Random Thoughts

Nuclear Pacts, Missiles, ABMs and Combating War Strategies

The lessons of bombing Serbia and the Iraq wars have been closely studied by China. US and UK strategy was to destroy the infrastructure including electricity generation, water and sewage systems. In WW2, the allies resorted to firebombing Tokyo, Dresden and other axis cities with massive civilian casualties. Thus western powers have waged total wars to destroy the arms industry as well as civilians and civilian infrastructure. War then is no different from terrorism as it is physical and psychological violence to intimidate any nation and its population to submit to the will of the attacker, conqueror or occupier by coercion.

The primary objective in war is to achieve total air superiority by knocking out radar and anti-aircraft defenses and cripple airfields and thus prevent the victim nation's air-force from taking off and intercepting the damaging fighters of the attacker or posing a future threat to the slower attacking bombers that are to follow to attack troop and civilian concentrations and infrastructure. This strategy was used devastatingly against Saddam's forces retreating from Kuwait during the first Iraq war and against the Taliban troops during the Afghan war in 2001.

America's blunder was having too few boots on the ground in both cases to carry out a successful occupation and security that are essential to set up a functioning government able to provide normal commercial and civic life. The reason for this mistake is the intolerance for casualties by the American public. To hold and occupy territory one needs a sufficiently large organized ground force. In a similar manner to sustain an insurgency against occupiers one needs an organized militarily capable ground force with support of the populace. Once again the second Iraq war provides a classic example. India has a large well trained army but needs better counterinsurgency training as our bleeding in Kashmir proves. It is also a good idea to train the army to counter occupation as insurgents and not become sepoys for foreign invaders as Indians have done with the Islamic, Portuguese, French and British colonizers.

The next priority is to have strong, difficult to penetrate and punishing air defenses. This means AWACs like the Phalcon system, Green Pine radar, full coverage by anti-aircraft batteries and surface to air missiles. It also means having sufficiently large numbers of fighter interceptors. Some years ago the Soviet Union was humiliated by a young West German on a lark, who landed his small plane in Red Square by flying low and evading the Soviet radar defenses. Putin knows the chinks in his air defense and this is why he wants the former Soviet Republics constituting his near abroad to be under a joint common air shield and not join NATO. This allows Russia the luxury of some time to detect and neutralize incursion by foreign enemy planes and missiles. 

This is why America wants Canada to be part of its joint air defense and why it maintained early detection spy stations in Turkey, Pakistan, Shah's Iran and even in Mao's China during Nixon's detente to monitor the launching of missiles or bomber fleets from the former Soviet Union. India does not have a buffer territory between it and its two potential attackers China and Pakistan. The latter on more than one occasion has attempted preemptive air-strikes and India needs to have the equivalent of a round the clock NORAD like the one America maintains.

That brings me to a very important recent warning by Putin. He raised an important problem when he said that the proliferation of missiles is causing a hair trigger instability likely to precipitate nuclear war. Imagine a scenario where India and Pakistan are at war and a Scud type missile is launched by either side at Lahore or Amritsar. It is impossible to detect whether the missile is carrying a conventional or nuclear warhead. The time window is less than five minutes. One or the other side being unsure, may overreact with a nuclear warhead leading to devastating bilateral escalation. Missiles now become a cause of increasingly inherent instability with catastrophic consequences.

The dilemma is worse with medium and longer range missiles and the only stabilizing solution is a second strike capability with mutually assured destruction. India's next priority is to have submarine launched ballistic missiles in adequate numbers to cripple China or Pakistan, if they should attempt such foolish misadventure. China while aiming for dominance is a more rational strategist, but Pakistan with its Islamic fundamentalism needs a credible annihilating threat to channel it to rational behavior. One would have to concede a second strike capability to Pakistan also, to achieve a stable equilibrium.

I have seen articles by reporters with little understanding, urging that India acquire the Patriot 3 or Arrow ABM system. The ABM system is sought by America under false pretenses. It is said to defend against rogue states or non-state terrorists with one or a few atomic weapons. What America wants is total protection from atomic weapons of others leaving it free to dominate and threaten the world thereafter with its huge arsenal. Mearsheimer has pointed out that it is the ultimate holy grail. It is natural for a superpower to have such ambition and cloak it benevolently. The refusal of the permanent five to honor their commitment to the NPT to eliminate nuclear weapons should make all their high sounding proclamations seriously suspect.

Fortunately for the world and mankind, a credible ABM defense is impossible as yet. So far with over a hundred billion dollars spent and twenty years of research America can't even hit an incoming missile. Its last ABM had difficulty getting off the ground and the only somewhat successful attempts of hitting the target have occurred when the incoming missile was broadcasting a homing signature. A real enemy will not be so obliging and will swamp the defenses with decoys and multiple nuclear armed missiles to defeat the defense. The much touted success of the Patriot systems in Israel and Saudi Arabia during the first Iraq war were fabrications and in the second Iraq war it misguidedly downed a friendly British Harrier. The Israeli Arrow is also of doubtful provenance but may give partial protection against Scuds no matter how they are armed. It does not have a reliable success rate against medium range or long range missiles. Thus for India to expend its limited resources on expensive unproven technology is of no benefit except to some of our crooked politicians and arms brokers who can siphon off bribes or commissions.

The purchase of the USS Trenton and six American helicopters for it, gives us some force projection, troop transport, rescue and anti-submarine warfare capability. Our current strategy and future policy should be to safeguard sea lanes for commerce with blockade if needed. If one assumes that we have no desire to occupy alien or enemy lands, having learnt from the disastrous misadventure in Afghanistan and Iraq of a far greater, stronger and richer sole superpower like America, then our meager resources are better spent on acquiring more stealth frigates, destroyers and quieter and longer ranging submarines that are nuclear or have air-independent propulsion.

It is worth noting that carrier Vikramaditya and its complement of 16 Mig29 KUBs will cost nearly three billion dollars. We are building a second carrier to replace the aging Virat and it will cost slightly less. A single cruise missile like the one supplied to Pakistan by China can cause us a loss of billions of dollars. Thus investment in aircraft carriers which can be used to project force at a distance is a costly luxury and should not be indulged beyond the two. The carrier will require a hunter killer submarine or two and a frigates or destroyers for further protection. One can get better bang for our buck with a combination of submarines, frigates, destroyers, ASW and reconnaissance planes like Il-38s we are buying from Russia or the P3C Orions that Lockheed is offering or the newest Boeing version P8A. It would also be a good idea to buy one Aerial Early Warning E2 type AWAC aircraft for each of the aircraft carriers in addition to ASW helicopters to act as a hovering warning system to detect enemy ships and aircraft that could fire missiles against the carrier from over 300 miles and eliminate such threats by the Mig29s before they come within harming range. Finally more interceptors and ASW aircraft should be based on the coast of Gujarat to counter Pakistani threats to our carrier, ships and submarines in the Arabian Sea.

We come finally to the nuclear treaty with America. There is no doubt that the civilian nuclear know-how would benefit India, but there is a fly in the ointment. It blocks India from further nuclear tests. India needs to test to develop and miniaturize nuclear weapons to put them on missile heads. India also lacks uranium mines and needs uranium and its enrichment and increase its Plutonium stockpiles until it can perfect its breeder reactors that can use Thorium which it has in plenty. Lurking in the background is the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. America wants India to have limited nuclear stockpiles and not develop missiles. This is why the Agni 3 test was postponed to please America. 

Assume a scenario where India has forty nuclear plants which need supply of HEU from America or the nuclear supply group. America could cut off supply as it did with Tarapur and make India's electricity generation hostage to its dictates. After the Bangladesh war it refused spares for Indian helicopters. This would leave India militarily impotent if it banked on US arms. Let us not forget what happened to Iran under Khomeini in the Iraq Iran war when it could not get spare parts for its F-14s and helicopters. Furthermore China and Pakistan could continue expanding their nuclear arsenal while the only stabilizing option of MAD would be unavailable to an India hampered by lack of Plutonium and HEU due to the fissile material cutoff treaty. 

While nobody is happy with the idea of Iran or North Korea having nuclear weapons and missiles, it is their right to enrich uranium and test missiles within the NPT and the missile control regime. The history of American use of nuclear weapons and missiles is hardly reassuring or benevolent and the world at large is unwilling to give America or the permanent five the right to decide who should or should not have such weapons and when their use is justified. The treaty then holds India's military and foreign policy hostage to America's desires and goals.

Last but not the least, India has spent tens of billions of dollars buying arms from abroad. What we need to do is be involved in co-production and license advanced technology and make our own ammunition, howitzers, tanks, ships, submarines and planes like we did with Brahmos and are doing with the fifth generation multi-role combat aircraft. Buying finished products leaves us at the unpredictably changing mercy of suppliers who can be undependable even when friendly and downright devastating, when they impose sanctions.       


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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