Tejas "Flying Bullets" No.18 squadron of Indian Air Force at Sulur Air Base

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The changing geopolitical situation and security landscape has prompted the Indian government to accelerate military modernization, say experts.

Indian air force jets perform during the inauguration of the 341 kilometers (211 miles) long Purvanchal expressway, in Sultanpur district, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh

India is one of the world's top five arms importers

On December 24, a MiG-21 aircraft of the Indian Air Force crashed in the western state of Rajasthan during a training exercise, leaving one pilot dead.

The incident was the latest in a series of crashes in the year 2021 — one of the deadliest for Indian military aviation.

The crash also came weeks after the country's first chief of defence staff, General Bipin Rawat, was killed in a helicopter crash.

While the cause of the crash involving the general is still being determined, the December 24 accident saw the fifth MiG-21 jet go down in 2021.

The air disaster has once again brought the issue of obsolete military equipment into focus and triggered a discussion about Indian military modernization.

How Is The Process Going?

Defence experts say that the changing geopolitical situation and the security landscape of the Indian subcontinent have prompted the Indian government to accelerate military modernization.

"Since last year, we have seen this sudden jump in modernization because of tensions with China and the ongoing Ladakh standoff and, of course, the constant engagement with Pakistan," Amrita Jash, an assistant professor at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, said.

India's first chief of defence staff, General Bipin Rawat, was recently killed in a helicopter crash

Bharat Karnad, a national security expert and emeritus professor at the Centre for Policy Research, said that the modernization program was not well planned.

"Military modernization in India has always been a helter-skelter process, which only vaguely conforms to prospective plans drawn up by the concerned services' directorates," he said.

What Are The Challenges?

Experts say that one of the biggest challenges confronting India's military modernization is the defence budget. In 2020, India's defence budget stood at around $72.9 billion (€64.3 billion), while that of China amounted to about $178 billion.

"Modernization is ultimately a function of the financial resources made available to the military," Karnad stressed.

"The one singular problem in India's case is that the payroll expenditure for a manpower-intensive Indian army, in particular, is going through the roof," he said.

"Consider this: the army took up fully 56% of the 2020-2021 budget or $38 billion, of this only 18%, or approximately $7 billion, was allotted for capital expenditure, which is for the procurement of modern armaments and spares. $7 billion doesn't buy much military modernization these days," Karnad explained.

A key reform towards modernization, backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, aims to integrate the capabilities of the army, the navy and the air force.

The current 17 single-service units are to come under five "theatre commands" to establish a unified approach to deal with future conflicts.