Don’t leave the army alone

War is too important a business to leave to the generals alone (notwithstanding Nehru-Krishna Menon)

In an editorial earlier this month The Pioneer called for the Army to be left alone, for there ‘are other ways to save money’. It is an excellent example of good intentions but poor policy thinking.

For some time now strategic affairs ‘experts’ and their political mentors, known for their proximity to the Washington establishment, have been peddling the theory that India needs a technology-intensive ‘lean-and-mean’ Army, not a large force of 11 lakh soldiers and officers.[via Bharat-Rakshak Forum]

The Pioneer gets off the mark on a very wrong note. It is presumptuous for it to not only cast aspersions on the expertise of those who have a different point of view but question their motives. We may be experts-in-quotes, but to the best of our knowledge Sushant Singh and I—who have argued for a more technology-intensive Armed Forces—are rather far away from Washington. The larger point here is that a sensible debate over making the Armed Forces more effective is impossible if one begins by questioning the other’s patriotism. Continue reading “Don’t leave the army alone”

Military modernisation, beyond talk of

The call for a blue ribbon commission

In a piece to be published in a Hindi newspaper, K Subrahmanyam calls for the formation of a non-partisan panel to recommend military reforms, and that “it should be clear to the government and Parliament that once such a commission submits its recommendations there will be no further nitpicking by the committee of secretaries”.


Till the Kargil Review Panel recommended reexamination, after 52 years since Independence the decision making procedures in respect of national security was left untouched since they were formulated by Lord Ismay in 1947. As a follow up of Kargil Review Panel’s recommendations a group of Ministers was appointed. In turn they appointed four task forces. As a result of these deliberations they were able to make a comprehensive set of recommendations to improve the decision-making process.

But there has been no thought devoted to the future requirement of armed forces in the light of changes in the international strategic environment, the revolution in military affairs, enormous technological changes in the equipment of the three services and radical changes that have come about in monitoring and surveillance. While all over the world there have been radical organizational improvements in the structure of forces, the Indian Army still continues to be structured on the pattern that was prevalent during World War II. Though the Prime Minister in his successive addresses to the Combined Commanders’ Conferences has pointed out the need to modernize the armed forces in the light of the international and subcontinental strategic developments there has been no attempt to plan to meet the long term security challenges.

The need for a blue water navy to meet the peace maintenance task in the Indian Ocean in cooperation with friendly navies has been recognized. It is also accepted that in all future military operations where jointness in conceptualization, planning, training and execution is involved the use of air power will be crucial. There is agreement all over the world that it is highly unlikely that India, as one of the six major balances of power, will be involved in a war with the other five—China, Japan, Russia, European Union and US. Future security threats would arise because of failing states—India is surrounded by them – and terrorism. All these considerations call for an overall review of the sizes of our army, navy and Air Force. Many strategists are of the view that India needs a larger Air Force and Navy, a smaller Army and better trained and equipped paramilitary forces. Modernisation of the armed forces does not mean only acquisition of modern equipment but modernization in organization, management, thinking, human resource development, operational methodologies etc. The Armed Forces, as a national institution should as far as possible not be called upon to deal with civilian unrest. That should be left to paramilitary forces.

It is obvious that no long term thought and planning have been applied to the future development of armed forces. Our parliamentarians have been devoting less and less time for serious issues of this type and more and more time for partisan political confrontations in the Parliament. It is therefore not surprising that in spite of its reputation and high prestige, the armed forces are not able to attract full quota of the manpower requirements. [K Subrahmanyam]

Related Post: Conscription is not the solution

Between impressiveness and delusion

Patriotism, power over people’s lives and the army

“Twenty years from now, men will be ready to die for me, but not for you.” This is what a cadet at the National Defence Academy in Khadakvasla, Pune, tells his friends pursuing engineering when they discuss how much money they will make in their careers compared to him. [Rediff]

Rediff’s Archana Masih thinks the cadet’s words are ‘staggeringly impressive’. Amit Varma argues that they are ‘staggeringly delusionary’, because, he explains ‘there are better reasons to feel proud of being an army man than the power you have over people’s lives’.

As indeed there are. But Amit misunderstands the import of those words. Ask soldiers what makes them rush into combat in war zones, when there’s a good chance that they’ll lose their lives and they’ll tell you that its for their paltan (platoon). And it’s not just the men that are ready to die for their officer, the readiness to die for their platoon-mates extends to the officers who command them. A look at the officer casualties in the Kargil war and in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere reveals that the Indian army’s officer casualty ratio is among the highest.

In a follow-up post, Amit quotes a journalist’s reply to a general who had berated the media for being un-patriotic. “You are paid to be patriotic” the journalist told the general. That’s a nice one-liner to put down someone talking down to you, but neither is it reasonable to suggest that soldiers are patriotic because they are paid, nor is it wrong to be paid to be patriotic. If anything, the army’s shortage of officers shows that India expects patriotism (of the risk-to-life kind) to come at a discount rather than at a premium.

Defence industry woes: beyond the blame game

The real issue is competition (and the lack thereof)

It is unfortunate that those making arguments for positive change feel compelled to blame participants of the status quo for all that is wrong with it. The most famous example of this—and its unfortunate consequences—is the India-US nuclear deal. The prime minister’s office under Manmohan Singh sought to justify the need for this deal by casting doubts on the record and the capabilities of India’s nuclear scientific establishment. Not only did it create resentment in a constituency whose co-operation is vital for the success of the deal. It didn’t play too well with the public either, as people were more likely to trust India’s scientists on the topic than its politicians and spin doctors.

Now Bharat Varma, a respected analyst and editor of the Indian Defence Review, disses DRDO in an article in which he makes a very important point: the need for greater competition in the defence industry. Blaming DRDO for ‘failing the Indian military’, though, was unnecessary and will draw undue attention to the less relevant part of his article. There is little doubt that DRDO’s performance could have been better. But holding DRDO responsible for failing the armed forces is like holding Hindustan Motors responsible for India’s lacklustre car industry during the license permit raj. The real fault lies elsewhere. Given the right incentives, sleepy state-owned behemoths can reveal surprising agility. [Related Post: A player who is also a referee]

Capt Varma’s offers good suggestions as to how these incentives might be changed. One word: competition. It is fair to say that India has the industrial capacity to support the most exacting needs of the armed forces. What has really failed the Indian armed forces is the government’s failure to harness the vitality of the private sector and combine it with the achievements of DRDO and the wider public-sector scientific establishment. [Related Posts: Liberalise the defence industry; On government husbandry]

Public awareness of military and security issues is relatively shallow. The interest of reformers would be better served if the public debate generates more light than heat. Given the gravity of the issues involved, a slugfest that places the armed forces and DRDO in opposing camps is wholly unnecessary. You are now bound to see DRDO’s supporters respond to Capt Varma’s article by pointing out how the armed forces prefer foreign hardware. And the debate can get passionate.

It is more important to target the Indian government, the political class, and the scandal-happy media for a concert of ineptitude, political point-scoring and sensationalism that is responsible for the armed forces not getting the most bang for the taxpayer’s buck.