At the core of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Bipin Rawat’s statements on making India more self-reliant in defence lay India’s resource crunch. An old issue, now aggravated by Covid-19. And the essence of Gen Rawat’s solution to the problem was indigenisation and self-reliance, in the spirit of slogans like Make in India. An absolutely honourable aim, this.
It is important for all arms of the government to align doctrinally and functionally, ever ready to make adjustments for the collective good. Intelligent leaders know this well. Admiral John Fisher, who was Britain’s Navy Chief from 1904 to 1910 is a great example. He was a brilliant man, who understood the strengths of technology, the buzz word of the Industrial Revolution then raging in Britain. He clearly saw war clouds on the horizon, which many political leaders failed to see.
The rare ones who saw the war clouds, wished war away, or hoped to prevent war through diplomacy. But Fischer knew that as the Navy chief, he would be the one explaining if Britain lost a war at sea. No politician was going to be take any responsibility. He had a definite plan to make his Navy the world’s best, through a force building programme centred on a new class of ship, the Dreadnaught. But the money available was not enough.
He, therefore, did something that made him a darling of the Parliament. He announced a series of measures to downsize and cut costs. This shocked his own service. However, he gained the confidence of the political establishment, got the money he wanted, built his Navy, and with some luck and plenty of help from the US, won the war. This victory was especially tough, as Britain had got used to a hundred years of peace, thus forgetting war.
Gen Rawat’s announcements may be best seen in this light. As CDS, Gen Rawat is saying the right things, with good intentions. However, unlike Fisher, Gen Rawat does not have a world class industrial complex, with great technology and surge capacity. So, we have to be careful while interpreting Gen Rawat’s words. Especially when luminaries interpret, because when they interpret, at times with subtle word play, they are, in addition to endorsing the General’s views, also opening up avoidable discussions that can cast unnecessary shadows.
Therefore, this response. War-Mongering Generals and Former Faujis
The military clearly understands that its job is to deter war. Therefore, there is no constituency of ‘angry pro-war generals (and ex-faujis)’. Some veterans who scream on TV for war are mercenaries, doing it for the money they get for their ranting. They do not reflect the thinking of those serving at any level.
In fact, for the majority, they are an embarrassment. The military man is a professional. He doesn’t hate his enemy. He respects him. It is only then, that he can defeat him. Further, deterrence is achieved only through credible capabilities by way of equipment, training, command and control structures, infrastructure, and high morale.
The professional soldier aims for these, to deter war. Disillusionment with Defence Budget The military leadership clearly understands the myriad requirements of India where money available must go. In the 73 years since Independence, they have gained adequate institutional knowledge to expect any defence budget above a certain level. However, they would be failing in their duty if they don’t constantly evaluate potential enemies and project operational and other requirements to mitigate the threat.
Further, militaries don’t go to war. Countries go to war. Countries go to war only as a last resort, when all other methods available across the diplomatic spectrum have proved futile and the country would still like to attain whatever national aim it had set out to achieve. So, use of the available money to strengthen the various elements of national power like the economy, industry, human resources, agriculture, infrastructure, technology are more than welcome for the military leadership. So, to say that they are disillusioned because of inadequate defence budget, is uncharitable.
Dependence on Imports Militaries are complex mechanisms which take time to build. Once committed on a force structure, the supporting elements from training to infrastructure are put in place over a period of time. While it is possible to review force creation yet to start, going back on what is in progress, is senseless. Even tweaking what is in progress, is a costly affair. That is why careful planning, approvals and commitment on expenditure are necessary for force building. In this process, import has remained a major option, only because indigenous industry has failed to develop the necessary capabilities.
The reasons for this failure can be debated. But not the truth of it. Exaggeration of Operational Needs Bhadrakumar’s endorsement of Gen Rawat’s advice that ‘the operational requirements of the armed forces should not be “misrepresented”, which Bhadrakumar prefers to change to “exaggerated”, is the endorsement of a debatable opinion. By further adding slightly on to Gen Rawat’s words that “India’s defence strategy is (strictly) limited to defending the country’s borders and dominating the Indian Ocean Region” he obliquely conveys that the requirements of India’s armed forces have been small, thus not justifying the imports sought. Surely, ‘defending the country’s borders and dominating the Indian Ocean Region’, is easier said than done. Borders exist only on land.
Defending our 15200 km land border, most of which we share with either Pakistan or China, through all kind of weather, terrain or enemy action, is a gargantuan task. Moreover, the ‘border’ is not a goalpost manned by a goalkeeper. The Army’s job is not just to defend, but also to offend, to enter enemy territory, and to make gains, for use later at the negotiating table. Dominating the Indian Ocean, is even tougher. While land borders clearly indicate where the enemy can or cannot not be, the situation at sea is different.
Here, the enemy could be all around, as there are no borders at sea. Since waters can bring enemy from any distance or direction, warfare at sea is a perennial effort at surveillance, of a large part of the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, and being present in many parts of this vast area, so that military pressure could be brought to bear on inimical activity early on, well away from our maritime assets. This surveillance, on the surface, in the air and under the sea, is a tough effort that needs serious capabilities, as lucidly stated in India’s Maritime Security Strategy, (IMSS 2015) a Naval Headquarters publication of 2015.
In the absence of an approved National Security Strategy Document for guidance, individual services are forced to do stand-alone thinking, produce their own documents and follow them. Imitating Foreign SQRs Having worked in the area of generating Staff Qualitative Requirements at NHQ, I personally know the process. Here again, endorsement of what Gen Rawat termed as “unrealistic”, is not correct. SQRs are not made imitating advanced countries. SQRs are made after a careful process of evaluating the threat, and figuring out the necessary level of mitigation, in time, space and intensity. Realistically, from both our potential adversaries, we are up against mostly Chinese weapon and sensor technology, which even the US takes seriously.
The dilemma faced by the Pivot Asia policy of the US, when confronted by China’s A2/AD is not a phenomenon of the distant past. China’s muscular policies in the South China Sea and elsewhere in the world, despite opposition from US and her allies, is indicative of China’s resolve, which probably stems from their confidence in their arsenal and associated systems. We are also up against this. Hence, it is important to acquire technologies and systems that defeat what is arrayed against us. If it is not available in India, then it has to be acquired from elsewhere. Or else, at the highest level we must accept dents in our capabilities.
Not a prudent idea, as a smart enemy would attack, exactly where we are weak, and the Armed Forces, would be the ones, answering questions. Cold Start & Two-Front War Cold Start, a war doctrine aimed at punishing Pakistan without risking a nuclear clash, is a practical option for India, and Gen Rawat himself has on record acknowledged its existence a few years ago. It has everything to do with speed and resolve and nothing to do with type of equipment available, imported or indigenous. Nothing in Gen Rawat’s words conveys any scrapping of this doctrine. As for a two-front war, it is, the worst military situation for us and hence, what we must prepare for.
Nothing has changed materially to discard this possibility, and Gen Rawat’s words don’t lead to any such conclusion. India-US Strategic Friendship While this 15-year-old ‘friendship’ has ‘strengthened’ in bits and spurts, opportunities to review the dependence we must place on this, keep presenting themselves periodically. However, to me, we have not reached a stage where there is an “obsessive drive to attain interoperability between the Indian and US militaries”, as opined by the author. India’s age-old penchant for unpredictability in big-ticket procurement or choosing alliances and friendships based on the need of the hour, are very much there on regular display.
Even the US, knowing our record well, will realise that they may never come anywhere near “dominating the Indian bureaucracy — civilian and military alike”, major defence partner or not. Moreover, the insinuation that the military and the bureaucracy has been bought over cheap, with avenues for personal aggrandisement thrown in, is an overkill. The military, with its deep sense of honour, is not there to be bought off, en masse. The bureaucracy too, may not be very different. And the government is not likely to face any war of attrition from “the Indian civilian and military bureaucracy and other entrenched interest groups”. Gen Rawat’s declared stand proves exactly this. Two Carrier-Based Fleets One fleet each, with its own aircraft carrier on the West and East coasts of India, has been a part of our approved force structure from the first decade after Independence.
As war at sea involves all three mediums, the availability of air power at least for air defence and anti-submarine warfare is an absolute necessity. Warships made out of iron and operating in a salt filled medium, are maintenance intensive. Consequently, they spend a third of their life in refit. The need for a third aircraft carrier is therefore elementary. This is especially relevant with the ever increasing Chinese and Pakistani focus on submarine warfare. While geographical and fiscal realities rule out carrier borne air power for Pakistan, it is not so for the Chinese. Their carrier strength is steadily increasing. Navies do not have to be expeditionary, to need integral air power.
It is basic prudence in maritime warfare. Even Britain is getting back into the world of carriers, after long. To say that our Navy covets three carriers because the US Navy has ‘seven’, is not charitable. As for submarines, yes, India needs more of them too. So, how do we get all these with our limited resources? It is possible, with a systematic, top down approach, with the birth of a National Security Strategy Document as the start point.
Grace Having a strong military has always been an expensive proposition down history and national leaders who understood the need for strong militaries have always found innovative ways to possess them. Those who didn’t, bit the dust. This is even more stark for sea power, where the linkage with politics is dire and direct. A strong maritime power requires a good fighting Navy, a good merchant marine and good ports and associated policies. Five hundred years ago, India had a good merchant marine and excellent ports. But the absence of a fighting Navy condemned us to 450 years of foreign domination.
Today, while we have a good fighting Navy, we need to improve our ports and raise a good merchant marine. However, our Navy remains the ultimate hedge in projecting power beyond our waters, anywhere in the world. The prospect of China springing back early from the Covid-19 episode and the love that Pakistan displays for their nefarious activities even in these times of Covid-19, are good reasons for us to ensure that our focus on our own security doesn’t flag.
Gen Rawat’s statement, aligned with the stated policies of the government, is only an indicator of good intentions. At the end of the day, the three service chiefs have their job cut out. They have to ensure that the sword remains sharp.
Commodore G. Prakash, Nau Sena Medal, served the Indian Navy for 35 years. A specialist in aviation and anti-submarine warfare, he has held several command and staff appointments at sea and ashore. He has been a speaking and writing on military and strategic affairs for long. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org