“There is no need to continue doing a thing merely because it has been done in the Army for the last thirty or forty years; if this is the only reason for doing it, then it is high time we changed and did something else.” — Field Marshall Bernard L Montgomery, 1937
The war in Ukraine has brought into focus the importance of staying power or battle endurance of a field force and the immense destructive power of long-range cruise missiles striking bases, industrial infrastructure, field formations and logistics chain thus degrading fighting and re-supply capability. The halting of the Russian offensive in the first stage of the conflict was essentially a case of losing sight of the fundamental principles of war. Ukraine lost most of its artillery and ammunition to precision fire and looked to NATO for supplies. It has also highlighted the importance of combat force regeneration of field forces after suffering initial surprise lost engagements, attrition and grounding of operations. To prevent the loss of territory, Boots On Ground (BOG) supported by a sustainable combat capability spread across many domains is essential. This calls for not only increased resources but an all-round culture of demand reduction and innovative employment of resources e.g. accurate fires using superior artillery techniques adopted by Ukraine is proving to be more effective than massed fires using many times more ammunition that does not achieve significant military effect.
India’s defence budget has seen the rise of expenditure on pensions at an average rate of 10.7 percent since 2012-2013. The share of pensions has shot up to 26 percent of defence budget touching nearly Rs. 120,000 crore this year. A balance has to be found to enable the military to modernise. Sheer reliance on BOG is not the answer seeing the expanding security landscape. In any case, the current manpower-centric force design has not been able to stymie pre-emption and ingress and it is time to leverage technology and intellectual firepower to address repeated surprise by the adversary.
As given in the tables below, the defence budget this year includes an allocation of Rs 3.64 trillion (or 69 percent) for operations, salaries, and pensions. The budget includes Rs 60 trillion (or 30 percent) for capital outlay. The Indian Army’s capital outlay in 2022–2023 is Rs 320 billion, a decline of 12 percent. The Indian Navy will receive Rs 475.9 billion, an increase of 43 percent, while the Indian Air Force has been allocated Rs 555.8 billion, an increase of four percent. The Indian Army’s declining capital outlay is primarily because of its highest pension obligations, despite an allocation of 58 percent of the defence budget followed by the Indian Air Force at 19 percent and the Indian Navy at 16 percent. The expenditure of the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and the Indian Air Force is in the ratio 3.5:1:1.2.
|Total (INR Billion)
|% of Total
Revenue and Capital Share Budget (FY 2022-23)
|% of service budget
Composition of Army budget (2022-23) (in Rs crore)
A mere eight percent for modernisation and seven percent for maintenance can only guarantee hollowness. The Standing Committee on Defence (2018) had noted that modern armed forces should have one-third of its equipment in the vintage category, one-third current and one-third, state-of-the-art. However, the Indian Army has 68 percent of its equipment in the vintage category, 24 percent current and a mere eight percent is state-of-the-art. The Committee had also noted that over the years, the Indian Army has accumulated a substantial deficiency of weapons, stores and ammunition. It found that adequate attention has been lacking in respect of both policy and budget for modernisation.
Philosophy of Diminishing Demands
There is an indispensable need for evolving a philosophy of all round demand reduction of resources – be it the BOG, supplies or materials. Doing more with less should be the new mantra. This calls for reducing the demands of the cutting edge as well as support elements. IT, networking and robotics can lead to large savings of personnel managing sensors, supplies, clothing and ammunition. Networking of sensors and weapon stations can reduce the number of operators. Superior technical ethos of operators and gunners can lead to reduction of technicians. The rapid pace at which hollowness is setting in can only be offset by ploughing in monetary resources for modernisation. A new approach to personnel, platform and overall force efficiency has to set in.
The Indian Army being manpower intensive certainly requires right sizing with a strong focus on personnel and force efficiency. The war in East Europe has demonstrated how unimpressive the outcomes can be – of a vaunted, seemingly invincible force that prefers to be organised and kitted on outdated concepts overlooking the crucial principle of staying power. The disruptive effects of sensors, electronic warfare, space, unmanned assets and digitisation that has led to massive attrition of vintage platforms is there to see. The Indian military’s obsession for BOG is based on a World War II force design. Some new thinking could help.
Combat skills and competencies are acquired through intense and realistic training entailing utilisation of resources. Personnel efficiency can be improved through initiatives that enable lesser number of soldiers to do the same job. This can be done using modern TTPs. Persons with higher end skills and competencies can be more productive, thus reducing the numbers e.g. deploying one soldier to monitor the feed of a sensor in a surveillance grid is a gross waste when over 50 such unmanned sensors can be networked and monitored by few specialists. Office automation can lead to reduction of manpower. Better design of systems can reduce special tools and the expertise needed to troubleshoot glitches, thereby decreasing the demand for highly trained maintenance personnel. Operators or crews could also be trained to handle Class I and II stoppages. By expanding their maintenance training, the overall number of maintainers in a force could be reduced. Tools that provide more transparency in logistics like warehouse management systems, distribution based inventory, readiness-based sparing can lead to an overall demand reduction at various echelons. Increased skill levels and high-end competencies are needed for soldiers to operate in the digitised battlefield. The prevailing brawny and straight-jacketed work culture needs a reset.
Using new technologies, it is possible to bring down operating and sustainment costs of weapon platforms while ramping up equipment readiness. By employing smart munitions, fuel-efficient engines, condition-monitored platforms, more reliable and maintainable systems the philosophy of demand reduction can be implemented. Current generation internal combustion engines can give engine life of 2,000 hours as against 300 to 500 achieved in legacy systems. It makes sense to insert better technology and reduce the requirement of engines from 2.5 to three per platform to 1.5. Similarly, by use of smart munitions, fire-and-forget missiles, simulator time should go up and live firing curtailed. The war in Ukraine has shown how smart systems can be handled even by competent civilians with a few days of training.
If automatic loading and ejection systems are being asked for by tank men and gunners, it needs to be followed with concomitant reduction of crew to offset the high Operating and Maintenance (O&M) costs. Material handling systems can reduce personnel deployed at depots and ammunition points. Water purification systems can reduce the need for water points manned by specialist personnel. Solar and wind power where feasible, can reduce the need for generators and lead to demand reduction of oil and lubricants. The list is endless. New ideas and innovations that will lead to demand reduction of combat support requirements need to be pursued through Innovations for Defence Excellence (IDEX).
Force Design and Efficiency
It is here that the greatest impact of demand reduction can be created. Traditionally, this has been a domain where hardly any transformation has occurred, primarily on the grounds of time-tested organisations and battle procedures. This argument stands demolished with the experiences in recent wars. When our major adversary implements sweeping changes in force structures and hardware, it is axiomatic to evaluate its impact on future combat. The velocity of change to integrated battle groups need to be increased and should end up creating an integrated capability efficiently. The new force design should allow attachments and detachments by incorporating greater situational awareness through digitisation supported by greater intellectual power of operator and maintainer; reduction of required number of combat platforms may be feasible. This will need a shift from old mindsets of accumulating more hardware and moving forward to software and human ware. Investments in organic reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, and technical intelligence assets will upscale all round efficiencies. All elements can see and be aware and, hence do much more. This information dominance over adversaries can increase overall combat capabilities and staying power of the fighting force as the Ukrainian experience is repeatedly demonstrating. A modest reduction of ten percent in the strength of personnel should be achieved in the proposed change over to IBGs.
An agile force will be able to handle situations with lesser number of platforms at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as limited deployability of heavy platforms could become an exercise of diminishing returns. Standardisation and commonality of weapons and equipment can impact force efficiency as it would lead to less stocking of spare parts. This supportability aspect has to be considered at the acquisition and perspective planning stage using life-cycle cost analysis. Force design will also be impacted if careful consideration is given to the nature of tasks that will be performed by a force. At the LAC, the effectiveness of heavy armour is questionable due to terrain. Limited moves generally within the capability of light platforms like BMP supported by tank destroyer teams may be more relevant operationally and could impact future force design. Heavy platforms, when immobilised, can block roads and tracks, making combat teams vulnerable to precision fires and tank hunting teams.
Another way to increase force efficiency is through modular support. This involves initially providing fighting units manoeuver and support capabilities essential during ensuing combat operations thus reducing its footprint and improving physical agility. Additional support capabilities can be plugged in as operations develop. This concept is of extreme relevance in mountains and HAA where deployability and road space will always be at a premium.
Human Capital Intensive Strategy
The Indian Army’s current recruitment process is based on the rally system which commences with endurance tests, followed by medical tests and written tests – an archaic procedure which rightfully has been changed with the introduction of the Tour of Duty (TOD). TOD could ramp up efficiencies if introduced with the aim of up scaling skills and competencies of the human capital, essentially Personnel Below Officer Ranks (PBOR). The Government’s Skill India programme can become a feeder for this recruitment thereby ensuring that most TOD personnel are inducted with desired skill sets. A trained operator or technician can be deployed in shorter time frames.
TOD can emerge as a high impact reform if rolled out taking into account the cost, operational effectiveness and other strategic impacts of this move. Implemented in isolation, this initiative could run aground. It is important to have a higher systems’ view encompassing several ministries of the Government. Rightly crafted, it can act as a integrator of several schemes of the Government like ‘Skill India’, ‘Make in India’, ‘Start up India’, boosting defence exports and stabilising the defence industrial corridors and MSME sector. It can even bring in higher operational effectiveness in the paramilitary forces and greater efficiencies in DPSUs through absorption of personnel being released.
The military has traditionally been employing officers in jobs that need narrow competencies primarily because of the zero-error syndrome. There are a number of areas where direct entry junior/non-commissioned officers can replace officers doing routine repetitive jobs equivalent to desk/section level in IT, logistics, policing, personnel management, finance, acquisitions, intelligence, information collection and collation. Traditionally, such jobs are handled by class II/ Non-Gazetted officers in other ministries. Creation of a support cadre of officers has been considered on many occasions, it is time to implement this idea to bring in higher personnel efficiencies. Introduction of a direct entry scheme for junior leaders in certain branches will provide an avenue for more accomplished human resource to join the military, reduce the strength of officers and enhance career progression of the officer cadre.
Over the years, hi-tech has entered the Indian Army at a staccato pace. Consequently, organisational and personnel changes have been half-baked, following old mindsets. It is important to change the inner workings of the organisation even if the force design is to remain the same. A case in point is the manner in which the immense advantages of IT, networking and data mining are yet to be effectively utilised in enhancing operational effectiveness. The shelving of the Battlefield Management System (BMS), EMERALD and other automation projects reinforces this argument. Technology can reduce the size of fighting forces and support elements while simultaneously enhancing the size of the battlefield each formation can influence. Sizing needs to look both at personnel and platform reduction, to provide greater agility and combat effectiveness. The end strength needed in formations has to be linked to national military strategy and resource availability. To start with manpower reduction can be carried out in RR units after digitisation and the area of responsibility increased. For meeting a surge in BOG requirements, the TOD of paramilitary to RR units can be considered. After all, the Indian Army is sending its elite SF to NSG on a TOD of sorts.
Operational flexibility, agility, firepower, sustainability and economy should be the cornerstones of future force design and military capability development. The triangular shape of units and formations and reliance on massed infantry predominant pushes have to make way to agile forces that can cover expansive frontages and areas. In short, current day forces have to successfully integrate new platforms and technology while simultaneously evolving new tactics and leadership dynamics. Doing more with lesser resources is one way the Indian Army can balance its spiraling revenue budget and set aside resources for sustaining its existing capabilities while modernising in the stride. It is time for the military to examine from ground up what is to be accomplished on the likely future battlefield when facing a powerful and large adversary. Staying power or battle endurance should form the kernel of this evolution.