The Indian Armed forces displayed a renewed assertiveness in dealing with national security challenges in 2017 — be it the 73-day-long border face-off with Chinese troops in Doklam, containing militancy in Kashmir or aggressive deployment of warships in critical sea lanes. But they had their share of controversies also, including the use of a Kashmiri as a ‘human shield’ and subsequent award to the young officer who tied the civilian to the front of a jeep. The incident had triggered huge outrage.
Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat’s comments that those obstructing the armed forces in anti-terror operations would be treated as overground workers of militant organisations also drew flak in the Kashmir Valley. On the operational front, a new ‘mission-ready’ plan for aggressive deployment of warships in critical sea lanes was made operational by the Navy which came just a month before India joining hands with Japan, the US, and Australia to form a quadrilateral bloc to pursue common interests in China-dominated Indo-Pacific region.
Another highlight of the year was the government unveiling a much-awaited policy under which select private firms would be roped in to build key military platforms like submarines and fighter jets in India in partnership with global defence firms. Though the policy was announced in May, nothing concrete has taken place on the ground for its implementation. The much ambitious modernisation plan of the three forces also moved at snail’s pace.
As the Army was reeling under severe shortage of ammunition and other hardware for “short duration wars”, the government vested full financial power on the force to directly to carry out required procurement, in another significant policy decision. Since beginning of the year, the Army pursued an aggressive anti-terror policy in Jammu and Kashmir, at the same time, forcefully responding to all ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops along the Line of Control with a tit-for-tat approach.
In May, the Army said it launched “punitive fire assaults” on Pakistani positions across the Line of Control, inflicting “damage”, days after two of its troopers were beheaded, reflecting its policy of ‘hot pursuit’ against Pakistani ‘misadventure’. The policy earned it criticism from local people and its intensity grew significantly when an young army officer used a Kashmiri man as a ‘human shield’ from stone throwers by tying him to an army jeep in April.
Notwithstanding the criticism, the Army Chief Bipin Rawat defended the act and even conferred the officer Commendation medal when a Court of Inquiry was finalising its probe into the incident. “This is a proxy war and proxy war is a dirty war. It is played in a dirty way,” Rawat had famously said nearly two months after the incident, triggering another wave of criticism.
However, the Army earned kudos for its “mature” handling of the Doklam standoff, which was the most serious since a similar standoff in the 1980s. Troops of India and China were locked in a 73-day-long standoff in Doklam since June 16 after the Indian side stopped the building of a road in the disputed area by the Chinese Army. Bhutan and China have a dispute over Doklam. The face-off had ended on August 28. “The Indian Army stood firm in Doklam in the face of heightened rhetoric by China. We earned compliments from a number of neighbouring countries for not succumbing to Chinese tactics,” said a top official of the defence ministry.
Days after the end of the face-off, Gen. Rawat said India cannot afford to let its guard down against China, insisting China has started “flexing its muscles”. The Army has been strengthening its infrastructure along the nearly 4,000 km-long Sino-India border since then. Soon after the standoff was over, the Army finalised one of its biggest procurement plans for infantry modernisation under which a large number of light machine guns, battle carbines and assault rifles are to be purchased at a cost of nearly Rs 40,000 crore to replace its ageing and obsolete weapons.
In September, the Army finalised a plan to induct women in the military police, seen as a major step towards inducting women into combat stream. On the naval front, the Navy significantly ramped up deployment of its warships in the Indian Ocean region as part of the ‘mission-ready’ plan besides enhancing cooperation with a number of strategically key countries including Singapore.
During the Malabar exercise in July, India, Japan and the US demonstrated unity of purpose in dealing with common maritime challenges. The Navy has also taken a series of key measures to bolster its strike capability including commissioning of Scorpene-class submarine INS. Showcasing its growing assertiveness, the foiled a number of piracy attempts on commercial vessels in the Indian Ocean region.
In November, the Indian Air Force successfully test fired the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile Brahmos from a Sukhoi-30 combat jet for the first time. The deadly missile is being integrated into a total of 40 Sukhoi jets as part of a mega project to bolster IAF’s strike capability. The IAF was dogged by a string of accidents involving a number of its fighter jets and attack helicopters.
The year 2017 also witnessed India’s growing defence and security ties with the US, Japan and Russia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held bilateral talks with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in in Manila in November during which the two leaders pledged that the two countries should have the world’s greatest militaries.
The year saw change of guards in the Defence Ministry. In September, Nirmala Sitharaman took charge as India’s first full-time woman defence minister, succeeding Arun Jaitley. Jaitley was handling the defence ministry after Manohar Parrikar quit to become the Goa’s chief minister in March.