Modernization of Indian armed forces – Long overdue

 (Brig (retd) GB Reddi)
By nature and inherited lineage, armed forces, particularly Indian Armed Forces obsessed with ‘status quo’ and “Elephantine-cum-Empire Building” mindset, continue to monotonously cling to antiquated and archaic “Systems” of British colonial days. The ongoing “Turf Wars” are real. Persist with archaic systems to perish; or, prepare to wage future wars through systems modernization.
Extraordinarily defining shifts mark the nature of modern wars – Four Generations of War – after 1648 Westphalia Treaty that ended the 30-years War to include: massed armies based on line-cum-column order (Gen 1); massed firepower until World War 1 (Gen 2); blitzkrieg or maneuver warfare through and after World War 2 (Gen 3); and, “Hybrid war or super insurgency in being (Gen 4). Meanwhile, already the “High-Tech” war (Gen 5) is in the making.
Known as the cyclical continuum, development of rifled muskets, breech loading guns, machine guns, tanks, fighter aircraft, submarines, aircraft carriers, strategic bombers, nuclear warheads, missiles, unarmed combat aerial vehicles and so on as means incrementally and progressively revolutionized the ways armies changed their structures and strategies to wage wars.
Most important, during Gen 1 and 2 wars the culture of military order was preserved.  The focus remained inward, on rules, processes, and procedures. Obedience was more important than initiative. Discipline was top-down and imposed. In fact, initiative was not wanted because it endangered synchronization. Ironic but true, it remains the Indian way of war even till date.
During Gen 3 wars, speed, surprise, and mental as well as physical dislocation became the mainstay of victories in battlefield. Tactics changed; so also military culture. In Germany armed forces, orders themselves specified the result to be achieved, but never the method. Initiative was more important than obedience. And, it all depended on self-discipline, not imposed discipline.
In the ongoing military churning (Gen 4 War), the ‘State’ has lost monopoly on war. All over the world, state militaries find themselves fighting nonstate aided and abetted by state actors. At the same time, armies have to prepare to operate in ‘high tech and high risk” future wars. Invasion by immigration can be at least as dangerous as invasion by a state army. What about Gen 5 Wars in the making?
By nature, armies are supposed to be the most adaptable institutions primarily due to operating in “high-risk” environments. Lesson of military history is simple. Those nations and actors, who adapt strategies, doctrines and tactics (processes) to new structures and new weapons/technologies, gain victories in modern battlefields.
Ironic but true, that Indian armed forces continue to operate with antiquated structures and  strategies, doctrines tactics (processes) with monotonous stupidity despite breath taking developments in high-tech combat systems with utter disregard to their high-costs.
Intellectual buzzwords like “Synergy” and “Jointness” are making rounds at the Apex levels, particularly in the armed forces. Yet everyone falters at the first step having inherited “Elephantine-cum-Empire” structures and processes. Converting an idea into a reality is a Himalayan Challenge.
For example, the introduction of tanks and armored units was opposed bitterly by the “Horsed Cavalry” officers. Infantry officers, namely Guderian and Rommel of Germany and Liddell Hart of U K, were in the forefront of realizing significance of tanks and formulating major transformations in the structures, strategies, doctrines and tactics of waging wars.
What does it imply? Simple! Unless actors (political leaders, bureaucracy and senior armed forces officers) undergo a dramatic change in their inherited mindsets monotonously persisting with archaic and antiquated strategies, doctrines, structures and processes, modernization of armed forces may remain cosmetic, peripheral and episodic.
Ipso facto, inherited British Indian Army system designed to support its “Expeditionary forces employment in erstwhile colonies” – Command, Area, Sub Area Headquarters with a string of ordnance depots (ammunition, vehicle and stores) on vast acreages to support their invading armies from three naval bases of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. The British laid the foundation for the current air force infrastructure beginning with the Training Command at Bangalore in 1930s and incrementally refined with creation of “operational commands” after 1947 and “Maintenance Command” by mid 1950s.
Importantly, the inherited armed forces system – structures and processes – continue to dominate and sway the psyche of their respective hierarchies even till date. Whatever refinements or reforms have been made till date are incremental only – building ’empires’ rather than true reforms.
The full armed forces system includes: Apex Politico-bureaucratic Level; Inter Services Level; Intra Service at Headquarters, Operational Art, directional and functional (tactical) levels.  None can deny that successful reforms have always been driven by either a multipronged and simultaneous approach at all levels, or a sequential one beginning at the top. Any other approach that leaves the bottom and the top unattended is fraught with risk.
In retrospect, what has been attempted in the past and the ongoing debate is addressing issues episodically and in isolation of each other – replay of “Five Blindmen and the Elephant” parable. Naturally, it obfuscates to squarely address key issues.
Let me broadly review the refinements carried out to the system at the Apex level. From Commander-in-Chief who was second in importance to the Viceroy prior to 1947, the three services placed under separate chiefs designated as ‘Commander-in-Chief” of their respective forces to abandonment of “Commander-in-Chief” in 1955 to placing them under the MOD.
Initially the committee system at Apex level, military-centric, was primarily intended for defense and foreign affairs only with minimal bureaucratic control. Followed isolation of defense affairs with the military subordinate to MOD and the civil servants on the same lines as the police forces.
The Defense Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) presided over by the Prime Minister with Defense Minister and certain selected ministers as members with Service Chiefs, the defense Secretary and the Financial Advisor in attendance at all meetings and the Defense Ministers Committee (DMC) presided over by the Defense Minister and with the three Service Chiefs, the Defense Secretary and the Financial Advisor as members.  After 1962, Nehru constituted the National Defense Council with himself as the Chairman and his entire senior cabinet colleagues and Chief Ministers as members. Also, the institution of Emergency Committee of the Cabinet was experimented with the CCPA dealing with defense.
In 1978, the Committee of Defense Planning was set up under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary. It could report direct to the CCPA. In the early 1980s, an apex committee termed as the Inter-Disciplinary Group was established, which replaced the Policy Advisory Group. Subsequently in 1986, the Joint Defense Planning Staff of the Chiefs of Staff Committee was set-up. And, the Chiefs of Staff are the authority for advising the Defense Minister and normally through him the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs on all military matters which require ministerial consideration.
On 19 December 1998, after over fifty years of dithering, the National Security Organization (NSO) was constituted to ensure an effective management of national security affairs. After the Kargil conflict, the higher military structure was refined with the creation of the Headquarters Integrated Defense Staff and the Andaman and Nicobar Command as stepping stones to integration.  Today, the Integrated Defense Staff is the principal arm and Secretariat to the Chiefs of Staff Committee. The National Security Advisor (NSA) will act as key link between the NSC and the three-tiered security structure.
Thus, over the past seven decades real modernization of armed forces was stunted in the name of asserting civilian control over national security affairs. It reflects very poorly on leaders.  K. Subramanyam, India’s former strategic affairs emeritus, had stated, “The main opponent of the NSC is the civil bureaucracy, who fears without having studied the issue in detail that the new set-up will cut into their jurisdiction and reduce their roles.”
Yet another key issue relates to the creation of Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) mired in controversy. In June 1982, Gen KVK Rao, former COAS, advocated creation of CDS position at the Apex of the military hierarchy. The requirement of CDS arises from the fact that modern war cannot be fought by any Service on its own and has to be multi-service dimensional. It should not be viewed as an imperative of nations with global roles. Instead, integrated planning process is most important to wage “Hybrid and Hugh-Tech” wars of the future what with Space and Cyber threat perspectives looming large. Moreover, the CDS appointment is also to optimize the huge expenditure on military hardware by eliminating wasteful expenditure or duplication in the Services.
The reasons for the rejection of the proposal of the CDS are simple. Political leadership is afraid of the CDS emerging as powerful and likelihood of subverting civilian control over the military. So also, the opposition of the civilian bureaucracy to any arrangement in which their dominance over the higher defense set up is diminished. Also, feeling is real among the smaller Services of Army’s dominance at the cost of diminution of their status.
The fear that a CDS will erode the supremacy of the civil over the military is unfounded. Political leadership retains the power to appoint the CDS out of the three contenders. Also, the CDS will not be the Supreme Commander. He will only be an Inter-Service professional coordinator with individual Service Chiefs having the right of direct access to the Head of the Government. India’s Defense Services are fully committed to upholding democratic values and the question of a military coup does not arise.
Nowadays, the issue of forming integrated military ‘Theatre Commands’ is making mass media news: Northern, Western, South Western, Western and Eastern theaters. In today’s context, there are 19 predominantly single-service commands operating in the theaters mentioned above. With the formation of integrated theatre commands all military resources – operational and logistics – in a designated geographical area (‘a theatre of operation’) would be placed under a single commander.  Automatically, it would reduce the “Teeth to Tail” ratio skewed presently in favor of the ‘Tail”.  Not to be left out consideration is the integrated Indian Ocean Region Command with the three Fleet Commands.
The critics of the proposal of “Theatre Commands’, particularly the Indian Air Force hierarchy in the lead, terms the move is jingoistic and preposterous.  And, they claim that planning, operationalising and application of air power is best left to the senior air force hierarchy and not to generalists. However, none can deny that the IAF will be the first responders in case of likely war scenarios. Perforce, the reason justifying appointment of their experienced Air Marshalls as the Heads of Theatre Commands where considered operationally desirable and vital.
The “Theatre Command Headquarters” must be headed by senior officers based on the “threat perspectives” with experienced senior staff officers heading respective service branches with requisite professional experiences.  For example, none can deny the “Western and South Western Theatre Commands” being headed by the Air Force Marshals with the Chief of Staff from the army hierarchy.    So, skepticism on physical integration of operational structures based on shortfalls in strength of squadrons, EW and C4ISR systems is woefully misplaced.
Optimum operational management of available forces, particularly exercising flexibility, and concentration of effort, is possible under centralized control, which is exercised at the highest levels to wage a two-front war scenario. Also, more the limitation of resources, more the need is to exercise flexible responses in shifting resources from one theatre to another as per situational requirements. Also, the justification is to jointly project the demands to overcome resources crunch. Pragmatically viewed, India can ill afford to meet dedicated resources to various theatre commands in the case of either one-front or two-front war contingency. Strategic flexible rapid responses are an imperative.
 Yet another significant issue appearing in the media is the abandonment of Divisional Headquarters in specific army formations and appointing Major Generals to command Brigade-size task forces. The proposal is nothing new to reorganize operational structures ‘tailor-made’ to suit operational requirements – offensive and defensive. With improved communications available and ‘fluidity of dispersion as the essence of concentration as on required operational basis’, it is never too late in the day to implement it in-service.
Even the abandonment of logistics infrastructure inherited from the British era cannot be delayed any longer what with enhanced logistics infrastructure available within the country. Surely, there is no need for the retention of military dairy farms, ordnance vehicle, stores depots and salvage establishments to service operational requirements what with availability of enhanced civilian industries capabilities to meet the war and peace time needs.
In sum, real modernization of armed forces must cover its full spectrum at all levels multi-pronged simultaneously at all levels from ‘Top to Bottom and Bottom to Top”; but not merely episodic refinements. Originality is the most vital virtue of all military virtues in war; but at discount in peace times.  Sentimental objections to ‘Change’ must not be allowed to stall the processes. The more complex war becomes, the more its efficient direction depends at all levels to achieve ‘synergy’. After all, errors of conception are always very costly.
Unless all alike are honest about our past and alertly critical about our present, the archaic armed forces system cannot be improved to face the future wars. For senior Officers groomed in the environment of “smooth answers smooth the path to promotion or “yes sir” syndrome and uniformity thought, modernization of armed forces system is unthinkable due to narrow parochial affiliation. So, political leadership must assert its authority and usher change.