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


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.