The onset of Cold War 2.0 is evident, with numerous ongoing conflicts worldwide and the global situation resembling a powder keg. Lt Gen Raj Shukla, former Army Commander of ARTRAC (Army Training Command) and UPSC Member, emphasises the urgent need for a comprehensive national security overhaul in India. This, he suggests, is crucial to mitigate the power asymmetry with China in the context of the prevailing global instability. In an exclusive interview with Nitin Gokhale, Editor-in-Chief of BharatShakti, the former Army Commander highlights how the diminishing power of American deterrence has put the world on a precarious edge. The downslide is apparent in the hot wars in Ukraine and West Asia, as well as the daily Chinese military coercion in Taiwan and the South China Sea. The gist of various issues that were discussed in the interview are presented below.
American’s Failing Deterrence
Highlighting the current situation unfolding in Taiwan, Gen Shulka observed that the Chinese anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) system has effectively pushed the Americans out of the South China Sea. In 1996, when Clinton deployed an aircraft carrier in the Taiwan Straits, China backed down. However, today, American Navy commanders acknowledge that US aircraft carriers must maintain a distance of 1000 miles; only expandable ships can venture closer because of the Chinese threat.
China engages in daily military coercion, seemingly signalling for the United States to retreat to its corner of the Pacific. American deterrence is faltering, evidenced by the falling strength of the US military. Their defence strategy explicitly identifies China as the threat, pacing ahead and indicating a need for prevention, which is proving challenging. Presently, the US struggles to uphold its commitments to Taiwan, even with a $19 billion aid pledge. Despite a $950 billion defence budget, 800 bases, and 11 aircraft carriers, the US finds itself at a disadvantage, losing ground in various theatres.
Referring to Admiral Samuel Paparo, US Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Gen Shukla underscores the transformative impact of Chinese missiles DF21 & DF 27, labeled as carrier killers, permanently altering naval warfare principles in the Western Pacific.
Examining the state of its military industry reveals apprehensive findings. Reports suggest that the US lacks a sufficient stockpile of missiles and ammunition to sustain a conflict in Taiwan for seven days. Over the past three years, the US Army and Marines have consistently missed their recruiting targets. By 2025, China is projected to have 400 ships, surpassing America’s fleet of 295. The balance of military power is shifting.
In Ukraine, the West faces challenges as the Ukrainians fire 100 thousand artillery rounds per week, a quantity the West could only produce in a month, creating a shortfall. Russia is gaining an advantage through its military strength. The staggering US debt of 33 trillion dollars is added to the concern, surpassing the defence budget for the first time in history. This deficit means limited resources for military revitalization.
If the US is getting marginalised in East Asia, a unipolar region may emerge, presenting challenges. A unipolar Asia dominated by China would be even more concerning. The critical question arises: if the U.S. withdraws support from Ukraine, it sends a message to Iran, North Korea, and China. The global repercussions are significant, with winners emerging in Russia and Europe, while Iran, West Asia, and China benefit from the shifting dynamics. Americans are failing in their deterrence.
What Are the Implications for India?
In delineating the repercussions for India and the United States, Gen Shukla highlighted a major concern regarding how China translates economic surpluses and technological advantages into tangible military power. He emphasised the importance of closely monitoring China’s prowess in this aspect by the Americans and Indians.
In the Indian context, the defence landscape has undergone significant transformation post 2014, marked by initiatives such as Atmanirbhar Bharat and the establishment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). However, the challenges are escalating, particularly concerning our ability to convert economic surpluses into forms of hard power, if we lag behind China. Despite China facing various issues like economic downturn and unemployment in the era of globalization 2.0, the ORF report underscores that China is leading in 37 out of 44 technologies, including AI, robotics, electric vehicles, green energy, and quantum. This discrepancy raises concerns for India.
The military capabilities that China deploys, such as the rocket force in Taiwan, could potentially be redirected towards India. Consequently, the singularity of American hegemony is encountering challenges on multiple fronts. The traditional belief in the arsenal of democracy, where a robust military protects, is faltering, while the arsenal of autocracy appears to be more effective. This dynamic reflects a broader struggle between the two contrasting systems.
India Requires Extensive Military Transformation to Counter China
Advocating for a comprehensive national security overhaul, the former Army Commander emphasised the necessity of reducing the power asymmetry with China. Building upon existing foundations, such as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), and initiatives like Atmanirbhar Bharat, is imperative. A strategic outlook, technological advancements, and associated changes like cultural transitions and civil-military fusion are essential for achieving a comprehensive national security makeover and diminishing the power disparity with China.
Noteworthy is China’s defence spending, which was 2.5% of its GDP in 1995 and escalated to 1.7% last year. China managed its significant military transformation without incurring exorbitant costs. In stark contrast, the United States boasts a defence budget three times larger than China’s. The cause for concern in Washington stems from Beijing’s structural corrections, implementation of theatre commands, and effective cultural transitions. India must strive to instil similar confidence, as in Beijing, by adopting comparable measures and initiatives.
Kick-start AI and Quantum Advancements Through Cultural Transitions
It is crucial to examine the advancements made by China and the US in the realms of AI and quantum to kick-start a dialogue on these technologies in India. General Shukla emphasises the necessity for cultural transitions, urging innovators from diverse backgrounds to engage in the debate and significantly reduce the power asymmetry. The imperative actions and discussions must commence promptly in India, advocating for establishing a parallel quantum mission within the Ministry of Defence (MoD) or quantum links to the MoD through civil-military fusion.
In the military domain, the transformative potential of start-ups surpasses that of established entities like DRDO. General Shukla underscores the importance of fostering a talent-matching contest as part of the cultural transitions needed. Conceptually, a substantial shift is proposed within the armed forces from focusing solely on combat to becoming deterrence-focused. The aim is to develop a robust deterrent capability to diminish the need for direct conflict.
Despite the perception of the Army as a technology laggard, General Shukla highlights the notable progress made in this domain. However, he emphasises the urgency of scaling start-ups to address the evolving Chinese threat effectively. The call is for proactive measures, cultural transitions, and strategic shifts to ensure India remains at the forefront of AI and quantum advancements.
Advocating for Joint Training: ARTRAC Transformation
General Shukla strongly emphasises the imperative of joint training, proposing that the Training Command – ARTRAC – adopt a joint approach encompassing the Army, Navy and Air Force. The evolution of armed forces thinking must align with a joint perspective, extending beyond training to encompass doctrines, literature, and innovations. Drawing inspiration from the United States Army’s establishment of future commands, General Shukla acknowledges the practical constraints in replicating such structures but suggests that ARTRAC should proactively focus on future scenarios and innovations.
In this context, he highlights the example of the US Army entrusting a 4-star general responsible for driving future initiatives. General Shukla recommends a similar commitment to drive innovations in the Indian context, proposing that the responsibility for training be delegated to 3-star generals.
Identifying urgent steps, he stresses the need for armed forces officers to exhibit imagination in innovation, ideation, and collaboration with academia and the private sector. Scaling up initiatives and integrating technology into the military domain are crucial strategies to address future challenges effectively. The transformation of ARTRAC into a joint training command reflects the strategic shift needed to ensure preparedness and innovation within the Indian armed forces.
(Note: Click the following BharatShakti’s YouTube Channel link to watch the full interview “India Needs Military Makeover To Counterbalance China” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWQ5ScqsD2g)