I think it is time to take a quick look at the situation between China and India. They fought a short but bloody war in the 60's over territorial claims. Those tensions have never gone away and China's increasingly supportive friendship with Pakistan have just made matters worse.
India has a 1.3 million-strong armed forces but it is troubled by outdated equipment and slow decision-making as defence priorities shift to China from traditional rival Pakistan. Defense chiefs are hurrying to modernize ageing weaponry as China reinforces a 3,500-km (2,200-mile) shared but disputed border through the Himalayas.
It took 11 years to select France's Rafale as the favored candidate for a $15 billion splurge on 126 new combat jets to replace a Soviet-era fleet of MiGs dubbed "flying coffins" for their high crash rate. About 500 Indian MiG-21s have plunged to the ground since the 1960s, yet the jet is still in use, raising the question of whether painfully slow defense procurement procedures can come up with new hardware faster than old equipment is sent to the scrap heap. A shortfall of about 200 planes means the air force is operating at its lowest level in decades - just 33 squadrons against a goal of 45. By the time all the Rafales are delivered, more MiGs will have been decommissioned. India is developing a fifth-generation fighter with Russia and aims to fly it in 2015, as well as a fleet of 272 Sukhois, half of which have already been built.
At the same time, feeling encircled as China projects its fast-growing naval power from Hormuz to Malacca, India is rushing to firm up friendships and alliances all around the Indian Ocean. India is now the world's largest arms importer with plans to spend $100 billion on weapons over the next decade.
"The Indian military is strengthening its forces in preparation to fight a limited conflict along the disputed border, and is working to balance Chinese power projection in the Indian Ocean," U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told the U.S. Senate this week.
That "balance" includes a strategic alliance with Washington that in turn has stoked Chinese fears of containment. It is due to test-fire its nuclear capable Agni V rocket in the next few weeks, with a strike range reaching deep into China.
In 2009, the air force reopened a high-altitude, landing strip in Ladakh last used during a 1962 border war with China. Along with other Himalayan bases, it is now upgrading the strip for fighter operations.
According to Indian media, Russia delivered the nuclear submarine INS Chakra on a 10-year lease at the end of last month, eight years after India first asked for it.
From a defense perspective, India has traditionally had the upper hand over China's numerically superior air force, but rapid modernization over the border may have flipped the balance.
Both forces are now smaller than 20 years ago, but China's has a fast-growing core of 350 advanced combat jets, including its own Sukhois. It also has a stealth fighter program.
India's military modernization plans are focused on the navy and air force, more than the army, which has traditionally squared off with Pakistan. But with Pakistan's air force also modernizing fast, India risks losing its edge on two fronts.
In the 1980s, a scandal engulfed the government of then-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi over millions of dollars in kickbacks on artillery contracts for Sweden's Bofors. Weapons purchases have since been a tortuous process, with rules rewritten several times to avoid graft. Defense Minister A.K. Antony is known to be very cautious, with no desire to be caught up in corruption scandals that have in recent years returned to haunt the government. On Tuesday, he made clear no deal would quickly be signed for the Rafale or any other fighters.
The relationship between India and China is complex, involving as much cooperation as competition. But while the generals and admirals rarely say as much publicly, India fears a repeat of a brief, humiliating 1962 border war and wants to be prepared for surprises.
Seafaring officers from 14 countries from New Zealand to the Seychelles have gathered on remote Indian islands in the Bay of Bengal this week for exercises and a "meeting of minds" about maritime security. It is one of the largest such gatherings of maritime allies that India has organized, but China and Pakistan were conspicuously not on the guest list.
This week's exercises are being held on the Andaman Islands, where India is spending $2 billion to set up a military command and from where the contested and congested South China Sea is only a short hop away.
Last year, India's INS Airavat, an amphibious assault vessel that sailed from the Andamans was challenged in the South China Sea by a radio caller identifying himself as an official of the Chinese navy. Both sides later played down the incident.
"The Indian navy is coy about formally engaging with the Chinese navy because it feels that, if it does, it legitimizes the Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean," said Roy Chaudhury. "There needs to be much more communication, especially navy to navy, because they are bumping into each other more and more."
Live Long and Prosper....