It is historically recognised that the conduct of war has much to do with intellect, creativity and initiative. From this angle, it is imperative to devote attention towards the conceptual inquisition of the strategic complexions of warfare that may confront the Indian defence forces in the coming years. There are fundamental disputes in the neighbourhood, and even if it takes two to fight, just one is enough to start it. India, therefore, has no choice but to be ready to secure herself with the available and affordable resources. A new-look Doctrine may just help her do that.
“Organisations created to fight the last war better are not going to win the next.” —General James M Gavin
If the nation’s political leadership is unable to set its military goals, professionals cannot leave the matter in a limbo…
Native Military Theology
In the emerging equation of regional and global power-politics, it is incumbent upon India’s defence planners to frame the nation’s security concerns and orient its military power accordingly. That orientation is best achieved through promulgation of appropriate political mandate for the military establishment to devise a competent doctrine of war-fighting, which in turn would influence cost-efficient military force-structuring. Propositions over the cause of evolution of independent India’s native military theology and the parameters that must guide that complex venture is, therefore, the need of the hour.
Political Mandate for the Military
In any nation-state, structuring of military power, and maintaining it thereafter with regular course-corrections, is a solemn commission assigned to its military leadership. This assignment is conveyed through promulgation of a formal political mandate which is a key responsibility of a nation’s political leadership. Such formal political orientation is necessary on two counts. One, it protects the focus of the military organisation from getting diffused over every conceivable strategic contingencies and threats considered in isolation, many of which could actually be discarded in the interplay of other factors of the national grand strategy, thus preventing wasteful investments in defence build up. Two, it prepares the national leadership to girdle up to intervene by the exercise of political and diplomatic Chanakya Niti, when certain expected adversities cannot be tackled through affordable military options; and concurrently, it triggers innovations in native military theology to tackle the adversary’s advantages. These are but hoary lessons of political and military history.
In contrast, the attitude of the Indian state towards its military institution has been wavering between exclusion from political articulation and grudging tolerance to ward off existential threats emanating from inimical neighbours. Nothing substantiates this attitude more than the fact that the Indian state’s mandate to its military is confined to what is known as the ‘Raksha Mantri’s Directive’, which reportedly is but a brief statement over preparation for a war undefined and second, the resources allocated to that purpose remain inadequate to conform to that very ‘Directive’. In effect therefore, the political mandate for the Indian military is neither serious in intent nor practical in content. It fails to provide the right orientation for astute structuring of her military organisation with the resources viable, and thus uphold the political purpose of possession of military power.
Doctrines are difficult to articulate when state-policies remain exclusive of the military’s preview…
If the nation’s political leadership is unable to set its military goals, professionals cannot leave the matter in a limbo. Wars, even if they breakout due to political and diplomatic failings, have to fought by them after all. It was so that from time to time the Indian military leadership has been devising – in-house and bereft of serious political participation – contemporary-relevant concepts of structuring and applying its forces. Thus ‘defensive war, no territorial loss, achievement of favourable military stalemate and denial of enemy’s objectives’ had been the concept during the period 1963 to 1971. Then, between 1972 and 1987, the concept of application of military power graduated to ‘defence-offence’, which emphasized on blunting enemy’s initiative before switching to selective offensive(s) to destroy his forces and capture territory, thus making him pay for his venture – ‘K-Day’ Scenario in short.
By the end of 1980s, in tentative hope of state-support, the military establishment graduated to what was referred to as the ‘D’-Day Scenario – an operational concept that called for ‘proactive, deep offensive along selected thrust-lines and resort to offensive-defence elsewhere. However, the following decade of the 1990s brought such economic debilities upon the nation that translated into crippling starvation of its military capability. No doubt, all nations go through such periods when the sword has to be sheathed but that compulsion is managed by taking the military hierarchy onboard for them to go dormant without undermining the institutional competencies. In this instance however, a dismissive attitude within the Government prevented the military establishment from cushioning the impact. Effects of that apathy continue to fester till date. It is an uphill task to recover from the ‘hollowness’ that has eaten into the military structure during that period.
In the mid 2000s, after the experiences of nuclearisation, Kargil Conflict and Operation Parakram, the military hierarchy found confidence in articulating its war-fighting doctrines. That was so when the doctrine of ‘Cold Start’ operations came to be spoken of; notwithstanding its excellence, it stands officially repudiated. This doctrine, however, could be workable only if a good part of the defence forces is maintained at a state of ever-readiness, continuous flow of actionable intelligence is perfected, transportation plans stand sanctified, surge-production of consumables of war are practicable, ‘mobilisation units’ are ready, and above all, the political ‘end-state’ is spelt-out – all in a matter of just few days.
The muddle is massive indeed – the nation is the loser…
Similarly, an effective doctrine on ‘Sub-Conventional Warfare’ would be contingent upon Army’s primacy in unified command, integrated intelligence, good governance and genuineness of political process. Obviously, such doctrines are difficult to articulate when state-policies remain exclusive of the military’s preview.
A later effort in cobbling up a conjoined ‘Indian Military Doctrine’ remained superficial yet in providing a platform for build up of tri-service war-strategies. Not having the benefits of wider confabulation, experimentation, debate and tests, this initiative too could not break free of rhetoric; each service continuing to propagate its central role in isolation and the political authority, confused and apprehensive as ever, remaining aloof of the proceedings. Apparently, therefore, the world’s third largest military force stands geared up to fight three distinct service-specific wars with the noble intent of assisting each other in situations found conducive.
Furthermore, it intends to fight by the same methods as it has done in the past even when its adversaries have changed their strategies, and while pinned down by hollowing deficiencies in basic equipment and training standards, seeks panacea in ‘modernisation’ based on imported weaponry. The result is that today much of the force remains below par compared to the designated operational capabilities while much of these capabilities have by themselves gone obsolescent and unproductive against the investments made on these. The muddle is massive indeed – the nation is the loser. Only the promulgation of a genuine political mandate would trigger native doctrinal propositions to cover that chasm.
India’s native theology of prosecution of military operations had at best been confined just to certain ‘concepts’…
The Cause of Military Modernisation
Doctrinal deficiencies have led to diffused, if not conflicting, perceptions in intra as well as inter-service thoughts, and that has affected the much overdue call for Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) induced ‘modernisation’ of the military forces. Each service thus devised its self-centric modernisation schemes, none of which enjoyed political or fiscal commitment. In any case, the scope of those modernisation schemes was confined to procurement, mainly through import, of specific high-technology weaponry of capital nature.
Compatible modernisation of combat support and logistics force elements was left relegated, while there was practically no thought for innovative ideas in prosecution of a native brand of warfare. In other words, the military hierarchy was intent on engaging in past practices, under past settings, and relying just on new cutting edges to deliver. More disconcertingly, the ‘hollowness’ in basic weaponry and equipment – shortage of small arms, accessories, ammunitions, spares, instruments, sensors, transport and ancillaries without which capital weaponry is left useless in war, and which had accumulated over the years to costs amounting to most of the annual revenue budget – was left to be filled up through promises tentative and hopes uncertain.
The suggestion here is that even if India did not wish to factor military power in her peace-loving image, ordination of a visionary political mandate, and as a corollary, formulation of a formal military doctrine, had been an imperative that was glossed over. Truly, apart from certain exceptions, most world powers subscribe to a peaceful order just as India does, but even then they do not fail to spell out a political mandate to guide shaping of appropriate military doctrine and so preserve their core military assets for contingencies. That has not been the case with the Indian political and military system and that could have been the source of the disorientations in our defence planning. The result is that India’s native theology of prosecution of military operations had at best been confined just to certain ‘concepts’, but never could it assume the status of a true ‘doctrine’ that motivates build up of a cost-efficient force and turns it into a victorious one within the means at disposal.
India is hemmed-in from two sides by obsessively inimical neighbours…
A doctrine is a statement of intent to achieve specified goals. It must, therefore, proceed beyond textbook definitions, and rooted in actionable possibilities, indicate the strategy to harness the resources at hand in moving towards such goals. However, decision parameters being hazy and outcomes dictated by intangible factors, doctrinal inquisition and related military force-structuring is an exercise intellectually challenging and procedurally excruciating. Unpredictability of future equations of global as well as regional power adds to that complexity.
Most politically mature nations, therefore, beacon their military leadership by promulgation of what actually are defence white papers; Russians describing theirs as ‘Draft Military Doctrine’, French as ‘Defence Programme Laws’, Germans as “Defence White Paper’, British as ‘Strategic Defence Review”, Americans as ‘Quadrennial Defence Review’ and China as ‘National Military Strategy Guidelines’. These policy promulgations are preceded by a host of studies, experimentations, confabulations and debate which foster the qualities of foresight, prudence, practicability and pioneering – and even then, wisdom of statesmanship makes it incumbent to revisit such promulgations at regular intervals and make due course corrections. A native military doctrine is thus rooted in such formal political mandate, and revised according to the strategic dynamics.
Of course, it must be acknowledged that military mandate cannot be formalised when the nation’s defence oriented technological, industrial and fiscal capitals are way below par. That is the cost to be paid for the Indian state’s past naiveté when it found comfort in tying its politics of peace with anti-military demeanour, isolating military hierarchy from apex level decision making, strangulating defence industry under notions of disarmament and divesting defence research from military lien. Indeed, all nations negotiate through similar ambivalence in promulgating their military mandate. Really therefore, Indian defence planners too could make an effort in that direction – particularly since our threats are well identified – for the military leadership to pick up the cue and proceed to devise a native military theology. The Russians, Germans and Australians, amongst others, have done just that, much to the optimisation of their defence resource-allocation. But because that has not happened in the Indian dispensation, each service and their different arms, all of them remain partisan in defining factional roles and resources around their self-centrality.
India is not obsessed with controlling others and use of military power to impose on others…
As India finds its space in the contemporary world order and gears up to deal with its challenges and adversities, the idea of a truly meaningful military doctrine may not be stifled any more. The cause is ripened by the recent measures to energise the defence research, technology and industrial sectors because convergence of these aspects with appropriate military doctrine would integrate the nation’s entire defence system into one whole and leave out redundancies. Such an optimally focused, truly deterrent and cost-efficient military security is a national call, no less.
Fostering Military Security
Indian citizens know that the purpose of maintaining military forces is to exercise sovereign authority to protect our interests in a predatory world where, in the ultimate analysis, might is right. Notably, unlike many other powers, India is not obsessed with controlling others and use of military power to impose on others. Conversely, she is hemmed-in from two sides by obsessively inimical neighbours – the lesser one, Pakistan, going to the extent of subsuming its existential goals to hostility against all that India stands for, and the lead player, a giant, China of course, ascribing to India the role of a challenger to its power and hegemony. It would, therefore, be perfectly justified for Indian citizens to ask as to what goals the state may set for our military institution and what the military doctrine may be to achieve that end. The question, as to how practically implementable that doctrine might be, should also be a valid concern – you do not want to commit national resources for chimera, after all.