Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member
An intense debate on the doctrinal and force structuring basis of the Armed Forces, most significantly, the Army, is currently underway, becoming mordant as it goes. Four compelling threads merit notice.
First was the debate on two-front war, in a publicised difference of opinion. The force structuring and force development are contingent on the war fighting strategy enunciated for this appreciated multi front simultaneous committal, hence, the importance of the issue. Undoubtedly, the accurate prognostication of the future is fraught with danger of failing, yet reasonable assumptions and a modicum of contingency planning can facilitate.
Second is the budgetary allocation for the Army, and its inability to meet the committed liabilities, the defence budget of 2018-19 having slipped to 1.58% of GDP. To top it, under-utilisation of funds has been a recurring feature of India’s defence budget with the armed forces surrendering nearly Rs 7,000 crore in the last couple of years. In fact this trend of budgetary allocations has continued for a fair period of time, and is a judgmental issue for the Government. It can be well conceptualized that the next fiscal, being an election year, the full budget would be placed only post installation of the next Government, and that any major upward increase at that stage would be unlikely. It obviously directs that the policy-making security apparatus at the helm of the governance fathoms that the quantum allocation is sufficient, as per their visualisation of the future security environment.
Third is ‘cut the flab’, which has, as if, become synonymous with the Armed forces, and Google obediently gurgles out aplenty in response to the query, the last being the TOI editorial of 20 March 2018! A Committee of Experts had been constituted by Ministry of Defence under the chairmanship of Lt Gen (Retd) DB Shekatkar to recommend measures to enhance combat capability and rebalance defence expenditure of the armed forces. It was apparent that the Government felt that there were lacunae in the combat capability of the armed forces.
The Fourth is the salience of speech of the President Xi Jinping at the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China 20 March, 2018. “The Chinese people and the Chinese nation have a shared conviction which is not a single inch of our land will be and can be ceded from China”. “We are resolved to fight the bloody battle against our enemies and on the basis of independence we are determined to recapture the relics.” “We have strong capabilities of taking our due place in the world.” (To add to it are the news reports that Doklam issue – as a case in point – has not stabilized or settled.) Obviously the speech of the Chinese President does not exemplify the ‘enemies’, the disputed ‘single inch of land’, however, the military transformation and technological modernization of the PLA does indicate their capabilities to ‘fight a bloody battle’. And indeed, despite all efforts at placation and mending fences, the connotations and implications of the speech must not be missed in India. The issues as highlighted need cumulated contemplation.
The Armed Forces modernization relies on a broad document called the Raksha Mantri’s Operational Directives prepared by HQ IDS, in the absence of a formalized National Security Strategy. Assuredly, a strategy based on two-front war, and creation of capabilities for the same, will be for a worst case scenario in the Indian context. Combat planning and force levels are rarely fathomed on worst case scenarios, as these are cost prohibitive for a developing nation. Accordingly, it is seemingly clarified, even without a formal pronouncement that the armed forces have to modernize within the available quantum, and within the existing, dire, procedures, with the retention of the revenue-capital mismatch. The option therefore to continue as hitherto fore, with select acquisitions and not creation of force capabilities will prove strongly counter-productive – as with passage of time there may be stronger evidence of glaring weaknesses, which can be exploited by the adversaries.
There is also the challenge of the sprint of military technologies that are at the threshold in our neighbourhood, and which will have immeasurable effect on war fighting. Though in different league, the US has created a new Future Command informally referred to as modernization command with its eight cross-functional teams, for development of improved long-range precision fires, a next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift platforms, a mobile and expeditionary Army network, air and missile defense capabilities, and Soldier lethality. The information age diktat on warfare – Artificial Intelligence, autonomous weapon systems, space and cyber warfare, precision projectile warfare including hypersonic glide and high powered microwave weapons and aerial drone swarms, electronic, space and network warfighting capabilities, eigh the kinetic ones, in achievement of political aims, indicate an amending paradigm in war fighting.
It is axiomatic that for the quandary that the armed forces are placed in, especially the Army, the doctrinal basis and the strategy for the future is placed before the Government in a crisp and direct fashion. In addition, since internal research and development is unable to maintain pace with the sprint of technologies, acquisitions from global arena is a necessity – though the latter has its own significant anxieties. Time hence is for bold and even distasteful decision-making that would create capabilities for fighting post-modern wars, than modernization based on individual arms silos.
Many of the recommendations to achieve these are on the anvil and are well known – like the Theatre Commands and jointness of the armed forces. A few, though random, (and maybe some insurmountable and unachievable) recommendations are penned herein, to energise critique and thinking processes, to adjust to the finality that the Services face currently and in the future.
The Services require an internal Joint Blue-Ribbon Committee, to net-assess the capabilities essential for the future, and translate these into a conjoined acquisitions programme. In this delineation, the Government needs to be formally sensitized on formulation of thought-processes on foundational percepts like the two-front war and the conceptualized military strategy for the future that would lead to the creation of focused capabilities. The current LTIPP, amalgamates the independent Services wish-lists without sanitizing the same in correspondence with capabilities that can be cumulatively offset. A Joint Services Vision Document may therefore place the Government on a discussion platform, and accept or reject the formulations on which the creation of tomorrow’s plans is based. To await ad infinitum for the formalized issue of National Security Strategy will only be at the peril of the Armed Forces, and self-initiative hence is imperative.
As argued earlier, since a major budget increase is unlikely, and the committed liabilities will take their toll for the Army, a serious measure of reduction in revenue budget especially for the Army is essential. Force right-sizing is contingent on the result of the Vision Document, new percepts in war fighting, creation of requisite capabilities and optimal utilization of CAPF/PMF in hostilities. The burgeoning revenue budget on account of salaries alone is immense. In the interim, it can be considered that a ten percent cut in manpower be enforced on all units of the Army bar-none, to reduce the force by over a lakh and a quarter over a period of three years. By curbing all new raisings – including those underway and by reducing the intake to one third for a period of three years, will substantially downscale the revenue budget, which must be sought to be transferred in the Army component of capital budget. In the interim in the three years the right force configuration be worked out as applicable.
The amending paradigm of war fighting envisages emphasis on newer defensive and offensive technologies that are more relevant in Information Age, than the hard power of tanks, infantry combat vehicles, artillery guns or even infantry units. Many of the hard power systems may be rendered infructuous in future wars by the precision projectile technologies, information warfare, the low cost drone swarms and the directed energy weapons. There needs a serious thought on fresh intakes been planned and modernization drive towards next generation systems. This issue is not deliberated further as should be addressed in the Vision document.
Time is at a premium for the Army at least, in facing the uphill task of getting the Next Force ready, for the future generation will be unkind to the current and the past for having not envisaged the future correctly and planned accordingly. All out efforts to be at the same page with the Government of the military strategies is imperative. It is NOT a question of acquisitions of individual platforms and modernization, it is of creation of basket of capabilities that are the call of tomorrow. Or we are destined to remain in perpetual cul-de-sac.