AN ARMY MARCHES ON its stomach, but its provisions roll along roads. In January 2023, a month after a clash along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between Indian and Chinese troops in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, defence minister Rajnath Singh visited the north-eastern state. Using the peppy shorthand for 'brother', he quipped that the BRO (Border Road Organisation) personnel were "brothers of our armed forces". Indeed, the Narendra Modi government has accorded the utmost importance to building border roads. In the past five years, the BRO has constructed over 3,600 km of roads, mostly along the LAC, at an overall cost of Rs 20,767 crore, to facilitate all-weather access to forward areas. With this massive infrastructure push, the Indian military has improved its battle readiness along the China border. Little wonder then that in the Union budget for 2023-24, BRO's capital outlay is Rs 5,000 crore, as against Rs 3,500 crore in 2022-23—a jump of 43 per cent.

In his Independence Day address in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the country's military would have a Chief of Defence Staff—the highest-ranking military officer and chairman of the chief of staffs committee. In December that year, then army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat was named the first CDS. On the new CDS's agenda was the optimum utilisation of scarce resources through the integration of the military capabilities of the three services. However, his plan to create theatre commands for increased combat efficiency, was put on the backburner after his tragic death in December 2021.

From May 2020, a series of border clashes broke out between the Chinese and Indian armed forces along the LAC in Ladakh, as the former attempted incursions at various points like Pangong Tso. In June occurred the violent clash in the Galwan Valley, in which 20 Indian soldiers and an 'undisclosed' number of Chinese troops lost their lives. However, it has been alleged by some locals in Ladakh that Indian authorities had ignored steady intrusions by the Chinese despite being repeatedly warned. As the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China brought in troops, armour and heavy equipment up to the LAC, Indian military carried out a 'mirror deployment'—at its height, Indian troop deployment swelled to 50,000, as heavy transport aircraft airdropped equipment and provisions. Since then, multiple rounds of military and diplomatic negotiations have gradually defused tension and led to disengag ement and drawback of men and mat e riel at five out of seven friction points along the LAC in eastern Ladakh. Even during the crisis, the military was helping with logistics to combat the Covid pandemic—from setting up hospitals to flying in oxygen.

In June 2022, the government brought in the radical Agnipath recruitment scheme to build youthful, tech- savvy and future-ready armed forces. Under it, youth would be trained as soldiers, airmen and sailors for four years. It was opposed by those who felt it would lower the efficiency of the military, as well as by many youth, who thought they would be left in the lurch after four years, as the scheme allows for permanent recruitment of only 25 per cent of 'Agniveers'. However, the Centre has promised that Agniveers would be given priority for recruitment in central police forces and Assam Rifles.

Though India is amongst the largest importers of arms, the government is pushing hard to bring 'self-reliance' in defence under the Make in India initiative. To boost domestic manufacturing, the MoD embargoed the import of 4,666 military items and weapons systems in 2020. That year, the government allowed FDI under the automatic route (depending on a case to case basis) to go up to 74 per cent (from 49 per cent), and up to 100 per cent through the government route, wherever it would result in access to modern technology. In the past four years, India's defence manufacturing industry has achieved several milestones. One was the commissioning of the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier INS Vikrant—the largest naval ship to be designed and built in India—in September 2022. The other was the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) Prachand.

Defence exports reached a high of around Rs 16,000 crore in 2022-23. India is exporting military hardware to 85 countries. While India is exporting Dornier-228 planes, 155 mm Advanced Towed Artillery Guns (ATAGs), BrahMos missiles, Akash missile systems and Pinaka rockets, some countries have expressed interest in the LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) TEJAS and Prachand.