India needs more operational reforms in its defence strategy

The military is trained to give advice based on professional considerations. This is for the good of the nation and should be appreciated, even if not in consonance with the thinking of higher-ups. A ‘Yes Minister' type of general/admiral/air marshal, who may become a favourite of the government in power, will be a danger to the nation, as happened in 1962. 

Raksha Mantri addressing commanders conference

Defence and Armed Forces were not part of the main agenda of the ruling or opposition parties in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Only the Agniveer issue was raised by the INDIA. This is rather strange. Some important points needing the attention of the new NDA government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are discussed here. 

Battles are all about “Maaro Ya Maro”! (Kill or Get Killed). Soldiers assaulting enemy positions have to advance through deadly mines, stepping over which can severe foot and leg or even blow up their bodies into shreds. At the same time, artillery shells are bursting all around and the enemy is firing machine guns, rifles and grenades. No sane person will keep charging under such life-threatening conditions, but well-trained, disciplined and motivated soldiers do. It takes a few years to develop such spirit and qualities among officers and men in 'paltans' (battalions/regiments).

Increasing terms of engagement to six years or retaining 50 per cent or more is political bargaining of the worst kind to remain in power. India needs fully trained and motivated armed forces of which a 'paltan' is the basic building block. A soldier takes a few years to weld into the 'paltan' and learn the tricks and ropes of battle craft. He has to master the deployment and use of some weapons, not just rifles. An army cannot have soldiers with different pay, and terms of service in the same trench.

National defence is a prerequisite for economic development 

India was once a highly prized nation for foreigners but the then rulers neglected their armies. Countries around India started invading our motherland to enjoy the comforts and benefits of our economic development. Our armies could not stand up to the military might of invaders, resulting in India coming under foreign rule for several centuries.

India faces two-front threats and the combined military might of China and Pakistan is three times that of India. For economic and industrial development required to become the third largest economy, it is essential to attract foreign companies and infusion of funds from abroad. Secure borders are a prerequisite for such investments. India needs to have modern armed forces to project credible conventional and nuclear deterrence so that our adversaries do not dare to start any misadventures. For this, required Force levels, modern equipment and fully trained and motivated officers and men are required. The NDA government needs to increase the defence budget to 3 per cent of GDP to help achieve this.  An example of China as regards its economic and military development is there to see.

Avoid a 'Yes Minister' military chief 

India’s higher defence organization, including the Defence Planning Committee, started in 2018, is dominated by ministers and the National Security Adviser (invariably having police and intelligence or diplomatic background). They have minimal military knowhow. The uniformed are only special invitees, which inhibits timely military advice. One of the main causes of the 1962 debacle against China was the then Defence Minister and the Prime Minister listening to the intelligence chief rather than to the advice of their military chiefs and field commanders. Let us not repeat that folly and give due representation to the Chief of the Defence Staff and the three service chiefs in the higher defence setup.

All stakeholders must never forget that one of the main reasons for success in then East Pakistan during the 1971 War was asking and listening to the advice of Gen Sam Manekshaw and the other two chiefs by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Manekshaw categorically told the PM, who was under political pressure to intervene in the East militarily, that if she wanted him to start the war in East Pakistan in May-Jun 71, his forces were not ready, the Monsoons would bog down his troops and he visualized certain defeat. However, if the PM listened to his advice, and waited till after the monsoons, he would ensure resounding victory. This has to be the mantra for the Prime Minister, his cabinet, the defence establishment, NSA, and above all the CDS and service chiefs. 

The military is trained to give advice based on professional considerations. This is for the good of the nation and should be appreciated, even if not in consonance with the thinking of higher-ups. A ‘Yes Minister' type of general/admiral/air marshal, who may become a favourite of the government in power, will be a danger to the nation, as happened in 1962.

PM needs more involvement in defence

Mr Modi has been taking a keen interest in various key ministries like external Affairs, roads, railways, petroleum, power, health etc. The benefit of his advice and directions is there to see.  However, similar involvement in defence matters has not been visible. How is it that the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force do not meet him regularly and have one-to-one discussions? It is the NSA and Defence Minister who interact with the CDS and Military Chiefs instead and advise the PM. Regular monthly meetings and briefings of the Prime Minister with the CDS and three chiefs should be the norm instead.

Multiplicity of agencies in counter-terror ops

Multiple agencies, including the Army, Armed State Police, CRPF, Assam Rifles and the like get involved in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. There is no single command. In Delhi, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoH) deal with these forces. In addition, the NSA also has a say and as it happened during the attack on Pathankot Air Base, NSG was also called in. There is a need for a single operational command to effectively deal with counter-terror and counter-insurgency operations. A permanent command and control set-up needs to be evolved on an urgent basis. 

Don't act against veterans

There is a need to carry out a study of the working of MoD and its interaction with Services HQ.  A de facto merger of Services HQ and MoD has not taken place and is needed to speed up the finalization of proposals.

The MoD has been litigating as a matter of routine against veterans, especially as regards disability pensions. This is extremely regrettable and needs to be stopped.

(The author is an Indian Army veteran who was a former Signal Officer-in-Chief. Views are personal.)

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Maj Gen PJS Sandhu
Sun, 06/16/2024 - 11:23
A superb piece. Hope, that the political leadership would pay heed and rise to the occasion. Armed forces are a nation’s ‘Assurance’ against storms. Unless in readiness, it will not be possible to build them in the face of a storm and all can be swept away, like it happened in 1962.
Lt Gen DP Sehgal
Sun, 06/16/2024 - 18:59
Very apt and candid article. All issues/ inadequacies have been clearly brought out. Wish political hierarchy takes note of.
Maj Gen RC Padhi
Sun, 06/16/2024 - 19:00
You are absolutely correct and I agree with your views, sir.
pradeep sharma
Mon, 06/17/2024 - 10:16
I could not agree more with the General. But repeat But in italics, I dare say that this is wishful thinking. Not a single political party or dispensation in power since Independence has given the Armed Forces any priority. One reason we don't even have a military strategy! Agniveer was simply a ploy to garner votes by suggesting that they had created employment opportunities! Shame to be honest.
Sun, 06/30/2024 - 19:12
A brief all-encompassing article. Each point carries a recommendation and a solution for the future. There are very tall claims of indigenization by the industry; the military must accept only the hardiest and battle winning equipment which is capable of challenging the PLA. The Indian Ocean in our backyard can be exploited as a viable deterrence against Chinese belligerence in the North. The need as highlighted in the article, is for a regular dialogue, beyond routine briefing between the PM and the Military hierarchy.