This article is written as a sequel to the previous one articulated a week ago on ‘Optimal Warfare.’ In that, the author had argued that, ‘optimal warfare’ – a limited, calibrated, controlled and hybrid mix of various means of war fighting – is likely to be the new warfare concept of the foreseeable future, which, in India’s case, would be fought under a nuclear overhang. Nonetheless, it needs no reiteration that, even against such a backdrop, military deterrence against potential adversaries would be an essential part of India’s national security strategy. And continuous military modernization, which is an important factor contributing to our military deterrence posture, would be as relevant as the earlier concept of ‘all out wars’, even if implemented selectively and progressively. Also, in keeping with its major power aspirations of the future, India needs to modernise its military without further delay.
Modernization of the military entails replacement of outmoded doctrines, structures and equipment with newer versions, keeping in view the changes in the nature of threats, concepts of warfare and advances in technology. And operationally, most importantly, the military must function ‘jointly’ in a synergized and well coordinated manner, in the interests of optimizing our war fighting capabilities and potential. That is where the Indian military appears to be seriously lacking, because, it appears, the Indian Army plans to go ahead and fight its land wars independently, while the Air Force focuses on the air war and the Navy on the sea war, with insufficient sharing of resources and operational synergy between them.
India’s current plans for military modernization and deterrence are hamstrung by inordinate delays and lack of a coordinated approach. In the absence of a central military body like the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to coordinate matters authoritatively, each wing of the military – the Army, Navy and Air force – devise their own military aims, objectives and strategies separately, which appear quite divergent from each other. Consequently, the three Services are perceived to be indulging in competitive jockeying separately for independent role expansion and more budgetary resources, rather than a coordinated and concerted effort at improving their combined capabilities. To this are added the decision making delays, the bureaucratic prevarication and the inadequacies in the military procurement system – the end results consequently are far from satisfactory.
Normally, in our case, the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, while formulating their plans for military deterrence and war fighting, cater for addressing ‘worst case scenarios’ that they envision, independently. Whereas this may have been an acceptable approach in a bygone era when adequate budgets were the norm, it definitely leads to duplication, wastages and overblown inventory – and resultant exacerbation of overall deficiencies. However, in a period when requisite budgets are not being allotted as per the demands – a situation that is likely to continue well into the future, at least for the next decade or so – such a situation needs to be prevented. It needs no emphasis that, at this point, there appears to be a perception among the nation’s economic planners that, given the high levels of poverty, economic inequality and the country’s receding ranking in the ‘human development’ and ‘happiness’ indices, allocations towards defence would, of necessity, have to experience a continuing squeeze. As against a requirement of 2.5 to 3 percent of the GDP to meet the minimum essential needs towards defence modernization and operational preparedness, only 1.63 percent has been allocated this year – a trend which can only go downwards, despite claims to the contrary, unless there is a change in approach by the government of the day.
So, what would be the best way of addressing the requirement of achieving military deterrence and defence modernization in a period of continuing budget squeeze, when a reasonably well defined ‘two and a half front threat’ needs to be addressed effectively. As explained above, it needs to be taken note of concurrently that, we appear to be in an era when ‘optimal wars’, rather than ‘all out wars’, would be the smarter way to take on our adversaries. The government will have to make an action plan in the interests of achieving security for its people by empowering the defence forces adequately from the deterrence and operational preparedness point of view. Recommendations in this regard are as follows:
• Firstly, the government must lay down clear aims, objectives and strategy for the military, as well as define the range of collective military capabilities and levels of operational preparedness that must be achieved by the three Services and joint Services organizations.
• Secondly, as a follow up, existing military doctrines need to be reviewed to check out their relevance and efficacy against changes in the current and future threat perspective, operational environment and warfare concepts. There should be a renewed focus on employment of accurate, beyond visual range (BVR) weaponry – long range precision guided munitions (PGMs), armed drones and other stand-off weapons – to meet our needs for ‘optimal warfare’ in both the conventional and counter-subconventional roles. Technological inputs employing big data analytics and artificial intelligence will need to be employed much more imaginatively in operational planning and execution.
• Thirdly, defence expenditure must be optimally planned and undertaken. This implies that the military capabilities must develop a joint character. All three Services cannot plan to fight and win wars on their own. Priorities will have to be clearly enunciated in terms of desired capabilities to be achieved by each Service individually as well as collectively, against a range of military options. This would also guide the laying down of priorities for acquisition of weapons and equipment in a joint Services perspective. Initially, additional budget would have to be provided for some critical big ticket needs.
• Fourthly, the ongoing acquisition proposals of arms, equipment and ammunition of the three Services would need to undergo serious review for efficacy and quantitative optimisation in a joint Services context. Duplication and wastages must be ruthlessly curbed. Quantities must be suitably staggered to cater for technological developments of the future. Contracts must reflect the need for periodic technological upgrades in equipment specifications accordingly.
• And last but not the least, the CDS must be appointed immediately and empowered adequately to assist the government to achieve its long term military aims in the interests of national security. Prevarication on this issue so far has cost the nation dear in terms of sub-optimal levels of coordination in operational planning as well as duplication and wastages in resource planning.
To summarise, the Indian military needs to be optimally structured and empowered on priority to achieve a range of capabilities to deal with the threats and challenges of the future, in an era of enhancing threats, inadequate budgets and changing warfare concepts. While a minimum essential defensive-offensive capability needs to be maintained on each front (western, northern and sub-conventional), these should be backed up by a system of strong centralized reserves, which should be suitably empowered and equipped to respond swiftly to any developing situation on whichever front. The three Services need to work jointly towards achieving common aims, objectives and strategies. Immediate appointment of a CDS is a critical necessity, without which the optimization process would be a non-starter.