Military experts getting worried about a fresh round of arms race between Pakistan and India

April 22, 2020 - 19:36

Arms sale data shows that the two nuclear-armed states of Pakistan and India have been engaged in purchasing more cutting-edge weapons and ammunitions, showing their intention to start a new round of arms race, an Indian analyst said, voicing concern over a possible all-out devastating war in South Asia. 

Rishikesh Kumar wrote in an article published by Sputnik that while China remains one of the major suppliers of defense equipment to Pakistan along with the U.S., in recent years, Beijing has enhanced the military capability of India’s arch-rival with upgrades and supplied state-of-the-art equipment.

On April 12, shells fired by a Pakistani weapons system damaged several houses and injured people in the Indian part of Kashmir, Kumar said, adding that the recent firefight between the two arch-rivals started on April 6 but surprised many this time, as shells fired from the Pakistani side landed deep inside the villages of Kupwara in Indian-administered Kashmir.

On August 5, 2019, India, through a presidential decree, revoked the special autonomy status of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir to fully integrate its only Muslim-majority state with the rest of the country. The move erupted protests all over Pakistan, while the Indian-controlled Kashmir region was under lockdown. Pakistan and India both have a claim over Kashmir in its entirety and had three wars over the disputed territory.

Kumar further said that a former Indian Army Brigadier and defense analyst, Rahul Bhonsle, believed that it was China that completely overhauled the capability of Pakistan and the 'China-Pakistan axis' presents a formidable challenge.

“The China-Pakistan axis is no doubt a major challenge for India, given the close integration of Chinese weapons systems such as tanks, combat aircraft and the sharing of technology on tactical nuclear weapons, amongst others, Kumar quoted Bhonsle as saying.  

Pakistan in some ways has become a test lab for the Chinese weapons,” the Indian military observer went on to say.

Defense trade figures published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute have revealed that China has solely replaced the entire fall in the U.S.-Pakistan defense trade in the past five years. China has been supplying defense equipment to Pakistan since the 1960s and increased its share in the total Pakistani defense arsenal to around 60 percent in recent years. Besides nuclear-capable missiles, the armored capability has gained prime importance in collaboration between the two countries.

Pakistan’s capacity in terms of main battle tanks (MBT), with approximately 2,400 in the field, is said to be diverse, with three Chinese-made tanks. Pakistan's MBTs include 1,100 Al-Zarrar tanks, based on the Chinese Type 59 MBT, as well as 50 T-54/T-55, 400 Type-69 tanks, 350 Al-Khalid tanks, and the country is set to roll out Chinese-made VT-4 tanks. Pakistan is also working on a more advanced version of the al-Khalid III MBT.

“China may at times to come to provide Pakistan with front line Type 99 tanks but Pakistan may not have the resources to acquire the same. Pakistan's inventory of a large mix of tanks from Al Zarrar to Khalid T-80 etc, is an outcome of a lack of funds and a mix-and-match approach, which will remain a major challenge in the future as well,” Bhonsle added.

A review of weapons classifications shows that Pakistan is militarizing its skies (48 percent of total arms import) at an unprecedented rate but at the same time, armored vehicles and artillery have constituted around 20 percent of total arms imports since 2010. It is also upgrading most of the tanks and enhancing their capability to attack any time of day, while India is playing catch-up.

“India is mainly relying now on the tried and tested T-90 S and upgraded T-72. These are versatile and have the capability to meet the challenge posed by the Pakistan armor. Gradual upgrades of these in terms of nigh fighting, fire control, and armament may be the way ahead,” Bhonsle replied when asked whether the Indian Army should also diversify its tanks.

Last December, media reports claimed that Pakistan's army had inked a deal with China’s Northern Industries Corporation (NORINCO) to procure artillery guns for deployment along the Indian border. The two countries also inked a deal to overhaul Pakistan's main battle tank, the Type 85-IIAP.

“India had a good option of developing indigenous Future Ready Combat Vehicles (FRCV) but at present, there are no current developments that are known. While upgrading the current generation on the fly for enhanced capabilities, India may also look at the Russian Armata in case it is not serious about the FRCV project,” Rahul Bhonsle said, suggesting ways to improve the nation's armored capability.

India has approximately 3,300 main battle tanks: 1,900 T-72M1, 1,000 T-90S, and around 500 T-90SM. The Indian army has also inducted the domestically-produced Arjun MK-I but hopes to address some technical issues before rolling out a more capable version of the Arjun.

Nevertheless, Indian Army chief M. M. Naravane has indicated that country is moving away from the “military icons of the 20th century”, like tanks, fighter aircraft and primarily looking at the possible induction of laser and directed-energy weapons.

“In the five-odd decades since — in Iraq, Lebanon, Georgia, Chechnya and Syria, armored formations have either followed, supported the application of airpower and artillery, or else their units and sub-units have been committed in smaller tactical groupings as part of infantry-armor assaults in urban terrain,” Naravane said in March of this year while speaking at an event in Delhi.

In future warfare, Pakistan and China have also been working on the development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles including the Caihong-5 and Wing Loong-I.

“Pakistan's military, despite having fewer assets, is conventionally not inferior to the Indian military. Moreover, given its inter-operability with the People’s Liberation Army, when it is offered cyber, space, and Electronic Warfare support, the balance may tip in Pakistan's favor. Complacency will not help the Indian Army,” Praveen Sawhney, a former military officer and author of several books on military affairs said.

Ultimately it is the man behind the gun that is important, as was proved by the Indian Centurion who outgunned the Pakistan Patton in 1965, but “we cannot rest on past laurels;” Rahul Bhonsle, who has had a distinguished service career lasting over 30 years, concluded.

Territorial disputes over the Kashmir region sparked two of the three major Indo-Pakistani wars in 1947 and 1965, and a limited war in 1999. Although both countries have maintained a fragile ceasefire since 2003, they regularly exchange fire across the contested border, known as the Line of Control. Both sides accuse the other of violating the cease-fire and claim to be shooting in response to attacks. An uptick in border skirmishes that began in late 2016 and continued into 2018 killed dozens and displaced thousands of civilians on both sides of the Line of Control.


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