I’ve always been a World War 2 buff. So when I got myself subscribed to Audible last week, the first thing I did was pick out a bulky volume on World War 2 history. At the time of Chinese aggression, it is particularly interesting to think about the war and understand the strategies that went into the United States crushing Japan and Germany.
The chief lesson one can take is that when the war began, a US victory was far from certain. The US had been caught ill-prepared when the Japanese attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941. Soon after, the Japanese descended with great fury on numerous islands in the Pacific held by American troops. In fact, US troops suffered shattering defeats at places like Bataan in the Philippines. The cruelty of the invading Japanese and the death marches to which they subjected the prisoners is difficult to put in words.
Even two months after the Dec 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor, America was slow to mobilize. In fact, German U-boats would gather and hunt American shipping right outside harbors at New York and Atlantic City. People landing at New York airports could see the flaming ships scattered all around. Why such audaciousness? Because the Americans were slow to put their cities in blackout. So the outlines of incoming ships would be clearly visible in the lights of the city. The German U-boats would wait a few miles outside the ports, killing their prey at will.
So how did America turn the tide of the war? Because they did a form of industrial warfare on a scale that the enemy simply could not keep up with. American shipyards began churning out ships at a rate faster than the enemy could destroy them.
Even when American troops landed in North Africa in late 1942, the balance of power lay with the British. America started slow, with poorly trained troops. But once they began, there was no stopping them. By the landing on D-Day in Normandy in June 1944, the British had been reduced to mere camp followers. A single US Navy task force that arrived to retake the island of Tarawa from the Japanese was larger than the entire Japanese Navy. There was nothing the Japanese could have done.
This got me thinking of what is happening on the LAC. Obviously, we are not in a World War-2 like situation and nobody expects open conflict, that too on a large scale. But there is a gap we need to close.
Yesterday, I heard that India is going for a possible emergency purchase of strike aircraft – Su-30 and Mig-29 (not to be confused with near worthless Mig-21s) from the Russians. These are fine aircraft. Very deadly. Very powerful.
But there is a numbers gap that we need to close. India has around 600 planes in active military service. China has over 1500. In case you are curious, about half of India’s 600 planes would be considered frontline aircraft, while most of Chinese planes are relatively old. Their most common aircraft is the J-7, which is from 1966! Our most common aircraft is the Su-30MKI, which is actually seen as a rival to America’s most modern F-22 raptors. So you can imagine the quality gap.
So what makes the Chinese Air Force more powerful than ours? Haven’t we always heard : quality over quantity? Amazingly, this is one situation where quality is cool, but quantity makes a *huge* difference.
Let me explain. If I remember correctly, some years ago, there was a joint India-US Air exercise, called Red Flag in Nevada. Some would say the real reason Americans wanted us there was because they wanted to see how their F-22s would fare against the Russian Su-30s. Obviously, Russia won’t tell them. So the simplest thing to do was invite India, which uses the Su-30MKI, a variant of the Su-30.
Here’s where it gets cool. After the exercise, a secretly shot video of a US Air Force pilot went viral on youtube, where he says with much relief that the Su-30 would lose to the F-22. But guess who can stop the F-22? The humble Mig-21! No, not one Mig-21. But three Mig-21 planes coming from three different directions would leave an F-22 helpless!
Now think about the cost of the F-22 vs the cost of 3 Mig-21s. Quantity beats quality.. How about that?
So military technology gets weird that way. The cost of sophistication is much higher than the additional security it provides.
I am obviously no military expert, but I believe this is a doctrine India needs to put into practice. Sure, we shop around for the expensive, high quality stuff. But let us not forget to mass produce the humble stuff.
In fact, something momentous happened last month that sort of flew under the radar due to Coronavirus. India has finally and fully operationalized the first 18 Tejas planes. No more ifs and buts. The plane is very much real and in operation.
What we need to do now is produce vast numbers of it. Not in dribs and drabs like is planned right now. How about a big order of 500 Tejas? To be delivered within 2 years. Give HAL the budget it needs to do this. If necessary, get HAL to start using private factories. As it is, industrial demand is low right now. This can be the perfect stimulus package.
(Of course there is the problem of the Tejas requiring an American engine. Well, we need to buy those. The Americans will be delighted to sell us stuff).
But everything else, we can make ourselves. My focus is on large scale.
The same goes for things like Arjun Tank. Let us order 2000 of those. We have just 250 of them now and a further 4000 or so Russian tanks, half of them T-92S (decently modern) and the other half T-72s (badly outdated). But remember, quality doesn’t matter that much once you achieve a basic level.
So we need to scale up orders right now. An additional 2000 Arjun tanks and 500 Tejas will make our military formidable before any Chinese attack. With that, we need to scale up our border infrastructure even faster. We have to put strike aircraft at Daulat Beg Oldie. The Chinese are bullies. They fear strength.
And don’t forget ammunition. We don’t need to worry so much about sophisticated laser guided bombs from the US. We can manufacture simpler, cheaper bombs that would come in just as useful in any eyeball to eyeball conflict.
This brings me to my last point. We need another ministry. A ministry of Defense Manufacturing with publicly stated goals of scaling up our production. Remember the US came out of the Great Depression through massive production during World War 2. For us, a massive defense production program could be the way out of both the economic slump and the military challenges.