Wednesday, July 28, 2021

REMAINING READY & RELEVANT: A STRATEGIC IMPERATIVE

by General Bikram Singh, Former Chief of Army Staff

General Bikram Singh is a retired Chief of the Army Staff, Indian Army

To protect, promote and pursue national interests in concert with other instruments of national power, militaries the world over, are confronted with the challenge of maintaining high levels of readiness in a dynamic and disruptive environment. The changes in relation to the nature of war, adversaries’ war fighting capabilities and intentions, technology, terrain, climate, geopolitical landscape and the national security policies and directives, necessitate militaries to adapt, adjust, innovate, and transform to remain relevant.

While the ability to lead and manage change at the tactical level is embedded in the culture of all professional militaries, at the operational and strategic levels, transformation with an eye on the long-term force requirements is a cost intensive, time and energy consuming phenomenon. Some of the major challenges faced by the military’s strategic leadership in implementing transformational plans invariably pertain to obtaining the buy-in of key stakeholders and developing ownership of the plans, budgetary constraints, comprehensive risk management to prevent the creation of any operational vulnerability and retaining a long-term focus in the face of various operational contingencies and disruptions.

Experience suggests that transformation plans rooted in the national security strategy (NSS) are able to retain an enduring focus and have the ab initio buy-in of policy makers as it is scrutinized and approved at their level. Moreover, since well articulated NSS also spells out the roles of various instruments of national power along with the broad philosophy in their coordinated employment for furthering national interests, it facilitates the decision-makers in pragmatic apportioning of the national budget.     

Conceptually, with an eye on the future security challenges, the transformation should aim at enhancing and honing the levels of agility, versatility and potency to the military force, which would facilitate its proactive, speedy and synchronized application with the highest degree of jointness at the decisive points in pursuit of national security goals and objectives. While agility helps exploit adversaries’ vulnerabilities by leveraging speed to seize and retain initiative, versatility helps generate decisive combat power for accomplishing diverse missions in the entire spectrum of conflict and all dimensions of warfare.

In the Indian context, the military is mandated to ensure the sovereignty, unity and integrity of the nation and to undertake other tasks as assigned by the government from time to time. Besides securing the homeland against external threats, it entails remaining ready to provide aid to civil authority for internal security, which includes conducting the counter proxy war and counterinsurgency operations, dealing with natural and manmade calamities in conjunction with the lead agency and running of essential services during disruptions. In addition, the military has to remain primed to execute out of area contingency tasks and fulfill mutual obligations in relation to the evolving strategic partnerships. 

Our transformation plans announced after the inauguration of the Chief of Defence Staff, are likely to experience delays owing to the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and the Chinese expansionist designs. The aggressive stance of the People’s Liberation Army and its intransigence on restoring status quo ante will demand an enduring deployment in all segments of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The initiatives on restructuring, redeployment, rightsizing and modernization would require a cautious approach to obviate creating any vulnerability in our war fighting apparatus. The budgetary constraints will also necessitate realigning and reprioritizing some of the acquisition plans to accord overriding priority to homeland security. To attain the stature of a great power, India cannot be seen wanting in the security of its homeland. As part of the comprehensive national power, we need to carry a big stick, which is capable of not just defending every inch of our territory but also capable of supporting our regional and global initiatives with smart power. 

Our current combat power is adequate to effectively deal with Pakistan. However, vis-à-vis China, the offensive capability with state of the art technology needs to be augmented to facilitate conflict termination on favorable terms. The military conditions created at the conflict termination stage, should afford our national leaders a position of advantage at the negotiating table.

The heightened threat along the LAC coupled with the possibility of an upsurge in the Hybrid war to exploit our fault lines will demand an increase in troop levels. Such grey zone machinations by both our adversaries to tie down the Indian Military whilst China enhances its footprint in our immediate and extended neighborhoods, auger well for their geostrategic interests. The reported cyber attacks, aggressive diplomacy, psychological operations and combative posturing allude to the inimical designs of China. Prudence suggests that we revisit the rightsizing initiatives. Technology does provide force multiplication effects, however, it cannot compensate in entirety for the requirement of boots on ground, a lesson aptly highlighted during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.   A regular appraisal of the complex geopolitical landscape will facilitate piecing together a winning transformational strategy to remain ready and relevant at all times. Friendly bilateral relations and the evolving strategic partnerships should not impair our long-term focus on creating a robust indigenous capability for winning future wars in the worst case scenarios. A comprehensive review of our transformation strategy is also necessary in view of the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s directions given during the Combined Commanders Conference in March 2021 at Kevadia, Gujarat on enhancing indigenous content of our war fighting architecture.

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