Modernization of the Asian military forces

Author : Donatien BERTAUD. Translated by : Uriel N’GBATONGO.

In Asia due to the rise of regional powers which are trying to get a worldwide influence the military forces are being profoundly modernized.

In the aftermath of the XIXth the Chinese Communist Party congress, the president XI Jinping reaffirmed his will to build of world-class Chinese army by 2050. Thus, creating a powerful army capable of shouldering China as a major power and capable of facing the challenges of modern warfare as well as the rise of many rivals.
As we can see on the second graph, there has been a fast growth of the Asian military budget, partially due to the Indian and Chinese power. China turned its back at the idea of keeping a low profile, thinking that its momentum has come. As for India, nowadays it is increasingly galvanized by nationalism. Hence, in front of the increasing influence of China, and its vague desire in the Pakistanis region, India is trying to build a modern army capable of facing any potential rival (that is to say China and Pakistan, a state with which its diplomatic relations have always been complicated).
The nationalist influence is not only active in India but also in China where officials are now willing to bury definitively the « century of the shame » and to see being reborn the Middle Kingdom. These current tendencies also affect Japan where nationalists wish to see a revision of the national Constitution and to modernize the Japanese self-defense equipment. As a consequence, the increasing ambition of these armies is pulling a chain reaction. Other states, for fear of being exceeded by these armies which are to be far more important by around thirty years, have tried to strengthen their own military forces.

This chain reaction was introduced by China and India. As for India, it wishes to have a decisive political role concerning the South Asian region and to establish its dominion over the Indian Ocean so as to become again the Indian’s ocean. As for China, it wishes to become the next counter power against the United States and to develop an army which would be more suited to its current economic and politic power and influence. Nevertheless, a good strategy does not serve only one objective. This increasing military power actually serves economic, technologic and military, power too. Indeed, this modernization of the army of both countries, among the most populated one, is a mean to assure the safety of their maritime supply routes. Having open their economy and integrate globalization, China and India are now dependent of their maritime borders. Their economy is now supported by their exportation but also by the supply of foreign raw materials they receive. Is this observation is less true for India, China has recognized for a long time the problem and has tried to solve it by adding a military approach to the protection of the new silk road. In order to defend its maritime supply routes India and China are basing their respective military investment on the navy. Indeed, ships and submarines are also for these two countries to the challenges put by modern war. The launch of the second Chinese aircraft carrier (2), this one takes part of the « two ocean strategy » (3), developed by Xi Jinping, which consist in building a navy that is deployable farther inland.
Having capacities of deployment in deep water this navy can insure the safety of the worldwide Chinese supply routes and meet the requirement of the « two ocean strategy » which aim at setting up the Chinese army in both the Pacific and Indian Ocean. This aircraft carrier thus answers many Chinese objectives. First of all, it gives to China a worldwide projection capacity, then it allows governments to defend their economic and politic interests. However, a single aircraft carrier is not enough to be effective. That is why the Chinese government is also trying to acquire battleships and corvettes shape a whole new army. It is also important to note that this aircraft carrier has been produced locally. Thus, meaning that China does only increase its equipment but also develops a military production and maintenance capacity. Experts among whom certain members of the CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) emitted doubts as for the quality of this aircraft carrier. It turns out that the Chinese aircraft carrier is technologically comparable to a modern aircraft carrier or at least compounds elements which build the power of these war machines such as the electromagnetic catapult (4). This point is important as it shows the technological capacity of the Chinese shipyard. Indeed, this aircraft carrier can embark more planes, ammunitions, fuel, and spare parts than average one. As for India, it is longing at developing a modern aircraft carrier locally produced too. This one would benefit from the same system of electromagnetic catapult and nuclear propulsion but will not be ready before 2030 according to the national government forecasts (5).
In front of this increase of the naval strength, the various regional actors have decided to develop fighting fleets and air-to-surface missiles. These missiles would allow to pour or to damage significantly vessels admirals such as aircraft carriers, reducing largely the fire power of the fleet which accompanies them (6).

Furthermore, they are one of the mort essential elements for a denial of access strategy. This strategy aims at forbidding the access to a delimited zone considered as strategic by the installation of a blockade, an artillery or thanks to a striking force nearby which would possibly neutralize and impede the deployment of a rival army in this zone. Such a defensive strategy can insure a country an influence over a zone in which they can control the access as the leading stakeholder or at least a stakeholder whom it will be necessary to include during the discussions about these strategic maritime zones.

The development of a strong Navy also needs the building of submarines that India and China want to be able to produce indigenously. (6) China is already part way on this as we have seen with the fusion of two shipyard in order to create one of the largest Chinese processing plant for submarine (7), and with the restart of the construction of Chinese stealth submarine. (8) India has commissioned submarines to the French constructor Naval Group (former DCNS), which gave the plans to the Indian government and proceed to the construction of those in India according to the technology transfer contract, which was firmed between the two actors. (6) Those submarines will allow the creation of a force able to break open a blockade, threaten important channel of supply and pose a tangible threat on both military and civilian fleet sailing on the same waterways.

Furthermore, those submarines are often equipped with SLBM (submarine launched ballistic missile) which means that they are part of the nuclear deterrence forces of the country they belong to.
This capacity of deterrence is one of the key element of a significant military power. It offers a much larger importance on the international scene. If China and India possess nuclear weapon respectively since 1964 and 1974, those submarines bring with them a new element: a second-strike capability. Indeed, this second-strike capability is an essential element of nuclear deterrence for it allows a country to reduce the benefits of a preventive strike because even if this strike were to reach its aim neutralizing part of the arsenal of an adverse country, the aforementioned one will still be able to strike back with nuclear weapons launched from those submarines. Moreover, the interest of those submarines doesn’t limit to those nuclear strike. They also allow the use of SLBM in order to neutralize strategic targets.

The development of a renewed submarine force from China and India has generated a response from Pakistan which has also demonstrated its submarine power with the first test of an underwater launched ballistic missile during the past year. This launch demonstrates that Pakistan has the ability to strike a strategic target without exposing the whereabouts of the submarine which processed to the destruction of the target. In response other countries intend to acquire modern submarines such as: Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand. (9)

It doesn’t stop here states also develop their capacity to fight against submarine either by building or commissioning ship to this effect, or placing submarine sensors which would allow the surveillance of the main submarine waterways or even staging large anti-submarine warfare exercises.
This fight against submarines also consider the acquisition of airborne means of detection such as planes or helicopters.

This modernization is far from reaching only the Navy but has also an impact on air forces which are playing a capital role in the projection capacity. Indeed, they allow the rapid deployment of airborne infantry, a deterrence capacity with strategic bombers, and a capacity of denial of access due to the fact that those planes are the one carrying air to surface missile and are the more able to close in on carrier strike group. Air forces are an element all the more important that they allow to provide an aerial support to troops on the ground and to intervene in conflict without deploying infantry but only by offering this support which mainly depends on the projection ability of those different countries.
It is interesting to see that military aviation is nowadays approaching a turning point because the replacement of the actual fighter generation is right at the corner. Effectively, military technologies are characterized by their long research phases and even longer phases of deployment for sky high prices. The new generation of fighter jets is now being lead by planes such as the US F-35 and in Asia by the Chinese J-20. The J-20 is a “stealth” fighter jet indigenously produced (“stealth” because this element has been put to doubt by experts). For its parts India has joined a project with Russia in order to develop an equivalent fighter jet but disagreements are retarding the project. The technology behind those fighter jets would allow the two countries to possess weapons equivalent to the one of the most modern armies. This may also allow them to get a technic know-how in the domain of planes production which might be useful in the civilian industry because China aims to create its own civilian planes with the COMAC (Chinese SOE for plane production).

Therefore, by developing this technology the two counties can hope for important economic fallout in the civilian industry while getting a high-end military and assuring local production capacities.
Finally, it is necessary to consider the fact that China and India while aiming for a modern military are not neglecting the rise of new aspects of conflicts and the new spaces which they encompass such as: cyberspace and space.

The forms of this consideration have been ambitious reforms put in place by the Chinese government to develop a cyber expertise (10) and the creation of missiles able to destroy satellites as Beijing as shown us with the destruction of one of its own.

We have seen a modernization of the most important armies in Asia the movement has been spearheaded by China and India the two giants and has now spread to neighboring countries.

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