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Indian Power Projection: Ambition, Arms and Influence (WHP 85)

Shashank Joshi
Whitehall Papers, 27 December 2015
Aerospace, India, Defence Management, Defence Policy, Maritime Forces
India’s power projection remains in a nascent stage while its threat perceptions continue to be dominated by local threats. But as the country’s power, interests and capabilities all grow, India may once more find itself using military force beyond its land borders

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India is growing into one of Asia’s most important military powers. Its defence budget has more than doubled in the past decade, and it imports more arms than anyone else in the world. But India is still seen as a land power focused on long, disputed and militarised borders with Pakistan and China rather than the global military force it was in the first half of the twentieth century under British rule. Is this changing? India is acquiring increasing numbers of key platforms – aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, refuelling tankers and transport aircraft – that are extending its reach to the Indian Ocean littoral and beyond. But most accounts of this build-up have been impressionistic and partial.

Indian Power Projection assesses the strength, reach and purposes of India’s maturing capabilities. It offers a systematic assessment of India’s ability to conduct long-range air strikes from land and sea, transport and convey airborne and amphibious forces, and develop the institutional and material enablers that turn platforms into capabilities. It draws extensively on the lessons of modern expeditionary operations, and considers how India’s growing interests might shape where and how it uses these evolving capabilities in the future.

This study finds that Indian power projection is in a nascent stage: limited in number, primarily of use against much-weaker adversaries and deficient in some key supporting capabilities. India’s defence posture will continue to be shaped by local threats, rather than distant interests. Indian leaders remain uncomfortable with talk of military intervention and expeditionary warfare, associating these with colonial and superpower excess. But as the country’s power, interests and capabilities all grow, India may once more find itself using military force beyond its land borders.

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List of Tables and Figures

I. India’s Defence Posture
II. Air-Power Projection
III. Land-Power Projection
IV. Enablers: The Sinews of Power Projection
V. The Future of Indian Power Projection


Shashank Joshi is a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London and a Research Associate at the Changing Character of War Programme at Oxford University. He is also a PhD candidate in the Department of Government, Harvard University. He specialises in international security in South Asia and the Middle East, with a particular interest in Indian foreign and defence policy. He received his BA from Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge and his MA from Harvard, where he was a Kennedy Scholar. He has lectured frequently at the UK Defence Academy and to other diplomatic, military, and academic audiences in the UK and abroad. His work has been published in a variety of peer-reviewed and policy journals, and in British, American and Indian newspapers.

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Shashank Joshi
Advisory Board

Shashank Joshi is Defence Editor of The Economist, where he writes on a wide range of defence and... read more

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