Addressing the Combined Commanders of Defence Services on 17 Oct 2014 at New Delhi, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi said: “When we speak of Digital India, we would also like to see a Digital Armed Force and the Services to give serious thought to upgrade technological skills for effective projection of power by men”.
The Prime Minister has outlined his vision for Digital Armed Forces.
Those familiar with the Army parlance would understand the term ‘Dandaman’. For the uninitiated a little explanation is called for. ‘Dandaman’ was a term used for a soldier, responsible to sit at the tail end of Army vehicle with a wooden stick (danda). His primary responsibility was to look out for approaching vehicles from rear, asking for a pass to overtake. On spotting one, the ‘Dandaman’ was required to strike the tailboard with danda thus making sound to draw attention of the driver to allow overtaking. Discerning mind would question as to why the driver cannot look in the rear and side view mirrors or a rear view camera for such rudimentary driving courtesies. Why waste a soldier for this irrational task which can be otherwise easily fulfilled. Soldier of the yore would give a spirited defense of this now generally faded practice. However the fact remains this practice existed for many decades thereby exposing certain drilled mindsets and may even today be prevalent in isolated pocket burrows.
The Prime Minister has outlined his vision for Digital Armed Forces. The Prime Minister has also desired up gradation of technological skills for effective projection of power by men. He has underscored the old adage “Man behind the machine is more important”. Therefore the task before the Army is well cut out to mutate “Dandaman” to “eMan”. For this transformation, the Army must enable a soldier to learn to differentiate between Colonel and Kernel, SM and SMS, to draw a distinction between Epaulets and tablets, and from control to ctrl alt, among others. The end state of this graceful migration would be realization of fully “Digitally Compliance Soldier”. This would then be in sync with National stated and unstated aspirations of becoming regional and global power through effective force projection by men. The Army would do well to undertake a ground realities check before biting the digital bullet.
E-soldier’s mental abilities and cognitive skills are challenged to react to unforeseen and flash battle situations.
Painfully slow designed decision making processes of Ministry of Defence ensures e-systems, when finally inducted in the Army, are well past their shelf life. Even worse still is the continued usage of e-systems, by the Army, well past obsolescence due to TINA syndrome or out of sheer frustration. The brash approach, in the past, of Politico- bureaucratic vested interests has been that when the need arises “we will buy the systems of the shelf”. The hidden agenda in this “distress purchase” approach, played out so many times in the past, is quite obvious. Arguably latest state of the art systems can be imported overnight, but can soldiers be trained overnight to operate such systems. Under such adversarial military-bureaucracy relationship, the Indian Army has its task cutout to make its soldiers “Digitally Compliance”. The approach therefore has to be per force far sighted and visionary to go the whole nine yards. A credo of “Prepare the soldier digitally, e-systems will come” may save the day for the Army and the Nation when the chips are down, anytime in the future.
Transitional steps to fulfill this credo may need some or all or more of the following:-
- Recruitment of talent by diligently checking out cognitive skills or discernible scope for development of cognitive skills in potential candidates. This would demand overhaul of current recruitment processes.
- Hands on military training in Army establishments for instilling a culture of self discipline. It necessarily may not be a typical drill parade type of regimen. Emphasis is more on learning forward mail rather than forward march. This may be on similar lines as existing in productive, hugely successful and profit making multi-national corporations.
- An IT industry assimilation module with a curriculum to e-shape the soldier at leading national IT hubs. To have an impact and make it effective, the Government would need to make it mandatory for the corporate sector to take it on as national responsibility. At the end of this, an e-soldier is ready to climb the next step onto “Digital Compliance” learning.
The cadre for these TA units would need to be drawn from national IT hubs as part of corporate national responsibility.
- During this phase e-soldier is put through e-simulators embedded with current and future technologies. The e-soldier is made to go through network based military digital battle field exercises. E-soldier’s mental abilities and cognitive skills are challenged to react to unforeseen and flash battle situations. Emphasis is on creativity, thinking on the feet, hitting the ground running as opposed to structured routine. Instill a sense of mistake self-correction rather than mistake prevention or camouflage. The envelope is pushed in continuum till finally a “Digitally Compliance” e-soldier emerges.
- On induction into battle units, the e-soldier is steered into achieving carefully crafted organizational goals through a process of monitoring rather than supervisory.
The present day curriculum of war games or battle exercises inter alia sand model discussions, tactical exercises without troops, map exercises etc are purely officer oriented. These are based largely on conventional warfare or set piece battle settings. These would need to be de novo planned on digital battle settings with equal if not more role apportioned to e-soldiers vis-à-vis the officers for real time active participation.
The above transition would need to be incremental. It is easy to put a new idea in a fresh mind than in a fixated pre-conceived mind. The legacy soldiers therefore would need to be sensibly mutated with great deal of care and caution. Legacy systems, nearing end of shelf life systems and obsolescence systems are in the Army inventory. Some systems may also be in the pipeline for induction in service having some residual technical shelf life. Therefore soldiers with multi layered skill-sets individually and collectively are required. Allied with this is the challenge of coping with technology rolled out by research in motion, as and when inducted, on the whims and fancy of vested interests. For a considerable length of time, legacy soldiers and digitally compliance e-soldiers would have to co-exist and co-habit.
With India having regional and global power aspirations, Indian Military will be failing the nation, if it continues to remain glued to the past and does not reboot to the future in thought and in action.
Transitional e-increments in the form of embodied Territorial Army (TA) units for e-training, e-orientation, e-supplement, e-simulation, CERT, Cyber security, Cyber operations among others would need to be put in place or the existing ones e-transformed, on as required basis. The cadre for these TA units would need to be drawn from national IT hubs as part of corporate national responsibility. The role, task and responsibility, as the name suggests, would need to be tailor made to meet specific requirements. This arrangement would not only ensure “e-gap” management but also smoothen rough edges. TA would also act as second tier of e-defense or e-operations during active hostilities, out of area contingencies, national emergencies, aid to civil authorities or on mobilization.
Quite frequently, learned soldiers and veterans advance arguments against e-upgradation on the specious logic of our immediate adversaries having similar, outdated and obsolete technology and skill sets. Therefore where is the need to see the threat where it does not exist and attempt to upgrade skill sets? Yet another clichéd argument advanced is that our present system has stood the test of time and is good for future as well. With India having regional and global power aspirations, Indian Military will be failing the nation, if it continues to remain glued to the past and does not reboot to the future in thought and in action. Therefore, if at this point in time, Indian Army misses the clarion call of the Prime Minister, it would be bringing a knife to a gunfight, at a future point in time on “Digital Battlefield”.
The Indian Army would truly be “Digitally Compliance Army” when its battle cry changes from “fighting till Last Man Last Round” to “fighting till Last Bit Last Byte”.
 17 October, 2014. Retrieved From. http://www.narendramodi.in/pms-address-at-the-combined-commanders-conference/.