December 2021 witnessed the most horrific helicopter crash which claimed the life of the nation’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, alongside others. The last two months also saw growing terrorist incidents in the North East, including an ambush on an army convoy that claimed the life of a Commanding Officer of Assam Rifles, Colonel Viplav Tripathi, his family and four others.
The ambush in Nagaland’s Mon district which resulted in 14 dead in early December only proved that peace in the North East is still some distance away and tactical errors could alienate society. These could also lead to increased demands for the abolition of AFSPA, which could push back gains made over the last few decades.
In Jammu and Kashmir, while security forces achieve success regularly and the ceasefire continues to hold, targeting of innocents and unarmed police personnel continues. Protests during encounters to support trapped terrorists have almost ended. Infiltration has witnessed a drop. Though the situation has considerably improved, and tourism has increased, peace still eludes the region.
The standoff with China has entered the second winter. Increased troop deployment has become the norm and will remain even if peace is restored. Despite multiple rounds of talks all friction points have not been addressed and the trust deficit continues. This will flow into the coming year. Diplomatically, India’s relations with both neighbours, Pakistan and China remained cold in 2021.
During this year, capability enhancement was an ongoing process. For the IAF, 33 of the contracted 36 Rafale aircraft have already landed on Indian soil. The balance would arrive early next year. The second Rafale squadron has been activated at Hashimara in West Bengal. Tejas aircraft are being inducted and air power would witness a quantum leap. The HAMMER air to ground precision-guided weapon systems for the Rafale would arrive soon. The first battery of the S-400 missile system has reached India and is in the process of being deployed, adding to air defence capabilities. The majority of the balance systems are expected in 2022, with delivery completed in 2023.
The army finally saw the signing of the AK-203 assault rifle deal, which would be manufactured in Amethi under technology transfer. In addition, anti-drone systems, ammunition for tanks, loitering ammunition and man-portable air defence systems have been inducted. The artillery witnessed a quantum leap with multiple gun systems with longer ranges, accuracy and enhanced destructive power introduced. The army also issued a request for information to procure indigenously developed launchers, observer stations and additional loitering ammunition for its forces. The army aviation has expanded with aviation brigades under raising. Infrastructure and improved connectivity along the borders continue being developed at a rapid pace.
The Navy commissioned the first of its P 15 destroyers, Visakhapatnam, as also the fourth of the six indigenous Scorpene-Class Submarines. The second aircraft carrier, Vikrant, also built indigenously, is undergoing a second phase of sea trials. It is likely to be inducted into the navy by August 2022. The debate for the third aircraft carrier continues. The navy has obtained the first few MH 60R multi-role helicopters, the delivery for which will continue in 2022. It is currently seeking light helicopters.
With the testing of the AGNI-P medium-range ballistic missile, India has reduced the time needed for a nuclear launch. MIRV technology would be developed over the next two years. The AGNI V launch in Oct this year projected that India is no pushover and conflicts with India will have to be regionalised and kept below nuclear thresholds.
The new CDS is likely to be appointed shortly. He will be expected to fill the big boots left behind by General Bipin Rawat and pursue the process initiated for the creation of theatre commands. The defence minister had stated that the process will adhere to laid down timelines. However, discussions on structures and methodology for their creation would continue. The studies ordered on new theatre commands are expected to be finalised by mid-2022. The first theatre command may finally roll out in 2023.
Simultaneously, the new CDS would need to concentrate on the development of joint capabilities with the intention of maximising the bang for the buck. The first integrated capability development plan, replacing individual service capability development programmes, is expected to be released in 2022. Emphasis on indigenisation would remain the order of the day and the next list enhancing indigenous products to 65 percent of capital procurement can be expected to be issued in 2022. India cannot continue banking on import technologies.
With the COVID-19 scenario showing no signs of receding, the economy is unlikely to revive to the level that additional funds may be allocated for defence. This would impact defence preparedness. It would require astute handling by those at the helm to balance the capability development of the three services alongside infrastructure enhancement.
On the western front, infiltration attempts would continue, so would violence in the Valley. Pakistan would attempt to re-ignite terrorism south of Pir Panjal. Support to terrorist groups will be boosted by the change in government in Kabul and its ability to reign in anti-Pakistan terrorist groups, sparing Pakistan forces to redeploy along the Indian border. While terrorists would lack capabilities to challenge security forces, attacks on innocent civilians to create an environment of fear would be the order of the day.
Narco-terrorism will continue being the means utilised by Pakistan to fund ongoing terrorist activities. Continued pressure on overground workers and recruiters would keep numbers joining terrorist ranks low. An added role for security forces could possibly be the conduct of elections in Jammu and Kashmir as the delineation exercise is nearing completion.
Pakistan would continue exploiting Indian cultural and religious fault-lines through disinformation campaigns on social media to enhance tensions within the country, resulting in India employing its diplomacy to dent adverse global fallouts. Punjab, as it moves towards elections, may witness added incidents of terrorism.
Tensions and enhanced deployment would remain along the LAC. Troops would remain on alert to thwart any attempts at infiltration and salami slicing. New Chinese land laws and increased border settlements would pose a security risk. China would attempt to push Myanmar-based terrorist groups to launch increased attacks seeking to ensure that the army withdraws additional troops deployed along the LAC for counter-terrorist actions. It would keep moving drugs into the North East to fund anti-national activities. Salami slicing actions along the LAC would remain localised as China would avoid entering into a military confrontation.
Whether the current government remains in power in Pakistan is a moot question. There are already indicators that there is likely to be a change. This may bode well for India. With China focused on the Beijing Winter Olympics, further Chinese offensive actions may be expected post conclusion of winters. Whether the leaders of the RIC (Russia-India-China) group meet in 2022, remains a question mark. If they do, it could ease tensions along the LAC.
The year 2022 would witness further enhancement of India’s defence capabilities. Cohesion between the three services would improve. Changes in structures, including within the Department of Military Affairs, resulting in increased effectiveness of the forces may occur. External land threats would remain as in 2021. India’s missile capabilities, which would be the main deterring factor for its adversaries, would witness substantial growth. Diplomatically, India’s relations with Pakistan and China would remain strained, while globally they would witness a leap forward.
The author is a former Indian Army officer, strategic analyst and columnist. Views expressed are personal.