Challenges for India’s Military Strategy: Matching Capabilities to Ambitions?

Challenges for India's Military Strategy
Matching Capabilities to Ambitions?

by John H. Gill
November 15, 2017

This chapter examines India’s dominant military strategy, discusses how evolving requirements may induce changes in the country’s thinking, and assesses the adequacy of this strategy in terms of its national ambitions.

Executive Summary


India’s security orientation has traditionally been continental, focused on internal unrest and external threats across contested land borders with Pakistan and China to the detriment of maritime concerns and expeditionary options. China’s military expansionism, Sino-Pakistani cooperation, evolving regional nuclear dynamics, and other factors, however, are altering the strategic environment. Furthermore, India’s ambitions to be a leading power on the global stage and the expectations of other international actors (not least the U.S.) for India to contribute as a regional “net security provider” impose substantial demands on Indian military capabilities. Despite its many strengths and significant potential, India will be challenged to respond to these new circumstances and objectives while still attending to its existing problems.

  • The persistence of India’s traditional internal and external security threats means that changes in its dominant military strategy will be slow and incremental. It will be difficult for India to serve as a net security provider without the ability to deploy at least a subset of world-class military formations with significant reach and endurance.
  • While India’s enhanced military capacity can benefit security in the Indian Ocean region, it will excite Pakistani concerns and could lead to increased Sino-Indian friction in the maritime domain as well as on land. The growing deployment of nuclear weapons at sea will be especially challenging.
  • The U.S. will be in a position to support increases in India’s capabilities through sustainment and expansion of military exercises, strategic exchanges, and defense sales, but this will be a long-term investment requiring continued strategic patience.

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