A national daily recently reported that highly classified documents pertaining to weapon system requirements and acquisition plans of all the three services along with those of surveillance equipment for the intelligence agency, RAW, had been received by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate from an erstwhile American associate of an Indian arms dealer, Abhishek Verma. He was first probed in the 2005 Navy War Room leak case and, along with his wife, was recently arrested for attempting to bribe government officials. Whether Verma’s political lineage has any bearing on the tardy pace of progress on such cases can only be a matter of conjecture, but as the range of his activities unravel, one can only hope that they do not draw members of the uniformed fraternity into their vortex, since of late they have already been buffeted by far too many scandals — many of their own making.
….cannot be the task of one lone chief with a handful of army commanders. It requires the combined will and support of the entire national security apparatus ascending right up to the legislature.
This shocker comes on the heels of a serving lieutenant colonel being honeytrapped by a female ISI operative from Bangladesh, and the more embarrassing case of a major recruitment scandal at the National Defence Academy which has already resulted in two colonels being arrested. One of them was the commandant’s staff officer, and the commandant himself was attached to facilitate fair investigation. As if this dose of alarming news were not bad enough, it coincided with reports that two erstwhile army chiefs were being called to depose before the CBI in the infamous Adarsh Housing scandal that was perpetrated in the name of Kargil heroes and their widows.
It is worth recalling that when General V.K. Singh had taken over as chief in 2010, he had identified his primary goal as “restoring the internal health” of the army. Since the integrity of the internal health of any professional armed force should normally be taken as given, clearly his concerns on this score should have set alarm bells ringing amongst the entire national security establishment leading to remedial actions on a most urgent basis. Indeed this should even have taken priority over modernization of the force, as the finest of modern weapon systems will do nothing in the hands of a force whose internal health needed attending to. Instead, not an eyebrow was raised and it was business as usual in the corridors of South Block and, indeed, the hallowed precincts of Parliament.
If the rather turbulent end of the erstwhile chief’s tenure is any yard-stick, notwithstanding many other areas of his achievement, he met with little success in his endeavours to restore the internal health of the army. That skeletons continue to tumble out of the army’s cupboards and that there are differences within the senior echelons of the army merely add weight to this unfortunate belief.
To students of national security, this comes as no surprise as restoring the internal health of a million-plus force that is heavily committed on two hostile borders and on providing internal security support to the civil administration in Jammu and Kashmir and areas of the Northeast cannot be the task of one lone chief with a handful of army commanders. It requires the combined will and support of the entire national security apparatus ascending right up to the legislature. Unfortunately, no such urgency has been felt amongst our sanguine security managers. It should by now be clear that no amount of modernization, technology or force augmentation would provide the nation security if the internal health of its armed forces — and more specifically, the integrity and morale of its human resources — is under stress.
…the main objective of joint war-fighting is to exploit the core competencies, unique strengths and capabilities of each of the armed forces towards a common military aim and to do it both efficiently and cost effectively.
In an interview to Sainik Samachar on taking over, Bikram Singh, the new chief, had stated, “All commanders must endeavour to create a climate during their command tenures that hinges on our cherished core values, professional ethos and is conducive to growth and cohesion.” This writer’s interpretation of this message as related to any professional armed force is one of personal integrity, putting the interest of the nation and one’s subordinates above one’s own, and a professional ethos that translates into a cohesive war-fighting machine, which, in modern warfare, must translate into joint war-fighting and not be limited to any one force.
That is why one read with great disappointment of the reopening of the turf war by the army over attack and medium helicopters. A role presently with the Indian air force, which, for very long, the army has cherished. It has been reported that the army chief has made a strong pitch for this transfer with the national security adviser and the defence minister even as a panel headed by the deputy chief of the integrated defence staff (perspective planning and force development) and comprising representatives from various services is studying the subject. The unfortunate conclusion is that it is business as usual within the army leadership and certainly contrary to the spirit of professionalism and cohesion that the chief has spelt out, from a joint warfare perspective.
The evolution of technology is driving capabilities that are essential to warfare in any medium, land, sea or air. This is also adding to an exponential increase in costs. However, the main objective of joint war-fighting is to exploit the core competencies, unique strengths and capabilities of each of the armed forces towards a common military aim and to do it both efficiently and cost effectively. This, in turn, implies innovative ideas on integration and the consequent avoidance of duplication and redundant capabilities through subjective judgments on roles and missions and weapon-system procurements.
History tells us that with the advent of air power and birth of air forces as independent services, there were continuing inter-service turf wars in Western countries, which affected the institutional psychology of each service in their own ways. These have been resolved through clearly defining the roles and missions of each armed service. So what we are witnessing in India is nothing new, only that we are reluctant to adopt established scientific analysis techniques over subjective and parochial mindsets and move on.
The time has now come for Parliament to appoint a blue ribbon commission to look at the entire aspect of how defence management is to be organized and executed in India, followed by legislative directions. It is time to start afresh, before it is too late.
For a constructive way forward, it would be prudent to first resolve, once and for all, the issue of roles and missions for each of the three services. To arrive at this there are adequate scientific and engineering tools of joint warfare analysis that will keep the emotions and subjectivity of yesteryears at bay. To start with, let the disagreement on the ownership of attack or medium helicopters be subjected to this scientific study, shorn of emotions and subjectivity.
Next, let all other grey areas of roles and missions be subject to the rigour of the same scientific analysis. Once these scientific analyses are completed, let Parliament legislate on what is the abiding role of each of the services within which the missions it is formally tasked to perform. This will, once and for all, cast historic turf wars aside and let the services focus on developing joint warfare capabilities to fulfil their assigned missions, secure in the knowledge that solutions being applied are the optimum from operational and costeffectiveness angles.
In order to get to the very root of the internal health weaknesses of the armed forces, there is yet one more unfinished agenda. For too long have we attempted committees and task forces to study the issue of defence management, of which the latest Naresh Chandra Committee report is presently under consideration. Invariably, the best that the cream of our talent has produced in the past is what constitutes the lowest common denominator. Even this is then subject to selective implementation.
Without appearing pessimistic, there is little reason to believe that the latest effort will be any different. We are reaping the results of this prolonged neglect today and the daily shockers are the inevitable consequence. The time has now come for Parliament to appoint a blue ribbon commission to look at the entire aspect of how defence management is to be organized and executed in India, followed by legislative directions. It is time to start afresh, before it is too late.