2020 was a year that brought most things to a complete or partial standstill. As the world still reels from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is worthwhile to look back at a force that kept its head held high, continued to work with the same spirit, extended a hand of hope to others in need and now continues to build its way back to recovery. The pandemic raged on but so did the men and women of the Indian Armed Forces. Here is a quick summary of the calendar year for Indian Defence!
January: Army Day, 2020
Each of the three services has a special day that is of great significance in their respective journeys. The Army Day is celebrated on January 15th each year. It was on this day that General KM Cariappa became the first Indian officer to take charge of the Indian Army in 1949. The Army Day is a celebration of the Indian Army’s Military might, a salute to all its brave personnel who were killed in action and a sign of gratitude for all the serving officers. It is typically held at the Parade Ground in the Delhi Cantonment, with several parades organized in different parts of the country. Army Day 2020 saw the newly appointed Chief of Army Staff, General Manoj Mukund Naravane inspect the parade. This was also the first year where the country's first Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, was present at the ceremony. The highlight of the 72nd Army Day was Captain Tania Shergill of the Corps of Signals who was the first woman parade adjutant for the Army Day Parade this year.
A country’s Defence and security is intricately linked with its international relations with other nations. India has always recognised and acted on the same. In line with that, the Indian Navy kickstarted the year with a naval exercise with Oman called the Naseem-Al-Bahr. This was a bilateral maritime exercise of the Indian Navy and the Royal Navy of Oman (RNO) conducted in Goa. The harbour phase was conducted in Goa followed by the sea phase off the Goa coast. Experts discussed strategic and naval issues, sporting activities were conducted and conferences were held for the sea phase of the exercise. The 12th edition of the India-Oman exercise aims at strengthening maritime ties and geopolitical equations between the two nations.
February: Defence Expo 2020
February saw a unique display of India’s Military might on a global scale through the Defence Expo 2020. The mega-exhibition, held in Lucknow, showcases a wide spectrum of India’s defence, aerospace and security concerns. It serves as a singular platform to bring Defence technologies, innovations and solutions to aid and assist Defence manufacturers all over the world. The main theme of the Expo is 'India: The Emerging Defence Manufacturing Hub' and the focus will be on 'Digital Transformation of Defence'; two very pertinent trends in the global Defence market today. This year, more than 856 Indian Defence firms showcased their products at the Def Expo. Def Expo 2020 was a resounding success and it will prove to be a sound platform for Indian Defence manufacturers to up their export potential and realise the Government of India’s Atmanirbhar campaign.
March: A winning Defence deal
As the world moves increasingly closer, international trade deals are a strong indicator of countries’ relationships. Defence deals, in particular, are gaining more importance as countries collaborate to multiply their Military strength. In March 2020, India added a feather to its trade cap by bagging a massive $40 million dollar deal to supply four indigenously built SWATHI weapon locating radars to Armenia. The SWATHI radars were developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). A weapon locating radar can detect and provide the accurate location of enemy weapons like mortars, shells and rockets in a 50 km range. This deal is significant to India on two fronts- one, it is a massive boost to the ‘Make in India’ and Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign envisaged by the Modi Government and two, India has strategically played this card to counter Turkey’s increasing hostility towards the subcontinent. Armenia and Turkey have had a turbulent relationship for decades and now, as Turkey increasingly warms up to Pakistan, India finds it in her best interest to align with Armenia. As ancient Indian strategist, Chanakya famously remarked, ‘An enemy’s enemy is your friend’.
April: Aid in Uniform
Whatever the crisis may be, the Indian Armed Forces are known to be India’s first and her last line of Defence. This year, they exhibited that through their COVID-19 rescue and relief operations. The Army launched ‘Op Namaste’ on 27th March 2020 to signal the beginning of its fight against Covid-19. Quarantine facilities were established in different states, awareness drives were conducted and transport facilities were provided to healthcare workers and citizens returning from other countries. The Indian Navy under Operation Sagar and Operation Samudra Setu repatriated more than 3000 Indian nationals and provided aid facilities to friendly foreign nations to combat the virus. The Navy has also created various technological innovations such as sanitizing units, low-cost temperature guns, portable multi-feed oxygen manifolds and personnel protective equipment. The Indian Air Force, for its part, has undertaken the transportation of medical supplies including P.P.E. kits, ventilators and related equipment along with the movement by air of medical personnel. As of April 2020, the IAF had created 9 quarantine facilities and airlifted 6.2 tonnes of essential medicines and hospital consumables. The COVID-19 pandemic has, once again, highlighted how India’s Armed Forces have always risen to the country’s call for help and have served bravely in the face of any adversity- war, a natural disaster and even a global pandemic. (Read more)
May: Atmanirbhar Bharat
In a move that could majorly impact the Indian Defence industry, the Government of India announced the Atmanirbhar Campaign, with heightened stress on self-reliance and minimizing imports on all fronts. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced that India will stop the import of 101 weapons and military platforms like transport aircraft, light combat helicopters, conventional submarines, cruise missiles and sonar systems by 2024 following which the DRDO identified 108 Military systems and subsystems for the domestic industry to design, develop and manufacture. This comes as a much-needed move for bolstering India’s domestic Defence manufacturing industry. In an increasingly conflict-ridden world, it has become imperative for India to hold her own ground as far as her security is concerned. The process is a long one and the implementation a cumbersome one. But India has already set a foot forward in this direction and with the correct roadmap and policy suggestions, it is bound to scale new heights.
June: A Deadly Duel
The biggest Military development in 2020 unfolded in the Galwan Valley where the Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) engaged in a face-off after intrusive attempts by the PLA to alter the status quo at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The clash between the troops began late evening when an Army Squad consisting of about 50 soldiers reached a contested site near Patrol point 14. The soldiers were unarmed, as part of a protocol between the two sides. According to a de-escalation plan, Chinese troops were supposed to have withdrawn from the location. But the Army found Chinese troops stationed there in clear violation of the agreement. In a matter of minutes, the two sides were engaged in hand-to-hand fighting that triggered a seven hour violent face-off. According to reports, the Chinese troops attacked Indian soldiers with iron rods and nail-studded clubs. 20 Indian soldiers, including a commanding officer of an infantry battalion Colonel Santosh Babu were killed in action in what was considered as the deadliest clash in the region in the last 4 decades. Since then, several rounds of talks and round tables have been held between Army Generals and PLA commanders with no clear resolution in sight. (Read More)
July: Air Power
July 2020 marked a significant month for the Indian Air Force as they bolstered their airpower with the first batch of 5 Rafale Jets being flown into the Ambala Air Force station. The aircrew, headed by Group Captain Harkirat Singh, flew in the most anticipated addition to the Air Force-a twin-engine, canard-delta wing, omnirole aircraft. The Rafale acts as a force multiplier to the Indian Air Force with its maximum takeoff weight of 24.5 tonnes, its top speed of Mach 1.8, its advanced thrust-to-weight ratio, its specialised buddy-buddy refueling mechanism and its applaudable turnaround time. As India stands precariously on the cliff of conflict with China and Pakistan, her troublesome neighbours, the presence of Rafales in our airpower acts as a strong deterrent to the enemy. (Read More)
August: The Last Mile
The Grand Old Lady, as INS Viraat was fondly called, was the most potent symbol of Indian Naval might. This aircraft carrier was decommissioned in March 2017 and in August 2020, it was bought by Shree Ram Group for Rs 38.54 crore at an auction. She entered service with the Indian Navy in 1987 and has been the flagship vessel of the Navy ever since. The ship has clocked more than 22,622 flying hours by various aircraft in the past three decades and has spent nearly 2252 days at sea sailing across 5,88,287 nautical miles (10,94,215 KM). When approximated, this means that Viraat has spent 7 years at sea, circumnavigating the globe 27 times. She had a major role in Sri Lankan Peacekeeping Operations, in the Kargil War, in Operation Parakram and holds the Guinness Book of Records for being the longest serving warship in the world. INS Viraat has been the key to many glorious highs of the Indian Navy. Even as she is laid to rest, the presence of the formidable aircraft carrier will continue to be felt across Naval Commands for a long time. (Read More)
September: A Landmark Supersonic Missile
In September, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully tested an 'extended range' variant of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. The BrahMos was developed as a joint venture between India and Russia and it is capable of striking both ships and targets on land. The advantage of this extended range variant is that it will help ships and Army launchers to hit targets at longer distances and also enables them to stay at a distance to reduce the possibility of enemy attacks. The successful testing of the BrahMos by the DRDO is a significant marker in establishing DRDO’s presence as a leading domestic manufacturer for the Indian Military.
October: Guardians of India’s Skies
The Indian Air Force celebrates the Air Force Day on October 8 each year to honour the air warriors, Veterans and families of the Indian Air Force. This marks the day the Air Force in India was officially raised in 1932. Back then, what started with just six officers and 19 Hawai Sepoys stands as the fourth largest Air Force in the world today. The celebrations in 2020 were conducted in line with COVID restrictions and was attended by the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. This year, the aircrafts on display were the Tejas LCA, Mig-29 and 21, Sukhoi-30, the newly inducted Rafale jets along with helicopters like the Chinook, ALH, Rudra and Apache. It was followed by a ceremony and an address by the Defence Minister and the Chief of Air Staff, RKS Bhadauria. Not only does the day serve as a mark of respect to the Air Warriors who protect India’s skies, but also sends across a message to the citizens of the country that their security lies in strong, safe hands.
November: The Might of the Quad
The Malabar Exercise began on November 3, 2020 in all its glory. Exercise Malabar began in 1992 as a bilateral exercise between the United States and India. Japan joined as a permanent member in 2015. This year, the participating countries were the QUAD members- India, US, Japan and Australia. The exercise was conducted in two phases- Phase 1 was conducted in Visakhapatnam and Phase 2 was conducted in the Arabian Sea. The Indian Navy participation in Phase 1 involved the destroyer Ranvijay, frigate Shivalik, Off-Shore Patrol Vessel Sukanya, Fleet Support Ship Shakti and submarine Sindhuraj. In addition, Advanced Jet Trainer Hawk, long-range maritime patrol aircraft P-8I, Dornier maritime patrol aircraft, and helicopters also participated in the exercise. ‘The participants of Exercise Malabar 2020 are engaged to enhance safety and security in the maritime domain. They collectively support free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and remain committed to a rules-based international order’, as declared by the Ministry of Defence. At a time when China and Pakistan are on the world’s radar for stirring up trouble in international waters, a quadrilateral event of this magnitude sends a firm message to the parties involved.
December: The Silent Power of India’s Waters
December 4 marks the Indian Navy Day to commemorate Operation Trident, an important milestone in India’s Naval history. This Operation was an attack launched on the Karachi harbour during the 1971 India-Pakistan War that ravaged Pakistan’s fuel storage tankers. The Navy Day usually begins with the laying of a wreath at the War Memorial, by the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command, to pay homage to all the officers who were killed in action in the line of duty. The Navy also organises a Beating Retreat ceremony at Gateway of India in Mumbai on the eve of the Navy Day. The Indian Naval Band performs across places between Gateway of India and Radio Club in Mumbai. During the Navy week, several community activities are undertaken for old age homes and orphanages. It also witnesses the annual Military photo exhibition which has been an important part of the Navy Week celebrations since 2012. Indian Navy Day is also celebrated each year to work towards securing marine borders and bolstering relationships with other countries through joint exercises, humanitarian missions and relief operations. In 2020, Navy Day celebrations were curtailed by the restrictions imposed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic but the spirit reigned high, nevertheless.