Budgeting for a new security - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 1 February 2016

Budgeting for a new security

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Feb 2016

The allocation of funds to defence in the forthcoming Budget, and its distribution between various services, arms and departments, will again be a depressingly incremental affair. Marginal increases or decreases in allocations to the same old heads will testify to the absence of any new thinking, or any new solutions to the familiar problems of defence. While secrecy obscures much of the thinking and policy making relating to defence, significant changes in direction invariably leave a money trail --- which canny eyes can glean from the Budget documents. However, judging from the lack of any major change, India is perfectly secure. For the most part, our old-school generals, admirals, air marshals and intelligence officials define security as keeping our borders inviolate, and preventing China and Pakistan from crossing into India. It seems almost incidental to them that we continue losing lives to terrorism, as in Pathankot and Gurdaspur; that large parts of India remain mired in armed conflicts; that we continue to be criticised, both in India and abroad, for using draconian laws to impose order; and that asymmetric, hybrid threats like cyber attacks, narcotics trade and the spread of counterfeit currency assault our sense of well-being. It is convenient and comfortable to throw a few lakh crore rupees at nominally securing a distant borderline, instead of focusing on how those borders are being bypassed by new-generation threats.

India’s national security community --- which is mostly confined to the serving diplomatic, military and intelligence establishment and those who have retired from it --- likes to carp that our political leadership is focused only on vote-related issues, and has no interest in specifying a direction and agenda for national security. Even if this were true (which it is not), what prevents security practitioners from driving badly needed reform, and re-orienting our out-dated security priorities?

It should not require a prime minister to see the folly of maintaining one-and-a-half million soldiers, sailors and airmen in uniform, spending almost one lakh crore rupees on salaries, and half that amount more on pensions. This year, the seventh pay commission could raise that by another 20 per cent, taking the salary bill higher than the equipment modernisation budget. The army maintains three enormously expensive armoured strike corps --- mobile, tank-heavy formations that are equipped and trained to penetrate deep into Pakistan. This has led that country to develop “full spectrum deterrence”, building small (more “usable”) tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) to halt advancing Indian strike corps dead in their tracks. New Delhi had decided against launching its strike corps at Pakistan during the Kargil conflict in 1999, and then again after the December 2001 terrorist attack on parliament. Now TNWs make strike corps offensives even more unlikely. Furthermore, even if an Indian prime minister were ready to risk a nuclear conflagration, the three strike corps are afflicted by such shortfalls in artillery, air defence and engineering equipment that they would find it hard to achieve operational success --- remember, anything less than outright victory would constitute a defeat. Yet, when the army (unwisely) insisted that countering the China threat required an infantry-heavy “mountain strike corps”, another 60,000 soldiers were added to an already unmanageable payroll. No thought was given to converting one of the armoured strike corps instead.

Similarly, the air force continues pursuing its chimera of 45 fighter squadrons, which were once gauged essential for an Indian “two-front war” with Pakistan and China simultaneously --- an eventuality that would suggest Indian diplomacy had died and gone to Heaven. Yet, having pegged our baseline figure at 45 squadrons, accepting anything less sounds like an irresponsible devaluation of national security. This allows the Indian Air Force (IAF) to credibly portray our current holding of 33-34 fighter squadrons as a mortal danger, and to agitate for buying 36 French Rafale fighters for a mind-numbing $7-11 billion.

Amidst this self-serving mismanagement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for a new approach in unusually vigorous language. On December 15, 2015, addressing top army, navy and air force commanders on board the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, he observed, “At a time when major powers are reducing their forces and rely more on technology, we are still constantly seeking to expand the size of our forces. Modernisation and expansion of forces at the same time is a difficult and unnecessary goal. We need forces that are agile, mobile and driven by technology, not just human valour.”

Dwelling on the need to focus on battle-winning firepower, rather then getting bogged down in slogging matches, Mr Modi went on: “We need capabilities to win swift wars, for we will not have the luxury of long drawn battles. We must re-examine our assumptions that keep massive funds locked up in inventories.”

Yet the three service chiefs do not appear to be implementing his directions, although he interacts more closely with them than any recent prime minister. In these monthly face-to-face meetings, Mr Modi has been less than impressed, telling a close confidante that the three chiefs were “unimaginative”. Meeting them on the Vikramaditya, the prime minister demanded bolder thinking. He said: “(W)e look to our Armed Forces to prepare for the future. And, it cannot be achieved by doing more of the same, or preparing perspective plans based on out-dated doctrines and disconnected from financial realities… (O)ur forces and our government need to do more to reform their beliefs, doctrines, objectives and strategies.”

Hammering home the point, he said: “We need military commanders who not only lead brilliantly in the field, but are also thought leaders who guide our forces and security systems into the future.”

It is important that the prime minister’s directions be taken through to their logical conclusion, rather than being filed away and dusted out for his speech next year. Reform within the defence ministry has so far focused almost entirely on reforming and expediting equipment procurement. In addition to this, the military’s planning and operational structures must be rejuvenated, weaving together their multiple strands to deliver not just battle-winning performance, but also counters to asymmetric, new age threats.

The navy, which is the only service that thinks strategically, has recently enunciated a new naval doctrine that incorporates some of these aspects. It is time for the other two services to update their out-dated doctrines and prepare for the conflicts of tomorrow. Whatever new thinking is put into these issues would only become aware when the budget for 2017-18 is presented. For this year, there is only more of the old.


  1. NSR says ---

    India already has 272 SU-30 MKI and about 100 Mig-29/29UPG/29K so I think it has better chance of keeping squadron strengths if it does the following...

    It should bargain hard with Russia for complete TOT of Super Sukhoi and Mig-29K/29UPG including engine and radar technology with the promise of the following...

    1. It must order 80 more Super Sukhois 40 + 40 (Russia + India)...
    2. It must order 80 SU-34 which share same engine and radar families for deep penetration and precision bombing again at 40 + 40 workshare with more in future...
    3. Order more Mig-29K for second carrier and possibly latest Mig-29 or may be even a Mig-35 with thrust vectoring...

    Then Russia may be willing to play ball on the above and possibly PAK FA and S-400...

    Do not buy their Frigates or destroyers...build our own Shivalik class Destroyers...

    These actions not only helps India to keep their present fighters in ship shape and also they may be able to build new ones with the technology...

    Rafale will bring down Indian defense establishment...

  2. I personally believe that 9-11 billions for 36 Rafales is lot of useless waste of money. Wasting 45 plus billions on mirage upgrades is again wasteful.i would go for EL 2052 radar for tejas as well as mirage upgrades.i would drop the meteor and MiCA missiles and go with Python 5 And Astra missiles. I would give some money upfront to Israel to increase the wattage of EL 2052 radar and some new features to be added to the. Present radar.i would rather buy few F 35 of the shelf which would o for full production from 2018 and would be way cheaper to maintain then Rafale and would be costing significantly less than Rafale and with excellent sensor fusion is a generation ahead of Rafale. Anyway there is no technology transfer with Rafale.i strongly believe there is no point in paying 4 billion upfront to Russia for PAKFA as they do not have the fifth generation technology and their engine technology is obsolete and there would be zero transfer of technology. Russians are known to increase the price significantly of their planes as well as spares and spare availability is always a problem. Just triplicate the production lines of the tejas and start manufacturing it Nasik as SU 30 kits be kept as spare parts. The production has to be atleast 50 planes per year as India needs atleast 500 tejas planes and one F 35accompaning 5-6 tejas would be a deadly cocktail and F 35 can use to silent mode and help tejas in painting the targets. The crew must be trained to get tejas ready for flight in less than 15 minutes and change the pilots and have high softie rate. Devlop twin engined tejas with longer range and more payload and devlop the AMCA so that finally IAF is limited few types of planes with very high indigenous content so that maintanence and up gradation can easily be done. The leadership has to take few bitter decisions and say Au revoir to Rafale as it is criminal waste of money to buy these planes.equally criminal to upgrade mirages at extremely high costs. The tejas MK 1A would e game changer and fit GE 414 engine and carry atleast 5 K liters of fuel and so range and length of flying can be increased. All the 43 changes be implimented and some guys have to burn midnight oil and this would change the future of Indian Air Force for ever.


  3. Our armed forces have been static.
    Some points you state are valid. It would be better to reduce the number of tanks dramatically while improving their quality & availability.
    The artillery : tube, mortars & guns need to increase . Mobility needs to improve. Infantry needs to be much better equipped & protected (very important).
    The army must not allow the enemy even close it's line of defences !
    Airforce too needs to learn from US. Have fewer varieties. Have fewer numbers. More lethal stand off weapons. More AWACS & Elnit.

  4. very aptly put. our thinking must change.outdated doctrines meant for the old world wars have to be updated.Shri Modi has given a broad hint on the way forward.It is upto our service chiefs to think out and implement new strategies.firstly the unnecesaary DRDO establishments should be downgraded and abolished.
    similarly each and every unit up from the old INFANTRY SECTION to the INFANTRY DIVISION must be evaluated threadbare and harsh realistic decisions taken on Reorganisation of the same. A study may be carried out by the CDM for this.There is no end to the suggestions that can be given.But at least a start should be made.

  5. I would not be so quick to criticize The Armed forces Top Brass, there must be another side of the story as well. If anybody would open the files at MOD it would be a goldmine of Revolution of Military affairs in them.

    To be fair, The Military is digitizing and developing battle field management system and Battle field communication system. It has developed and is implementing on its Field Artillery Rationalization Plan (FARP). It has changed its Soldier Recruitment policy (online recruitment vs inherently disorganised recruitment rallies) to increase quality of recruit intake.
    IAF has been working on a Network centric based warfare management system as well.

    I think years of Counter Infiltration, counter terrorism and internal security duties have taken its toll on the thinking of Armed forces Top Brass , politicians, veterans and even strategic thinkers and excellent defence journalists (including the respected author of broadsword whose view points I respect and many times agree).

    In my humble inexperienced albiet raw opinion, I would like to retouch the subject on the division of labor.

    It is the Job of the Armed forces, to fight wars with external enemies, to punish external entities, to attack and counter attack, they are essentially offensive organisations.Hence the service age profile, is young and with youth aggressiveness is natural.RAW should be the feeder organization for Armed forces. They are meant to promote insecurity in the enemy's land.

    Internal security, border management, counter terrorism are law and order problems originally tasked under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Home affairs is now commonly called Homeland Security. It comes under the responsibility of Central Armed Police Forces. Here, the age profile is required to be older due to the sensitivities involved. These organizations are defensive in nature. They maintain the status quo by reacting to any anomalies. Which is why it makes a very good case for older soldiers to be transferred to CAPFs once their armed forces careers are over. Older experienced soldiers would have parenting experience and inherently will show greater restraint (avoiding excessive force)

    The fact that CAPFs have fallen woefully short of the challenges they are provided, Armed forces had to take over. Therefore, counter terror or stability or peace is not a bench mark by which Armed Forces must be judged.

    Armed forces must be employed and judged on effects on enemy countries. This will even allow for a Manpower intensive CAPF and a Firepower intensive Armed forces. It will professionalize State police who may be deputed to CAPFs and are exposed to an exmilitary dominated CAPF work culture and professionalism.


  6. Jean Luc,

    You're assuming there is another side on record and if only we knew what it is, we would perhaps not blame the military.

    First, the senior brass does not communicate on paper. Nor does it have reasoned policy and analytical debates amongst itself. Nor does it think ahead, or think of the military as one system. Its as guilty of ad hoc thinking as the rest of us Indians are.

    Second, there is no doubt that the military has suffered at the hands of politicians and MOD bureaucrats. But the military chooses to stew in resentment, when it should do everything possible to advocate for itself. Some one has to be the adult in the room. Its not going to the politicos or the MOD civilians. The responsibility devolves to the military. Yet advocating for itself would mean making carefully analyzed, coherent plans at the micro and macro levels. Except the military cannot do that because it requires too much thinking.

    Our senior military are careerists (much as the US military since 1965, one reason US has lost so many wars since then). They are not prepared to risk their paychecks/perks by standing on principle to make sure the military is properly funded and run.

    I've been gone for 26 years. But everywhere I read how Indians are breaking out of old, passive ways of thinking and forging forward with new ideas, new determination, new realizations that only we can make the change we want, no one is going to give it to us. Hopefully this way of thinking will one day take root in the military too.


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