National security, military modernisation and budgets – Observer Research Foundation

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Unforeseen events have a tendency to upend all assumptions, and 2020, thus far, has turned out to be an “annus horribilis” in this regard for Indian defence planners. The global pandemic has squeezed economic activity, forcing a 20 percent reduction in defence spending for Q1, with the likelihood of it being extended for the entire FY. If this were not enough, China, in a rash of belligerence, has upped the ante since May 2020 on our Northern borders, especially the LAC in Eastern Ladakh. The Galwan Valley clash on 15/16 June has exposed our naiveté of believing for 45 years that “peace and tranquility” with China was a given. South Block has to dexterously deal with the dual challenges of a shrinking budget and a military threat in the North, while exchanges of fire on the LC and terror activity in J&K remain unabated. The question that the CDS and the Department of Military Affairs have to contend with is; in an era of limited budgets, how do you optimally modernize and restructure in the face of extant challenges to national security.

To military strategists, the approach to this challenge is relatively straight forward: (a) define your existing and future national security challenges, or threats (which is amongst the most difficult predictions to get even partly right); (b) frame your defence strategy/strategies; (c) finally, re-organise and develop existing and planned force structures as needed to execute these; for which a government ought to cater for in the long term defence perspective plan and yearly budget.

However, for the diplomat, the bureaucrat, and even the politician, the approach is rather more circuitous. They prefer to enunciate and strategise national interests through the prism of economic strength and foreign policy, reduce or mitigate external threats through deft diplomacy and alignments, and, with a reasonable appropriation of budgetary effort for defence, expect the military to be able to deal with dangers that other instruments of state policy are ineffective in tackling. From the distinct viewpoints both sides hold; reconciliation seems unlikely. However, in a rising economy like ours, and with the military under civilian control, even senior military leaders come around to accepting the view that national security will have to be circumscribed within budgetary allocations that a rising economy can afford. This is not entirely wrong. But there are flaws in some of the assumptions that are put forth by glib policy wonks, first; that they have a fair handle on the challenges likely to be faced and thus the military brass need not worry whether enough tanks, planes or ships (to put it rather simplistically) are there in the kitty. Second; the tacit yet unspoken view, that we will see what is to be done when we come to that dangerous fork in the road.

But, threats, as China and the Corona virus have so emphatically shown, can come in forms and shapes that upset all existing frameworks. Therefore militaries like to be prepared for overkill (thus the demand for generous budgets) with a set of tools that are capable of multiple roles and tasks, as also have sufficient skilled manpower on hand to secure physical boundaries, wherever these may be. Adding intricacy to this, in our case, is a habit of throwing human resource at every job that needs doing (yes we are gradually leaning towards technology), which also reflects in the debatable distinction the Indian Military earned in April 2020 when it became the largest standing force in the world.

[beautifulquote align=”full” cite=””] But, threats, as China and the Corona virus have so emphatically shown, can come in forms and shapes that upset all existing frameworks [/beautifulquote]

So to reiterate, the leaders of India’s armed forces, under their primary advisor to the Defence Minister, have to ideate anew, without preconceived notions or past baggage hindering this exercise, and frame a robust, resilient and futuristic force structure that takes into account the concerns of both sides of this debate. It requires a credible visualization of ongoing and future national security challenges, that the military has to deal with, cogently enunciated, and look to revamp the forces with better technology, reduced manpower and eventually a spread of the defence budget that corrects the revenue to capital expenditure ratio. For the Government, an assurance of availability of budget, which is not as miserly as the current allocation, is one promise they must hold good to while the military does its utmost to reduce revenue expenditure.

Threats and challenges that the Ministry of Defence is going to ask the armed forces to be prepared for in the coming decades seem well set at this point in time. But, it would be prudent to frame India’s future security dimensions that her instruments of power would need to be cognizant of, in the form of a White Paper, or a National Security Strategy. It seems something of this nature is already in the works, or known to those who need to know.

[beautifulquote align=”full” cite=””] Threats and challenges that the Ministry of Defence is going to ask the armed forces to be prepared for in the coming decades seem well set at this point in time. But, it would be prudent to frame India’s future security dimensions that her instruments of power would need to be cognizant of, in the form of a White Paper, or a National Security Strategy [/beautifulquote]

The next step our planners, ought to be working on is the shape, size, equipping and sustenance policy for the forces (joint and single service) that need to kept equipped, prepared and trained to meet expected threats that may materialise with or without warning. Finally, they need to see what current force structures should be kept, which ones reengineered and what new forces and organisations ought to be put in place to meet the multi domain (to borrow an American phrase) obligations of keeping a Nation’s physical and virtual boundaries safe at all times.

Irrespective of the future contours of war, the need for traditional military strength is not going away anytime soon. This is the pragmatic view that Indian military leaders hold, even as they acknowledge the rise of newer forms of warfare and their purported effects on the future battlefield. In India’s case we seem to be unable to break away from the glories of a centuries’ old past while desirous of embracing a future that requires the shedding of past shibboleths. A genuine transformation and not superficial restructuring is what the future demands. Thus while jointness is the new mantra, with the CDS and a DMA at the apex to drive future joint force requirements, the unwieldy Indian Army remains disjointed as ever.

To quote just a few examples; the saga of a separate light and heavy infantry (traditional and mechanised infantry in our parlance) is a quixotic one. We remain the only army to so distinguish between troops that are going to perform similar (if not identical) tasks on the battlefield. They all need mobility, protection and firepower. This is a turf battle that should have finished in the last century. Second; why do we not have an integrated logistics corps? Or; why is RPV capability under army aviation? These are bewildering questions to an outsider and yet the IA seems happy with such awkward structures and force development.

There is a need to seriously look at all existing organisations, from the tactical to the strategic, and develop a long-term modernisation plan, over a two decades horizon, which completely transforms what the military is in terms of doctrine, organisation, equipment, capabilities, size and budgets. Eventually our defence forces will have to reduce their dependence on manpower and rely on technology to do the jobs of border management, assured surveillance and routine information gathering. Technologies exist, or are in the pipeline, that can do these tasks with assurance.

In the long run we definitely need to reduce the size of the standing armed forces to manageable levels of well under a million strong (a definite figure is impossible to give). The requirements of managing large “unsettled” borders need to be addressed pragmatically through a mix of technology, infrastructure development and holding only key strategic locations, while maintaining a strong response as deterrence to any malicious designs of the adversary. The Indian Navy definitely needs that third aircraft carrier, along with expeditionary joint amphibious capability. The air force must look at platforms that are unmanned, stealthy and can carry precision loads. Manned-unmanned teaming is going to be the future, as is air defence against drones and their swarms. This is a conceptual thought process that needs further fleshing out.

As for the Indian Army, it needs to reduce its manpower across the board; from the size and number of infantry battalions, regiments of artillery and the mechanized forces, to an increase in aviation, electronic and cyber warfare units, as also missiles and long range precision strike munitions with all units that need them in their arsenal. A comprehensive and doable information and communications road map, under a joint agency is the need of the hour. Similarly, a defence logistics agency must be stood up forthwith, with national and tri-service logistics capabilities under the CDS. Finer details would have to be worked upon to fix all loopholes. Synergy between existing strategic and national logistics capabilities must be dovetailed into the needs of a military for both, border defence and expeditionary requirements.

[beautifulquote align=”full” cite=””] As for the Indian Army, it needs to reduce its manpower across the board; from the size and number of infantry battalions, regiments of artillery and the mechanized forces, to an increase in aviation, electronic and cyber warfare units, as also missiles and long range precision strike munitions with all units that need them in their arsenal [/beautifulquote]

The list is endless. A visionary and focused hierarchy at the top can set the ball rolling. Once it gathers momentum in the right direction, only then can the armed forces be truly aligned with the security needs, and within the budgetary constraints India faces. An initial rise in defence expenditure for some of the steps listed above would, and should, be offset by the long term savings in manpower that would accrue, coupled with an integrated approach to maintaining and sustaining an eventual joint force.


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REQUEST_URI: https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/national-security-military-modernisation-and-budgets-68775/
Title: National security, military modernisation and budgets
ID: 68775
date publish: 2020-06-30 12:34:07
image: https://www.orfonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/National-security.jpg
authors:NULL
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