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]

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6 thoughts on “Military modernisation, beyond talk of”

  1. Mr. Subrahmaniam’s suggestions are, as usual, excellent and well thought of. But if past is any guide, these would result in another learned report gathering dust in the archives of the Government. A look at the past, both near and not so near, shows that no report pertaining to the Armed Forces has ever been implemented either in full or in spirit. What has been done has to throw a few crumbs to the senior and middle level serving officers to obtain their concurrence-these crumbs have done greater damage to armed forces than the problem they sought to address.

    The world over, armed forces reforms have only succeeded when there was a strong political will to back them. Left to civilian and the military bureaucracies to implement, these reforms would die a unlamentd death. Afterall, every reform entails some loss as well as some gain and who wants to lose anything!

    Having a kind of polity in India where the political and civilian leadership has little clue about what makes the services tick and perhaps have even less stake in having a satisfied and performing organ of state-since they themselves are pretty much dysfunctional- it is unlikely that anything would come out of it.

    The need for reforms in the armed forces is critical for reasons that are only too obvious and therefore need not be laboured again. The increasing reportage of corruption, fratricide and other ills of our society may be viewed-with rose tinted glasses as greater openness of the military hierarchy-or with a dooms day kind of vision as only the proverbial tip of the ice berg and that the malaise runs deep and wide- are dangerous portents. The reports of gallantry award winners living in penury in a state having a retired general as a governor and with no systemic redressal shows the depth of apathy of even the persons with adequate military experience also complement the less sanguine view.

    To my knowledge, there has not been a single general/admiral/air marshall who has quit the service in protest against the treatment being meted out. Now the hope is the civil society at large.How I wish that the civil society at large takes up the cry!

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