Military lessons yet to be learnt: Better Late than ever

Published: July 8, 2020 5:00 PM

India must remain on guard against such sinister operations being launched in future by either Pakistan or China.

Indian Army is solely dependent on Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) for ammunition and that's why it can get away with substandard products. Indian Army is solely dependent on Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) for ammunition and that’s why it can get away with substandard products.

There are no secrets to Military success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from past failures however small they are. To err is human nature, to rectify error is glory but to ignore it is a death wish.

Kargil — In 1999 the Indian Territory was invaded and occupied by a few hundred Pakistani soldiers disguised as Kashmiri militants, which necessitated the mobilisation of virtually a fifth of the Indian army. After weeks of bloody fighting and expending hundreds of lives and millions of dollars, the Indian army wrested back posts that were ours, to begin with. While 527 Indian troops laid down their lives in evicting the Pakistani intruders from Mushok to Chorbat La in the Batalik sector, the victory did not extract a heavy price from Islamabad, apart from losing more or an equivalent number of soldiers.

Military experts believe that despite whatever effort there may be to prevent it, there may be a war at any time. And the nation that neglects this fundamental reality, makes itself vulnerable to military surprises. We have to be prepared for war or even low-intensity conflicts with our not so friendly neighbours. It is pertinent to understand that whenever there is a territorial dispute, proxy war is very possible. And India today is facing this situation on both the Pakistan and China sides.

Status Quo: We neither damaged Pakistan’s war-waging capabilities, nor gained any territorial advantages, nor diminished the Pakistani army’s adventurism which continues till date. Beyond a few months of international isolation, it did little to change Pakistan’s international policies which are based on canards and denials as displayed a decade later.

Nearly two decades later when India is engaged in a standoff with China on Doklam even as its relations with Pakistan continue to be fragile, the concerns about India’s battle-readiness remain. Besides strategic restraint in not crossing, our forces were hobbled by shortages in almost 50 % of their arsenal, mainly artillery ammunition and laser-guided bombs for Mirages. Had Israel and South Africa not chipped in, the war could have stretched a few weeks longer. In a limited war, such lapses are a recipe for defeat. There is an urgent need to upgrade our tactical surveillance and reconnaissance capability as well as create an integrated battlefield management system.

Our forces still await:-

The indigenous Software-defined Radio (SDR) is yet to be implemented in the forces. This will enable troops on the ground carrying Handheld Man-portable SDR versions to achieve integration with higher echelons to accomplish true C4I capability. Also, with SDR technology, the possibility of swarms of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) operating on the battlefield looks encouraging.

The much-needed indigenous Battlefield Management System (BMS) was shelved by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 2017. BMS integrates frontline troops of infantry battalions and armoured corps to efficiently and effectively share the realtime combat information to the Commanders for better Tactical appreciation and faster decision making. It will provide the ability to quickly close the sensor to shooter loop by integrating all surveillance means to facilitate engagement through an automated decision support and command and control system, exploiting technology for mission accomplishment in the Tactical Battle Area.

The Extreme Cold Climate (ECC) clothing including boots, goggles, gloves etc are still not held with the Army in surplus. When the new war doctrines of our forces claim preparation for a two-front war which would require the quick mobilisation of our troops leading to non – acclimatisation. The un-acclimatised troops, when rushed without proper gears especially during peak winters, would lead to avoidable casualties.

Indian Army is solely dependent on Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) for ammunition and that’s why it can get away with substandard products. It is rare that production of ammunition is stopped due to deficiency in material, process or quality, which exhibits a lack of accountability in OFB. The ordnance factories mission should be to compete with global leaders in the ammunition industry but that will not happen unless serious reform measures are undertaken by the government.

Accidents are causing loss of precious lives and have serious operational ramifications. At present, almost 80 per cent of the ammunition requirement of the Armed Forces is supported by OFB. Ammunition Factory Khadki, Ordnance Factory Ambajhari, Gun and Shell Factory Cossipore, etc. specialize in small, medium and large calibre ammunition and explosives. While they continue to be the primary supplier for ammunition, OFs lack capacity to fulfil the entire requirement of the Armed Forces.

The most important lesson that India should have learnt from the Kargil imbroglio is that the essential requirements of national security should not be compromised. Successive governments in Islamabad have sought with varying degrees of intensity to destabilise India, wreck its unity and challenge its integrity and this is unlikely to change. Similarly, in international politics, the policy of mutual friendship and cooperation with one’s neighbours has to be balanced with vigilance. A neighbour’s capacity to damage one’s security interests should never be underestimated, leave alone disregarded.

Two decades later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has changed the paradigm with the Balakot airstrike, as future Indian battles may now be fought on enemy territory. The firm and the strong Govt of India have conveyed unequivocally that “If you want a Fight…we will bring the Fight to your door and beat you at it”. In 2017, India and China agreed to amicably resolve the Doklam standoff that lasted for more than two months. No blood was shed and no shots fired. Once again Prime Minister Modi & team had been very careful not to upset China’s domestic and geopolitical sensitivities.

However, this time around India decided to stare down the dragon at Galwan valley and carried out massive mobilisation and reinforcement of troops, artillery and armoured vehicles besides gaining the complete air superiority and dominance by Indian Air Force (IAF) in the region. The breakout of pandemic COVID19 which originated from Wuhan led to the death of millions of innocent humans around the world, its border issues with many neighbouring countries, illegal claims in the South China Sea, issues in HongKong and Taiwan etc turned the world against China and its hegemonic global aspirations.

India must remain on guard against such sinister operations being launched in future by either Pakistan or China.

Modernisation through Indigenisation

We need to have better technology weapons and equipment. ‘Make in India’ or being self-reliant was one of the most significant lessons that one had learnt from the entire episode. There is a need to encourage the participation of Pvt Industry and providing a level-playing field for the private sector in manufacturing defence equipment. So, have we learnt actually? If Self reliance or Atmanirbharta in defence sector remains only on papers, then once again the nation will have to dispatch procurement teams to various countries to buy Arms & Ammo in emergency and end up with duds like last time.

The government has recently sanctioned some funds and delegated financial powers to the three services to acquire the wherewithal necessary for combat readiness. However, unless the remaining deficiencies in weapons, ammunition and equipment are also made up quickly through indigenisation/Make in India, thoughts of critical hollowness in defence preparedness will continue to haunt India’s defence planners.

The supreme test of a country’s resilience is its capacity to turn a crisis into an opportunity for introspection and renewal. Our victory in Kargil will thus not be complete if we do not learn some important lessons from it for the future. War is a very expensive way to learn lessons and hence wasting opportunities to learn from past operations is a criminal dereliction of duty. The lessons are relevant to the conflicts or wars that we are likely going to fight in the future. Future wars are going to be short and of high intensity.

(The author is an Indian Navy Veteran. Views expressed are personal.)

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