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Aw, India is less macho now
- Candid navy chief: Military no match for China’s might

New Delhi, Aug. 10: The country’s seniormost serving commander has admitted that India’s military is no match for China’s might — the most candid public confession by an officer that did not change ground rules but can touch a raw nerve.

Admiral Sureesh Mehta, the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee and the chief of naval staff, added that New Delhi also does not have the “intention” to be comparable to China.

“In military terms, both conventional and non-conventional, we neither have the capability nor the intention to match China, force by force,” the admiral, who retires at the end of the month, said here this evening at a lecture organised by the National Maritime Foundation, a thinktank of the navy.

For most of the last six decades, the ethos of the Indian military has been to prepare for a battle on two fronts — to the west with Pakistan and to the north with China.

Even if the military balance with China is heavily loaded against India, it is simply not in the culture of armed forces officers to publicly acknowledge the weakness.

Mehta has gone against the grain, fully aware that he was giving a reality check.

“These are indeed sobering thoughts and, therefore, our strategy to deal with China would need to be in consonance with these realities,” he said.

Mehta is the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee because he is the seniormost armed forces officer in the country.

Among the audience this evening at the India Habitat Centre that heard his confession were the chief of air staff, Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik; Admiral Mehta’s predecessor, the former navy chief, Admiral (retired) Arun Prakash; at least three other former armed forces chiefs, diplomats from India and abroad, retired armed forces officers and school students.

“The traditional or ‘attritionist’ approach of matching ‘division for division’ must give way to harnessing modern technology for developing high situational awareness and creating a reliable stand-off deterrent,” Mehta said.

Translated, this means Mehta is calling for a halt to matching China’s military in terms of numbers — of ships, submarines, army divisions or combat aircraft. Instead, he is urging that New Delhi’s military energies focus only on building a defensive capability. Mehta later said, answering a question from the media, “We cannot cope in terms of numbers, so we must look at technologies, get smarter.”

In his lecture, he said: “On the military front, our strategy to deal with China must include reducing the military gap and countering the growing Chinese footprint in the Indian Ocean region.” To some extent, this would be possible if India developed relations with the littoral countries — largely island nations in the waters around India.

Mehta emphasised that India’s military weakness vis-à-vis China was merely reflective of its backwardness in other spheres.

“Whether in terms of GDP, defence spending or any other economic, social or development parameter, the gap between the two is just too wide to bridge (and getting wider by the day).”

Mehta said that once China consolidated its national power and military capabilities, it would be more assertive with its claims in the neighbourhood. “Our ‘trust deficit’ with China can never be liquidated unless our boundary problems are resolved,” he said.

But a military conflict would be damaging for both India and China. So it was important that New Delhi and Beijing “co-operate with each other in mutually beneficial endeavours, and ensure that the potential for conflict is minimised”, he said.

India’s annual defence expenditure was approximately $30 billion for 2008-09. Mehta quoted US thinktank Rand Corporation and US Defence Intelligence Agency figures for China’s defence spending for the same period, which stood between $70 billion and $200 billion.

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