Year 2022 was a mixed bag for the Indian military. Given our two difficult neighbours, China and Pakistan, what does 2023 hold?

Year 2022 was a mixed bag for the Indian military. While the Indian Army continues to tackle Chinese troops in the icy heights of the Himalayas, the navy got a major boost with INS Vikrant, the country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier. It put India in the elite group of nations to have developed their own aircraft carriers. What does 2023 hold for India militarily given its two difficult neighbours, China and Pakistan?

After 17 rounds of military commander-level meetings between India and China, the situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) remains tense. Both sides have amassed a high number of men and weaponry along the border. The incursion attempt by the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) in Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh in December has again shown how the Chinese military cannot be trusted. China has also refused to accept India’s proposal for disengagement at Demchok and Depsang Bulge in Ladakh. India will have to keep a close eye on Chinese movements since latest satellite images show new Chinese forward posts in the area.

Meanwhile, the first batch of Agniveers has reached training academies. Over 5.4 million registrations were received by the three services for Agniveer recruitment into the Indian armed forces (army 3.7 million, navy 0.95 million and air force 0.76 million). In June 2022, the Union government had announced the Agnipath scheme for recruitment of youth into the military. As per the plan, after serving for four years, 75 per cent of the recruits would be retired with a financial package of Rs 12 lakh.

Agniveers will be eligible for all gallantry honours as well as perks like Siachen Allowance. If killed in action, an Agniveer’s family would get a compensation of Rs 1 crore. The scheme received a lot of flak within the military fraternity over its truncated training schedule. If a regular trooper is trained in basics like weapons handling and fieldcraft for 44 weeks, Agniveers will receive only 26 weeks of training.

For the Indian Air Force (IAF), the priority going ahead is to replenish its depleting fighter squadrons in order to, as Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari recently said, “retain our combat edge”. The statement came even as China was bolstering its airbases in Tibet with deployment of a large number of fighter jets and advanced drones.

The IAF is left with 31 squadrons against its approved strength of 42. Recently, the IAF received the last of its 36 Rafale fighter jets as part of a deal with France. But the overall number remains low as most of the IAF fighter jets are on way to completing their service period. In September, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had approved Rs 6,500 crore in additional funds to fast-track the development of an upgraded version of the TEJAS MK-2, which is supposed to replace 16 fighter jet squadrons—three squadrons of Mirage 2000, five of MiG-29, six of Jaguar and two of MiG-21 Bison.

The IAF is looking to bolster its fighter squadron strength to 40 by 2040. In 2018, it had floated a request for proposal worth $20 billion to procure 114 foreign-made multirole fighter aircraft (MRFA)—about six squadrons. But the deal is yet to take off.