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Time for upgrade

Since Independence, the military has remained at the forefront of dealing with the changing character of conflict both along as well as within India’s borders. The worsening security situation today is a strategic reality. In this context, providing internal security, supporting humanitarian missions in India and abroad, and providing conditions of stability along the borders are essential for the country to grow and realise its destiny. While riveted on the above, the military has to constantly focus on its size, equipment, and operational structures to remain an agile, efficient, and smart force capable of meeting present-day challenges and undertaking the full spectrum of operations. The question is, how can it be done?

Organisational change

Though modernisation of the military is regularly discussed, intellectual and organisational change, which should support it, is not even mentioned. Should this not precede material change?

A Group of Ministers (GoM) had been set up in April 2000 to review the national security system to consider the recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee and formulate specific proposals for implementation. In a report titled “Reforming the National Security System”, the GoM observed: “... far-reaching changes in the structures, processes and procedures in [the] defence management world will be required to make the system more efficient, resilient and responsive. This will ensure maximisation of our defence capabilities through the optimal utilisation of our resources, potential and establishment of synergy among the Armed Forces.”

Under the present structure, military advice received by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is fragmented and from multiple points. What is absent are the benefits of holistic military assessment and estimates, appraisal of multiple options, cogent single-point advice based on optimised pay-offs and preparation of the military from the ownership perspective by the MoD instead of by the Services.

Efficiency in higher control structures will not bear fruit unless radical reforms are brought about in the management of the MoD. Higher political leadership requires briefing on the military implications of decisions and policies. But at the moment, these are neither appreciated nor processed with the deep and holistic understanding that they deserve. What emerges as an outcome is a “we shall do with what we have” attitude. The difference here is that ‘doing’ is about winning and that too without a replay.

While addressing the Combined Commanders Conference in Dehradun recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought urgent and tangible progress in establishing the right structures for higher defence management. He felt the need for an appropriate civil-military balance in decision-making given India’s complex security management.

Leadership structure

The justification for appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has primarily been to provide single-point military advice to the government. At the moment, each of the service chiefs provides military advice to the civil-political executive, all independent of one another.

The CDS and his control structures through a strategic vision are expected to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning process and ensure the required jointness is achieved in execution through theatre commands against a nuclear backdrop.

While these remain the cardinal justifications to appoint a Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (PC-COSC), as well, the operational responsibility over forces is to get excluded in its implementation. Service chiefs would continue to advise the Defence Minister on command matters concerning their forces, whenever necessary. While the former is desirable, the latter is easily implementable. The choices the government makes will reflect on its resolve.

As was also envisaged and clearly articulated in the GoM report, the Defence Secretary would function as the Principal Defence Adviser to the Defence Minister in a manner similar to the role to be performed by the CDS/PC-COSC as the Principal Military Adviser, with both enjoying an equal status in terms of their working relationship.

Such a structure is expected to provide a politico-military decision-making authority with a sophisticated crisis management procedure. This would systemically enable implementation of a proactive doctrine against Pakistan, and help cope with China’s conventional and asymmetric capabilities. More effectively, its scope will allow benefits for dealing with hybrid threats and periodic transgressions extending to limited localised operations more effectively.

The CDS/PC-COSC would require support from a restructured Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), empowered through appropriate amendments in the Allocation and Transaction of Business Rules and other regulations to reflect new responsibilities. Similarly, a human resources policy of reward and reprimand will need to be recalibrated to support new realities. Failing this, the current lack of authority of an IDS, in spite of institutionalising of the post, will remain.

Therefore, if there is a genuine will to develop a joint capability under conditions of austerity to deal with the various capabilities of our adversaries in a holistic manner, then that time for reform is now. Otherwise, we will continue to merely arm but without an aim.

Lt. General Anil Chait is the former Central Army Commander who retired as Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 10:56:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Time-for-upgrade/article17242981.ece

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