Pakistan carries the “hurt” of its 1971 loss of East Pakistan, while China, with memory of its successful 1962 adventure, has its hegemonic aim of becoming the world’s dominant economic and military power, beginning with its neighbourhood. In the context of China and Pakistan teaming up, defence preparedness to protect India’s sovereignty is vital.
It is time to recognize the reality of the situation and plan for the future, with a holistic understanding of the military which defends our borders to maintain our sovereignty.
If the following is viewed as taking a dim view of India’s defence preparedness, the present writer pleads guilty. There would perhaps be a bright side to the defence preparedness picture, but this writer is unable to spot it. In any case, it is not the writer’s intention to blame any political party in particular, because the problem of neglect of the defence sector by the politician-bureaucrat lobby is decades old.
What is undoubted is that our defence preparedness is a matter for serious concern. Unless we can understand it, recognize its shortcomings and take concerted, very urgent measures to rectify matters, we may repeat the situation of 1962 before the very same adversary, with Pakistan ever ready to open the western front.
This not a time for bravado and leaning on past laurels or immediate minor achievements. It is time to recognize the reality of the situation and plan for the future, with a holistic understanding of the military which defends our borders to maintain our sovereignty. In what follows, “military” refers to the three defence Services (or Armed Forces) namely, the army, the navy and the air force.
This writer believes that the matters which go into our defence preparedness to protect our territorial and political sovereignty need to reach a wider civilian audience. Hence some of what follows, though obvious or unnecessary for a military reader, is essential for a civilian to understand the issues.
That said, let us consider the matter in terms of military hardware, military skinware, military software & cyber capability, and military organization & communications.
Of the approximately 769 fighter aircraft our air force holds, and 106 on order including 36 Rafales, around 250 are obsolete, and there is a shortfall apart from obsolescence replacement.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee for Defence headed by Maj Gen B.C.Khanduri is reported to have informed Parliament about the “critical low stock of armaments”. Among other shortcomings in defence preparedness, the Committee’s March report stated that 68% of equipment with the armed forces was in the vintage category [Ref.1]. That was serious enough, but more serious is the fact that the state of weapons, equipment and ammunition in the armed forces being below par has been in the public domain for several years now. This is undoubtedly in the knowledge of China and Pakistan.
Of the approximately 769 fighter aircraft our air force holds, and 106 on order including 36 Rafales [Ref.2], around 250 are obsolete, and there is a shortfall apart from obsolescence replacement. According to IAF chief ACM Dhanoa, we are reeling under a severe shortage of fighter aircraft, holding 31 fighter squadrons against a sanctioned strength of 42, and even 42 falls short of the combined strength of China and Pakistan. This situation is not recent. It is worth noting that in a full-scale conflict, army operations can be seriously hampered without adequate offensive air support.
The shortfalls in weapons, vehicles and equipment in respect of the army, and of ships for the navy, which has a growing responsibility as the Chinese PLAN spreads into the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, are matters for no less concern.
The procurement processes and the indigenous production processes in respect of military hardware need the most serious consideration. There is no doubt that government is seized of the importance of the matter, but circumstances lead one to wonder whether the urgency is really appreciated.
…what he may doubt is the leadership’s ability to support the soldier-in-the-field in terms of protecting him during internal security duties. This doubt is militarily unhealthy because it affects morale.
If the weapons and equipment state is poor, the state of morale of army troops is not at its best either. The soldier’s morale is based upon a combination of several factors, including confidence in the chain of command. While the soldier may not doubt the competence of higher military command in the conduct of operations, what he may doubt is the leadership’s ability to support the soldier-in-the-field in terms of protecting him during internal security duties. This doubt is militarily unhealthy because it affects morale.
If this view is considered alarmist, one only has to note that over 700 serving soldiers of ranks ranging from Jawan to major general have gone over the heads of their command chain to the Supreme Court of India (SCI), pleading that they are being persecuted and prosecuted for their acts of commission or omission during internal security duties under the AFSPA. Whether their averment is “correct” or not will be decided by SCI in course of time. But whichever way the verdict goes, this over-the-commander’s-head initiative of 700 soldiers is being watched by 1.3 million other serving soldiers, sailors and airmen of all ranks. And it is not going to improve their flagging morale.
The several moves of the bureaucrat-politician nexus which have degraded the status of soldiers especially vis a vis other government agencies, despite over 80% of soldiers having to retire at age 38 to 42, and face high risk situations during service, has not escaped the notice of serving soldiers and veterans. This has its inevitable effect on a soldier’s morale, because he wonders why the military top brass does not speak up to the powers-that-be, and why the generals have forgotten their days when they were young officers fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the troops. The soldier may doubt the moral courage of his superiors, even while he has no doubt of their courage, initiative or professionalism in dangerous or life-threatening situations.
A great deal needs to be done, especially by the top echelons of military commanders strictly following the accepted dictum of country-first-troops-next-self-last, in all decision-making. It is clear that this dictum is not being followed. In all fairness, this was also happening earlier, although it was not as blatant as it appears to be today.
Enemy interference by hacking or otherwise attacking databases, can stall or hamper not just the military effort but even the national economy.
Software and cyber security
Boots-on-the-ground, warships-at-sea and fighters-airborne-in-minutes in real-time combat situations cannot succeed without cyber-dependent operations and logistics. The nation’s military as a credible deterrent, or as an effective defensive or strike force, is dependent upon its offensive and defensive cyber capability.
There are real threats to national security, which is not limited to military capability. This can be due to loss, leakage or corruption of data in critical economic, infrastructure and governmental command-and-control systems, whether due to ignorance, inadvertence or cyber attack.
The rapidity and effectiveness of military deterrence in threat situations, and of actual combat operations in rapidly changing situations, is dependent upon its inter-service and intra-service communications, and on the capacity to rapidly and efficiently shift reserves across operational theatres if and when required. All this is dependent upon the security and integrity of IT (computer-based) systems which control databases and communications.
Enemy interference by hacking or otherwise attacking databases, can stall or hamper not just the military effort but even the national economy [Ref.3].
The critical IT hardware (e.g., processors, servers, motherboards) and critical software (e.g., firewalls) which are at the core of our IT infrastructure, are purchased from the international market. Since most of our critical IT hardware is manufactured in countries over which China has the capability of influence on production processes, we need to understand that there is no such thing as a “safe” supplier in the cloak-and-dagger world of cyber warfare. [Ref.4 & Note below].
Until the NSC works out policy and action plans for adequate indigenous production of reliable IT equipment, the operations and logistics of our military remains open to interference from countries which have well-defined strategies and superior cyber warfare capability.
…as on date, the cabinet or the NSC does not have the benefit of a single-point-of-advice on military matters, whether they concern hardware, skinware, software, deployment or performance.
Ineffective cyber security is a military weakness and compromises deterrence capability. Our military’s dependence on imported critical cyber equipment calls for immediate, deliberate review of India’s real-time military capability for the IT-centric warfare of tomorrow. Inadequate understanding at top military echelons regarding cyber vulnerability and its effect on overall military capability, can have serious consequences.
Organization and communications
The defence Services (or Armed Forces, the term used in the Constitution of India) comprise the army, the navy and the air force. These Services, headed by a general, an admiral and an air chief marshal, are organized, equipped, trained and regularly exercised for their role in defending India’s land and sea borders and air space respectively. They have always displayed the highest standards of military performance. When called upon for joint operations, the three Service chiefs work out the details of inter-services support, using the “platform” of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), which is chaired by whichever Service chief happens to be the seniormost at the time. Chairing the COSC does not confer any authority over the other two services. Each Service chief is essentially a Chief of Staff – of the army (COAS), the navy (CNS) and the air force (CAS) – to advise the defence minister, the cabinet or the National Security Council (NSC).
Precisely because a Service chief is primarily responsible for his own service and answerable concerning its deployment and performance, as chairman of COSC without authority, his advice to the cabinet or the NSC cannot be holistic in the sense of taking into account the capabilities, of the other two services. Thus, as on date, the cabinet or the NSC does not have the benefit of a single-point-of-advice on military matters, whether they concern hardware, skinware, software, deployment or performance. The problem of single-point-of-advice can only be solved by creating the position of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who will be superior to the three Service chiefs, and be the advisor on military and external security matters to the PM in his capacity of Chairman of NSC, or as head of the cabinet.
The different physical locations of headquarters is a shortcoming because joint operations are hampered due to top commanders being unable to meet easily and readily.
Even if this post of CDS is created, there is another reason which inhibits the real-time, effective integration of the three Services. But before discussing this matter, we need to know that the highest executive commanders of the three services are GOC-in-C of each of seven army “Commands”, FOC-in-C of four naval Commands, and AOC-in-C of six air force Commands, all inclusive of a Training Command each. These Commanders-in-Chief are of the rank of Lieutenant General, Vice Admiral and Air Marshal for the army, navy and air force, each with a specific and defined theatre of responsibility. For example, the army has its Eastern Command, Central Command, Western Command, Northern Command, South-Western Command and Southern Command to cover the country’s entire territory. The navy and air force similarly have their own “Commands”. There are two joint Commands headed by an army, navy and air force officer in rotation, namely, the Andaman & Nicobar Command, and the Strategic Force Command.
The point at issue here is that, as rightly pointed out by a retired service chief, the Command headquarters of the various army, navy and air force Commands are not co-located. Further, even if their theatres are similarly named (e.g., army Eastern Command and air force Eastern Command), the geographic areas of their operational responsibility are not the same.
The different physical locations of headquarters is a shortcoming because joint operations are hampered due to top commanders being unable to meet easily and readily. Furthermore, the internal communications systems of army, navy and air force have developed independently, and as on date there is no direct and secure communication at the Command levels between the three services, because the systems are not technically compatible.
This would not have happened had there been a CDS, who would quite routinely have ensured this compatibility. The reason for not creating a CDS position is historical, and it is unnecessary to go into this because it will amount to finger-pointing and detract from the seriousness of not having a CDS.
Along our 3,380-km long northern border, the Chinese PLA forces are integrated into an operational whole under an unified command, while Indian forces have four sectors under four separate Commands.
Thus the organizational shortcoming is a combination of three main issues, namely,
- No single-point source of military advice to NSC Chairman,
- Different locations of Service Command headquarters,
- Different theatres of operational responsibility, and
- Lack of secure communications at the higher levels of command, both inter-services and intra-service.
The combined effect of these shortcomings can result in
- Critical delay in reacting to threat or attack situations due to lack of communication between different Services,
- Lack of coordination in offensive or defensive operations both within and between the Services, and
- Problems in committing army, navy or air force reserves of troops, weapons and equipment or logistics to meet developing tactical or strategic situations.
In this organization-communications structure, the information reaching New Delhi may be delayed or inaccurate, and cause unacceptable delay for the three service headquarters, the cabinet, the PM and the NSC to understand and appreciate the real-time situation at the points of contact with the enemy, so as to arrive at rational decisions and issue directions.
Along our 3,380-km long northern border, the Chinese PLA forces are integrated into an operational whole under an unified command, while Indian forces have four sectors under four separate Commands. The Chinese forces are advantaged in terms of terrain, logistic supply chain and organizationally, over our three Services. Moreover, it is an accepted fact of military strategy that the attacker has the initial advantage over the defender, and added to the other advantages, the Chinese forces are perhaps overwhelmingly advantaged, especially at the commencement of open conflict. Combined with the certainty of Pakistan simultaneously opening a western front, inadequate inter-Services and intra-Service communication and coordination, delay in decision-making and lack of unified command under a CDS will cost us dearly in terms of loss of strategic and tactical positions especially if the conflict is short and intense, as it is likely to be.
As things stand today, the NSC may take decisions based on the advice of the NSA who has no military experience. As in 1962, a possible military debacle will end with the military taking the blame, besides suffering manpower and weapons-and-equipment casualties.
It is imperative that a CDS is immediately appointed with command authority over the three service chiefs, and additionally with the position of NSA (external security) reporting to the PM, in coordination with the present NSA who can be redesignated as NSA (internal security). This will be a necessary beginning but nowhere near sufficient, because the CDS will have the unenviable task of urgent re-organization and coordination staring him in the face.
The military is government’s “instrument of last resort” both for internal and external security. The direct responsibility for overall military effectiveness at any point of time lies squarely on the shoulders of the three officers…
Finally, the army needs to be taken off internal security duties unless absolutely necessary, and that too for a strictly limited period of, say, 60-days in a calendar year. The task of internal security needs to be borne squarely by state police and CAPFs, especially the latter, whose numerical strength is comparable to that of the army.
At the bare minimum, military preparedness is a combination of adequacy of military hardware, the morale, training and fitness of the men who use that hardware, and the software which enables effective use of military hardware, all in the context of legacy problems and emerging threats.
Defence preparedness is the direct responsibility of the National Security Council (NSC) and the cabinet. It is the sum of military preparedness, diplomatic skills and capabilities, budgetary allocation of financial resources, and political vision. It calls for deployment and use of the nation’s hard and soft diplomacy (including intelligence) to complement basic military preparedness.
The military is government’s “instrument of last resort” both for internal and external security. The direct responsibility for overall military effectiveness at any point of time lies squarely on the shoulders of the three officers who occupy the position of Service chiefs at that point of time. Especially due to legacy problems, the onerous responsibility of the Service chiefs is unenviable.
The need for coordination and understanding between the three Service chiefs in dealing with the political-bureaucratic structure of governance cannot be over-emphasised. In this connection, the Chiefs of Staff Committee is organizationally and functionally inadequate to deal with government or to prosecute effective joint operations to meet emerging threats. This organizational structure cannot serve the need of the NSC Chairman to obtain adequate or timely military advice.
There is imperative and urgent need for creation of a post of Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) who is also a NSA, if our nation is to be effectively defended against immediate neighbourhood threats.
We must take all necessary, urgent and imperative measures to ensure that the 1962 situation is never repeated.
The current inadequacy of military and defence preparedness as outlined in the foregoing arguments is a bitter pill. Perhaps the most important ingredient of this bitter pill is the need for the army to be taken off internal security duties, which should be assigned to CAPFs. Administration of this bitter pill is the bounden duty of the Service chiefs.
For the three Service chiefs to be individually and jointly unequivocal in pointing out inadequacies in military preparedness and higher defence management to government is not easy, but being in the “hot-seat” is never easy.
We must take all necessary, urgent and imperative measures to ensure that the 1962 situation is never repeated.
“B.C.Khanduri removed as defence panel chairman”; <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/bc-khanduri-removed-as-defence-panel-chairman/article24980589.ece>; The Hindu, September 19, 2018.
“List of active Indian Military Aircraft”; Wikipedia; <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_active_Indian_military_aircraft>; Accessed on 07.10.2018.
Vombatkere, S.G., “Cyber Security – Civil and Military Implications”; Indian Defence Review; Jan-Mar 2018; Vol 33(1), pp.38-42.
Jordan Robertson & Michael Riley; “The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies”; <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-10-04/the-big-hack-how-china-used-a-tiny-chip-to-infiltrate-america-s-top-companies>; Bloomberg Business Week, October 4, 2018.
The article titled “The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies” dated 04.10.2018 [Ref.4], concerns server motherboards built in USA into which a microchip has been clandestinely inserted during the manufacturing process, allegedly by China. The microchip is designed to manipulate the core operating instructions and alter the server’s functioning including reporting code to anonymous computers elsewhere, without IT managers being any the wiser. It is reported that these motherboards are “found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships”. Chinese telecom giants Huawei Corp and ZTE Corp are suspected to be involved, although these companies have expectedly denied involvement and China states that it too is a victim. Clearly, the focus would be high-priority targets, including advanced commercial technology and the computers of rival militaries.