India – Defence Transformation: A Case For Mind Over Matter


A former CISC, the architect of Op Sarpvinash and a highly respected combat soldier, reflects upon the need for change and transformation in our Armed Forces and the entire process of national defence per se. Keeping in view the complexities of modern warfare, he calls for a “whole of the government approach” to defence. He emphasises the need to Transform entrenched mindsets and graduate from a defensive to an offensive orientation. He makes a strong case for emphasis on air-mobility and air-cavalry for fighting non-linear battles and turning defences. Based on his experience as the head of the Integrated Defence Staff, he makes some invaluable and practical suggestions about how we can leverage the private sector to build a vibrant defence industrial base and generate value engineering by fostering competition. The article is valuable for its plethora of penetrating insights that facilitate transformation.

This article is published with the kind permission of „Defence and Security Alert (DSA) Magazine“ New Delhi-India

Defence and Security Alert (DSA

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Change is the eternal law of life. Everything around us is changing and evolving. It is in such an environment, that the organisations which operate in it are under pressure to change and evolve in order to maintain their relevance and avoid redundancy and marginalisation.

In the post cold war era our country has moved away from being insular to being assertive in South Asia. Our country desires to play a pre-eminent role in South Asia and eventually on the global stage itself. Our Armed Forces have to reorganise and transform themselves to deliver upon this desire whenever called upon to do so

There is an equally powerful paradox which propels organisations to preserve the past and oppose change. This aspect afflicts all organisations which have been eminently successful. Most successful organisations desire to preserve success by ensuring continuation of means and methods that were responsible for the creation of success in the first place. This places them firmly in the path of impelling change.

Knowledge in every field in the world these days is growing rapidly. As some researchers have opined, knowledge doubles every 5-7 years in almost all fields except in IT where it doubles every year / year and a half. Stated in other terms, if one does not evolve at this pace one would be a fossil in his field in five years. This understanding underscores the impelling need for transformation – nations and their functional polity, bureaucracies and militaries have to transform in a bid to survive and remain contemporary.

Aspects that need to change to truly transform the defence field should include mindset, deeper understanding of military / conflict theories, military objectives, military strategy, organisation to achieve stated national and military objectives, operating environment, utilisation of technology, doctrinal construct to convert desires into action, equipment profile of the services and their institutional and operational training. Rules and regulations too are required to be brought into alignment in order to synergise and harmonise the tangible and intangible aspects, so that a military organisation can achieve tasks set for it.

National mindset

Our economy has been growing steadily for the last decade at a steady 8 per cent. This has raised the profile of our country. With the focus firmly on Asia in the present century, the world is looking towards the trajectory being followed by both India and China in economic and military terms. India unlike in the cold war is more organised and self confident. Its strategic linkages with powerful nations who are likely to shape the multipolar world are growing. A sense of well-being pervades and needs to be consolidated. For this we need to move away from a pure “conventional” mindset to a balanced “continent-cummaritime” mindset in order to achieve a true strategic balance in our security calculus.

Our mindset also needs to move away from purely defensive – “we have never ventured out to conquer territory” to, “we will do everything in our power to ensure that the threat to our national integrity is defeated, if possible, even before it reaches our borders”.

Indians also need to understand that there is a direct connect between our ability to sustain war and our well-being with the maritime domain, since 90 per cent of our trade and energy requirement moves through sea. The Indian Ocean Rim countries therefore constitute our vital linkages which provide the connectivity for successfully sustaining security challenges to our country.

No country can fight a war on its own because due to the prohibitive costs involved. There is therefore now an ever growing trend globally, to create international consensus and form coalitions which will mitigate the cost of fighting a war. India too will have to reexamine its thinking on strategic independence and move towards coalition joining / coalition forming in any future conflict. Our diplomacy and military to military diplomacy will have to create the mutual need and inter-operability in this regard. This may call for regional approaches to local problems.

The route to the Security Council table, which is the global power brokers‘ table, lies through economic and military power and our understanding and application of the nuances of soft, hard and smart power. The route definitely does not lie through merely our population base vis-à-vis the rest of the world.

Military mindset

Along with the changes in the national mindset, the services too should begin to give shape to the means of ensuring that national desires and imperatives based on the nation’s revised thinking can be achieved through a combination of military diplomacy, hard as well as smart power.

Balanced thinking: There is far too much emphasis on “processes” in our organisational behaviour. This needs to be balanced out between “concept” and “process”. A process usually flows out of a seminal concept. Officers therefore need to be trained to first work out concepts and then evolve the processes for achieving the objectives of the concept. A process necessarily deals with operational and tactical plans while a concept automatically pulls one’s thinking to the strategic level.

Preperation for change: Our services officers are excellent “critics”. They are taught from the beginning to look for weaknesses in a concept, plan or proposal. Over a period of time, this virtue has become the services’ biggest liability. Most officers fail to notice the strengths / virtues of a concept, plan or proposal and focus purely on the weaknesses. Our institutional training is to blame for this state of affairs to a large extent. This aspect needs urgent rectification, so that officers of the force are transformed from being critics to innovators, failing which transformational efforts will never fructify.

We need to shed our preference for the defensive and shift the emphasis to the offensive as our principal operating concept

Security in numbers: India’s large size and population provide a natural attraction for making numbers as our principal battlefield and strategic arbitrators. On many occasions in the past, doctrinal innovation and technological edge was sacrificed at the altar of numbers with detrimental and catastrophic results. Our transformation needs to take note of this aspect, for no country can create its unique winning proposition on numbers alone and give the go by to doctrine and technology.

Transit from defensive mindset to an offensive one: Our Armed Forces need to recognise that in the post cold war era our country has moved away from being insular to being assertive in South Asia. Our country desires to play a pre-eminent role in South Asia and eventually on the global stage itself. Our Armed Forces have to reorganise and transform themselves to deliver upon this desire whenever called upon to do so.

Back to basics: For long the army has violated tried and tested operational principles to accommodate and explain political stances rather than base its actions on sound military principles. Some of the unprofessional diversions we have indulged in are:

a) No loss of territory. While this is a genuine desire of any political dispensation, militarily it is untenable, because, we know that no defence has ever been able to prevent ingress by an attacking force. We need to shed our preference for the defensive and shift the emphasis to the offensive as our principal operating concept. This will not only change our defensive mindset but would ensure that we would always gain territory and cause destruction to enemy forces. By making this switch, we could even hope to make our opponent to capitulate.

b) Heavy investment on linear obstacles. Knowing full well that enemy can make ingress wherever he chooses, such an investment is not cost-effective particularly when we have a larger conventional army, which can contain an ingress and eliminate it through offensive manoeuvre.

c) Excessive emphasis on the tank without matching mobility for other elements in the combined arms concept being applied, thus ensuring that our strike corps are lame-duck formations and their full potential cannot be realised.

d) Little emphasis on force multipliers.

e) Inadequate emphasis on air-mobility and air-cavalry for turning defences and fighting a truely non-linear battle.

f) Inadequate efforts to ensure full spectrum capability thus foregoing full range of options to create unmatched military superiority over our adversaries.

Strategic guidance

  • For any country strategic guidance flows from its National Security Strategy, Defence Policy guidelines which lay down the Defence Strategy and its Joint Military Strategy. In our case the RM’s Op Directive stands-in for all three. There is a need for the services to draw up a “Joint Military Strategy” which covers important aspects like operations, intelligence, logistics and training which will guide their actions. For this purpose, services can make suitable assumptions related to the National Security Strategy as well as MoD’s Defence Strategy.
  • There is a tendency within the staff to extrapolate thought linearly. It is a command function to create bye-pass strategies so that a unique fighting proposition is created, providing us the means of staying ahead of our potential adversaries.