Rafale and Al-Khalid-1: Increasing war-fighting capacity and regional security puzzle
South Asia's regional security and economic prosperity have been obstructed by the protracted strategic rivalry between India and Pakistan. Instead of mitigating their differences, both states have been increasing their war-fighting capabilities. The recent induction of Rafale fighter jets into the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Al-Khalid-1 battle tank into the Pakistan Army will have a lasting impact on the region's strategic environment.
The military purchases from technologically advanced nations and unrestrained indigenous development of military hardware obstruct the socio-economic progress of the people, especially in developing states such as India and Pakistan. Besides, the military buildup deepens the security dilemma puzzle in inter-state relations, entailing an arms race that encourages the rivals to opt for preventive war-fighting strategies.
India and Pakistan have been expanding and modernizing their nuclear arsenals in terms of type and number of delivery systems. They are also reinforcing their conventional armories to boost their combat capabilities.
Due to the volatile and complex regional strategic environment, India and Pakistan need to modernize their armed forces. But arms races always cause power transition and generate misperception, which encourage conflicted parties to adopt preventive war strategies rather than work sincerely on stability.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
On July 29, five dual-capable Rafale fighter jets comprising three single-seater and two main seaters were inducted into Squadron 17 of the Indian Air Force. The Rafale is an advanced fifth-generation aircraft which can attain a maximum speed of 2,200 km per hour. It was reported that at the end of 2021, delivery of the remaining 31 Rafale jets will be completed. The timing of their arrival is crucial for India's domestic and external affairs. Currently, India has a military standoff at both the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan.
Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh declared the induction of the Rafale as the beginning of a new era of the country's military history. Leadership of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sees the development as a sign of relief after deterioration of its economic policy and a dent in India’s defensive fence on the LAC.
Indian military doctrine has been grounded on the offensive theory against Pakistan and based on the concept of deterrence against China. The Rafale fighter jets increase India’s both nuclear and conventional striking capability and will contribute to redressing the technological imbalance between the IAF and Pakistan Air Force (PAF). The latter has F-16 and JF-17 jets, which are fourth-generation combat aircraft.
The buildup of IAF may encourage India's ruling elite to pursue its military objectives through surgical strikes against Pakistan. Such military adventurism would be devastating for both countries.
While many analysts have been assigning a more significant role to the Rafale in India's military stance toward China, in reality, these fighters will have little contribution to it.
India has already developed nuclear-capable short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles, and they are placed under the control of its Strategic Forces Command (SFC). With these weapons, SFC is capable of destroying targets located on the territory of China and Pakistan. For instance, the Agni-III can reach all Chinese mainland targets from India’s northeast, while the Agni-V can do so from India’s interior. From 2018, with the final pre-induction tests of the Agni-V missile, the Agni-missiles formed the spine of the Indian deterrent nuclear force, especially against China.
Besides the military dimension, the $9.4 billion worth French Rafale deal has a political angle. India's opposition parties, particularly the Congress, have alleged that the deal was not transparent, and that India overpaid for the fighter jets. The deal became controversial when French Dassault Aviation picked Anil Ambani’s debt-ridden firm Reliance Defense as a partner instead of experienced state-run company Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL).
In September 2018, the allegations were reinforced by former French president Francois Hollande's admittance that "France had been given no choice about picking Anil Ambani's Reliance Defense as Dassault’s offset partner in 2016."
Pakistan has been struggling to maintain military equilibrium with India. On April 28, Pakistan Army inducted Al-Khalid-I main battle tank into Armored Corps Regiment. It was a product of Pakistan’s joint venture with China and Ukraine at state-owned Heavy Industries Taxila. The tank has outstanding features such as enhanced protection against smart ammo and other forms of top attacks, an improved muzzle reference system, a solid state autoloader, improved radiation detector, nuclear environment sustainable operations and a life support system, higher strategic and tactical mobility, and capability to withstand urban warfare.
Al-Khalid-1, labeled as "king of the battlefield," improves Pakistan Army's offensive and defensive maneuvering proficiency. It adds a punch in its offensive operations in the Chenab-Ravi corridor and solidifies its defensive arrangements against India's cold start doctrine and proactive military operation strategy.
Admittedly, due to the volatile and complex regional strategic environment, India and Pakistan need to modernize their armed forces. But arms races always cause power transition and generate misperception, which encourage conflicted parties to adopt preventive war strategies rather than work sincerely on stability.
In summary, the massive arms buildup is dangerous for the socio-economic development of India and Pakistan, and it equally poses risks to the strategic stability in South Asia.
- Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @zafar_jaspal