Scholar Warrior : The Three Point Advise on National Security
In a recent conversation with a prominent and much respected politician I was asked an interesting question. He wished to know my opinion on what advice I would offer to the core national leadership group on national security if the same was solicited off me, with specific reference to the Indian Army. He asked me to restrict the advice to three issues only. While proffering the same I presumed that it would be to a body as high as the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) which consists of the Prime Minister, Ministers of External Affairs, Defence, Home and Finance, along with the National Security Adviser (NSA).
I commenced my response to the very pertinent query by first explaining the broad concept of execution of security responsibility of a military force which any strategic and operational level mind would look at. My instinctive recall from years of war gaming and analysis was that we need three elements for success. First, the personnel; my thought process going back to the idea of the man behind the weapon or equipment as the priority. Second, is the equipment; on the basis of the fact that you cannot fight a modern day conflict with antiquated equipment which is a couple of generations older than that of your adversary. The third is concept and strategy; in other words it is the application of the combined power of personnel and weapons/equipment to situations arising from threats, in the most appropriate way keeping in mind dictums, procedures and innovations, in short a form of operational art. So let me describe my three areas of focus, which are also the areas of concern I hold about the Indian Army. I could elaborate each issue with many subsets but that is not the intent here. Thus I have chosen just one domain under each of the three.
Commencing with the issue of personnel and I am being deliberate in doing that because for too long have problems persisted without giving the highest rungs of authority a full lowdown on these. We have to compulsorily have a young and fit army; no two ways about that. That basic term of reference is well understood but not its implications, which are many. I am not going to go into every facet of personnel management but I will flag the all-important issue of the relative young age at which jawans and officers have to exit service on early retirement and the implications of this on morale. In the case of jawans it’s more due to early retirement age and short colour service, forcing those who are not promoted to exit at the age of 34 to 37 without assured second careers. In the case of officers, the contractual period is longer but promotion prospects extremely poor right from first rung of selection for promotion, causing a deep sense of demotivation and restricted employability after their supersession. The government needs to be reminded about one aspect which stands approved by the Union Cabinet and yet unimplemented. This is the step recommended by the AjaiVIkram Singh Committee and involves the lateral absorption of army officers into various police and civil services organisations. The MS Branch routinely sends a reminder to the MoD on the implementation of this but never receives a response. When problems become intractable there is one simple way of resolving them; through the legislation route. An enterprising Member of Parliament can introduce a bill on this and we should see what happens thereafter. This must include second career and post retirement side stepping even for those below officer rank. Empire building by some organisations at the cost of national security has to finally cease.
The second issue is on the equipment and ammunition state of the Army. This is as good a time as any to discuss it so soon after the Parliamentary Committee on Defence was quite frankly briefed by the Army’s Vice Chief and told that 1.49 percent of GDP allotted as defence budget was completely insufficient to cater for its modernisation projects. Most reports on this all important issue affecting India’s national security have focused on the details of the failure of financial backing and the inability to move bureaucratic hurdles. However a simple summary projected by the VCOAS conveys the message without the attached details. In an adequately prepared war machine 30% of weapons and equipment should fall in the “State of the Art” (SOA), 40% in the “Current” category and 30% in the “Vintage” category. The existing state of the Indian Army brought to notice of the Committee is 8% SOA, 24% current and 68% vintage category. The ability to achieve stocks of ten days of ammunition at intense rates is highly suspect despite the Raksha Mantri’s earlier action giving greater financial empowerment to the three Vice Chiefs for the procurement of ammunition so as to cut down bureaucratic procedures. Empowerment can only be good if there is money to be empowered with. If, however this doesn’t affect national security nothing else does. Isn’t it a fit subject for Parliament to discuss and the CCS to ponder over; perhaps some corrective guidance if not directions are over due. The domain of financial management is as much a part of national security. Finance and defence can remain out of sync with each other only at the cost of the overall wellbeing of the nation.
That brings me to the third issue, the one concerning concept and strategy. Now this is one domain a little more difficult to explain and I do think I did not do sufficient justice towards clarifying the real issue to the eminent political leader. Yet, I will make a braver effort here. What really concerns me is a suspect understanding on how a potential conflict will be fought, with all the multiple threats, the nuances of deception, the strategic effects of terrain and most importantly in today’s environment, the use of information as an instrument of war. I doubt there would be anyone in the political community who could perceive all of these. When complexity is not understood how can the challenges be appreciated. The real meaning of a two and a half front war, its implications and the role of diplomacy in such a situation, is another domain in which clarity may not exist in full coordinated understanding between the military, bureaucracy, diplomatic corps and the political community. Thus, there is a necessity of conducting decision/war games to bring together those who are ultimately going to take national security decisions and implement them. In 1987, General K Sundarji, the then Army Chief, is known to have convinced Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on the need for the conduct of a strategic decision game involving all stakeholders and functionaries. That is how Exercise Brasstacks was conceived, from the 1st to the 3rd phase with the 4th being (Brasstacks 4) the exercise with troops. Something on those lines was conducted in the first decade of the millennium without an exercise with troops. Such a brain storming cum decision game could also include segments of the media and mass communication experts, with emphasis on the much neglected information domain. Threats such as cyber and psychological could be discussed to arrive at some ideas on the realistic structures needed to counter these. There is no doubt that this has to be a Tri-Service affair with inclusion of representatives of the Coastguard and all the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) at least at the initial stages. It can be conducted at two or three locations simultaneously and integrated using networks. Preceding it, (rather than following) it would be good to conduct a series of operational logistics briefings for representatives from railways, airlines, petroleum companies and even trucker unions. A triennial event could be a suitable format. However frequency is not something easy to recommend due to the stupendous effort needed.
The million dollar question is, which institution or organisation could be the lead in conducting such an exercise without being derailed by the enormity of it. It would have to bear the stamp of a HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) effort but institutional support could also be given by the three War Colleges with the HQ Army Training Command’s (ARTRAC) REDFOR playing the enemy.
I am not sure whether the Army’s senior leadership would take the third advice very kindly because it will enhance its level of involvement to an even higher level from the cracker of a schedule it follows. However, the dividends from this will resolve many other issues concerning civil military relations the bane of India’s security weakness.
My political friend and I had a long discussion on all the above and a copy of this piece is also being sent to him. I hope he can follow up on this advice. If he does he will be my hero.