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Of realising dreams and making them come true
India must learn from the Middle Kingdom which is already on the path to rejuvenation. It is a pity that while we have the ingredients (brains), political will is lacking
Despite (or perhaps thanks to) its rigid system of governance, at the beginning of 2016, China has undertaken in-depth reforms of its defence forces, aiming at a far wider ‘integration’ and a greater jointness of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) different branches.
Instead of the three traditional services, China has now five ‘services’; added to the PLA’s Army, Navy and Air Force, are the PLA Rocket Force (formerly, the second artillery) and the Strategic Support Force (SSF), a game changer, according to all observers.
“While the Chinese PLA’s new SSF is a critical force for dominance in the space, cyber, and electromagnetic domains,” The Diplomat noted a few months back, “the SSF’s function of ‘strategic support’, namely information support, will be equally vital to the PLA’s capabilities to fight and win wars.” It is certainly the force to watch.
It, however, is not only about restructuring the commands and the military regions; President Xi Jinping wants also to give a boost to the Research and Development (R&D) domain to catch up with the United States in terms of new weaponry in the decades to come.
Last week, the Chinese Central Television (CCTV) broadcast a TV documentary in which the actual number of aircraft carriers planned by China was given. In a first stage, it will be six. The first two ski-jump takeoff mid-sized models have come out of the dockyards. The next two should be conventionally-powered carriers with catapult take-off capabilities; probably an electromagnetic catapult. Jane’s Review reported that it will “be fitted onto the second of the country’s indigenously built aircraft carriers, commonly referred to as the Type 002.” Jane’s had previously reported that the system was similar to the General Atomics Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) used by the United States.
The last two carriers will be nuclear-powered comparable to the US Nimitz class. In the long-run (by 2050), China will build another four world-class carriers, thus giving the PLA Navy 10 aircraft carriers.
On November 26, CCTV showed the footage of a Dongfeng-41, or DF-41, Beijing’s next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile, which could strike anywhere in the world. It has a range of 7,500 miles and could carry up to 10 nuclear warheads. A Chinese military expert claimed “the missile can hit every corner of the earth” — ie the US. The warhead is set to be inducted in 2018.
A lot of money is also poured into the Hypersonic Vehicle Technology Project; available data shows that China has started developing conceptual and experimental hypersonic flight vehicle technologies such as hypersonic cruise vehicles (HCV) capable of maneuvering at Mach 5 speeds (6,150+ km/h), flying in near-space altitudes. It could be another game changer.
Cutting-edge research, like in the field of quantum communication (which will make communications un-hackable) is also undertaken by the Chinese scientists.
The Academy of Military Sciences explicitly asserted: “Space and cyberspace increasingly constitute important battlefields. A new type of five-dimensional battle-space of land, sea, air, space, and cyber is currently taking shape, which is wide in scope, hyper-dimensional, and combines the tangible and intangible.” The list of new fields of research is long.
Take the long-range unmanned aerial vehicles. In 2015, media reported the development of the Shendiao (Sacred Eagle or Divine Eagle) as the PLA’s newest high-altitude, long-endurance UAV for a variety of missions such as early warning, targeting, Electronic Warfare (EW) and satellite communications. China is also working on an unmanned combat aerial vehicle named the ‘Black Sword’, which could one day compete with the best US drones.
Beijing has a medium and long-term programme which aims at transforming China into an ‘innovation-oriented society’ by 2020; the plan defines China’s leading-edge technologies. Last year, a US report explained: “China has identified certain industries and technology groups with the potential to provide technological breakthroughs, to remove technical obstacles across industries, and to improve international competitiveness.”
There are other fields such as ‘intelligent perception technologies’ or ‘virtual reality technologies’, but also ‘new materials’ such as smart materials and structures, high-temperature superconducting technologies, and highly efficient energy materials technologies; and, of course, AI (Artificial Intelligence).
In a just released report, Elsa Kania at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) writes: “China is no longer in a position of technological inferiority relative to the United States but rather has become a true peer (competitor) that may have the capability to overtake the United States in AI,” she adds: “it could alter future economic and military balances of power.”
Beijing has also ‘megaprojects for assimilating and absorbing’ technology; an import substitution action plan in order to create indigenous innovations through ‘co-innovation’ and ‘re-innovation’ of foreign technologies. The megaprojects have an objective of ‘assimilating and absorbing’ to help China to ‘develop a range of major equipment and key products that possess proprietary intellectual property rights’
Xi Jinping has a Dream, the great rejuvenation of Chinese nation: “It is an unstoppable historical trend that won't be diverted by the will of any individual country or person,” asserts China Military Online.
Does Delhi even realise the true objective behind the Chinese Dream, which is to make of China a dominant, self-reliant superpower? India has ‘certainly’ something to learn from the Middle Kingdom in terms of ‘dreaming’.
China has its own problems; one is the rigidity of its bureaucracy functioning under the Communist Party, but even if the present Chinese system is not congenial to innovations, considering its structure and the restrictions imposed by the unique Party system, Beijing is going full steam with the most-advanced researches.
In India, the defence sector still depends in a large measure on imports. One of the reasons is the lack of large-scale R&D. This is a serious problem. Take the example of Dassault Aviation; after the constructor of the Rafale was selected in the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) project, it expressed some doubts about the capacity of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to absorb French technology; without even speaking about ‘innovations’, HAL could not ‘digest’ the French technology.
The Modi sarkar has tried to partially solve the issue by introducing 50 per cent offsets that Dassault and its partners need to reinvest in India. Tremendous efforts need to be made in the domain of ‘research’, if India is serious about catching up with China and the West in the domain of ‘innovation’.
Will the Indian system able to be a top-class innovator is the real question? China, like India, suffers from bureaucratic deficiencies, but the leadership in Beijing has a tremendous political will (and adequate economic means) to change this scenario in the years to come; it does not seem the case in India.
The Indian Dream has been partially formulated with the ‘Make in India’ scheme, but even if succeeds, it will not solve the R&D issue. It is a great pity, because the ingredients (brains) are very much present.
(The writer is an expert on India-China relations and an author)
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