While the transformation of the army to a leaner force has generally been supported, criticism has also been levelled that the restructuring is being driven primarily due to budgetary constraints. It is thus not a result of a well-thought-out plan to transform the army into a force that is more capable of fighting future wars.
By Lt General Deependra Singh Hooda
The military strategy that emerges from internal army discussions must be formalized and shared with the political leadership. They must be aware of the capability of the army as well as its limitations, and how the army intends to prosecute a war. This will enable the complete harmonizing of the political and military aims, something that is conspicuous today only by its absence, says Gen Hooda.
As General Bipin Rawat enters his last year as the Army Chief, he will be conscious that he needs to set in motion his ambitious plans to restructure the Indian Army. After it was announced that the army is undertaking a number of studies on changes in organizational structure, there has been a lot of debate on the subject. While the transformation of the army to a leaner force has generally been supported, criticism has also been levelled that the restructuring is being driven primarily due to budgetary constraints. It is thus not a result of a well-thought-out plan to transform the army into a force that is more capable of fighting future wars. It is a reality that the army is facing a stressed budget. With 83 percent of its budget going towards revenue expenditure, the army has very little left for modernization. I have often heard the argument that the government should be persuaded to increase the defence budget if they are serious about national security.
The argument is not completely unjustified but does not take into account the reality of a nation that spends only about 1 percent of its GDP on health and less than 3 percent on education. Faced with the reality that any major increase in allocations is unlikely, the army has two options open to it. The first is to continue with the existing force levels and structures and accept the current slow pace of modernization. After all, the army has been living with 68 percent of its equipment in the ‘vintage category’, and yet performing creditably in its operational role along the borders and in internal security duties. However, a lack of modernization would severely impact its future warfighting role.
The second option is to trade off manpower costs to ensure that more money is available for speedier modernization. Some fears are expressed that tinkering with time-tested structures could be damaging but the evolution in practices, concepts and technologies demand new organisations. Advanced weapon systems, revolutionary changes in artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous systems, and improvements in civil infrastructure could compensate for reduced manpower, while at the same time enhancing military capability. What should this leaner force look like? I think we should let the army internally debate this.
The current army leadership is vastly experienced, and its basic business is warfighting. General Rawat has also indicated that major changes like the Integrated Battle Groups will be put through a test-bed before being adopted. Many ‘experts’ are jumping the gun and making sweeping assessments about the army’s restructuring without even being aware of all the facts. We should hold off our comments till the complete details are known. Whatever be the shape of the restructured army, there will be a need to undertake some corresponding steps to make it completely battle-ready. Firstly, there must be a parallel development of doctrine, strategy, and tactics for employing this transformed force. Foisting old tactics on new structures will be counterproductive. This will require extensive discussions, wargames and tactical exercises at all levels in the army. Joint operations should be an integral part of developing a new doctrine. This will require the army to synergise not only with the air force and navy but also the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) like the Border Security Force,
the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Central Reserve Police Force. This will also bring clarity on the number of CAPF units required during a war and prevent ad-hoc new raisings. The military strategy that emerges from internal army discussions must be formalized and shared with the political leadership. They must be aware of the capability of the army as well as its limitations, and how the army intends to prosecute a war. This will enable the complete harmonizing of the political and military aims, something that is conspicuous today only by its absence. The government must not look at the army’s restructuring as a money-saving exercise but as a major reform that will result in a more capable force. Therefore, money saved from manpower reductions must be utilised for the army’s modernisation plans. If this does not happen, it will only result in a weaker force unable to meet its commitments.
Finally, it must be ensured that the restructuring does not result in a dilution of the army’s human resource capital. Quality personnel take many years to train and the army must find ways to retain essential talent, particularly in the middle and higher leadership. Shrinking budgets are anathema to militaries but this is perhaps also an opportunity for the army to take a hard look at its force structures and transform to leaner but more capable force. The government must fully support this effort.
The author is is the former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian army’s Northern Command.