India – Defence Transformation: A Case For Mind Over Matter


Op mission of the Armed Forces: There is a need to remember the operational mission of the Armed Forces while carrying out planning, training and procurement for them i.e.

“The Armed Forces should be able to operate both during day and night, in all types of climatic conditions, over all types of terrain and be effective in all types of operating environments obtaining at the time of application.”

MoD’s role

The ministry of defence has traditionally perceived control of the Armed Forces to preserve the primacy of civil control as also prevent possible coups which were endemic in the 50s and 60s. For this reason, all major functions governing manpower, organisation, finance, external contacts, procurement etc. were made the preserve of the ministry, leaving day-to-day functioning to the services. This resulted in major diversion of energy of both the ministry and the services in establishing a working relationship over the “them versus us” divide. Moreover, the knowledge of the military domain rests naturally with the services, leaving the ministry officials the choice of learning on the job with partial inputs from self-serving officers. The lack of a formal education pertaining to the complex subject of defence and matters military, prior to taking up their jobs in the ministry, has had a telling effect on the efficiency of the ministry officials and they have continued to exist, sans the respect from services, due to overriding power vested in them by the ministry. All this, has resulted not only in deep fissures between MoD and Service Headquarters but also in the MoD becoming a marginal player in the security calculus of the country. Passage of time and periods of political turmoil in the country have proved that the Indian Armed Forces harbour no political ambitions – in fact abhor a political role. In this backdrop, particularly when we are under pressure from China and seek for ourselves a role of primacy in South Asia and a place on the Security Council, there is an urgent need to relook at our self-debilitating introverted and compartmentalised functioning in MoD. An integrated functioning within MoD will transform MoD functioning from “Them vs Us” to “Us”, an attitude, we urgently need to foster in order to migrate to an inter-agency / inter-department / inter-ministerial functioning which the emerging security environment is demanding. We must move towards a “whole of the government approach.”

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

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Separation of matters defence and military

There is a distinct difference in the activities that govern these two terminologies. “Defence” of which the Defence policies and Defence Strategy are the epitome, constitutes the concerns of the Defence Ministry and its thrust areas. The Defence Minister is assisted by the Defence Secretary who husbands this aspect. The term “military” epitomises issue of how the services are organised to fight. Joint Military Directives, Joint Military Strategy, are the instruments from which the Operational Directives and Strategies flow to the three services. These issues being professional in nature cannot be understood by anyone outside the uniformed fraternity.

Asymmetry in fighting capabilities

There is a serious asymmetry in South Asia as far as the conflict continuum is concerned. While the three countries USA, China and Pakistan which hold prime interests in South Asia field a full spectrum capability i.e. Nuclear, Conventional and Sub-conventional, India responds with only two segments i.e. Nuclear and Conventional. India therefore needs to activate the offensive subconventional compartment if it is not to place itself at a disadvantageous operational position. Special Forces along with intelligence agencies are the favoured instruments for the activation of the sub-conventional compartment.

Expanded battlefield

With the USA consolidating a huge military advantage over likely regional challengers and with their display of this asymmetric advantage during the two gulf wars and in Afghanistan, the world has commenced redefining of the traditional battle space. Chinese are the leaders of this conceptual redefinition, which they spelt out in their work called “Unrestricted Warfare”. A plethora of avenues dealing with the economic, social, political, legal, diplomatic arenas have been brought into focus in what has become a form of total contention. Warfare thus has raised the battle arena from the MoD’s domain to a “whole of government” domain. Responses have to now encompass a number of ministries /agencies /departments. A new response mechanism therefore has to be devised by India to meet these new forms of challenges which would be applied along with military force.

Proactivism vs reactivism There is much virtue in making countries/people respond to our actions rather than reacting to external stimuli all the time. However, there are those who argue that when we react we have fully comprehended the challenge and therefore are responding to knowables with doables and are therefore balanced at all times. This understanding can be easily defeated by a State which applies the “accelerated time factor” in inter- State interactions. This accelerated time factor calls for unleashing upon the opponent a series of actions which disorient the reactive mechanism and grind it to inactivity for want of clarity of the operating space / activities.

Joint military strategy

At present we do not have a CDS who has to provide the glue required by the three services in order to make them fight synergistically and not in compartments as they do at present. This glue at the apex level would be in the form of Joint Directives, which would eventually result in the formulation of a “Joint Military Strategy”. The COSC in the meantime – till a CDS is appointed – has to oversee the above formulations.

Fronts vs segmented theatres

There is a need to look at our adversaries in a holistic manner than the segmented way we do at present. We need to view challenges posed by Pakistan across the whole western front in order to achieve better results in a cost effective manner. Our ability to do so calls for a change in the way we are organised in the Army Headquarters. Pakistan virtually orchestrates the entire border, since their GHQ directly controls all the Corps. The same applies to our northern front opposite China.

India is increasingly being drawn into a likely “two front” scenario in a future military conflict. Indian survival and victory depends upon the “swing” factor of its deployable forces. The SWING has to be rehearsed adequately in order to make it efficient. There is also a need to ensure that we develop our military organisations in a manner that they are equally effective in plains as well as in mountains

Migrating from attrition to manoeuvre warfare

Manoeuvre warfare is aimed at the mind of the opponent wherein he is brought to situation of helplessness due to the obtaining operational situation rather than by the destruction caused to his Armed Forces. Our war against erstwhile East Pakistan was a classic war of Manoeuvre and not one of Attrition. This method therefore needs to be seriously examined for adoption, so that we do not seek solutions in numbers alone.

Two front war

With the deepening of Sino-Pak relations, India is increasingly being drawn into a likely “two front“ scenario in a future military conflict. Indian survival and victory depends upon the “swing” factor of its deployable forces. The SWING has to be rehearsed adequately in order to make it efficient. There is also a need to ensure that we develop our military organisations in a manner that they are equally effective in plains as well as in mountains. Forces have to be re-positioned in a manner that our capability against both fronts is optimised. There is a need to rework this aspect.

It is common military knowledge that mountains eat troops. Also our “northern front” would be the front of decision. Our war against China should be converted to a war of logistics, since China has a longer logistic chain than us. This will give us a decisive edge over them in any future conflict. This conversion can easily be done by negating China’s advantage in numbers.

This can easily be achieved by doing the following:

  • Raising reserve formations in the face of a conflict.
  • Converting TA from third line functions to second line functions, so that they can take up the defensive and relieve regular formations for offensive actions.
  • Convert the Assam Rifle units to five fighting formations so that they can cover depth areas more effectively and retrieve regular troops for offensive purposes.
  • Transfer 105 mm and 130 mm artillery guns being replaced by 155 mm guns to support Assam Rifle formations. The manpower for this could be provided by Home and Hearth TA units.