23 June 2015

So You Want to Be an Indian Armed Forces Expert?

Shashank Joshi, “So You Want to Be an Indian Armed Forces Expert?War on the Rocks, 23 June 2015.

Peter Mattis’ explanation of what one should read to be an expert on China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) made me wonder: What might a similar list look like for India-watchers? …

Each service has its own doctrine and/or strategy — most recently the army in 2004, the navy in 2009 (remarkably, it is not available online), and the air force in 2012 (the official link is — perhaps aptly — perpetually broken, but you can get it here) — but these are of limited use, not least because they’re not written in close coordination with other services or with a coherent national military strategy in mind. So most analyses depend on secondary texts, occasional statements by serving officers, and writing by retirees. …


The Indian navy is deservedly receiving increasing attention. Harsh Pant’s edited volume The Rise of the Indian Navy (2012) has some valuable essays in it, especially Ladwig’s careful parsing of the fleet. James Holmes, Andrew Winner, and Toshi Yoshihara’s Indian Naval Strategy in the Twenty-first Century (2009) is a very useful single-volume survey. Ladwig’s “India and Military Power Projection” (2010) is an article-length stock-take of capabilities, though much has changed in the last five years. Of the recent crop of writing, Iskander Rehman has written a wide-ranging report for Carnegie on naval nuclear dynamics in the Indian Ocean, and a shorter piece for The National Interest on weaknesses in Indian anti-submarine warfare, both excellent. Frank O’Donnell and Yogesh Joshi have also written for Survival on India’s SSBN force. …


The literature is richest in the nuclear domain. On India’s nuclear forces, the key history is George Perkovich’s India’s Nuclear Bomb (1998). Ashley Tellis’ mammoth India’s Emerging Nuclear Posture (2001) contains still-useful technical details, but a recent Brookings-published book by retired Vice Admiral Verghese Koithara, Managing India’s Nuclear Forces (2012), is the best up-to-date survey. Vipin Narang’s Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era (2014) has an important chapter on India’s nuclear posture.

For shorter reads, see Narang’s provocative essay in the Washington Quarterly (2013) on five myths about India’s nuclear posture, Gaurav Kampani’s concise overview in Strategic Asia 2013-14, and Hans Kristensen’s warning (2013) that India is surpassing minimum deterrence. The former head of India’s Strategic Forces Command (SFC) and present director of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), B.S. Nagal, has written a series of pieces for India’s Force magazine (in June and October 2014, unfortunately pay-walled), with some radical arguments. Another former SFC commander, Vijay Shankar, has also written and spoken on this subject. Bharat Karnad’s idiosyncratic India’s Nuclear Policy (2008) is worth a look, as is Rajesh Basrur’s Minimum Deterrence and India’s Nuclear Security (2006) and Scott Sagan’s chapter on the evolution of India’s nuclear doctrine, in his own edited volume Inside Nuclear South Asia (2009).

For more detail, the Stimson Center in Washington has published extremely useful edited volumes on South Asian nuclear issues. See Deterrence Instability & Nuclear Weapons in South Asia (2015) and the similarly titled Deterrence Stability and Escalation Control in South Asia (2013). The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) has also released reports based on Track II workshops, including a revealing summary of its crisis simulations (2013) and a collection of essays (2014), of which one of the most thought-provoking is Chris Clary on command and control. On missiles, Frank O’Donnell and Harsh Pant have written for Asian Survey (2014) on the evolution of India’s long-range Agni V, and on space issues Bharath Gopalaswamy is your man. Finally, the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP) at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore also does especially technically informed research, such as its book Evolution of Solid Propellant Rockets in India (2014).

Other sources

More generally, it’s worth looking at Indian defense magazines and websites like ForceVayu AerospaceIndian Defence Review, the military portal Bharat RakshakIndia StrategicSP’s Naval Forces, and Indian Military Review (some pay-walled). Some of the best sources of timely information are the blogs by Indian defense journalists, including Ajai Shukla’s trenchant Broadsword, Shiv Aroor’s LiveFist, and Nitin Gokhale’s NewsWarrior — all of whom are also on Twitter. See also Jottings, a website that collates the military-related news in the Indian press.

The major Indian think tanks have one or more of their own specialized journals. These include CLAWS Journal, CAPS’ Air Power Journal, and the National Maritime Foundation’s Maritime Affairs (all three affiliated to the relevant service arm), as well as the United Services Institute’s USI Journal and IDSA’s Journal of Defence Studies. The periodical Seminar occasionally publishes special issues focused on defense, which always include exceptional writers — albeit with short pieces. Finally, India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), a constitutionally mandated body, releases reports which often touch on military subjects — the latest covering the army’s grave ammunition shortages, and others on subjects like India’s indigenous Light Combat Aircraft or tank production.