Government’s New Defence Initiative: Committee of Experts
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Issue Vol. 31.4 Oct-Dec 2016 | Date : 19 Jan , 2017

The first step towards military modernisation, restructuring, jointness and capability enhancement must come from a truly military-dedicated MoD…

The Committee and its convener, the MoD, may consider the above issues before leaping into the restructuring of the armed forces.

Let us now delve deeper into possible incongruities in the Committee’s charter.

Optimisation of Manpower

Undoubtedly, this is a noble objective to stem the rising cost of engaging personnel and its subduing effect on military modernisation within affordable costs to the national exchequer. But the foremost consideration in this respect must be the expectations that national leadership have from the military institution. The MoD might have clearly spelt out these expectations to the Committee for it to proceed in right direction, though past experiences cautions against that hope. In any case, the basis for optimisation of manpower cannot be anything other than what the political mandate for the military institution implies.

Next, even with political mandate specified, optimisation of manpower would require, first of all, to opt for large scale automation of operational, tactical and logistics activities. Manpower may be reassigned or shed only after that undertaking is fully met. History being replete with instances when half-bargains have wreaked havoc upon national security; we would be wise to avoid the propensity of finding satisfaction in half-measures. The question, therefore, is whether the Committee is competent to specify the range and scale of mechanisation and its funding, and as to how the three interlinked schemes would be guided to run in synchronisation with regard to scope of mechanisation, its industrial and fiscal backing as well as manpower reduction. The significance of this question lies in the fact that – one, the hostile environment against nation’s military security has not abated and the nature and criticality of military tasks remain unchanged; and two, the failure of the state in upholding its ‘political directive’ and starving the military institution into ‘hollowness’, that breeds doubt in concerned military minds.

Finally, the key to optimisation of administrative and logistic manpower, as experienced in advanced militaries, is the guaranteed support that the military institution receives from civil establishments and infrastructure. These support measures could be in the form of repair and maintenance of hardware, medical and supply services, rail and road transportation, education, accommodation and mobilisation – the list is not comprehensive. For such outsourced support to be fail-proof in times of war and peace, there must be accountability – to the military hierarchy, sanctified by watertight laws and rules enacted under Acts of Parliament, and enforced under special provisions.

Unless the above three issues are attended to, optimisation of manpower may remain a chimera.

Increasing ‘Teeth to Tail’ Ratio

An outdated notion in orthodox military minds, this term needs to be understood in its contemporary perspective. The moot point is as to how a military institution which aims to modernise with high technology weapons, equipment and communications, better protection, accommodation, health and medical support, manage with a shorter logistics tail? Would not each item of the much-desired ‘Infantry Soldier as a System’ itself require many more tradesmen to maintain? Indeed, to support lean and sharp teeth, modern militaries cannot do without higher proportion of combat support elements and rather long and fat logistics tails. Even if the idea is to depend on outsourcing for logistics support, we may remind ourselves of the failure of such schemes during the experimentation of the 1990s. The industry and civil infrastructure, therefore, have to be made accountable under strictly enforceable laws to ensure that they do not renege on contracts and agreements. Till the depth and degree of such provisions are specified by the MoD, the Committee would be handicapped in reviewing this matter along the right lines.

The short time stipulation of just three months to deal with such a vast and complex issue, that has defied resolution over the past three decades, belies the salience or seriousness of the expert review…

Let us now turn to the second listed charter.

Redeployment and Restructuring to Improve Combat Capability

Having practically seen no peace, the Indian military structure and its combat capabilities have evolved over uninterrupted decades of fighting since independence. Therefore, there is little to change in deployment, positioning and structure from what exists, unless the conditions under which national defence is to be secured are changed. Assuming that a clear political mandate for the armed forces has been spelt out, there are two aspects to improvement of the military institution’s combat capability and these are as follows:

  • Purely military imperatives such as modernisation of war-waging capabilities and ‘jointness’ in operations and logistics; and,
  • By invocation of ‘military lien’ upon the nation’s civilian institutions and establishments – legislative, judicial, diplomatic, bureaucratic, administrative, scientific, industrial, quasi-military, human resources and so on.

Military Imperatives

Among the military imperatives, restructuring of the headquarters and formations into joint organisations, modernisation of weapons, equipment and corresponding battle procedures, strengthening the Territorial Army and revamping of the military reserve liability, and many more provisions may be thought of. The restructuring actually begins with progress on these imperatives, which then makes it possible to discard manpower and obsolete elements while maintaining the required level of joint force-capability. In the fulfilment of these imperatives, however, the Committee’s recommendations may bear fruition only at the instance of the Government, which holds all the strings, to the exclusion of the Service Headquarters.

The point made here is that the first step towards military modernisation, restructuring, jointness and capability enhancement must come from a truly military-dedicated MoD. The Services Headquarters, remaining excluded from apex level decision making and enforcement authority, can hardly be expected to lead that process. The MoD may be wise to take cognizance.

Military Lien: Integration of Civil Infrastructure and Resources into Defence Logistics

In the second instance, reduction of defence expenditure while maintaining combat capability is achieved by the concept of ‘military lien’ upon the civil sector. To cite examples, many of the rear area responsibilities such as raising mobilisation units, transportation, engineering, medical and welfare, security and protection, could be taken on by the expanded civil administration and police forces in their stride, and nearly eight per cent medically unfit military personnel could be re-employed in the civil sector, and as it had been the practice earlier, thus releasing combat manpower from non-combat duties and reducing defence expenditure.

In fact, a major factor in integrating civil infrastructure into defence logistics and enhancing combat capability would be an improvement in the network of roads and railways, both being dual-role responsibilities of the civil sector. But to integrate with defence logistics, civil institutions have to commit to the recommendations of the expert review. Even thereafter, the measures have to be backed up with upgrade of laws, rules, bureaucratic procedures and most importantly, accountability of the civil ‘providers’ to the military hierarchy. In a dispensation wherein the military institution remains on the margins of decision making, it is a hard hope of the Government promulgating, or the civil sector responding, to such accountability.

In this context, disconcerting experiences with the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Defence Estates, Military Engineering Service, the Railways and various state administrations, which have over the years been freed of military accountability, are indicative. Integration of civil infrastructure, while keeping the military hierarchy away from requisite control over these institutions at the national and state levels, may be unthinkable unless there is drastic revision in the Government’s policy orientation.

The argument here is that the steering of military modernisation, right sizing, capability improvement and cost reduction is not in the hands of the armed forces; these are controlled by the civil sector – its bureaucracy, science and industry, budget control and personnel management. In other words, considering a purely military angle to revamp of the military institution would be a lame exercise. Unless the validity of the Expert Committee’s recommendations is honoured, with due accountability, by the rest of the nation’s defence establishment, the ‘expert review’ would meet the fate of its predecessors. The Government may consider that.

‘Bias’ Towards Revenue Expenditure

The stages of development in kinetic and electronic weaponry having more or less reached a plateau, the hardware of war-fighting will stagnate around current designs till new breakthrough is made into military science. Resultantly, the trend of budgeting in modern militaries has shifted from capital expenditure on acquisition of latest hardware to revenue expenditure on maintenance, replacement and product improvement of current inventories of war. Further, to bolster combat power, the thrust has shifted to combat support and logistics enhancements and upgrade of professionalism among the soldiery. Indeed, revenue expenditure today has assumed the centre stage in keeping modern militaries in the desired states of preparedness. Repudiation of ‘bias towards revenue budget’, therefore, needs to be carefully construed to avoid reinforcing a notion that has lost relevance to modern military funding.

Agreeably, in the case of Indian defence forces, salience of capital defence expenditure remains valid due to import dependence as well as massive voids in modernity and scales of military inventories. That however, leaves no scope to compromise on the centrality of revenue expenditure, including the cost of employing high quality personnel which the Government wishes to reduce to ‘manageable’ levels. Had this understanding prevailed in the post-1990 period, the debilitating state of ‘hollowness’ that cripples the Indian military institution could have been avoided and our enemies would have been less enthused. Unless the Committee and its convening authority recognise this caveat, the result would be detrimental to the intent.

Another Committee for the Army

There is another committee convened by the Chief of the Army Staff which aims at right-sizing the Indian Army through rationalisation of manpower. The Army’s larger strength and the burden of post-Seventh Pay Commission emoluments seem to have combined to trigger that purport – that is to reduce expenditure on pay and allowances and so boost capital expenditure for military modernisation. But rather than functioning as a know-all Army Standing Expert Committee just to cut down manpower – and so upstage those latent elements, utility of which manifest only under conditions of war, an experience that no currently serving officer has suffered – this committee would be wise to appreciate that the Army’s large manpower is determined by our political-diplomatic limitations, not by the limits of affordable emoluments. Therefore, rather than gnawing at each other to reduce few men here and there, the Army’s strength would be wisely and substantially reduced if the Government can master regional politics better.

Looking True and Deep

Click to Buy: IDR Oct-Dec 2016

The short time stipulation of just three months to deal with such a vast and complex issue, that has defied resolution over the past three decades, belies the salience or seriousness of the expert review. If the intent is to put an already decided course of action through a final scrutiny by a knowledgeable body of professionals before its promulgation, then the time may be adequate, otherwise not.

In convening the Review, the MoD has treaded a path of wisdom and it needs to be congratulated on this initiative. But to ensure that the path is not lost in the wilderness, it needs to be considered that reduction in defence expenditure is actually linked to modernisation and re-structuring of the military institution – from which emerge innovative war strategies to secure victory in a cost-effective manner; reduction in manpower and the tapping of dual-use infrastructure follows thereafter, it is not the other way around. As stated, these matters are in the grips of the Government.

Nevertheless, a review of this nature is a welcome beginning from a Government which seems to be more appreciative of the nation’s defence issues. It is hoped that it would make the best of the situation to resolve the fundamental dichotomies in the management of national defence.

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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

Lt Gen Gautam Banerjee

former Commandant Officers Training Academy, Chennai.

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