India's armed services number more than one-and-a-quarter million service personnel and are formed into three branches--the army, the air force, and the navy. There are also about 200,000 paramilitary forces who are responsible to the minister of home affairs. They are employed mainly on border protection duties. These paramilitaries are auxiliary forces set up along military lines.
Only China, Russia, and the United States have larger armed forces than India. However, India's armed services make up a far smaller proportion of its total population than those of either Russia or the United States. Just over 1 per cent of India's population are members of its armed services. All of these military personnel are volunteers.
Many Indians see a need for their country to have strong armed forces. In area, India is the seventh largest nation in the world. It has long coastlines and land borders, some parts of which are disputed with other countries. Its international interests include claims to parts of Antarctica. India's armed services have fought four wars since the country gained independence. Meanwhile, within its borders India has felt the need for strong military forces, given the history of violent instability in several of its provinces, notably Kashmir and Punjab.
Defence and organization
India's defence policy. India's defence policy is to maintain peace within its borders. It also aims to build up a defensive force strong enough to deter or overcome any attack.
The president of India is supreme commander of the nation's armed services. But the cabinet of the government of India assumes overall responsibility for national defence. The Ministry of Defence coordinates the activities of the three services and controls their finances. There is no joint chief of staff. The three services are independent of each other, but the army has the largest influence.
The army. There are more than one million personnel on active service in India's army. It is predominantly an infantry army, with 30 divisions of infantry and only 2 armoured and 2 mechanized divisions. There are several independent brigades. In all, the army consists of 355 infantry battalions, 290 artillery regiments, and 55 tank battalions. An aviation corps, founded in 1986, consists of 14 squadrons operating helicopters built in India under licence. The army is organized into five geographical commands.
The army is the most traditional of the three services. Regiments jealously guard their long histories, most of which date from their service when India was part of the British Empire. Officers receive training at the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun, an academy established by the British.
The air force. India's air force totals about 110,000 personnel and 800 combat aircraft. There are five geographical operational commands supported by Maintenance Command and Training Command. The five operational commands are the Central Command at Allahabad; Western Command at Delhi; Southwestern Command at Jodhpur; Eastern Command at Shillong; and Southern Air Command at Trivandrum. The air force comprises 23 squadrons of 400 fighter, ground-attack aircraft and 20 squadrons of air force fighters equipped with 360 aircraft. The air force also has a limited capability for electronic countermeasures, airborne warning and control, and reconnaissance. There are two attack helicopter squadrons and about 200 transport aircraft and 140 transport helicopters.
The navy. India's navy has two fleets--the Western and the Eastern--made up of 23 destroyers and frigates and 2 aircraft carriers. It also has 15 diesel-powered attack submarines.
The chief of the Naval Staff has headquarters in New Delhi. The chief controls three naval commands. These commands are the Western Command based in Mumbai, the Eastern Command based in Vishakhapatnam, and the Southern Command based in Cochin.
The naval air arm is relatively strong and consists of two squadrons of Harriers for use on the carriers. Most destroyers and frigates can accommodate helicopters. There are six antisubmarine warfare squadrons consisting of 75 helicopters altogether. There are also three squadrons of maritime reconnaissance aircraft and a number of advanced antisubmarine warfare aircraft.
Equipment and weaponry
The need to maintain modern, well-equipped armed forces is a heavy burden on the nation. The Indian government seeks to encourage home production of every kind of military equipment. In this way it has reduced reliance on foreign imports. But new, home-produced military items are expensive because of the high costs of research and development. For this reason, some branches of the armed services continue to use aging or outdated hardware. The most important development in military equipment in India has been the local production of much of what the services need. Under licences granted by foreign manufacturers, India manufactures missiles, ships, aeroplanes, helicopters, and tanks.
Local production fills only a part of India's equipment needs. The rest comes from foreign suppliers. In the years after independence, India relied on equipment supplied by the United Kingdom. Today, with a few exceptions, most of India's military equipment has been obtained from Russia or, before 1992, from the Soviet Union (the former federation of Communist states led by Russia between 1922 and 1991).
In India's army, some artillery regiments are equipped with Russian-made rockets launchers. Some have surface-to-air missiles and air defence artillery. The Indian air force's attack fighter aircraft consist of Russian MIG's and UK-made Jaguars. Its defence fighters are mostly aging MIG 21's. The navy continues to employ two aging UK-designed aircraft carriers, with their complement of Harrier jets and UK frigates. In the 1990's, hopes to obtain a newer Russian aircraft carrier and a Russian nuclear-powered submarine depended on securing the funds.
India is known to be able to manufacture nuclear weapons. It detonated a nuclear device, said to be for peaceful purposes, in 1974. Since India has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, its nuclear reactors are not monitored by an International Atomic Energy Agency Safeguards agreement. India has also constructed a few plants for preparing plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. Some observers believe it could be stockpiling such material.
Indian Air Force planes can be modified to carry bombs, and a number of missiles have been under development. The short-range (250 km) Privthi was shown on the Independence Day parade in 1994 and was considered to be in service by 1995. Although it is a purely conventionally armed missile, it could carry a nuclear warhead. A longer-range missile, the Agni, was under development.
The army. India's present-day army has emerged from the land forces set up by the British between the 1600's and the 1800's. But there have been many other Indian armies throughout the nation's history. India has been ravaged by internal wars and invasions, and a number of warlike people have come to prominence over the centuries, most notably the Rajputs and the Sikhs.
The British East India Company arrived in India in 1607. It formed armed troops of men to act as factory guards in Madras (now Chennai) and Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1662. By 1708, the three presidencies of Bengal (Calcutta), Madras, and Bombay were formed, and each established its own armed forces. The war between France and England in 1744 forced a reorganization of the East India Company's forces, and artillery and an ordnance service were introduced. In 1796, the company had 18,000 Europeans and 84,000 Indians in its uniform, and these numbers had been expanded to 37,000 and 223,000 by 1830.
During World War I (1914-1918), Indian Army units served on the Western Front, and at Gallipoli and in Salonika. But the main effort was in Mesopotamia, where more than 300,000 Indian soldiers were deployed. Altogether, more than 620,000 Indians served overseas
During World War II (1939-1945), Indian Army strength rose to more than two million. Indians fought in North Africa and Italy. After Japanese forces defeated United Kingdom troops in Burma, the Indian Army had to defend its own country at the battles of Imphal and Kohima in 1944. The Japanese besieged Kohima but never captured it. About 340,000 Indians served in the Allies' 14th Army, which eventually drove the Japanese out of Burma.
The navy traces its origins back to 1612, when a force called the Honourable East India Company's Marine was formed with four ships. The name was later changed to the Bombay Marine. Initially, all ships and officers came from the UK, but later the force recruited local Indian fishermen.
The main task of the Marine was to protect the company's property and trade from the Dutch, French, and Portuguese, and from attacks by Arabian pirates. In 1735, the Marine consisted of 25 ships, including a 32-gun frigate. The Indian Navy was abolished as such in 1863 following its takeover by the UK government from the East India Company, but it continued as a local naval service with no combat role.
The naval service was renamed Her Majesty's India Marine in 1877, and received its first torpedo boats in 1889. The Royal Indian Marine took part in the Suakin expedition to East Africa in 1896, the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa, and the Boxer Rebellion in China.
After World War I, when its strength rose to about 13,000 service personnel, the Marine became a combat force. Its reorganization as the Royal Indian Navy began in November 1928. The Royal Indian Navy was formally inaugurated in October 1934.
The navy expanded greatly during World War II. Its strength reached more than 30,000, including 1,000 members of the Women's Royal Indian Naval Service. It had nearly 100 ships, including 6 destroyers and 3 frigates. In 1947, when India achieved independence, the nation inherited two-thirds of this fleet, including 4 destroyers, 2 frigates, and 12 minesweepers.
The air force developed from the aviation section of the Indian Army, which was formed in 1927. The Indian Air Force was established in its own right in 1932. The first flight was formed in 1933. It first saw action in 1937 on the Northwest Frontier. By 1939, five coastal defence flights had been formed and three squadrons equipped with Hawker Audaxes were operational by 1941. By the end of World War II in 1945, eight squadrons had been formed, but thousands of Indians had served in units and stations of the UK's Royal Air Force.
In 1945, India's air force had 1,200 officers, including 500 pilots, and 26,000 airmen. At the time of independence, the air force inherited 61/2 squadrons. It was initially commanded by an air marshal from the UK. The air force expanded to 15 squadrons in 1952.
The armed services today. India's armed services have gained considerable operational experience. On three occasions since independence, India has gone to war with Pakistan--in 1947 and 1948, in 1965, and in 1971. Today, strong army forces (together with many paramilitary troops) remain deployed to counter insurgency in Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan have for many years deployed troops high in the mountains along the Siachen glacier, where the border is disputed.
China invaded India in 1962. The Indian Army did not perform well, but the war was short-lived and the Chinese withdrew. Border problems with China remain unresolved.
In 1967, following the practice in most countries, India extended the boundaries of its territorial waters from 5.5 kilometres to just over 22 kilometres (12 nautical miles) from the coast. In 1977, India claimed exclusive economic zones and corresponding fishing rights for a distance of 370 kilometres (200 nautical miles) from the shore. The responsibility for protecting and policing these sea areas has fallen chiefly upon the navy.
India has deployed forces in aid of other governments since 1987, when it sent 60,000 men to assist the Sri Lankan government against the Tamil Tiger rebels in the northeast of Sri Lanka. The Indian Army, despite its superior training and experience, was forced to withdraw after about 2,500 of its troops were killed. In 1989, a much smaller force successfully intervened to support the government of the Maldives when there was an attempted coup. Until recently, India played only a minor role in United Nations peacekeeping. But since 1990, it has provided 1,000 men for a mission to Mozambique and 5,000 for the successful UN operation in Somalia.
(Back to top)