(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)
Oh “Blind men of Hindustan”; it is high time to get out of the “myopic land-centric strategic” syndrome, particularly phenomenal “Western Theater-centric” obsession so that various “strategic riposte” choices can be exercised to ensure national security.
History of mankind is mercilessly clear. Sir BH Liddell Hart, emeritus strategist stated: “Wars have always been, so wars will continue to be”; the old maxim “if you wish for peace, prepare war” replaced by a new truer maxim “If you wish for peace, understand war”; and, “The only thing that would stop war-makers was the knowledge that if they attacked, they would be hit twice as hard as they themselves could hit”.
India’s political and bureaucratic decision makers – Blind men of Hindustan – have been suffering misplaced syndrome of “India as the land of Peace and non-violence” over the past 73-years.
Consequently, they have failed miserably to understand the nuances of wars – conventional, nuclear, situations short of wars, proxy wars, and now Hybrid war – to prepare to counter them.
Lack of understanding of the dynamic transformation of the nature and contents of a variety of wars on land, sea, sub surface, air and space and cyber war domains, “Blind men of Hindustan” have dismally failed to “Prepare to face and counter different types and forms of Wars”.
The mere fact that a National Security Strategy doctrine still remains an anathema to them after 73-years clearly reflects their intellectual bankruptcy. And, the NSA is responsible and accountable for such bankruptcy and failure to guide the CCS to take appropriate and timely decisions and allocation of resources.
That is why the oft reiterated barb “Blind men of Hindustan”. When will they wake up from their deep Kumbakarna slumber?
On 1 September 1990, that is, 30 years ago, the Indian Express reviewed my article published in the Combat Magazine under the title “Andaman’s can be a good Military Base” suggesting to “urgently develop the full power potential of Andaman and Nicobar (A & N) group of islands due to their emerging and futuristic geo-strategic significance”.
Ironic, but true, even today hardly any worthwhile developments suggested in the report have been implemented except for modifying 1960 established Navy-centric FORTRESS Command (FORTRAN), after the Kargil Crisis of 1999 based on GOM recommendations in 2001, into “Tri-Service A & N Command” with a Lieutenant General of the Indian Army or equivalent as the C-in-C who reports directly to the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (Chairman COSC) in New Delhi.
Conceptually, by itself, the policy of rotational appointment of the C-in-C was woefully flawed, which due to roles visualized automatically favors a Naval Admiral to be appointed as C-in-C. I just cannot help the adage “Attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole” at the time of my SSCB interview in 1959 at Bangalore. And, the “Blind men of Hindustan” failed to realize the relevance and need of “Maritime Strategic Dominance” of A & N islands region and the opportunity for exploiting “Strategic Riposte” capability; surely it is never too late to rectify their mistake.
Ironic, ab initio, the “Tri-Service set up” was assigned limited roles like preventing smuggling, piracy, drug and gun trafficking, poaching and illegal immigration in the region and especially in the Malacca Strait, the resources allocated were tailored to fulfill them. None ever formulated to develop strategic offensive capabilities.
Rank failure by Delhi-centric strategic think tanks and media houses to develop the “Strategic Riposte” potential of A & N region and various alternative options available to exercise is real. Of late, few among them are focused more on the South China Sea option far away from our bases on the high seas as opposed to A & N region.
Yet another key issue is allocation of resources to the A & N Command. Due to limited roles, force levels include: Naval component – INS Karmuk and INS Kulish, two Kora-class missile corvettes, INS Saryu and INS Sumedha, two Saryu-class patrol vessels; four Bangaram-class patrol vessels, two Car Nicobar-class patrol vessels, one Trinkat-class patrol vessel, SDB Mk.3 large patrol craft; and, three Kumbhir-class tank landing ships, one Shardul-class tank landing ship, four Mk. III LCUs, and two Mk. IV LCUs. INAS 318 with Dornier Do 228 and Flight 321 are deployed at INS Utkrosh; 108 Infantry Brigade deployed at Birchgunj under the army component and a Territorial Army battalion deployed at Campbell Bay; and the Air Force – 15 FBSU, comprising 153 Squadron and 4 Maritime Element, deployed at Port Blair, 37 Air Wing, comprising Helicopters from 122 squadron and Dornier Do 228 from 151 squadron, deployed at AFS Car Nicobar and an Air Defense Wing fielding a squadron of S-75 Dvina Long-Range SAMs and a squadron of S-125 Neva/Pechora Medium-range SAMs.
Add to them, the Indian Coast Guard under the purview of the command with RHQ and 745 squadron at Port Blair, DHQ 9 at Diglipur and DHQ 10 at Campbell Bay. In July 2012, the navy commissioned INS Baaz, a naval air station which is located 300 nautical miles south of Port Blair and is the southernmost air station of the Indian Armed Forces.
Thus, maximizing the strategic potential of the islands for strategic deterrence remained unfulfilled. Why? It is due to absence of “National Security Strategic Doctrine”. Thus, confirming the cliché “Blind men of Hindustan”. Even now, monotonous phenomenal intellectual bankruptcy continues to prevail.
In the absence of National Security Strategy doctrine defining vision, policies, end objectives in each field, and the ways specified and means apportioned, all that has been happening is reactive and knee-jerk strategies which are doomed to disaster.
Starting with Nehru who enunciated the policy in 1947 “you can scrap the Army. The police are good enough to meet our security needs”. Nehru did not waste much time. On 16 September 1947, he directed the Army strength of 2, 80,000 be brought down 1, 50,000. Even in the fiscal year 1950-1951, when the Chinese threat loomed large on the horizon, 50,000 personnel were sent home as per original plan.
And, the mother of all corruption scandal – V K Krishna Menon, then Defense Minister – known as the “Jeep Scandal” heralded ‘Arms scandals” that broke out subsequently. Most importantly, instead of creating and developing arms manufacturing industries, purchase of combat systems became the norm which continues till date that became the worst source for corruption.
Due to “Blind men of Hindustan” obsession to buy combat systems, even after 73-years Indian defense industry remained woefully laggard.
Lack of preparedness for wars in all domains – land, sea, sub surface, air, and space and cyber wars – is quite evident even for a layman. In such a dismal politico-bureaucratic security strategic intellectual bankruptcy, the armed forces have been formulating military strategies against adversaries in isolated compartments.
The best strategic riposte option to exercise was suggested 34-years ago to develop tri-service capabilities to dominate the Great Channel between Great Nicobar and Rondo Island of the Aceh Province of Sumatra, Indonesia (163 kms – Great Channel) through which 85% Chinese trade transits through. It is by dumping “Dr. Salim Ali, ornithologist and naturalist, the “Birdman of India”, prescription for retaining pristine under developed status of Great Nicobar for the sake of “Bird Watching” that was given greater priority in 1960s and 1980s instead of developing infrastructure to safeguard national security.
In my “Thesis Paper” on A & N in 1986, I had suggested three strategic alternatives: 1) “Minimum Force – Trip Wire or Flag Bearing Role; 2) Maximum Force – pre-positioned both for credible defensive and offensive strike capabilities; and 3) Balanced Force – infrastructure fully developed for designated forces flexible response employment from the mainland.
The suggested option 34-years ago favored “Maximum Force” capability in a long term context. A cursory examination of satellite pictures of Great Nicobar Island even now shows hardly any infrastructure expansion to operate Su 30 MKI and deploy land-based to ship Brahmos Missiles. Earlier the Political-bureaucratic decision makers realize that the review of advanced satellite imagery clearly exposes the infrastructure developments vital for deployment of forces at key islands.
Let me also highlight that the modernization plans of A & N Command proposed remain on paper only to include: station a nuclear submarine and a landing deck platform; extension of existing runaways at Campbell Bay and Shiblipur and infrastructure for Su-30MKI fighters; more airstrips and operational turn-around bases; and army’s prepositioning a division size force (about 15,000 troops).
It goes without saying even for a layman that appropriately selected islands from operational points of view must be developed like a “Self reliant Integrated Fortress” with development and deployment to include: naval, air, space, land and cyber war assets.
The minimum requirements to build deterrence capability include: submarines, low-cost naval mines (contact, remote and influence types), autonomous under sea drones, ASW helicopters, sub surface sensor network, anti submarine nets, EW units and shore based submarine satellite communication and tracking facility, fast attack missile boats, maritime surveillance aircraft, air cushioned vehicles and hydrofoils for ‘Island Hopping” operations, Assault, Attack and Utility helicopter forces, SAM units at each developed airfields for operations, Land based Brahmos Missile Regiment for strikes on ships passing through the Great Channel and the Ten Degrees Channel; and other combat systems force multipliers.
Be that as it may, what can be even now done is to deploy a squadron of Tejas from Sulur with Brahmos missile strike capabilities, minimum number of submarines from the Eastern Fleet, fast attack missile boats and other vital force multipliers to demonstrate “strategic riposte” capability to China. If the rapid build of capability is demonstrated as show of force in the A & N region, the intent to strike back in the IOR region is made apparent in return of any mischief on the LAC.
Hopefully, the “Blind men of Hindustan” have woken up to the opportunity available in the A & N region and given directions for deployments considered essential to demonstrate force projection capability in the seas – stop Chinese war mongering over the LAC that if they attacked, they would be hit twice as hard in the seas as they themselves could hit on the ground which would be resisted with all the might by the Army and the Air force on the land and the skies”.
Furthermore, it is never too late than ever that they must formulate and implement development plans for habitations in key islands and encourage people’s settlements among them. It is the most critical contributor to national security enhancement that has been sadly neglected over the past 73-years.
Oh Blind men of Hindustan – WAKE UP, WAKE UP, WAKE UP, WAKE UP…………………… ! (The author is high-profile senior office and war-veteran, besides publishing many books on national security matters. Views expressed in his article are his personal)