The bugle call is sounded – ‘Right size’ the Army.
Right size to fit what politico-military strategy? That is the begging question.
War on one front? Or a two front war?
Limited war or protracted war?
Pre-emptive/proactive (Cold start) or Strategic Restraint (Cold Feet!!)
“Aar par ki Ladai” or limited forays?
Restricted to the Line of Control (LC) and /or Line of Actual Control (LAC)?
What about the sanctity of the International Boundaries (IB)?
What is/are the political objective(s) that are sacrosanct?
…there are fewer men in actual combat – bayonet strength – and more in manning numerous way points of technology that is necessary to feed intelligence and all sorts of inputs to this fighting soldier in a network centric war scenario.
These are the vital questions that the government of the day needs to put on the table for the military to work out the scenarios and corresponding force levels for each scenario panning out independently or simultaneously. Without this vital input asking the Army to ‘Right Size’ would be only a rhetorical pronouncement. Personal proclivities sans in-depth study and vigorous debate can in the end to be disastrous.
Often technology is taken as a substitute to numbers. This is a fallacy. When computers were first inducted it was thought that here was technology replacing loads of manpower. But that has not been the case. On the contrary the sheer magnitude of input needing to be fed to computers and the colossal volume of data generated required more manpower than before computers were inducted. It is now a similar situation with regard to the armed forces. As a result there are fewer men in actual combat – bayonet strength – and more in manning numerous way points of technology that is necessary to feed intelligence and all sorts of inputs to this fighting soldier in a network centric war scenario.
It would not be out of place to delve in a bit of theory. What is it in war that will not change and what is it that will change? Undoubtedly wars are but controlled violence. Controlled but the polity and not by the military. As defined by some scholars, war is – “Organised violence carried out by political units against each other” – Hedley Bull; Another definition – “The use that is made of force or the threat of force for the ends of policy” – Colin S. Grey.
Quite evidently, wars were and are a political instrument (violent assertive ‘diplomacy’!?) to achieve policy objectives. The pro-Clausewitz lobby asserts that war has this basic ‘nature’ – primordial violence, chaotic and prone to escalation – and that is unchanging.
Iraq and Afghanistan are to recent examples of technology having only a limited effect in a war with the irregulars.
On the other hand, the ‘character of war’ is changing as societies, political entities and technologies change. It may be that future land warfare will be dominated by the revolutionary impact of new military technology and its applications that, through new concepts that could produce dramatically more effective forms of land warfare Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). For a military to adopt the path of a ‘revolution in military affairs’ over the sedate mundane process of ‘evolution’, will be contingent on availability of indigenous cutting edge R&D, robust defence industrial base and foresight in military leadership backed by strong political will. While that be said, it is also true that never at any time was technological superiority been the sole factor that decided which side would emerge victorious and which side would go down to defeat. Other things being equal, it was very often numbers that decided the end result. Iraq and Afghanistan are to recent examples of technology having only a limited effect in a war with the irregulars. These wise words need to be heeded.
Study of the wars that India has fought since Independence indicates that the military had not been assigned any clear political objectives. Except, probably, in 1971 where, ironically, by the sheer weight of the military victory a so called ‘political objective’ emerged. In all other cases the military was left to fight till a cease fire was brought about. The cease fires were dictated entirely by the political entity without taking the military into confidence and unmindful of whether a favourable end situation existed on ground or not. The negotiations after the war were also entirely devoid of military advice. These may be harsh statements but are historically true. As India’s stature grows the military is the ‘hard power’ tool of the government to exercise options of coercive diplomacy, influence operations, ‘suasion and plain and simple deterrence. Along with all other elements of national power at its disposal it can employ a combination of its soft power and hard power to imprint ‘smart power’ to secure its interests.
While there is a cry for ‘right sizing’ the Army there seems to be no hesitation in increasing the size of Border Guarding and Central Armed Police Forces. The recent announcement of the ITBP getting an additional 26 battalions seems so out of place. There is no debate and discussion on the optimal size and quantum of CAPF (CRPF, CISF, RAF, Railway Police etc) and Border Guarding forces (BSF, ITBP and SSB) neither is the budget expenditure these forces debated in public. The last time when India blundered with the premise that the country did not require an army and that the police are sufficient to deal with all situations resulted in the 1962 debacle. The country does not need another debacle to draw lessons on ‘right sizing’.
The increasing sophistication of communication equipment requires a commensurate induction of expert manpower. The requirement of round the clock surveillance will also draw its share of manpower.
The army has, suo moto, undertaken an exercise to get a more favourable balance in the ‘teeth-to-tail’ ratio. An earlier similar exercise in the late 1990’s looked at the Non Field Force (NFF) to achieve the same end result and was to be implemented ruthlessly but seems to have since fallen by the way side. Induction of technology has bloated the supporting services to a large extent. However, this is not without reason. The army has equipment in service in three categories, viz, obsolesce, mid-life and new and since our dependence on import of defence is considerable maintenance support of these three categories of equipment increases the inventory loads and manpower to maintain these increases too. The increasing sophistication of communication equipment requires a commensurate induction of expert manpower.
The requirement of round the clock surveillance will also draw its share of manpower. As the definition of an ‘expert’ suggests – ‘one who knows more and more of less and less’ – he is of little use outside his field of expertise which is another reason for bloating of the supporting services of the Army.
A precedent exists on how not to go about cutting on an existing resource without suitable replacement by way of technology. Around the end of 1998 there was a concerted move in the Army Headquarters to disband Animal Transport Units (AT) of the Army Supply Corps. It was visualised that the loads that were then being carried by AT would be carried by utility helicopters which were envisaged to be inducted in the future Army Aviation Corps. In that measure it was a legitimate anticipatory action to disband AT Units for a future induction of technology.
…‘right sizing’ the Army is contingent on the detailed guidelines of the government on how and in what form will the armed forces be employed in future.
When the process was about to be implemented the War in Kargil broke out. There was an immediate call to stop the disbandment and move a substantial portion of the AT to Kargil. These Units did yeoman service in maintaining the troops in the difficult rugged areas which had no motor-able roads/tracks. Their deployment continued long after the war for stocking and maintaining the newly inducted forces which had taken up defences in the entire Kargil sector. However, as a starter, the Army could look at the operational validity of Horsed Cavalry in modern wars!! Its 18 years down the line but the AT has yet to be replaced by utility helicopters of the Army Aviation Corps.
It is more than evident that ‘right sizing’ the Army is contingent on the detailed guidelines of the government on how and in what form will the armed forces be employed in future. What is the technology available?
A national security strategy doctrine covering all aspects of comprehensive national power needs to be enunciated to derive the synergy of all the contributing factors of the nation towards its security. It cannot be a ‘cold start’ being held back by ‘cold feet’.