Equipping The Indian Army To Complement Military Strategy
Has technology become the dominant force behind the equipping programmes of the Army and other Services at the cost of military strategy? The main trigger of change for the future should be our military strategy to achieve the National Security objectives. Technology has brought about a new dimension to waging war, using the domain of cyber, space and C4ISR, but it is military strategy that should drive the equipping plan.
Evolution of Military Strategy
Military Strategy, both on the Western and Eastern Fronts has undergone select changes over the past decades. The 1962 Indo China conflict was a huge wake up call, leading to the creation of the Mountain Divisions, though without the full wherewithal that was required to complement the dissuasive military strategy planned. Till 1965 we were an attrition oriented Army, focused at the tactical level, where we got the better of Pakistan as in Khemkaran, Hajipir and other places.
In 1971 the focus was on the East and therefore operations on the Western front were restricted, again without any larger operational design. Our premier force, 1 Armoured Division remained in a countervailing role and was not committed to battle. Success in the Shakargarh Bulge was limited and achieved painstakingly at a tactical pace. The absence of obstacle clearing equipment was acutely felt. Though we got the better of Pakistan at the tactical level as in the battle of Basantar, absence of operational art was pronounced. However on the Eastern front the Indian Armed Forces displayed brilliant operational manoeuvre, to inflict a stunning defeat on Pakistan and help the creation of Bangladesh.
Major changes in doctrine/military strategy were brought about in the early eighties through a combination: the induction of T72 tanks & infantry combat vehicle (ICV) BMP and more profoundly by General Sundarji’s articulation and focus on deep operational manoeuvres especially on the open flank. The next major change occurred under General Bipin Joshi with the creation of the Rashtriya Rifles(RR) to tackle the proxy war in J&K. It was a truly remarkable gambit and not many gave much chance of success to this motley grouping. Over the years, the RR has proved its worth and is today our premier counter insurgency force. It can be optimized further if it is provided the full range of specialized equipment for its assigned role.
The sluggish mobilization, prolonged face off and stalemate during Operation Parakram prompted serious rethinking on our military strategy, giving rise to the so called Cold Start doctrine, more aptly termed ‘SNIPE’(Short notice, intense, proactive, escalatory continuum) under General NC Vij. This was radical strategy and needs to be optimised by a matching equipping and modernization programme.
A landmark study ‘Transformation of the Indian Army’ undertaken in 2008-09 under (then Lt Gen) and subsequently the COAS, Gen VK Singh and shepherded by me as DG Perspective Planning made some bold recommendations both in organization, military strategy and matching equipment profile. Bold Pilot Projects were also recommended in various spheres including tailor made Brigade size groupings. We had hoped to shake the army out of its status quo culture and make it better prepared to face the challenges of the 21st century, including capabilities to face a threat on Two Fronts (first time that this was clearly articulated). Additional forces for the Eastern front also formed part of the study’s recommendations. Unfortunately after the initial push, the study was virtually shelved on account of turf considerations and personality interplay at the highest levels.The recent Shekatkar Committee’s charter was focused more towards rebalancing the teeth to tail ratio, not really delving into military strategy, re-organisation or equipping.
Prioritise Equipping to Optimise Military Strategy
Presently there is a mismatch between what we desire to achieve and what we are capable of, though let me state that the Army is fully capable of fulfilling its assigned role but needs to be optimized further. There are long term perspective plans, but they are an amalgamation of what individual arms and services desire without prioritisation. While the present Government under Prime Minister Modi is introducing much needed reforms, the defence budget has to compete with other pressing requirements and therefore, the Services need to prioritise their perspective plans to get the best out of allocated defence budget. This is where Joint Planning assumes importance, especially with reference to common usage platforms like helicopters. It would also be prudent to ensure a balanced approach, to ensure that big ticket procurements of any service do not impinge on the budget availability of other services, particularly in regard to future committed liabilities.
• Third Dimension Manoeuvre, lift and logistic capability. If one was to name one capability which will change the equation, it is induction of helicopters. The present availability is grossly inadequate even after taking into account the induction planned. On an intense battlefield where there is danger of a stalemate, it is our ability to place troops behind enemy lines in depth that will win the day, be it in the mountains, plains or the desert. What is needed is a capability to lift a Brigade worth of troops, in two /three lifts and then be able to supply them till link up is established. To ensure survivability stealth technology needs to be built in.
• Attack helicopters (AH) need to be inducted into the Army in much larger numbers, with the DG Mechanised Forces being the lead agency. To start with, orbat an AH squadron with each Armoured Division, with an additional squadron with each Theatre added in Phase 2.
• Induct long range precision firepower and area air defence to complement this deep thrust capability. Also provision better obstacle crossing and road building capability to enable operational reach in the mountains, as also in the plains and desert.
• For the mechanized forces, the focus should be on modernization, upgradation and overhaul of the existing fleet, along with good surveillance capability. Induction of new tanks/ICV can be pursued for the long term, but the immediate focus should clearly be on fast tracking modernization and upgradation, with induction of AHs being accorded top priority. We already have assembly lines for three different tanks and an ICV. These need to be optimized rather than create new ones. World over, the trend also reflects upgrades and modernization rather than new platforms.
• The infantry is adequate in numbers with good exposure and fighting spirit. We need to optimize them with better capabilities. “The Infantry soldier as a System” programme is long overdue and needs to be fast tracked, to include personal weapons, body protection and night vision capabilities. Of critical importance are 3rd generation missiles for varied tasks, especiallyanti-tank sufficiency, which will release more armour for offensive tasks. In addition infantry needs to be provided better mobility to suit varying terrain requirements.
• Special Forces are a battle winning factor on the modern battlefield. They need to be optimized with the best equipment including specialized helicopters for induction and deinduction. Their employment can be further optimized through the creation of a Special Forces tri service Command, long overdue.
• The above should be complemented by much better intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities not only with the army, but tri-services. A similar prioritisation exercise may be undertaken in the Airforce and Navy as well and the service plans harmonized by the joint planning staff.
Each service has an ongoing procurement perspective plan. What has been suggested is to cull out a priority procurement plan which will give teeth to our envisaged military strategy/plans. The Army must put its money in areas which will immediately enhance our operational capability and convey a signal to our adversaries that we mean business. This will remain the best guarantee of our security and peace.