Wake up, blind men of Hindustan
by G B Reddy on 01 Jan 2018 4 Comments

In its latest report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) headed by Major General B.C. Khanduri of the Bharatiya Janata Party, slammed the government for simply not doing enough to ensure military modernization despite India being confronted with a clear two and one half-front threat from China, Pakistan and numerous insurgency threats.


In retrospect, the report reveals woeful intellectual bankruptcy of the Parliamentary Standing Committee. Quantity obsession continues to dominate, with utter disregard to high-tech quality shift so vital to wage Generation 5 wars. Also, the media so far has failed to highlight inadequacies /shortcomings of the report in defense production and Research & Development of combat systems to match adversaries’ capabilities.


As in the past, the latest PSC report is routine in nature, reiterating inadequate financial allocation in GDP terms: Rs 2.74 lakh crores outlay working out to just 1.56% of the GDP, the lowest such figure since the 1962 war with China. However, even a layman should be disturbed that the Army, Navy and Air Force got only 60%, 67% and 54% of the funds projected for modernization. Equally absurd is the underutilization of allocated funds.


Also, the report highlights inadequacy of size of various services in numbers. In the Air Force, the existing fleet is 33 fighter squadrons instead of 45 squadrons (18-21 jet fighters) determined roughly decades ago based on Gen 2 fighters. The report predicts that the size may go down to 19 by 2027, and 16 by 2032 due to retirement of older jets. The Rs 59,000 crore contract inked for 36 French Rafael fighters in September 2016 will do little to arrest this alarming drawdown.


The Navy, in turn, has just 13 conventional diesel-electric submarines, only half of them operational at any given time since they are 17 to 32 years old. Moreover, the force has a shortage of 61 multi-role helicopters desperately needed on warships to detect, track and destroy enemy submarines as well as at least a dozen minesweepers.


Why has the Parliamentary Standing Committee submitted such a perfunctory report? The PSC may lay the blame at the doorstep of the National Security Council (NSC) established in 1999 for failure to produce annual National Security Strategy (NSS) documents. De Facto, the NSS must define national interests, geopolitics, and end objectives to be achieved in various domains, besides ways and means. 


Incomplete understanding of the PSC members regarding modern military affairs seems to be the root cause. If lack of knowledge of warfare is the root cause, members of the PSC must attend a “crash-course” on modern military affairs besides modern organizational structuring – shift from “big is beautiful” to “small is also beautiful and more lethal” as lessons of history of wars abundantly prove. Ask a computer savvy kid adept at computer games and watching Star Wars; he would map the emerging domains in modern warfare.


Today’s domain of warfare includes: nuclear war fighting, conventional wars, limited wars, insurgencies, terrorism, disinformation wars, anti piracy hijacking etc. Even the roles have altered.


What is glaringly obvious is that the PSC has either failed dismally to seek knowledge that is readily available in Directorates of Perspective Planning in various services or dismissed their views in a cavalier manner. The Services Chiefs and Integrated Defense Staff are also responsible for failure to provide “guidance”.


Thus, the Blind men of Hindustan floundered all over again on ‘Numbers or Quantity’ path instead of ‘Quality’ to wage 5th Generation Warfare”. Even the media, know-all editors claiming to be repository of knowledge in all spheres, failed to carry out a detailed review of modernization initiatives and shortfalls.


Undeniably, warfare has dramatically transformed from Generation 1 war based on massive size of armies in the post-Industrial Revolution era to Gen 5 Warfare, known as “Hybrid Warfare” in the Technology Era. Sustaining enduring capabilities to counter Gen 5 wars should have remained the primary focus of the PSC deliberations on modernization initiatives in detail.


The PSC should have refined/revised a New Defensive Strategy. Surely members of the PSC understand the approach to be adopted to review defense strategy - defining goals (end objectives), means (resources -people, technology, rupees, etc.) that can best advance priority interests and ways of exploiting opportunities and overcoming challenges, besides cost-benefit analysis of various options.


The PSC must also account for, and in some cases seek to shape, a complex and dynamic backdrop of domestic politics and economic realities, as well as developments in operational concepts and technology, demography and workforce, and of course geopolitics.


As regards threat concerns, the nexus or umbilical cord between the separatists in the valley and their allies across the border is very well established. The allies include: Pakistan State, Army and ISI; HM, LeT and other Kashmiri militant groups waiting in safe havens across the border; financial supporters from other parts of the world; Chinese diplomatic ambiguity; and radical Islamist groups elsewhere. 


It is never too late for future PSCs to identify and define the risks, challenges and opportunities to seize to create a highly responsive force with agility, flexibility and readiness to engage in rapid succession the full spectrum of threats and contingencies of Gen 5 Warfare; not a lumbering elephantine force like today’s.


What does it imply? The PSC should have mapped the New Defense Strategy to cover full spectrum operations to include: air and space control, land and maritime dominance, global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, regional mobility and strike plus high capacity command and control air, space and cyber systems, integrating capabilities across the full spectrum of operations. Besides the pro-active build-up of offensive non-state actor and disinformation war capabilities.


Maintaining credible nuclear deterrent, deterring and defeating aggression (non nuclear and non-state actors), projecting power in anti-access and area-of-denial environments, conducting space and cyber operations, building and projecting offensive non-state actors etc are vital imperatives that cannot be left out of consideration and merits inclusion in the PSC report.


Most importantly, in order to ensure maximum versatility and effectiveness of our armed forces, the modernization strategy must focus on critical areas: structures, combat systems, processes (strategies, operational art and tactics) and personnel capabilities particularly leadership. 


Unless the main heads of the Framework of the report are focused on core or key heads, it would not be possible to debate hard choices in Parliament and make appropriate allocations. To reshape and resize our forces in a credible manner is an imperative to counter current and emerging threat concerns. Let none suffer from illusions on the above count.


Of course, such an unbiased exercise by the PSC would demolish empire structures built over the past 70 years in watertight compartments, particularly personnel reductions, however painful they may be.


It is not too late for the PSC to recognize that rebalancing of force levels and structures is an imperative. Since Air, Space and Cyber domains are common to all envelops, modernization of Air Forces must be given priority, besides optimum nuclear deterrent strategic triad capability.


In today’s high-tech age, dominance of space - maintaining freedom of action in space - is vital. China has a range of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. Any harmful interference with or an attack upon critical components of our space architecture can turn the tables in modern warfare.


Space domain includes communications and financial networks, military and intelligence systems, weather monitoring, navigation, and more have components in the space domain. The fusion of data from imagery, communications, and geo-location services allows motivated actors to access previously unavailable information. This democratization of space has an impact on military operations and on America’s ability to prevail in conflict.


Furthermore, cyber attacks have become a key feature of modern conflict. Increasingly malicious state and non-state actors are using cyber attacks for information warfare, disinformation, and even extortion. Such attacks have the capability to harm large numbers of people and institutions with comparatively minimal investment and a troubling degree of deniability. These attacks can undermine faith and confidence in democratic institutions and the economic system. At the same time, develop and build offensive cyber capabilities as tools for projecting influence, and some use cyber tools to protect and extend their autocratic regimes. Once again, private and public participation is an imperative.


In today’s information-dominant era, India’s ability to modernize military forces to overmatch our adversaries requires intelligence support. Intelligence is needed to understand and anticipate the adversary’s doctrine and the intent of their leaders, prevent tactical and operational surprise, and ensure that capabilities are not compromised before they are fielded. In addition, virtually all modern weapon systems depend upon data derived from scientific and technical intelligence.


What does the foregoing imply? A revolutionary shift from current land and maritime intensive strategic posture to higher prioritization for air and space postures besides building up a proactive, offensive non-state actor and disinformation warfare capability is imperative. Admittedly, cosmetic modernization initiatives based on accretion of numbers per se cannot provide such a potent force.


When viewed holistically at the Apex-cum-Conceptual levels, the PSC report tabled in the Parliament recently is woefully inadequate as the basis for constructive and purposeful debate to forge consensus. The report failed to identify intra service imbalances and antiquated establishments, cumulative flab, to determine downsizing measures for implementation.


Instead of debating such a flawed Report, both Government and Parliament must direct the PSC to sit address real issues highlighted above and submit a revised report for debate during the Budget session. Otherwise, we will be in a situation comparable to our famous parable of the Blind Men and an Elephant.

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