Security Forces: Holistic Modernisation Reform
by G B Reddy on 10 May 2017 3 Comments

The holistic modernisation reforms of the Indian Security Forces, the Armed Forces and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) is an urgent imperative to enhance their operational effectiveness. A common perception is their “elephantine” size; a whopping over 1.5 million active personnel in the Armed Forces and over 1 million in CAPF. The sum total of active personnel in uniform is over 2.6 million. On quite a few occasions, they are afflicted by “left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing” syndrome.


Add to these another roughly 2 million reserves on paper - Armed Forces reserve component of over 1.1 million and one million in CAPF – which have never been tried out even in crisis regions. This ‘total mess’ of security forces organisations scenario is yet another inheritance of the Modi Government.


Errors of conception in assigning roles and designing organisational structures and specifying responsibilities and accountabilities is a vital management function at the highest level, of the Cabinet Committee of Security. Yet, after three years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not addressed the reforms issue, a veritable White Elephant, by recourse to “out of box thinking” (a management jargon). Is he afraid of stirring the hornet’s nest of “babu’s”, including the IAS cadre, besides General, Admirals and Marshals, with none being an exception?


If Modi is genuinely interested in institutional/organisational change, an opportunity beckoning him to seize, he must preside over the modernisation reforms of the Security Forces. Like China’s President Xi Jinping, who restructured the forces on five “Integrated Operational Commands” from eight Military Regions in 2014 and from 35 Army Groups in 1984 to 18 in 2014 and now to 13, with People Armed Police Forces made integral to the PLA Ground Forces, Modi too, must downsize and restructure India’s Security Forces to produce "Big Bang for the Buck” operational performance.


There must be no more idiotic “empire building” processes, particularly at the “top and tail” end levels, must be permitted to avoid Security Forces over-stretch beyond the nation’s economic sustainability. As mankind’s history abundantly proves, such nations and regimes collapse under such a burden.


Let’s briefly review the current over-stretch. Under the Ministry of Defense, the services of Armed Forces include: Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Special Frontier Forces.


Under the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are five CAPFs including: CRPF, BSF, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Central Industrial Security Force and Sashastra Seema Bal. There is also one Central Paramilitary Force (CPMF) namely Assam Rifles (AR). And there are other forces such as the National Disaster Response Force, and SFs (NSG & SPG).


To begin with, their roles overlap, particularly internal security, border management and terrorism. Yet they mostly operate in water-tight compartments. Lack of coordination and cooperation and blame games are quite common. For instance, , the Army’s role is defense of the country from external and internal threats across the entire spectrum of warfare. The roles of the CAPF’s and CPMF (AR) include “Border Management, and Internal Security” among others.


AR, BSF, ITBP and SSB, as Border Guarding Forces are quite regularly employed on counter insurgency and even electoral duties. Thus, 8 Battalions of ITBF are employed in Chhattisgarh and 14 Battalions of SSB in J&K, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam in counter insurgency roles. Even CRPF units are manning border outposts (BoPs).


The CRPF, including special wings of RAF and CoBRA units, are to assist the civil administration under the State Governments/UT administrations in matters relating to maintenance of public order, internal security and counter insurgency.


The CISF provides security and protection to vital installations of national / strategic importance, including Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs), airports, atomic power plants, space organisations, industrial units, important national museums, Government buildings in Delhi and other important sensitive organisations.


In addition, NSG is a specialized Strike Force trained in counter terrorism and anti-hijacking operations. It is also entrusted with the task of securing high risk VIPs and acts as sky marshal for securing domestic and international flights.


The biggest mistake is to assign overlapping responsibilities since these invariably and inevitably breed inter- and intra- conflicts, largely due to confusion. Even a layman can see that “border management” is closely linked with external security. If so, BSF, ITBF, AR and SSB must function under the Ministry of Defense.


Surely, border management forces should only be employed in counter insurgency roles in “Border States” and not in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand or even Assam. How can ITBF personnel operate in Chhattisgarh against Naxals sans detailed knowledge of tribal customs, dialects and so on? Let me cite a personal interaction at a way-side hotel on the outskirts of Nirmal Town with a section of ITBF personnel having meals with weapons kept in a corner. They remarked that everyone looks alike, so we cannot identify a Naxal from a normal civilian. And, they had no administrative back up, so they were having meals in a hotel. 


Yet another issue pertains to roles assigned to the Navy and Air Force – general, grandiose and hegemonic. The Navy’s overall role is to ensure maritime sovereignty and myriad use-of-sea activities. Its military role is deterrence / dissuasion against any intervention or act which is against our national interests, and the ability to inflict a crushing defeat on the adversary in the event of hostilities, besides coastal security and anti-piracy measures.


The IAF’s doctrine is to acquire strategic reach and capabilities across the spectrum of conflict that serve the ends of military diplomacy, nation building and enable force projection within India’s strategic area of influence.  


Let me also highlight anomalies of management of security forces organisations. Where is the need for four separate forces for “Border Security Management” under four different agencies? Surely, they should be amalgamated under one Headquarter under the designated Ministry. Since “Border Security Management” is closely interlinked with defense from external security threat concerns, it automatically suggests grouping under the Indian Army.


Alternatively, all such forces must be grouped based on “Joint Integrated Theatre Command” on geographical basis for all operational activities, with their DGs under whichever Ministry they operate, responsible for training, administration and other issues on the US or China models. In retrospect, like China, at least within the Armed Forces, “Integrated Command” structure, which is an operational imperative, must be organized by integration of all combat units.


Then, the “Top and “Tail Bulge” in the form of intermediary Headquarters, training and administrative units follows inherited “British Expeditionary Forces” structures designed for woefully backward ‘colonies’ where even a ‘screw driver and spanner” had to be supplied from Great Britain.


At the “Top” level, there are a total of 34 HQ’s at Command and equivalent levels plus 3 Fleet HQs of various Security Forces to include: 18 + 3 Command HQ’s of the three services of armed forces (7 Army +7 Air Force +4 Navy and 3 fleet HQs) besides Coast Guard HQs; 3 BSF; 5 ITBF; 6 SSB; and one AR) at Zone or Frontier or theatre levels.


Further, the larger the components of intermediary HQs, the greater the end result of “Distortion” of information and intelligence, besides delays in decision making.


The existing levels of Headquarters down to units in the Armed Forces include: Army – 6 (AHQ, Command HQ, Corps HQ, Division HQ, Brigade HQ and Units; Navy – 4 (NHQ, Command HQ, Fleet HQ and Ships; and Air Force – 4 (AF HQ, Command HQ, Wing HQ and Squadrons. All three services have their Training Commands and extensive Logistics infrastructure.


In contrast, BSF, besides DG at Delhi, has 2 Special Directorates General (Spl DsG) i.e. Spl DG (Eastern Command) and Spl DG (Western Command), 13 Frontiers and 46 Sector Headquarters, Water Wing, Air Wing and other ancillary units. Its force level includes: 186 Battalions including 3 NDRF Battalions, 5 Major Training Institutions, 11 Subsidiary Training Centers and 3 minor Training Institutions.


Next, the ITBF, with DG at Delhi, operates through 5 Frontier Headquarters, 14 Sector Headquarters, 56 Service Battalions, 2 DM Battalions, 4 Specialized Battalions and 14 Training Centers.


Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), with roles on the Indo-Nepal and Bhutan borders, has 6 Frontiers and 18 Sector Headquarters (14 on Border, 4 for Spl Ops) with 65 Battalions (2 converted as NDRF units and 6 under raising).


The Assam Rifles, with a DG Headquarters at Shillong, has three IG Headquarters, 12 Sector Headquarters, 46 Battalions, one Training Centre and the administrative elements.


Finally, the CRPF with DG located in Delhi, has 3 Special DG Zones (Northeast, Central and J & K) and 1 ADG Zone (Southern and Western); 20 IG Sectors and 2 IG Operations Sectors; 37 Ranges and 7 Operations Ranges.


Obviously, the “Top Bulge” is real. And, none is concerned about leadership at the “Teeth” level, that is, unit and company levels.


Most disturbingly, the manning pattern of “Top” slots in the CAPF’s (Chair-borne jobs) are mostly held by IPS officers – DGs, IGs and even DIGs. CAPF appointments involving greater risks and difficult areas are generally left to be manned by cadre officers. Few IG and DIG level posts in high risk environment are given to cadre promotees. Naturally, there is a disconnect between the “Top” leadership and the rank and file. Also, a large component of “Rank and File” are nowadays employed on “protection and escort”.


Similarly, the “Tail Bulge,” peace establishments and inherited British logistics infrastructure, is redundant in today’s modern India, which is on the threshold of “Emerging Power”. For example, holding vehicles in “Base Depots” as reserves for onward dispatch to formations and units is surely unwarranted and uneconomical. Surely, Vehicle Manufacturers can position and supply them through their extensive networks.


Viewed in the above context, there is urgent need to order a de novo holistic review of “Security Forces” with a clear mandate to integrate forces performing similar or overlapping roles under one Ministry based on the concept of “Integrated Command Set-up”. Furthermore, we need to drastically cut down the number of HQ’s and levels of command to reduce inter- and intra-rivalry, known as, “Friction, Distortion and Delays”.


The time is ripe also for Prime Minister Modi to focus on “holistic reforms” to modernise the Security Forces. If he can steer major financial reforms – Demonetisation and GST – he can surely traverse this path.


Brig. G B Reddy, AVSM, an alumni of the National Defence College, New Delhi, and Command and Staff College, Kingston, Canada, is a military veteran who served in the Siang Frontier Division in the 1962 war; at the Rann of Kutch in the 1965 war; in the liberation of Bangladesh in the Jessore & Khulna sector in 1971; and in the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka in 1988. He has served on the LoC/LAC in various sectors as well as in counter insurgency operations in several sensitive states. Author of several books and articles, his main fields of interest include national security strategy studies in all dimensions. 

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