It needs no revelation that there is widespread consternation within the strategically committed community, the intelligentsia and the media over the growing obsolescence and declining operational capability of the ultimate cutting instrument of national power – the military force-structure. Thus in spite of maintaining the third largest military force in the world, there is imposition of only a fractional deterrence upon the perennial adversaries while they keep jabbing hurtfully at rib of the Indian nationhood. The new political leadership is apparently intent on remedying that undesirable situation. Therefore, to turn its rhetoric into action, the NDA government has to acknowledge that there are two distinct aspects to the amelioration of that undesirable stage, and tackled these on priority if its political pronouncements are to gain respectability from the citizenry.
‘Salus republicae suprema lex’ (Safety of nation is the supreme law) —Latin proverb
The previous government’s pusillanimity against neighbourhood bullying had caused deep consternation among the nation’s strategic fraternity…
A New Agenda for National Defence
Installation of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2014 has been a unique experience in India’s democratic dispensation for its landslide electoral victory was decided by two factors and one cause. The two factors were – one, the popular demand for progress and probity in governance and two, a nation-wide urge to awaken the government from its stupor on matters of national security. And the one cause, of course, was the demand for astute and resolute leadership. The government in saddle would do well for the nation’s progress to keep this fact in focus.
On the second count, the previous government’s pusillanimity against neighbourhood bullying, coupled with what had to be but an intended sidelining of the nation’s military institution, had caused deep consternation among the nation’s strategic fraternity. In rightful dismay, the media too had undertaken to expose this political apathy. It was so that public sentiment against the government’s defence (mis)management, amongst a plethora of other aspects of brazenly crony governance, grew into a popular mission aimed at bringing in a more responsive, decisive and effective government. The wisened citizenry thus rose as one to hand out a severe mauling to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. They now await the coming of a better dispensation; that is, alongside overall good governance, better concern for national defence too.
During the great election campaign, rescue of national security and the military institutions from the UPA government’s apparent apathy had been an underlying theme of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) promises. That was also a period when a thin layer of skin that had grown to cover the old but still raw wound of the 1962 debacle was painfully scratched off by the growing Chinese arrogance. Thus, the similarities of the prevailing situation with the prelude to that debacle, and the damage that debacle inflicted upon the nationhood, was in the news again. However, in the heat of elections, the serious issues of the nation’s defence capability had been turned into just the barbs to be hurled at the moribund UPA government. Presently therefore, with a two-year old proactive and overwhelmingly supported government in the saddle, it is time for the NDA government to realign from electoral rhetoric to the adoption of concrete measures to resuscitate India’s national defence apparatus.
It is time for the NDA government to realign from electoral rhetoric to the adoption of concrete measures to resuscitate India’s national defence apparatus…
Much of the citizenry’s expectations from its newly preferred government is a firm espousal of India’s sovereign dignity. This expectation is provoked by the past government’s timid surrender against dismissive behaviour from China and her sidekick, Pakistan, when the adversarial duo’s downright hostile military and diplomatic affronts were being passed off with such misleading innuendos as, “Not a shot has been fired on the Line of Actual Control (LAC)…”, trivialisation of territorial encroachment as “acne on a beautiful face” (sic) and parroting empty warnings against proxy war and terrorism – situations which had in fact been self-imposed by restraining the border police and military forces from contesting cross-border provocations. Similarly, acquiescence with Pakistan’s pantomime of her being a ‘victim of terror’ and insinuation of India’s hand in Baluchistan were acts of self-depredation that had horrified all sensible Indians.
At the other end, China responded to the Indian government’s kowtowing by fuelling up Pakistan’s anti-India hostility with supply of nuclear and conventional weapons, overlook of terrorist activities and endorsement of the illegal occupation of Indian territories. Having thus outsourced to her lackey the imposition of military threat over India from another flank, China continued to pursue its inimical intent through incremental intrusions and deepening encroachments across the entire length of the LAC. If that was not enough, China went about issuing ‘stapled visas’ to Indians coming from her and her lackeys claimed territories and blocking development projects from coming up in such areas, while nonchalantly building roads and dams in India’s Pakistan occupied territories. China’s hypocrisy, however, peaked when she ‘required’ India to desist from seeking relief from her unilateral hostility by forging partnerships with the other victims of China’s torment.
The UPA government’s response to the affront to India’s sovereign dignity had more or less been to remain stoic, if not subservient, and to appeal to the tormentor’s indulgence. Actually, over the decades, having permitted a debilitating ‘hollowness’ to creep into the nation’s military power and so having foregone its option of hard diplomacy, there was little else that it could do to counter the tormentor’s aggressive behaviour. Dismayed to no end thus, the Indian voters wanted to be freed from such affronts to their national dignity. Therefore, the NDA government’s apparently robust demeanour over China’s territorial claims, growing activities in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and overlook of Pakistan’s terror affliction brought them some relief, as did the initiatives on forging partnerships with Indian Ocean Region littorals, Japan, Vietnam, Australia and the USA.
China continued to pursue its inimical intent through incremental intrusions and deepening encroachments across the entire length of the LAC…
As for dealing with Pakistan, there is some appreciation, albeit well-contested – of the ‘new approaches’ being tried out. Popular perception reveals that robust retaliation against cross-border firings, firm diplomacy against export of terrorism and repudiation of talks on the Kashmir issue have definitely put Pakistan under some pressure; the idea of endorsing the Baloch rebellion seems to add to that pressure. No doubt, as indicated by ‘progress’ over prosecution of the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack, forewarning of the terrorists’ infiltration and cooperation in joint investigation of the unsuccessful attack on Air Force Station Pathankot, Pakistan is seen to be going tentative on her habitual intransigence. Within the country too, there is declining superciliousness among the extremist groups who may not anymore be enjoying immunity against anti-nationalism. Even if all these positive developments remain at a nascent stage yet, and notwithstanding vocal criticisms from opposing parties – some genuine, some ill-informed and mostly vote-catching, there is no denying that the NDA government has done better in restitution of the common man’s national pride.
Astute and bold diplomacy can, however, make telling mark only when backed up with economic clout, which in turn must be sustained by military power. Therefore, given the adverse economic and military power differential, there is little else any Indian government may do to be relieved of China’s inimical behaviour. India’s moral bonding with the Tibetan cause may cause consternation in China, and even if that may not be the intent, solidarity with China’s other tormented neighbours may offer potential means for a distress-driven India to reciprocate to China’s aggressiveness. But that may be all that India can presently do to protect her interests. Similarly, in relation to Pakistan, even if India may presently be spared of repeated conventional military aggression, the option to punish Pakistan’s proxy war is rather narrow unless the latter’s nuclear hoax is rejected – as indeed it should be.
Conversely, over most of the post-independence decades the Indian leadership has been rather persistent in slapping astonishingly witless ‘non-policies’ to mess up on the twin fundamentals of national defence – viz the defence research and production industry and the military force-structure. Debility in the Indian military institution has, therefore, gone deep, and it will take India many years to claim that state when hard diplomacy may be backed up with military power to keep inimical forces deterred from mischief. Further, with the imperative of military modernisation remaining frozen over the past two decades, any reckonable progress on the nation’s short term defence preparedness would take more than one election cycle to show. All that the NDA government may achieve during its current tenure is, therefore, to set the entire gamut of defence preparedness and military modernisation on its rails while rescuing the institution of the military from its conceptual and temporal hollowness, and so gain the voters’ confidence so as to be rewarded with another tenure.
China’s hypocrisy, however, peaked when she ‘required’ India to desist from seeking relief from her unilateral hostility…
Turning Political Rhetoric to Defence Policy
As stated, the Indian military institution stands debilitated by the lowest priority accorded to it in a sustained manner over the last 25 years. It would therefore be banal to expect that the accumulated ‘hollowness’ in the military force structure – in terms of shortages and obsolescence of military hardware and voids in organisational structure – might be filled up soon enough to its pristine status of the 1970s and 1980s; it would take many years to recover from the cumulative damage. However, this situation also opens up opportunities to fill the voids of war wherewithal, discard irrelevant establishments, and modernise moving from obsolescence into a modern, potent and cost-efficient military force – something that the Indian military institution is presently not. Towards that prudent intent, it would be advisable for the government to strengthen the above-mentioned twin pillars of national defence, viz, one, the ‘defence sector’ consisting of research, and development, production and procurement industry and two, the cutting instrument of national power, the military force structure.
Flippant and myopic (mis)management over the decades has caused all of these pillars of national defence to suffer utter ‘goal displacement’. The NDA government’s political image would, therefore, be best manifested by the adoption of an astute defence policy and institution of a robust mechanism for its implementation.
Reorientation of the Defence Sector
The defence sector may be defined by research, development and production industries which are the foundations on which stands the nation’s long term defence capability. Having monopolised the quest for defence research and development into the rigid structure of a bureaucratic department, successive governments had allowed it to turn into a self-certified, self-accountable and self-aggrandising fiefdom where scientists decided as to what would be an ‘adequate’ weapon or equipment for the forces to fight with. The defence production industry in the private sector, and to a large extent, even the public sector had been, on the other hand, consciously estranged from native innovation, technology infusion and quality production under a misplaced notion of peace-affiliation.
The most telling damage to national interests, however, come from a virtual release of these establishments from accountability to their sole purpose of existence…
The most telling damage to national interests, however, come from a virtual release of these establishments from accountability to their sole purpose of existence – the military institution – and humouring their focus on cadre aggrandisement rather than the organisational performance. The result is there for all to see and rue; once a fairly competent producer of contemporary weapon systems from guns to aircraft, India today cannot produce a good rifle for its soldiers to wield in their ingrained enthusiasm for getting the better of their enemy.
No doubt, of late, certain policy initiatives have been taken to remedy the above discussed goal displacement. Picking up from the ineffectual steps taken by the previous governments, collaborations and funding options for development schemes as well as manufacture and production of military hardware have been liberalised and performance targets of defence research as well as production establishments, both in public and private domains, have been better defined. Collaborative research and development with the academia and foreign institutions is encouraged and there is focus on joint manufacture, technology transfer, ‘Make in India’ and global trade. To that end, setting up the Dhirendra Singh Committee, followed up with the VK Aatre Task Force to invigorate the defence procurement procedure and identify strategic partners for indigenisation of defence acquisitions are major steps forward. Above all, the various constituent establishments of the defence sector have been shaken up to rise from their cosy retreats and compete for accountability in performance.
Modern wherewithals of warfare are not always profitably or practically produced; neither are they produced indigenously. Another aspect of the defence sector, therefore, must be the process of procurement of military hardware from indigenous sources as well as through import, and acquisition of capital weapon and equipment systems that involve the government and inland as well as international vendors, both public and private.
Over the past decade, policies, procedures and practices in these matters had been mired in controversies, corruption and political insinuations. That led to the neglect of the nation’s military upkeep, and as a consequence, first caused stagnation in the military structure and then led to its downslide into ‘hollowness’, before proceeding to derail all modernisation schemes. Building over its predecessor government’s efforts, the NDA Government has formally promulgated an updated Defence Procurement Policy (DPP) while entering into collaborative agreements on defence technology with the US, France, Japan and Russia. There is also forward movement albeit tentative yet, on the matter of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Recently, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that as many as 314 of the long delayed recoup, replacement and modernisation schemes worth Rs 2 lakh crore stand either ‘approved’ or ‘cleared’ by the present government.
The recent approvals of modernisation schemes mean nothing beyond a sincere intent to engage in a long haul….
In two years, that must be a healthy progress, particularly when a long congealed systemic inertia that was induced by policy disorientation in the past governments, had to be overcome. But actual difference on ground can only be seen after the usually long gestation periods are negotiated through without succumbing to expedient deviations, and when performance accountability is made stringent. Given the procedural stranglehold and cadre domination of bureaucracies in all establishments of the defence sector, including that in the MoD, the government would have to blow its chest out to bring about that kind of change.
To that extent, the recent approvals of modernisation schemes mean nothing beyond a sincere intent to engage in a long haul. Indian military forces would, therefore, remain beset with shortages as well as obsolescence of war consumables, main weapons and other warlike equipment till the ‘hollowness’ is redressed over the coming years. Target-orientated and performance audited resuscitation of the entire national defence sector, therefore, remains a challenge that has been accepted, is being grappled with but it is yet to be conclusively overcome.
Modernisation of the Military Force Structure
It needs no revelation that there is widespread consternation within the strategically committed community, the intelligentsia and the media over the growing obsolescence and declining operational capability of the ultimate cutting instrument of national power – the military force-structure. Thus in spite of maintaining the third largest military force in the world, there is imposition of only a fractional deterrence upon the perennial adversaries while they keep jabbing hurtfully at rib of the Indian nationhood. The new political leadership is apparently intent on remedying that undesirable situation. Therefore, to turn its rhetoric into action, the NDA government has to acknowledge that there are two distinct aspects to the amelioration of that undesirable stage, and tackle these on priority if its political pronouncements are to gain respectability from the citizenry.
The NDA government should not be content with just approving various schemes for procurement of modern military hardware…
The first aspect relates to the enunciation of political mandate upon the military institution. Presently, besides being ambiguous, the political ‘directive’ to the defence forces bears little relationship with the policies adopted in management of national defence and funds allocated to the purpose. The government will, therefore, do well to engage in intense intellectual exploration – on the lines of the post-1962 debacle but more elaborate given the contemporary complexities of military force-structuring – to establish the goals of national security, promulgate a formal political mandate for the nation’s military institution to fulfil that goal, provision for the enabling wherewithal including budgetary support to conform to that mandate, and ensure time bound delivery with due accountability. The purpose of this exercise would be to rationalise the investments made, resources allocated and the dividends gained. Of course, much of such policy-enunciations would be suitably classified, but its broad features could be promulgated in keeping with the contemporary practice of power messaging and deterrence.
The second aspect of the remedy would be for the government to initiate a transformational restructuring of the military institution in conformity with its given mandate. Given its priority socio-economic commitments, the government’s purpose in this regard may be limited to the possession of such military power that prevents, one, territorial usurpation by external powers, and two, secession through internal insurgencies. Notably however, even a defensive oriented political mandate requires the military institution to be provisioned with the right wherewithal in terms of military hardware and quality personnel that passes the muster for modern warfare. That wherewithal, as the fundamentals of military strategy point out, besides catering for full measures of defensive capability, must also incorporate a potent offensive element. The government’s tentative approach to the raising of the Mountain Strike Corps, therefore, needs reconsideration.
To wit, should the government find it difficult to maintain the existing force levels, it may make sense to either enhance the defence funding or consider lowering its military mandate, just as many European nations have done, and cater to its consequences as best as it can. Indeed it may be eminently more sensible to avoid possession such a force structure parts of which stand hollow and thus, remain optimally unusable in war. However, given that when she finds the time to be ‘ripe’, China might launch what she would like the world to believe to be a ‘counter attack in self-defence’ with the pristine intent of ‘reclaiming lost territories’ and that Kashmir is only the first of Pakistan’s objectives before she spreads her agenda to destabilise other Indian states – Punjab, Bengal, Assam, Lakshwadeep, amongst others – the latter option must be rather forbidding. Therefore, perennially targeted as the Indian nation is, it is difficult to visualise the government exercising the luxury of scaling down its military mandate.
Combat organisations must be complemented with the requisite, full scale logistic installations in field as well as base areas…
Having taken a call to strengthen the nation’s military institution, the NDA government should not be content with just approving various schemes for procurement of modern military hardware but would do better to press with on with comprehensive modernisation of military force-structure and its system of higher management.
Case for Comprehensive Military Modernisation
As it is wont to be, the first call for resuscitation of an enervated military institution comes in favour of modernisation of military weapon systems. Stalled on some pretext or the other over the past quarter of a century or so, basically as a matter of policy procrastination, that call must be heeded to with alacrity no doubt. To the credit of the NDA government, there has been some forward movement, as mentioned above, in fructification of long pending modernisation schemes. However, the said approval for induction of over 300 modern weaponry and equipment would mean little beyond incremental creation of isolated pockets of high performance in an otherwise old generation, and then ‘hollowed’, force.
Considering that warfare is but the orchestration of every small or big elements of combat, combat support and feeder services, all integrated into a one ‘whole’ for a singular ‘aim’, such pockets of high performance may bring cheer to some of the troops and field commanders and impress in spectacular demonstrations, but these would not win wars. Therefore, there is a need for a larger consideration to decide upon a right and wholesome force structure to cover all aspects of military operations that would foster a credible regime of military deterrence – and force application when deterrence works no more. Indeed, modernisation of capital weapon systems should actually be a corollary to that strategic exercise, not just an end in itself.
Long separated from the grand strategic decision making at the national level, the contemporary military brass may need to be enthused, by the government’s initiative, to apply professional considerations in deciding upon the right and wholesome force-structure that is build upon modern operational capabilities – combat, combat support and logistics and conforms to the modern organisational principles. Of necessity, that would have to be an exercise of military intellect, entailing in its wake the following measures:
One visible and effective way to propagate the NDA government’s concern over national defence would be to usher in the long delayed ‘defence reforms’…
Right-sizing and restructure of the existing headquarters as well as the field forces in conformity to the principles of joint operations and integrated war-fighting, and cutting out the unnecessary elements while adding those that must be. In this, while one consideration may be to affect troop reduction against induction of high performance weapons and equipment, the requirement of optimal troop density to preserve the nation’s territorial integrity within an essentially defensive strategy needs to be accorded its due primacy.
The list of hollowness can be spruced up by discarding those not relevant anymore and then covering up the deficiencies through a steady procurement schedule. This part is especially applicable to the maintenance of specified stock levels of munitions, spares and accessories, and making up the deficiencies of main weapons and equipment in various military units.
Review and rework the stagnating modernisation schemes in the backdrop of the nation’s military mandate as well as the adversary’s intents and capabilities.
Professionally articulated, the above listed measures would evoke the exercise of military intellect to invent new strategies to fulfil the military mandate within the limits of the nation’s fiscal affordability and modernise or more appropriately, ‘transform’ the military institution accordingly. The acquisition processes, duly balanced with funding for military modernisation should follow that comprehensive and well rounded exercise rather than just grabbing at the easy picking schemes to show lopsided, isolated ‘achievements’.
Indeed, rushing through enhanced funding and leaping into investments in sleek, very enticing military hardware would be a mistake compounded. It would encourage the wheeler-dealers of defence technology and arms industry in association with motivated ‘security experts’ to take over the process of military modernisation, as indeed it has been seen to happen in many advanced countries. Indeed, to avoid pandering to every other player at the cost of a war-winning and cost-effective military force, the following conditions must be met:
There are the hurdles in the form of bureaucratic misgivings, fixations of military brass and inexperienced political leadership…
India-centric military philosophy and war strategies must flow out of clear and practicable political directives, and supported by conducive rules of business and procedures.
The nation’s military force-structure, in turn, must conform to those native strategies and operational concepts across the entire spectrum of contemporary warfare.
Combat organisations must be complemented with the requisite, full scale logistic installations in field as well as base areas.
Acquisition of modern military hardware, imported or indigenised, must be compatible with the restructure of combat and logistic organisations.
One visible and fiscally unencumbered but cerebral as well as effective way to propagate the NDA government’s concern over national defence would be to usher in the long delayed ‘defence reforms’. This term relates to the organisation of the nation’s apex defence management and the procedures and processes applied therein. Obviously, all exertions of strengthening defence policies, reorientation of the defence sector and modernisation of military force-structure would be contingent upon the alacrity with which the defence reforms are instituted.
Briefly, the scope of defence reforms encompasses the following aspects:
True, rather than cosmetic integration of the MoD into one joint headquarters, manned by a more or less dedicated bureaucratic cadre and military professionals.
The NDA government’s true grit will be evident by the manner it enforces its nationalist agenda in making India militarily strong…
Appointment of a fully empowered ‘Chief of Defence Staff’ or ‘Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee’ – the nomenclature does not matter. The half-measure expediency of installing an incumbent with compromised authority, as the talk goes, would be another repetition of pre-1962 blunders.
Revisit of the rules of business in the MoD as well as revamp of the procedures adopted for defence decision–making to make these more inclusive, integrated, time bound and fiscally adaptable.
However, there are the hurdles, some genuine but most contrived, in the form of bureaucratic misgivings, fixations of military brass and inexperienced political leadership, all pining to wallow in the comfort of status quo. Those are the hurdles which keep India as the sole bearer of an universally rejected system of defence management.
The NDA government’s true grit will be evident by the manner it enforces its nationalist agenda in making India militarily strong through a higher level of technological and industrial capacity and rational fiscal affordability.
The Coming Three Years
To turn its political manifesto into a mature defence policy, activities discussed have to be run concurrently and in mutual compatibility for the best courses to evolve. That is a condition which would bring about a regime of competent political management of military power within the resources at the nation’s disposal.
Boxed in between two innately aggressive adversaries, days of India remaining an object of blatant hostility are not going to end too soon. But even if measures adopted towards long term amelioration of the fundamental debilities of India’s defence capabilities take time to bear fruit, there is much that could yet be done to maintain a level of defence preparedness that would signal the detractors to desist from acts of armed aggression and their habit of disparaging the Indian nationhood.