Shortly after independence, fighting broke out with Pakistan over Kashmir at the end of 1947. It was ended by a cease-fire in January 1949. War between India and Pakistan occurred again in 1965 and in 1971. India also fought a war with the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1962, when the PRC disputed India's claim to Aksai Chin in northeastern Jammu and to Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh in the east. PRC forces invaded, defeated the Indians, and secured the disputed territory. The Indian military also participated in a number of peacekeeping operations during the Cold War, including in Sri Lanka during 1987–1990 and the Maldives in 1988.
Following independence, the Indian military carried out major reforms with only mixed success. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, worried about a threat from the military, insisted on strengthening civilian control. Minister of Defense V. K. Krishna Menon (1957–1962) oversaw the construction of tank production facilities and the manufacture of the Ichapore semiautomatic rifle. India also acquired the light fleet carrier Hercules from Britain, which India rebuilt and renamed the Vikrant. Nonetheless, the Indian military was largely caught off guard and did not perform well in the 1962 war with the PRC, for which Menon was widely blamed.
The poor showing of the Indian military in the fighting with the PRC led Nehru to push military expansion. Between 1966 and 1970 India built six British Leander-class frigates at the Mazagon shipyard in Bombay. India also produced other Western ship types as well as Soviet Union types and its own indigenous designs. In addition, India built under license Soviet MiG-23 fighter aircraft. Such programs gave India the edge in the 1971 war with Pakistan. The creation of Bangladesh from the former East Pakistan was a strategic boost to Indian defense planning, allowing India to concentrate the bulk of its military resources against Pakistan. Nonetheless, continuing tensions with both China and the United States led Indian leaders to significantly strengthen the national military establishment. Although India was officially nonaligned, much of this buildup occurred with assistance from the Soviet Union.
By the end of the Cold War, the Indian military was counted as one of the top ten in the world. At the close of the twentieth century, it numbered some 1.173 million men, with an additional 528,000 men in the reserves. The army consisted of 980,000 men organized in three armored divisions, four rapid response divisions, and eighteen infantry divisions as well as in artillery and other support units. Indian main battle tanks (MBT) included the Russian T-72 and the domestically produced Vijayanta, manufactured at great expense for questionable return. Numbering 55,000 men in 1995, the navy was the principal regional sea power. It operated 86 ships and 30 auxiliaries, centered on the former British fleet aircraft carrier Hermes, acquired in 1986 and renamed the Viraat. The fleet air arm flew 35 combat aircraft, including Sea Harriers obtained from Britain, and 36 helicopters. Its air force of 140,000 men operated 808 airplanes and helicopters. Most of the jet aircraft were Soviet types, a number of them produced under license and including the MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-27, and MiG-29.
India also joined the nuclear club. It first tested a nuclear device in 1974 at Pokharan and then developed atomic bombs in the late 1980s. Indian ballistic missiles allow delivery of nuclear weapons within the region. Overall, at the end of the Cold War India's military establishment was the most powerful in South Asia.
Melissa Hebert and Spencer C. Tucker
Praval, K. C. The India Army after Independence. New Delhi: Lancer International, 1990.; Rosen, Stephen Peter. Societies and Military Power: India and Its Armies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996.; Sodhi, H. S. Top Brass: A Critical Appraisal of Indian Military Leadership. Noida, India: Trishul, 1993.