not own Electronic Warfare agency; whereas China has formed its own Strategic Support Force years earlier.
Washington may have overly grandiose hopes that India will counter-balance China’s rise, however, Indian defence needs a lot of work to match China.