India’s Military Modernisation Programme
Defence Minister A K Antony unveiled a Defence Production Policy that, in an implicit admission of public sector inadequacy, seeks “to build up a robust indigenous defence industrial base by proactively encouraging larger involvement of the Indian private sector”. The industry has reacted differently to the production policy. Khutub Hai of Mahindra Defence Systems had this to say“As a statement of intent, the new policy is a welcome step. But the government must create an effective framework that will clearly facilitate the private sector in developing and manufacturing defence equipment. The first test case that will define the new policy will be the FICV project.” Others have also articulated their responses starting a debate on the efficacy of the policy to their respective sectors.
FICCI while welcoming the new policy,articulated that it was “concerned about the implementation of the policy on the ground, because even the existing policies have not been implemented. It further hoped that MoD would take this initiative forward by also providing a level playing field to the private sector by eliminating any price preference for Defence PSUs and doing away with the practice of nomination.”
The policy aims at achieving “substantive self-reliance in the design, development and production
of (equipment) required for defence in as early a time frame as possible” by creating “an ecosystem conducive for the private industry to take an active role, particularly for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).”
Ajai Shukla articulas that the MoD is also challenged in having to balance the Defence Production Policy between its key objectives of indigenisation on the one hand; and on the other, having to keep the forces supplied with high-tech weaponry, little of which is produced in India.
Some basic issues need to be deliberated to comprehend the nuances of this initiative. Somehow the debate is about infusing confidence in the Indian Industry and providing a level playing field to the private sector when compared with the public sector and foreign companies.
There have been no comments from the military as yet. There is also no mention of how the needs of the military need to be met by a simplistic system of articulating the need and fulfilling it. Some larger issues merit consideration here beyond the policy.
Basics of Modernising the Military
As an ancient civilisation but a young nation that is still in the process of nation building, India faces many threats and challenges to its external and internal security. The foremost among these are the long-festering dispute over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) with Pakistan and the unresolved territorial and boundary dispute with China. Since its independence from the British on August 15, 1947, India has been forced to fight four wars with Pakistan (1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999) and one with China (1962).
India’s internal security environment has been vitiated by a ‘proxy war’ through which Pakistan has fuelled an uprising in J&K since 1988-89. Various militant movements in India’s north-eastern states and the rising tide of Maoist terrorism in large parts of Central India have also contributed to internal instability. India’s regional security is marked by instability in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Military strength is a pre-requisite for peace and stability on the Indian Sub-continent. India’s socioeconomic development, and that of its neighbours, can continue unhindered only in a secure environment. No nation can afford to be complacent about and to take unmanageable risks with its security. In the rapidly changing geo-strategic environment, comprehensive national strength hinges around modern armed forces that strive constantly to keep pace with the ongoing technological revolution.
The rapidly changing nature of warfare, the existential threat from India’s nuclear-armed military adversaries and new threats like terrorism spawned by radical extremism, require a quantum jump in the Indian army’s operational capabilities.
Despite all the tensions confronting it, India has maintained its coherence and its GDP is now growing at an annual rate in excess of eight per cent, except for the dip suffered during the financial crisis. Growth at such a rapid rate would not have been possible but for the sustained vigilance maintained by the Indian armed forces and their many sacrifices in the service of the nation over the last six decades. The Indian army has fulfilled its multifarious roles with admirable valour and in a spirit of sacrifice and selfless devotion to duty. This is good but this needs to change in favour of a modernised armed force.
The COAS General V.K. Singh accepted in New Delhi earlier this month that the modernization of military hardware, particularly artillery, has been hampered in the past both by the men in uniform and civilian authorities, but the situation is being “amended”.”There have been faults, some in uniform and some out of uniform. Now we are on track to ensure that this mismatch that has happened over a period of time is amended.”
In order to successfully defeat future threats and challenges, the Armed Forces must modernise their weapons and equipment and upgrade their combat potential by an order of magnitude. The shape and size of the Indian Army’s force structure a few decades hence merits detailed deliberation and quick decisions as capabilities take several decades to create, test and experiment with till they finally mature. It has been well said that there are no prizes for the runners up in war. Merely upgrading equipment with inept HR and logistic infrastructure would not suffice. These essential components, especially of managing thought need to be upgraded by a buoyant modernization plan in all dimensions of combat.
The discourse of military modernization of India always invariably gets mired in its tardy procurement processes and blinkered thinking on managing its periphery on the back of the spirit of the Indian soldier. From 1948 till date, the Indian Armed Forces have delivered despite strategic restraint, a confused politico military mechanism to articulate policy as also a strategic and operational bankruptcy in staying ahead of times in arming and modernizing its defence forces.
As per Defence Minister, “we are 15 years behind” while the COAS attributes this to faulty civilian and military oversight in ensuring the armed forces are always a step ahead of the changed threat scenarios.
There are few major weaknesses of the Indian Defence modernisation process.
The first is the absence of a clear and unambiguous relation matrix for the country’s highest security structure. The higher defence organization is conspicuous by incoherence in its very being. Since we lack formal structure at the apex with suitable participation by the armed forces, inexperienced administrators and political masters make short sighted policy decisions. In protecting their turf they do not permit entry of the armed forces in the decision making apparatus. On the other hand, in their quest to be transparent, the political class has pushed back the equipment modernization plan by more than two decades. As a result the strategic restraint theory gains currency and the modernization plans of the armed forces remain buried in files. There is an urgent need to modernize and energise this vital component of National Security Structure to articulate the needs of the defence forces in guarding the national interest by hard power.
Only a future-ready army can march into the coming decades with confidence, well prepared to tackle the new challenges looming over the horizon. As a first step, the Government of India must appoint a bipartisan National Military Commission to go into the whole gamut of restructuring and modernisation. The commission should comprise eminent political leaders, armed forces veterans, civilian administrators, diplomats and scholars who are capable of dispassionate reasoning and are familiar with the current military discourse. It should be given no more than six months to complete its work so that the restructuring exercise can begin early and be completed by 2020-25. Simultaneously, the higher defence organisaton of the nation needs to be urgently revamped.
Secondly, the nation may not only be arming without aiming to a large extent in its approach towards handling the live and potential threats to its security but failing to make judicious use of what it has. There is a need to think ahead and procure that which would alter the battlefield geometry.
Thirdly, the armed forces spend little or no energy in modernizing the military thought at the operational and tactical levels while it lacks cogent strategic culture to articulate and innovate new methods of war fighting. Beating status quo is a tough ask. One cannot learn strategy or operational art based on rank structure alone. There has to be a conscious effort to groom the military leadership all along to refine their thoughts. This crucial component of war fighting has to receive the desired impetus when we argue to modernize ourselves. Think tanks apart, the armed forces have to put structured arrangements for developing strategic thought and culture in earnest. The next step would be to articulate these thoughts to the political class to convince them of the short, mid and long term needs of the armed forces. The current arrangement of deranged bipolar advice is just not working.
Fourthly, we have to give a serious thought to optimization of our effort by suitable integration shorn of the prorata mindsets to develop new strategies and operational plans to keep ahead of the enemy’s OODA cycle in peace and war. This calls for synergy in operations between the three services and amongst the services by mission based command and control structure. This calls for serious up gradation of our logistics and communication capabilities. It also calls upon laying out suitable communication, kinetic and non kinetic grids including a responsive logistic system to operationalise the proactive strategy.
Fifthly, The nation’s internal security, counter-insurgency and counterterrorism capabilities also need to be modernised as most of the emerging challenges will lie in the domain of sub-conventional conflict and operations other than war. The time has come to seriously consider a ‘third force’ for internal security operations. Doctrinal concepts, organisations structures and training methodologies must keep pace with technological advancements. The Army must train its personnel for certainty and educate them for uncertainty.The need to understand insurgencies and apply psychological corrections through a range of media driven solutions must be an are to be looked into. Our modernization must permit seeping in History to develop non kinetic means of tackling insurgencies and terrorism. A tall order though.
Finally, the Indian Army of the future must be light, lethal and wired; ready to fight and win India’s future wars jointly with the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force over the full spectrum of conflict, from sub-conventional conflict and operations other than war to an all-out conventional war; so as to ensure regional stability and internal security. The nation must get a modern force that can fight and win India’s future battles with the least number of casualties and minimum collateral damage through surgical strikes.
The Indian Army should be a force capable of carrying the battle into an enemy territory, from where terror or military attacks are launched or might originate.
Only then will the nation get a peaceful environment for socioeconomic development. The aim should be to ensure peace through conventional deterrence so that India can achieve all round prosperity and join the ranks of the world’s developed nations.
Does the new policy help meet these ends? Do the armed forces, apart from the industry, have to mend their ways?
Times of India has this to say in its editorial coinciding with the release of the policy.
However, a competitive offsets policy will be undermined if defence negotiators continue negotiating as they have. The Gorshkov saga wasn’t unique. India inexplicably did not include, in a deal for Lockheed Martin aircraft, the trainer. A component crucial to getting the aircraft airborne, which should have been included in the original deal, is now being offered as offsets. Meanwhile, dependence on a handful of suppliers leaves us open to their arbitrary post-negotiation price hikes. Russia is doing so with a 2006 multi-ship contract. Making offsets reform truly effective requires reproducing its logic throughout the defence contracting process by broadening our supplier base. Involving qualified private players in international defence negotiations, since the private sector now has a direct stake, is also worth considering. This will further offsets reform.
Restructuring and modernising the armed forces will require political courage, military astuteness, a non parochial approach and a singularity of purpose.
With India’s defence budget now pegged at less than 2.0 per cent of the GDP, the funds available for modernisation of the armed forces are grossly inadequate.
The only other alternative of undertaking quantitative reduction in force levels so as to save funds for modernisation cannot be resorted to due to large-scale manpower intensive operational commitments of the Army. The Army is not only deployed along or stationed close to a long border with China and along the LoC with Pakistan on a permanent basis but is also engaged extensively in manpower-intensive counter-insurgency operations and, hence, finds it difficult to reduce its manpower.
As the availability of funds remains low, India’s military modernisation is likely to continue at a slow pace in the foreseeable future. First off, we need to correct this anomaly. Thereafter the complee process of what we need and what can be made available, by whatever processes needs to be addressed.
Indegenisation is important but more important are timely introduction of cutting edge technologies to help the armed forces meet the complex threats that face it to fight todays wars with todays weaponry.
Procedures should not over ride the need to modernise in tune with time. Transparency,which has seriously affected the military’s modernisation, should not cost the country and the armed forces dear in a battle field.
- Policy ready for self-reliance in defence (thehindu.com)
- Abheek Bhattacharya: India’s Military Muddle (online.wsj.com)
- India’s top guns test new fighter (bbc.co.uk)
- Analysis: Indian plan to deter Pakistan more myth than reality (reuters.com)