The major difficulties faced by India in upgrading its military ability are lack of advanced technology, financial constraints and less than stellar performance and delivery by the DRDO. Trishul, Astra, Dhanush, Agni 3, Arjun MBT, Tejas LCA and other projects have been plagued by delays, cost overruns and cancellation. The performance of the corresponding Pakistani agency in the Khalid battle tank, Agosta submarines, JF-17 fighter planes, Ghauri missiles compares more favorably. Even Iran has shown better performance in missiles, planes and APCs. Russian, Chinese and North Korean assistance maybe partly responsible for that, but our failures are difficult to justify.
India is on a right trajectory in foreign weapon acquisition like Green Pine radar, Barak anti-missiles, Spyder SAMs, UAVs and Phalcon AWACS from Israel, Su 30 MKIs, Gorshkov aircraft carrier with MiG 29 KUBs, Multiple Rocket Launchers, Mi-17 and Kamov 31 helicopters, Akula submarines and T-90 tanks from Russia, Mirage 2000 aircraft and Scorpene submarines with AIP from France and the fire detection radars, USS Trenton, Bell and Sea King helicopters from the US, but we need to acquire technology and joint production of advanced weapon systems. The co-production agreements for Brahmos missiles, Bell 407 helicopters are a better path and similar deals with Boeing for ASW P-8s, MRCA Super Hornets should be considered if restrictive covenants can be avoided.
It is currently not advisable to waste our limited resources on unproven technologies like the expensive Patriot, Arrow or S-300 ABMs. It is a good idea to continue building submarines and aircraft carriers and not lose our indigenous manufacturing knowledge as we did after the bribery scandals of the German HDW submarines or the lapse of the lease of Russian nuclear submarines. Having said that, it is difficult to justify the enormous investment in aircraft carriers. They need support vessels like destroyers, submarines and with their complement of aircraft cost nearly three billion dollars for a single carrier plus protective flotilla, all susceptible to total loss by supersonic cruise missiles like our Brahmos or their Chinese and Pakistani equivalents.
If one assumes that India's navy has no primary aggressive ambitions and is meant to defend the country, its shipping commerce and sea lanes from the Straits of Hormuz to those of Malacca and project power in war no further than Pakistan or block the oil supply route at the straits of Malacca, even three carriers are not really necessary. What is required, is to beef up our three unsinkable aircraft carriers (like Malta for the British in WW2) Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar islands with a fleet at each of 20 long range attack, ASW and anti-ship aircraft to patrol and destroy ships and submarines in the vicinity. Frigates and destroyers with helicopters would provide additional coverage. The Nicobar islands are only 750 miles from the Straits of Malacca. Ideally naval bases on the Maldives and Sri Lanka would help a great deal but the naval bases at Mumbai, Goa, Karwar, Vishakhapatnam and the new naval base between it and Chennai would help counter the string of Pearls strategy of China.
The Persian Gulf and the South China Sea are being patrolled by the US with whom we are presently on friendly terms and too weak to even dream of combating with. Our naval power cannot meet China's in its own sea either, so huge investment in more aircraft carriers will not give us enough bang for the buck. This requires strengthening our naval air arm, making it independent of the air-force and assigning it clear responsibility for defense of our shores and sea lanes by fast patrol craft with missiles, ships, submarines and Ilyushins, P8s or P3C Orions. We also need to develop Land Attack Cruise Missiles (like the Tomahawk) with a thousand mile range and extend the range of Brahmos to 1000Kms, for attacking enemy ports from a safe distance and for keeping future enemy carriers far enough so that their planes cannot attack our port installations or populations.
A laudable development is the army's decision to have its own attack helicopter force. The US has its Apaches with anti-tank and other missiles which have become tank killers as the devastation of the Kuwait retreating Iraqi armor in the 1991 Gulf War proved. The Indian army needs this capability as wars with our potential enemies like Pakistan, Bangladesh or China are likely to be wars at our long land borders involving tank warfare. Helicopter squadrons need to be under the control of the army for transport, rescue, surveillance, supply and providing close air support in land battles. Their other use is in marine rescue, rescue and anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare and those should be under the navy, as many are ship based.
The above suggestions are not to pare the air-force but to hone it for the its fighter-interceptor and bomber roles of convention and nuclear weapons. We need to have adequate fleets of light and medium MRCAs and heavy bombers. A combination of planes to destroy enemy radars, anti-aircraft targets, runways and fighter-interceptors to achieve air superiority and to bomb military targets, are needed to emulate the tactics that US followed in its war strategy as shown in Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Finally, a fleet of silent hunter killer submarines and nuclear submarines with nuclear SLBMs is a top priority.