Indian Army paratroopers in a joint exercise with the US military. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Indian Army is all set to create new formations to fight wars with Pakistan and China. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Indian Army is carrying out a comprehensive exercise to restructure and modernize its force. From the few leaks and snippets available in the public domain, it appears that the exercise has three aims.

First, re-size the army so that flab is removed and operational capabilities increase. Second, enhance funds in the capital account for modernization by reducing expenditure under the budget’s revenue account (used for paying salaries and pensions). Third, carry out a cadre review that is long overdue, with a view to create more slots in successive higher ranks, so as to enhance pay and perks akin to their counterparts in the civil stream.

Linked to this are the aims to trim the army but have increased punch; save funds by pruning what is euphemistically called “The Tail” (still undefined and thus prone to various interpretations); and utilize savings for modernizing the military, which is also long overdue.

Many such exercises have been undertaken earlier, but when it came to implementation, nothing happened because hierarchies of the army and Ministry of Defense love the comfort of the status quo. A few changes made to tide over immediate challenges only scratched the surface, having no lasting effects.

Changes in force structure are necessitated by national interests and strategic imperatives, as well as changing threat assessments. Other factors are nuances of future battlefields; fiscal outlays; changes due to the nuclear dimension; and national aspirations. As an example, since protracted regional wars are unlikely, the restructuring should fit in with plans of time-bound and fast-moving operations, which will also keep the adversary politically destabilized and economically burdened.

Restructuring must be a balance between manpower, weapons and force-multipliers; within fiscal realities; and if budgets continue to be what they have been, the army would need to reduce manpower but increase combat potential with more modern weapons and equipment.

Restructuring organizations of units/formations is only one aspect. The
aim should be to optimize doctrines and concepts; restructure higher defense organization and the field force; manage high-grade internal conflicts; streamline logistics; and upgrade human-resources development.

This series of articles will confine itself to suggestions on restructuring of combat and combat support arms, as space does not permit delving into the aspects of logistics and human-resources development, which are equally important.

Important changes needed are a major doctrinal shift from “attrition” to
“maneuver,” with the aim of creating “strategic dislocation” and
psychological paralysis in the minds of enemy military commanders and political leaders. The essence of all operations must be proactive, bold and offensive. Force multipliers must be used for all operations, especially for enhancing mobility in obstacle-ridden terrain and in mountains.

Starting at the very top, India urgently needs an integrated Ministry of Defense, which is currently wholly staffed by generalists of the Indian Administrative Services, who have little or no knowledge of matters military. Procrastination of the government about appointing a chief of defense staff (CDS) and theater commands must end, so that joint, well-thought-out strategies and quick decisions emerge.

A major weakness of the Indian Army is its excessive focus at tactical levels resulting in maximum attention on the contact battle; focus on capture and re-capture of objectives; and isolated offensives resulting in lack of synergy.The requirement is to achieve concentration of force at decisive points.

At present, the army carries out planning at the corps level and implementation is left to lower levels, with the corps headquarters only dispensing resources and carrying out coordination. What is needed is to plan, conduct and synergize operations at corps level. This will lead to integrated employment of all resources and optimum exploitation of striking power.

With a view to playing a dominant and effective role in the expanded Southern Asian Region, limited force-projection capability is a must, as is capability for punitive response to provocations short of war. In its secondary role, the army should support counterinsurgency (CI) operations, but without diluting conventional capability. The mantra for this must be to carry out CI tasks and de-link fast, and not as it is at present, that is, prolonged deployments stretching over decades.

The pillars of India’s nuclear strategy must continue to be minimum strategic deterrence; enhanced missile capability; triad; transparent command and control structure; and credible retaliatory capability.

The army’s conceptual framework should be based on one-front scenarios; proactive strategy; maneuverability approach; focus on operational level of war; no tactical or logistics pauses; and simultaneity of operations.

(This is the first article of a two-part series on the proposed changes to modernize the Indian Army.)

The writer is a former Vice-Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army.

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