Lieutenant General VG Khandare (r)
There is tremendous uncertainty and volatility in the world order. The unipolar world order post the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is now witnessing a revisionist challenge from China and Russia-Iran-North Korea combined. Other opportunist actors like Turkey, Venezuela and Pakistan tilt as per the situation. The United States of America (USA) empowered China to wean it away from the erstwhile USSR from 1971 to 1972. The marriage of convenience boosted China’s technological, academic and economic fields. The USA expected a China transition towards democracy and capitalism.
The 1989 Tiananmen Square moment displayed the anti-democracy resolve of China’s Communist Party (CCP). This coincided with the USSR’s disintegration; it also initiated a clandestine competitive ambition in Beijing of a long-term plan to challenge the USA. Adopting the Sun Tzu dictum of ‘Hide and Bide’, Deng Xiaoping’s wisdom lulled the US leadership to complacency. Under Xi Jinping, a time-bound program of territorial expansion is visible. China aims to become a global leader economically, militarily, and technologically and impose China’s form of governance. China is a cause of concern to India and to others too.
Recent events have reinforced certain assessments and busted some myths.
- Prolonged duration kinetic and non-kinetic conflicts are a brutal reality.
- Civilian entities attacked during non-kinetic conflicts have paralysed national potential, disrupting cohesion and harmony.
- Long-range vectors and cyber can be used against military and non-military targets, but there is no will or capability globally to prevent or retaliate.
- There is limited desire internationally to overtly intervene in any kinetic conflict. International arms manufacturing giants provoke warring factions, looking at their own profit; there is no altruism in realpolitik.
- Resource weaponisation and/or imposition of sanctions is to leverage behaviour.
- Nations who trusted military alliances had practically outsourced the external security responsibility have got a wake-up call. Resultantly, they have hiked their military budget and have sought constitutional amendments to augment military capability after seeing the lukewarm response of the security guarantors.
- National resilience to fight till the end and the motivation to win at any cost is the only way to survive.
- Nations cannot expect to fight wars using foreign weapons/technology or troops.
Modern warfare encompasses a broad canvas, with simultaneous usage of different generations of technologies and products. Militaries the world over face this logistical reality which is an operational nightmare. It’s a lethal combination of kinetic and non-kinetic warfare with total confusion and ambiguity about friends or foes. Proclaimed supporters are often unidentified adversaries. The resultant challenges are unimaginable – some visible and a substantial part invisible.
The spread of current battlespace ranges from the electromagnetic spectrum to air, land, sea, outer space and cyberspace. The relevance of information warfare (IW), electronic warfare (EW), chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosives (CBRNE) threats is well understood theoretically. Still, the practical application of these new forms of warfare is yet to be fully exercised. Ascendancy over the adversary is possible only by capability and capacity superiority. Security personnel in hybrid warfare need a combined superiority in military and non-military art and technology. This mandates education, research, amendments to war-waging methodologies and a will to implement merit-based changes. An attitudinal and functional shift is a desired imperative.
The full spectrum of security challenges is high technology and equipment-intensive. This demands high-quality decision-makers with education and mental mobility to identify the essential doctrinal and inventory changes in specific timelines. There is also a matching requirement for the equipment users to be able to harness the equipment’s capabilities. With these increased complexities, war avoidance by deterrence and war winning in case of an imposed conflict would demand super specialist human resources as an imperative to usher in positive qualitative combat ratios. The changes in equipment profile imply skilling upgrades for current and futuristic equipment. At managerial and leadership levels enhancing education for absorbing the changing nature of warfare and carrying out matching reforms in human resource selection; training; cadre, and career management is a must. This ecosystem modification is understandably much different from the current ecosystem. The tide of technology determines conflict prevention, initiation and outcomes.
Man Behind The Machine: The man-machine (no gender bias while mentioning man) matrix is a critical area which stakeholders must focus on in the short, mid and long term.
Fundamental Education Changes: As a populous nation with a youth bulge, we need progressive education upgrades and training standards to be job-ready upon completing education. The New Education Policy (NEP) is a timely step in the right direction. However, this should be considered a partial modification to the education system. Appropriate shaping of the minds to better leverage the nation’s talent pool will result in better technology and human capital synergy. Smart solutions will emerge out of smart policies enunciated by smart minds.
Research Emphasis: The present-day warfare is technology oriented, with the latest-generation products being employed. Technology upgrades and new technology discovery is the norm. There is an inherent strategic need to emphasise research and development right from the basic level of education to identify talent. Stereo typed approach of parents pushing their children to preferred professions of their past generation, e.g. medicine, engineering, law or business administration, will be self-defeating for the nation.
There is substantial saturation in these erstwhile preferred fields, causing a brain drain of the better lot of educated youth and sub-optimal employment of others. Career selection and training of future human capital in new domains require guidance to parents and wards by the teaching faculty, which is possibly a grey area today due to the need for more awareness and motivation amongst the teachers themselves.
Team Concept & Cross-Pollination: Those involved in research, design and development (D&D) and manufacturing genuinely understand the equipment’s capability, depth, characteristics, and delivery potential, which can either avert a war or alter the course of the war. However, the processes have different specialists in each of these processes. To get the best results in indigenous products of contemporary technology, we must resort to the cross-pollination of inter-organisational specialists in a Team. Currently, there is an organisational reluctance to recognise the value of this concept due to fixations of various kinds, which causes significant problems in attracting, retaining and motivating niche talent.
Developed nations and autocratic States do overcome these challenges through the unique way of handling human talent. This is still a challenge for developing nations like India. However, there are democracies with a similar number of years of independence that have customised their attitudes, processes and organisations to get the latest technology, overcome delays, cost overruns and human capital flight to greener pastures. They have to dream together and work together for a successful joint mission. There is no individual glory.
Simultaneity: To ensure the success of the Atmanirhar mission, we need a strategically balanced approach to getting the best-required technology from abroad and simultaneously developing our niche products. Simultaneous development of capacities and capabilities in the public and private sectors is a wise option. While niche technology should be available to the user, there should be simultaneous research for emerging and incubating technology. This is a national responsibility to achieve results by simultaneity.
Startups: Handholding of Start0ups created by talented and committed youth will prevent mass migration of our talent pool and give us indigenous solutions and products at affordable prices, provided we patronise our products for internal consumption and enhance exports. Mentoring Startups by Users and existing giants in the industry would usher in an inclusive ecosystem that benefits all.
Whole of Nation: This approach cannot be a single Service, Ministry or purely a Government approach. The present-day hybrid and multi-domain warfare require users and scientists to be meaningfully embedded, cross-pollinated, and fully supported in each other’s domain to ensure timely technology discovery and niche product development. An ecosystem is needed with mutual trust for the whole nation approach to have meaningful returns. Cosmetic activities would invite disasters in the event of a crisis. Gunners, tankmen, test pilots, submariners, infantrymen, radar operators, communicators, or mariners would be the best people with hands-on experience to state the current and future requirements and validate the prototype designed by scientists or innovators.
Concurrently, the scientist, innovator or academic expert knows the science involved in a user’s dream project. A combined approach is mandatory, which is currently not easy to achieve due to turfs, policy constraints and personalities who thrive in a status quo environment. The role of an auditor is also vital. The angst related to delays and auditors’ attitudes must also be addressed. Timely completion of projects is ultimately for the nation’s and every committed stakeholder’s good. Time overruns and cost overruns have been extremely common. This has some share of procedures and processing by auditors as well. New technology discoveries should be in a compressed time frame; therefore, we need to urgently alter our processes and cut down on timelines. Incentivising result-oriented performance can be tried out.
Optimise: We must have our indigenous custom-built solutions after an intense study of the global best practices and our rich heritage practices. Our domestic human resource strengths and weaknesses are unique. We need visionaries to revise the existing human resource management (HRM) system! Promotion-oriented career management is the norm. Project completion should be an organisational task rather than an individual’s welfare-oriented short-tenure association. In the security sector, welfare state policies are not suitable since we compete with our adversaries who work on strict timelines and targets which have no correlation with individual welfare.
Organisations that cannot meet targets per their designed capacity or desired user requirement must be held accountable. Our adversaries have an advantage in this aspect due to the ruthless implementation of policies. Long-duration, mission-oriented tenures and adequate career protection policies are needed. Career and cadre management challenges must be innovated within the sensitivities of national security concerns. A case in point of this management methodology is being seen in Israel. Nation first in a democracy, ahead of individual concerns, can also succeed is visible.
China Focus: India and China have significant technology differential in the security sector. Our identified geopolitical adversary can apply varied force levels in all domains of warfare, viz. Kinetic and non-kinetic domains. China would prefer the non-kinetic domain since there is deniability and non-attributability. We must bridge the gap at the earliest. We must strive to leapfrog or sprint! Incremental, and the method of growth followed since 1947 is not suitable today.
Learning From Global Precedents
Own and train on equipment: Both Russia and Ukraine have relatively good equipment, but neither is able to drive a favourable outcome for their side in the ongoing conflict. Ukraine, in particular, has not been able to make the required headway despite being assisted by the US and other western powers with game-changing military hardware. The last-minute induction of fancy equipment sourced from anywhere in the world will not translate to the most favourable outcome. The sheer amount of training time on each platform marks a decisive victory, not the piece of machinery alone.
Closer Home: In the 1965 Indo-Pak war, we saw the American Sabre jets and Patton tanks in the Pakistan military. Still, the Indian military got the better of them with the older tanks and the small fighter aircraft, the Gnat.
Soldier-Sailor-Airman Turned Innovator: Those who use equipment know its strengths and weaknesses, and they can suggest improvements. Israel is known as a startup nation because those users who exit Israel Defence Force (IDF) become innovators. For their user experience, they are recruited by the Israeli military hardware-software industry. There is conscription in Israel. Citizens post active service serve as reservists. Every week, every month, all year round, they continue to fly or operate equipment on which they are specialised. Their military service continues to be a national asset contributing to their nation’s vibrant defence production industry.
This unique combination of warfighter-turned-innovator helps bring in a high level of technical know-how into the research and D&D of their indigenous defence and aerospace industry. This is a wonderful example of leveraging reservists’ training and potential while keeping them polished. Is this how our Agniveers will be fruitfully employed? Ideally – yes. Our veterans, having spent considerable time as equipment users, are most suited to be innovators. The public and private sectors would do well to utilise their services fruitfully.
China’s Thousand Talents Program: We must learn from the Thousand Talents Program in China. They utilise their talent, poach into American and European talent, and do everything to qualitatively improve and speed up their technological trajectory. Similarly, we have to customise our program with imagination.
Pathway For India: Many people want to join the armed forces but unfortunately cannot because of various reasons, like domestic compulsions or health. Still, they can contribute to new forms of warfare, such as cyber, space, IW etc. There are examples in the world of such commitment. That is where technology and human capital intersect. We already have the base framework for some models that can better harness the power of human resource potential.
Agniveer Scheme: India has had reservists in the higher age bracket owing to longer tenures in service and retirement at an older age. It often becomes too late for them to come back, but now with the implementation of the flagship Agniveer policy, there is a game-changing advantage in this direction. A significant segment of the Agniveers will be reservists with a youthful profile. The fertile minds and imagination would be available to industry for more extended periods as innovators and reservists. Their skill sets should be continuously refined. Their skills and military experiences would be most beneficial for the Indian defence industry to better finetune their products to meet the operational requirements of the armed forces.
In fact, in my personal opinion, the indigenous defence industry should definitely leverage them. These Agniveers post-release can go for higher formal education in their fields of interest, thus being good examples of practical experience going for theoretical knowledge akin to executive education programs. This is the congruence we are trying to bring between the necessity and the schemes being launched by the government. Policy formulation and meticulous execution are essential for this valuable addition to the nation-building process.
Territorial Army: The TA is another area which would pay great dividends. It takes talent for a specified period as per mutual convenience. A person running a startup can get embodied and contribute the kind of expertise needed by the nation. The same people from the TA can set up startups and get jobs with Indian designers, developers, and manufacturers because now we are saying Make-In-India. India seeks Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) and Joint Ventures (JV) with foreign tech giants. Indian talent from TA can be useful in this regard as business persons and working hands.
National Cadet Corps: Enhancing the skill sets and focus of NCC human resources is also a desired goal for nation-building. It is an excellent preparatory ground for youth to join the armed forces or get into defence production. The armed forces can task their officers to scout for talent in both junior and senior NCC. For instance, if you look at IT Wizards, there are enough examples of young minds who excel at a young age.
Tech Collaboration: The vast number of private-public-local engineering colleges also provide a significant pool of quality human resources for improving the national security vision. Indian Institutes of Technologies (IITs) collaboration with Armed Forces. Other premier engineering colleges play their part in tech collaboration with the security apparatus. The thought process towards internships has also begun to change. Although university students form a sizable number of interns in the security sector, the field has to be made more inclusive in both the private and services sectors. That is how the cross-pollination and lateral movement will succeed. Think tanks must come up for tech fields and provide internship options.
Holistic Approach To National Duty: We look at attitude and aptitude. Aptitude is easy to locate in talent spotting, while the individual’s attitude can be shaped by the parents, the academic establishments, and society. Everyone has to look at how to contribute. A sense of duty is one of the ‘paanch prans’ spelt out by the Hon’ble Prime Minister. We want to become a developed country, so we must be unified, shed our colonial practices, and imbibe a sense of duty in ourselves.
Conclusion: We must promote, empower and preserve our human capital. India has a significant human capital pool, but we need quality too. A whole of nation approach is required to grow strong; this involves the collaboration of both the government and non-governmental sectors. While the government can take the initiative, there must be a lot of volunteering.
Lt Gen. VG Khandare (r) is the Principal Advisor to the Ministry of Defence