Military & Aerospace

Challenges for the new CDS
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 12 Oct , 2022

What lies in store for the new CDS who inherits a crown of thorns, left him by his predecessor, not to forget the controversy this appoint brings along, one of superseding many serving generals and a first Veteran  re employed to head the DMA!?

The CDS takes over at a time of multiple challenges in the international, strategic and domestic environment as discussed briefly in the subsequent paragraphs. The Indian defense forces need to be ever prepared for these and other challenges. The formulation of strategy under these circumstances and getting the Political Leadership as well as the powers that be to understand the same is the first of many challenges.

The Geo-Political Environment in brief must attract their attention to focus on strengthening the three services; Army to fit them for a two front war, Navy to fit them for the growing threats in the Indian Ocean, Indo Pacific and China assisting Pakistan for increased use of Gawdar Port which would bring to bear additional pressure on the Indian Navy, Air force to dominate the ‘Blue Skies’ against increased threats from China, Pakistan and their combined efforts.

China has left no doubts about her aggressive designs against India, colluded by Pakistan, the encirclement appears to be complete. The ‘pull back’ of troops notwithstanding, gainfully using the lull to develop infrastructure and defenses along the border areas Chinese have for the moment achieved their objective and sliced off some more of Indian Territory. India is faced with a clever neighbor along her northern Borders.

Potential Conflict on the Indian Subcontinent, the tensions and competition in our neighborhood threatens to bring to a head China-Russia-America- NATO- India in a conflict of interests, causing a tectonic shift in the global order. Taiwan could be a flash point, the security of sea lanes and freedom of navigation an area of conflict, threatening the peace and sanctity of the Indian Ocean, India’s back yard which is being eyed by China, this exposes a dire need to develop a strong navy, air force and amphibious capability matching that of the countries we are attempting to align with, simultaneously strengthen our land forces, intelligence gathering and other systems to prevent/punish any attempt by the adversaries to further change the borders. The Nicobar Island is India’s unsinkable carrier effectively guarding the choke points from the eastern seas. Beyond the defensive state of mind, prepare plans/strategy to liberate territories under illegal occupation by others. It may also require the provision of operational bases on Indian soil risking the ire of one or the other friendly countries.

The war in Ukraine sponsored and supported by America and NATO is unlikely to end soon, both Russia as well as America can be expected to prolong it till their strategic objectives of creating depth/ decimating the Russian Armed forces is achieved. Sanctions against Russia have apparently had precisely the opposite effect. How this is likely to impact operations of the Indian Armed forces needs close assessment to shape our forces for future conflict. Once battle is joined, to stop the war cannot be predicted as clearly defined by the Russia/Ukraine War (RUW ). Long hauls need to be prepared for in terms of economy, energy defense establishment and preparation of the entire nation including the Armed Forces.

Economies across the globe seem to be over stretched. Oil and Gas have caused ripples amongst a divided Europe and a perceived weakened America (with their withdrawal from Afghanistan). The competition on globalizing currency against the American dollar is yet to unfold in entirety. The dollar continues to hold high and as a contrast the Indian rupee has plummeted despite claims of a growing economy. Nuclear clouds can be seen on the horizon, a cold war has made a nebulous start.

The situation described above hinges on a ‘Globalised interdependent Economy’ across all borders. The fragmented and diverse policy across the western world has left questions unanswered for the international community. India has to live with this uncertainty and make strides in her economic growth by clever policy and alignments.

Closer Home: Bordering Countries

Uncertain future in Afghanistan, growing influence of Pakistan and China being offset by the trust based policies being practiced by India are a positive measure for preventing the spread of terrorism from this state. To this extent the US interests align with that of India. However, two issues are worth considering; the increased Chinese interest in Afghanistan and on our smaller neighbors and the ability of the US to tacitly encourage acts of terror through Afghanistan/Pakistan to coerce India in toeing the US line that poses a challenge indicating a hegemons realpolitik.

Pakistan; economy in the pits, political turbulence, military domination in governance continues, Floods have added further misery. The internal situation and state of economy however, may be expected to be the focus of the citizens as well as the Military Junta and act as a dissuasion or reason for aggression to enhance terrorism along our North-western borders and divert attention from the strife within. Pakistan cannot be expected to remain dormant for long. Not surprising, they have managed to evade being black listed by the FATF. Tacit support by the US and open support from China appear to offset all efforts by India to marginalize Pakistan. Provision of F-16s is one such example.

 The combine of Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka along the periphery of India are in no position to contest the economic and military might of China; thus are fast becoming an area of challenge to India and her ability to increase her influence in these strategically relevant countries. In order to increase our influence in these countries, India’ s economy as well as defense forces need to expand their reach in a manner which increases interdependence on India as a reliable neighbor as opposed to the Chinese debt trap. For this to fructify it will take much effort on state of our economy and our ability to export military weapons and equipment, which will be strongly contested by China.


Given the hostile environment in our subcontinent, it is time to introspect and examine where we stand, what do lessons from the US failure in Iraq and Afghanistan hold for us and what can we learn from the on going war in Ukraine.

A revised focus on National Strategy, building Comprehensive National Power is desirable, the priority being Economy and Military strength and internal unity across all faiths amongst Indian Citizens. However, our inherent weaknesses seem to prevent this from happening.

Our social fabric, already stretched to the limits due to a myopic view of ‘Secularism’ is targeted both from within and abroad, the recent criticism of the CAA by many including China are an indicator of what can happen. Internal politics too encourage rifts amongst communities. The Indian Government is well entrenched and for all practical purposes willing to take risks, however, it would be factually correct to suggest that politicians in India have no military back ground, therefore they need to convinced by the military leadership on the way ahead.

Facing Rearward : Full Steam Ahead

The Indian Armed Forces and military leadership face a challenge like never before. Focus on strategic alignments amidst the rising tensions and interest of countries foreign to this area requires careful study and clear responses with the Political Objectives being well defined and the Economy as well as Military aligned with these. This throws up multifarious challenges as briefly discussed below:-

Defining National Strategic Objective. Political ‘Aim’ needs to translate into Military Objectives. In Iraq and Afghanistan the US Government and to a great extent the Military too lost track of this, ending up with Small Units getting involved with minor tactics and losing the bigger picture. Were they fighting an Insurgency or Terrorism or building a Nation and its Economy? The long duration of engagement too resulted in loss of focus. Military Leaders can be expected to focus on the war, however the Political leadership soon forgets the war and moves on to domestic and other issues considered important for Political Objectives. Active involvement by Political Leaders, is necessary. It therefore once again, remains the primary responsibility of Military Leadership to ensure the continuous engagement of the Political Leadership.

Transition from a manpower heavy Armed Forces to a Technology Dependant Armed Forces. If any lessons are to learnt from the US failure in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing war in Ukraine, then the first one should be that ‘Technology’ does not win wars ‘ Humans’ do. Therefore any and all technology needs to merge with the ‘Human’ component and it is the combination of leadership, morale, motivation of soldiers and training to use the technology that wins Wars. A serious review of our manpower intakes and training is called for. Here is where senior military Leadership is required to play a responsible role by convincing the Political Leadership of the ramifications of neglecting the Armed Forces.

The need for a Philosophy of our own rather than borrowing or copy paste that of the NATO /Others. India has a unique environment, thus needs a military strategy tailored and dictated by our operational environment and threat perception, that is what in my view would be ‘Atmanirbhar’. If we cannot think independently and only copy paste we are likely to be on uncertain ground. Re structuring of Commands may require a review. The push for ‘Strategic Commands’ and ‘Agniveer’ are some examples.


 The Defense procurements, force modernization in the midst of fund crunch and the atmanirbhar drive, shortfall in rank and file including Officers and Other Ranks, Agniveer the controversial new policy of recruitment, Shifting the Army Day Parade away from the Nations Capital, Shedding Colonial Heritage is the latest issue raising eyebrows and concern. These are issues which create unwarranted confusion and keep the Armed Forces from concentrating on their primary task.

The perceived apathetic attitude towards the Services maybe justified by a few examples; reduction in the budget, and the manner in which the CDS has been appointed, leave the forces puzzled regarding the intention of the political dispensation.

Furthermore, statements emanating from prominent political figures suggesting that No War can be expected in the near future, tend to question the very need for a Strong Military?
Our Armed Forces are more than ever in the history of Independent India faced with challenges of external threats and internal turbulence created by a democratically elected Government with a clear agenda of their own. Cutting the forces down to size seems high up on the list, thus posing a challenge to the Military Leadership to justify many such actions and yet keep both intact; trust and credibility of higher military leadership as well as morale of the Armed forces, making the position of Military Commanders most unenviable.
The challenges for India lie in the Political Leadership’s ability to understand the economic and military challenges being presented by our adversaries and to create a spirit of unity amongst diversity. At the same time the challenge for military leadership is to convince the Political Leadership of the need for a strong military.

At the end of the day whether the political leadership or the military leadership fails it is the ‘Soldier and his family who pay’. Professional ethics at the level of higher military leadership is therefore of prime importance.

At the National level, there is a serious need for developing an all inclusive ‘Will to Fight’, its not only military means alone. Shaping the human mind through media and social media, for perception management and mass mobilization, both before during and after the war is very important. Whilst it motivates citizens it also influences the International community.

One can only hope and pray that better sense prevails and they can once again focus with alacrity towards training, restructuring and raising morale to be able to execute the idea of ‘One India’ so vocally being suggested by the political leadership and prepare to reunite POK amongst the other territories India has lost in the past.

 The CDS being a single point advisor to the Government, must project troublesome issues with clarity and robust logic after due deliberations, support and cooperation of the three Chiefs, paving the way to small steps in raising trust and morale by using his experience and net work as the MA to the NSA in a positive manner. Given the fact that he has been ‘tested’ by the present dispensation, worked with the NSA, can we expect him to use his good offices in the circle of power to make them understand what makes the Armed forces tick and usher in a much desired change of attitude?

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig Pradeep Sharma

a regularly contributes defence related columns to news dailies.

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