With the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, the alignment between Russia-China-Pakistan-Turkey and Iran, tensions and competition in the South Pacific, South China Sea and Indian Ocean, the encirclement of India with the String of Pearls in the waters and encroachment on our land borders in the North China has left no doubts about her aggressive designs against India, aided and supported by Pakistan, the encirclement appears to be complete.
The war in Ukraine sponsored and abetted by America and NATO, sanctions against Russia have apparently had precisely the opposite effect. The economies of European Countries seem to be over stretched. Shortage of Oil and Gas have caused panic amongst a divided Europe and a perceived weakened America(with their withdrawal from Afghanistan). The competition on globalizing currency against the American dollar is yet to unfold in entirety. The dollar continues to hold high and as a contrast the Indian rupee has plummeted despite claims of a growing economy.
The ‘Covid’, confrontation with America and economic sanctions, apparently has not had the desired effect on China. Although interspersed ripples regarding their economy can be read, no major indication of adversities is apparent so far from the continued flexing of muscle.
The world view was that with the vacuum created by the US military withdrawal, the economy would collapse and the takeover by Taliban would result in mayhem, drug market and terrorism would fan out, thus far it appears that apart from a few American strikes, it is business as usual. For some reason the anticipated increase in Taliban strikes against India have yet to manifest in the intensity predicted. However, the potential threat remains.
Closer Home:Bordering Countries
Pakistan; economy in the pits, political turbulence, military domination in governance continues, floods have added further misery. The internal situation and state of economy, however, may be expected to be the focus of the citizens as well as the Military Junta and act as a dissuasion or reason for aggression to enhance terrorism along our Northwestern borders and divert attention from the strife within. Pakistan cannot be expected to remain dormant for long. Not surprising, they have managed to evade being blacklisted.
Nepal; according to some media reports, there is apparently a tacit Chinese influence in the internal affairs of the country. Agniveer, the new recruitment policy for the Indian Armed Forces, can also be seen boomeranging with Nepalese refusing to join and reports of China recruiting them for mountain warfare!
Bhutan; a small peaceful buffer, no longer remains a buffer since it lacks the strength to contest China in any and every field. Thus, Doklam is done and dusted. India apparently has succumbed in this area too.
Bangladesh and Myanmar; both have economic and defense ties with China which is busy developing infrastructure, ports and so forth.
Sri Lanka; in distress, economy in shambles, debt ridden, nothing much can be expected from them as has been demonstrated by the Chinese presence in the Port of Hambantota and Colombo. The Chinese spy ship continues to explore the waters near Sri Lanka.
The Chinese influence in our neighboring states leaves India with two options. Contest the Chinese influence with everything at our disposal, be it economic, military as well as pressure from the International Community or accept the Chinese domination. I believe the former option ought to be adopted. Our AI and propaganda machinery combined with ‘psychological operations’ require more attention in order to shape perception and more importantly mobilize the minds of Indians to spread awareness as well as unite them to face the threats.
Given the hostile environment in our subcontinent, it is time to introspect and examine where we stand, what do lessons from the US failure in Iraq and Afghanistan hold for us and what can we learn from the on going war in Ukraine.
But first our inner weakness the Internal environment. The Indian Government is well entrenched and for all practical purposes willing to take risks, however, our social fabric, already stretched to the limits due to a myopicview of ‘Secularism’ is as vulnerable as the Achilles Heel and open to criticism both from within and abroad, the recent criticism of the CAA by many including China are an indicator of what can happen. Internal politics too encourage rifts amongst communities. The Indian Political Leadership could perhaps act in a more responsible or sensitive manner on such issues and adopt measures to unify the populace rather than play with sentiments which are divisive in nature.
Potential Conflict on the Indian Subcontinent, the tensions and competition in our neighborhood threatens to bring to a head China-Russia versus America-NATO-India in a conflict of interests, causing a tectonic shift in the global order. Taiwan could be a flash point, the security of sea lanes an area of conflict,threatening the peace and sanctity of the Indian Ocean, India’s back yard which is being eyed by China.
China and Russia are known to be thinking of future wars. The Chinese white paper talks of the PLA being ready to fight a war through an ‘Inteligised’ battlefield environment. Other aspects which merit attention could be: –
- Gainful employment of Civilian Population to fight, something demonstrated in Ukraine.
- The Human Component vs Technology another major lesson from Ukraine where in spite of the state of art technology, the Russian build up went unnoticed by the Western Powers including America.
- AI and the human aspect, where we need to recognize the fact that Technology is only meant to support the human and not vice-e-versa, therefore the need to have sufficiently well trained manpower to use technology effectively.
The Indian Armed Forces and military leadership faces a challenge like never before. Focus on the following amidst the rising tensions and interest of countries foreign to this area requires careful study and clear responses with the Political Objectives being well defined and the economy as well as Military aligned with these. This throws up multifarious challenges as briefly discussed below: –
- Focus on the Aim is the next major aspect that needs attention. Political ‘Aim’ needs to translate into Military Objectives. Is the good old objective of destruction of enemies forces, capturing ground and breaking the adversaries will to fight relevant as purely military objectives in a war which cannot be defined? A ‘Grey Zone War for example or can this be achieved through AI and Cyber Technology? In Iraq and Afghanistan the US Government and to a great extent the Military too lost track of this, ending up with small units getting involved with minor tactics and the bigger picture being lost. Were they fighting an Insurgency or Terrorism or building a Nation and its Economy? The long duration of engagement too resulted in loss of focus. Whilst Military Leaders to an extent could be expected to focus on the war, the Political leadership soon forgets the war and moves on to domestic and other issues considered important for Political survival. In the absence of active involvement by Political Leaders, operations tend to drift into fog. It therefore remains the primary responsibility of Military Leadership to ensure that continuous engagement of the Political Leadership is ensured. Bottom line: you can start a war but cannot stop it at your own will. The good old Blitzkrieg is no longer relevant.
- Transition from a manpower heavy Armed Forces to a Technology Dependent Armed Forces. If any lessons are to learnt from the US failure in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing war in Ukraine, then the first one should be that ‘Technology’ does not win wars ‘Humans’ do. Therefore, any and all technology needs to merge with the ‘Human’ component and it is the morale of the soldiers, as well as training to use technology combined that wins Wars. A serious review of our manpower intakes and training is called for. Here is where senior military Leadership is required to play a responsible role by convincing the Political Leadership of the serious ramifications of neglecting the Armed Forces.
- The need for a Philosophy of our own rather than borrowing or copy paste that of the NATO /Others.India has a unique environment, thus needs a unique military strategy of her own, that is what in my view would be ‘Atmanirbhar’. If we cannot think independently and only copy paste, we are bound to be on uncertain ground.
- Commenting on the need for a strong and professional military leadership at the higher level, the singular requirement is the ability to take risks, whilst junior leaders have no hesitation, at higher levels there is a visible degree of caution. One needs to re-read Norman F. Dixon’s, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence.
- The need to challenge our existing organizations and philosophy in a review of national needs in terms of:-
- Space forces including real time imagery and communications. It takes time to develop these, thus the need for a vision, R&D, involving industry, individuals with fertile minds as well as Defense forces
- Air force and airpower. A strong air force which can dominate the skies, spy, communicate, monitor, jam and do much more than merely bomb. The failure to establish control of the air space over Ukraine by Russia is a glaring lesson.
- A strong naval force. The tensions in the Indo-Pacific, South China Sea and Indian Ocean mandate a strong naval force. China being the main adversary has for example the objective of achieving ten aircraft carriers in the foreseeable future as against India’s two of which one is yet to become fully operational, the third one has yet to be sanctioned.
- Formations could be reviewed in terms of mobility, ability to hold ground and survive precision attacks, flexibility, ability to reduce time between shooting and scooting. The time between detection of signatures, locating and destroying the target has reduced from hours to seconds. Thus survival, decision making, mobility and ability to ‘block’ retaliatory fire /weapons require attention. Retaliation on gun positions, armor concentrations will be quick and may come down to minutes if not seconds.
- Communications including the entire spectrum need to aim at monitoring, AI, robust systems with inbuilt ability to switch.Human resources will thus have to be better skilled, better trained and highly motivated.
- Train to develop instinctiveness and prepare for the second days battle. Every plan works only till the first shot is fired! Once battle is joint it is the soldier, junior leadership at the level of NCOs, JCOS and young officers who matter.Therefore the need to develop the ability to learn, adapt and exercise mental mobility at all levels, specially the junior leadership and combat teams. Stop the fixation on showing the ‘Bridgehead Operations’ to the bosses. Focus on honest training to win with minimum loss of lives and not for annual confidential reports.
- Develop risk taking ability amongst senior military commanders to avoid ‘Low Risk Low Value’ initiatives. This tendency is most avoidable amongst senior military commanders as well as Political leadership.
- Develop an intellectual edge through training institutions. Encourage the ability to question/challenge in order to generate new concepts, strategy and tactics. Develop the ability to change the conventional flow/process and create technological awareness.
- Are we prepared? Train to use technology rather than depend upon technology, therefore the instinct of the human mind needs to be sharpened.
- Develop trust and bonding through training and human relations based on regimentation. Value the individual.
The Challenges for India lie in the Political Leadership’s ability to understand the economic and military challenges being presented by our adversaries and to create a spirit of unity amongst diversity. At the same time the challenge for military leadership is to convince the Political Leadership of the need for a strong military.
At the end of the day whether the political leadership or the military leadership fails it is the ‘Soldier and his family who pay’. Professional ethics at the level of higher military leadership is therefore of prime importance.
At the National level, there is a serious need for developing an all-inclusive ‘Will to Fight’, it’s not only military means alone. Shaping the human mind through media and social media, for perception management and mass mobilization, both before during and after the war is very important. Whilst it motivates citizens it also influences the international community.