There is growing opinion within the strategic community that the services, mainly the army, needs to get out of its feudal mindset and give serious attention to reducing troop strength and enhancing combat capability by investing in technology. While there is much merit and wisdom in the argument that investing in technology to enhance combat power is much better than focusing on incremental increases in manpower, especially since manpower costs in the long run are not only unsustainable due high revenue outflow on salary and pensions but also adversely impact on capital expenditures and modernization. However, it is worth noting that in our context manpower requirements, especially the need for the ubiquitous boots on the ground, are based on such issues as terrain conditions, threat assessment and administrative requirements.
…the solution lies in taking a hard relook at our threat perceptions, operational concepts for war-fighting and adopting measures that can help in rationalizing manpower requirements.
The fact that we are faced with a unique situation with regard to the 740 Km Line of Control (LOC) between POK and Jammu & Kashmir and the 4056Km Line of Actual Control (LAC) that separates India from the areas controlled by China cannot be wished away. It is in these areas, especially with regard to the LOC that the situation of ‘no war, no peace’ is prevalent which implies that areas need to be held de-facto and claims are of little importance. In such circumstances the necessity for sizeable manpower deployment is unavoidable with the added administrative requirement of having sufficient reserves for relief and turnover.
Serving in mountains, especially high altitude is arduous, physically demanding and mentally challenging and requires regular turnover of units. Terrain and its impact on technology is the second issue that requires serious examination. While technology does play an important role in mountains with regard to improved survivability and logistics, the adverse impact of terrain and weather on electronic equipment, surveillance devices, transportation, weapons and ammunition needs to be factored in. This implies not only the need for duplication to ensure reliable functioning with its impact on maintainability and cost but also in some cases the need to adopt manpower intensive alternatives to ensure fool proof functioning.
Do these factors along with the requirements for additional troops to protect our international boundaries and meet our other commitments, such as counter insurgency, imply that manpower reduction is an unviable option? Of course not, but the solution lies in taking a hard relook at our threat perceptions, operational concepts for war-fighting and adopting measures that can help in rationalizing manpower requirements. While restructuring of the higher defence management, whether we adopt the suggestion given above or go in for a Chief of Defence Staff, is of the highest priority there is also a need to look at our organizational structures, weapons and equipment procurement policies, administrative establishments, logistics units and training structures and integrate them to the extent possible.
We must question the need for three strike corps in our western plains sector and consider if we cannot maintain an appropriate defensive posture with adequate strike capabilities using smaller and technically better organized forces.
For example, better command and control systems have led the US Army to commence “transforming the Army from its traditional, division-based force into a brigade-based force, a concept that has come to be known as “modularity.”[v] There is no reason why we cannot consider such restructuring for our formations in the plains, especially when we talk of a ‘cold start’ policy. What exactly stops us from training policemen, chefs, clerks and a host of other specializations in tri- service training establishments? There are numerous such examples which will gain in terms of efficiency and value by tri-service integration apart from ensuring huge savings in manpower and financial expenditures. Similar focus by each service on these issues will also provide huge dividends and the requirement of transforming our DRDO and defence production establishments is not even being touched on.
Threat Perception and Policy Initiatives
If we are clear as to the direction from which we face maximum threat, it is incumbent on policy makers to ensure actions are initiated to minimize all other threats that we face and the services are able to focus on dealing with the primary threat. While we may or may not be able to solve the Siachin and the Jammu and Kashmir issues with Pakistan any time soon, we need to commence serious discussion to prevent deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on priority.
Apart from the fact that the concept of employment and the command and control systems for the use of such weapons is extremely imprecise and indefinite, the issues of their physical security and safety raise grave concerns. If Pakistan plans to deploy these weapons based on the threat that our policy of “cold start” poses, we must seriously consider alternatives to diminish such perceptions. While a Kargil like situation is not inconceivable in the mountains, the fact that a conventional war between nuclear armed states in high population density areas is highly improbable. We must, therefore, question the need for three strike corps in our western plains sector and consider if we cannot maintain an appropriate defensive posture with adequate strike capabilities using smaller and technically better organized forces.
Similarly, we must give adequate attention to building up infrastructure on our eastern borders and also look at the issue of integrated border management seriously. The existing system is gravely flawed especially since the ITBP and the Army have completely different command and control structures and no institutional structures promoting coordination are in place. There is also a need to look at value addition in terms of integrating and enhancing our intelligence, surveillance, command, control and communications, cyber and electronic warfare and special operations capabilities as also our ability to handle out of area contingencies.
In Manipur it appears that a law and order problem is being treated as an insurgency to ensure that the army can be unwittingly utilized to maintain the status quo by pressurizing the local population which is greatly impacted by the promulgation of the AFSPA.
Finally, we need to introspect with regard to our employment of the army in counter insurgency operations within our borders. While undoubtedly the army has overwhelming expertise in conduct of such operations, we have been spending large amount of funds on expanding the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) to assume this responsibility with little result. Their command and control structures, recruitment and training leave a lot to be desired and it is worth considering if the vast numbers of ex- servicemen retiring at an early age cannot be adequately utilized to strengthen the capability of these forces.
Moreover, there are serious doubts as to whether the deployment of the army on counter insurgency operations in some areas, such as Manipur for example, is justified? The question that needs to be answered is can an insurgency, which basically is a political movement supported by the local population, continue at low a low key for decades. Logically, it either the populace becomes more disillusioned and this leads to civil war or the situation is resolved and the insurgency dies down as was the case in Punjab or Srilanka.
In Manipur it appears that a law and order problem is being treated as an insurgency to ensure that the army can be unwittingly utilized to maintain the status quo by pressurizing the local population which is greatly impacted by the promulgation of the AFSPA. This permits corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and security personnel to function without any accountability.
History has shown on innumerable occasions that armies have either been defeated or faced defeat because they prepared for the last war. Preparation for the future requires a hard look at the structures, processes and people that go to make up our war fighting capability. As there is no place for runners up in war. It is incumbent on our military hierarchy to ensure that they are not guilty of acts of commission or omission that can result in sub optimal performances by the armed forces in meeting their constitutional duties. A greater responsibility rests with our political leadership to clearly enunciate our national strategic direction and provide the required direction, momentum and resources to ensure that the armed forces have the capability to meet the challenges that face our nation in the coming days.
[i]Moore, Lt Gen (Retd) Harold G & Galloway, Joseph L; We were Soldiers Once…. and Young; pp 368-370; Random House Inc, New York, 1992
[iii]Chansoria, Monika; Chinese PLA’s Integrated Military Exercises in Tibet ; http://www.claws.in/SW/SW%20J.52-56.pdf
[iv]Raja Menon, A Mountain Strike Corps is not the only Option, The Hindu 29 Jul 2013; http://www.thehindu.com/navigation/?type=static&page=archive
[v] Stuart E. Johnson, John E. Peters, Karin E. Kitchens, Aaron Martin, Jordan R. Fischbach; A Review of the Army’s Modular Force Structure; RAND National Defence Research Institute, 2012, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2012/RAND_TR927-2.pdf