India, China, and Russia’s Military, an Inseparable Bond
Of the five largest armies in the world, China stands at the top, followed by India, the U.S., North Korea, and then Russia (Statista, 2020).
China, the most active, has just under 2.2 million active personnel, while India, the second most active, has 1.4 million active military personnel. Despite India having 35% fewer personnel than China, India spends only $71.1B a year on their military, compared to China’s $261B.
Additionally, while China has roughly 800 million more soldiers and owns 3,210 aircrafts, compared to India's 2,123 aircrafts, India severely outnumbers China's tanks, 4,200 to 3,200 (Business Insider India).
In April of 2019, India purchased 464 Russian tanks (valued at just under $2B). This purchase only scratches the surface of India and Russia's relationship. India is by far the largest buyer of Russian military equipment, such as S-400 surface and air missiles. In fact, Russia is even prepared to extend India's license to buy tanks to as many as 1000 tanks total (The Moscow Times).
It is abundantly clear that Russia and India's dealings have not always been so smooth. To provide a few examples, when India was plagued with the looming threat of their only navy carrier’s retirement in the early 2000s, they needed to find a replacement.
At the time, their only options seemed to be the U.S., France, and Italy, all of which were above the Indian military’s pay grade. Despite this, in 2004, India received the Admiral Gorshkov, a Soviet aircraft carrier for free. The only catch was that India would have to pay just under a billion dollars to Russia to upgrade it (National Interest).
Among these upgrades were a launch ramp and flight deck over 900 feet long, improved radar, boilers, arresting wires, and elevators. In addition, all rooms and compartments would be restored, rewired, and refurbished. To put the ship's cost into perspective, the United States is currently working on the U.S.S. Gerald Ford for over $10B (CNET).
Russia ended up spending the full $1B, but the project was only halfway completed. This presented two options: India could either walk away from the deal or pump the extra funds needed into it.
After a two-year stalemate and much deliberation in 2009, India decided to raise its investment to just over $2B, and the project was completed in 2012.
While there have been some defects, the primary concern is that the ship has no active air defenses, and its chaff and flare systems are outdated. However,the ship will drydock in a couple years, and should receive appropriate upgrades then (National Interest).
India's arms deals with Russia include not only tanks and ships, but also aircrafts. In the 1980s, 70 aircrafts were purchased from the Soviets, most of which are still in service today (The Drive). The SMT and UPG, two configurations of these aircrafts, are still in use, the main difference being that the SMT does not have as many avionic upgrades.
In 2018, India abandoned its FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft Program) with Russia after being immensely disappointed in its progress (The Drive). As early as 2019, India was rumored to be in dealings with Russia, aiming to purchase Soviet-era MiG-29 Fulcrums that were never completed (part of the deal was to bring them to modern standards and finish them).
However, the configuration to be included in this latest deal remains unknown, in addition to the costs and labor required. Furthermore, this would not satisfy the number of aircrafts that the military truly needs. Fast forward to two weeks ago; the deal was finalized: India acquired 21 MiG-29 and 12 Sukhoi fighter jets (Times of India).
Presently, India has contracted $14.5B in arms from Russia, YTD. By 2025, they are planning to double this figure (The Moscow Times). Given this overview of the controversial dealings of Indian arms, one must wonder why India feels the need to have this stockpile.
Enter the India-China Border Dispute
Far from a new conflict, the India-China Border Dispute has been perpetuated since 1914. China, wanting Tibet to remain under their control as an autonomous zone, refused to reach a deal to define the border of China and British India. Britain, India, and Tibet agreed on the McMahon Line, as the border between China and India. China, on the other hand, disagreed.
In 1947, India became independent from Britain, and in 1949, the People's Republic of China was founded under Mao Zedong. At this time, China and India had the largest and second largest population in the world respectively, and they found themselves in the midst of this dispute.
While negotiations started peacefully, China argued that Tibet never had the authority to agree on an international border, since they were not an independent nation at that time. 15 years later, war broke out as Chinese troops transgressed the McMahon Line. Even though the war lasted only a month, 1,000 Indians were killed, and another 3,000 were taken as POW. China, on the other hand, suffered far fewer casualties.
After a ceasefire was called, China drafted a new border, the Line of Actual Control.
Five years later, India pushed back, and a second war ensued. While other "scuffles" ensued over the years, the last time troops were killed at this border was in September and October of 1967.
On June 15th (2020), twenty Indian soldiers were found dead (at the border?). Interestingly enough, no guns are carried in this disputed area; all of the casualties were by being beaten to death or by falling into a nearby valley (NYT).
Although China has not commented on these deaths, Indian Soldiers were depicted (Reuters) burning photos of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Blame has been cast in both directions, but the truth is unclear. Protests have followed, and both nations have already tried to get back at each other.
For instance, Oppo, a Chinese cellular company, cancelled the launch of their new phone in India. We will have to wait to see what follows, but one can almost certainly say it will not be without more casualties.
Russia seems to be a common link in this story, a nation that has ties with both India and China. Russia "hopes that India and China [will] find mutually acceptable ways to ensure security on their border" (Reuters). Interestingly enough, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave a contradictory statement: "The RIC agenda does not involve discussing issues that relate to bilateral relations of a country with another member of this format."
In contrast, Moscow leaders were quoted as saying they favor bilateral mechanisms to their differences instead of outside mediation (The Economic Times). A spokesman from the Kremlin said that "[China and India] have very close and mutually beneficial relations [with Russia] built on mutual respect" (The Economic Times).
Other countries' responses include support for a "peaceful resolution of the current situation" from the U.S., an "encouragement of China and India to engage in dialogue" from the U.K. and an "encouragement for both sides to show restraint and to engage in military de-escalation" from the E.U. (The Indian Express).
Throughout all of these statements, there has been no blame for the death of these soldiers. These countries all have geopolitical considerations that they are protecting (The Indian Express).
While the resolution is unknown, two things are for sure: both nations are far from being talked down off the cliff and this precarious ceasefire can change at a flip of a coin. Secondly, India has not slowed down on their military expansion, and recent events show them no reason to do so.
Written by Jack Argiro
Edited by Alexander Fleiss, Gihyen Eom, Michael Ding, Rohan Mehta & Kevin Ma