Should one believe that the authorisation of equipment like tanks and aircrafts to Services is based on the minimum requirement for highest operational preparedness, one is in for a surprise. Going by the interview given by General Bipin Rawat, the recently appointed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to a media channel, it doesn’t appear to be so. Perpetual deficiency of equipment seems acceptable. He says:

“If you buy all the tanks that you require in the Indian Army, if you say, ‘I want to get a modern tank or a Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV), and if you buy them over the three years, it will reach obsolescence in the next 15 to 20 years…30 years from now at the same time. The overhaul that will be due will all come at the same time……..I am looking at guns and tanks that are to be brought in, go over an eight to nine-year cycle. If the overall time of a tank is 10 to 12 years, then you should be making 10 to 15 purchases of that equipment every year. So that 10 years down the line, 10 to 15 per cent goes in for overhaul and not the entire batch.”

Staggered purchase approach suggested compromises and accepts deficiencies in equipment to cater for overhauling and the equipment becoming obsolescent all in one go. The question is, considering the year on year reduced defence budget and the eternal deficiencies in the holdings of equipment, should the defence services accept staggered purchase and concede operational preparedness and further slide in the holding of equipment?

Or on the contrary, should a way be found to increase the overall facilities and a better procedure to procure weapons and equipment to be able to refurbish the Services in time?It would be desirable to create a permanent procurement agency with experts handling the entire process with the authority to call any expert for consultation with a mandate to maintain transparency and deliver by specified dates.

Incidentally, while the responsibility for laying down the priorities for purchase of equipment is that of the CDS, the responsibility for operational preparedness of forces in terms of maintaining the level of state of war like stores and equipment in a serviceable condition rests with the Service Chiefs and the Government. Is this variation suggested acceptable to the Service Chiefs?

Long winded procurement procedure and non-availability finances at the right time due to our system where in funds allotted for capital procurement lapses if not utilised before the end of financial year often results in procurement getting unduly delayed resulting in technology overtaking procurement in the Indian context. When procurement is staggered over a period of nine to ten years, would it not be necessary to go through the tendering process for capital procurement every time we go in for purchase of 10 to 15 pieces every year?

Would it not increase paper work and delay? What happens if the purchase gets struck in procedures and controversies as has been the case till now? What if equipment with better technology is available in the market with entirely different types of spares in the third or the fourth year of this staggered purchase process? Would that not create inventory management and maintenance problems?

The CDS says “the most important thing is see what you have in the budget, see what your priorities are and make sure that the three services move concurrently with modernisation. It is not lopsided modernisation, that is, one service going ahead leaving the other two services behind”. This raises some doubt on how we are going to decide on our priorities when we are dealing with integrated joint operations under informationised environment. An example at this point will be appropriate.

The ongoing operations with which the Indian Army is engaged today is the Counter Insurgency operations. These troops cannot be allowed to fight without their entitled protection gear besides the specialised weapons and equipment required for their operations without which there are chances of collateral damage and civilian casualties.

This requirement therefore takes priority over all other needs. The Navy is involved in Surveillance operations in the high seas and their requirements including the wherewithal required to act if required,need to be met in full. The requirement of troops managing the borders including in Siachen in terms of equipment and their needs for living and fighting in hostile terrain and weather conditions must be met.

Lastly but not the least, troops get a chance to stay with their families once in three years. At that time family accommodation must be made available to them. Presently accommodation is available only to a percentage of troops who are married. More about this later.

In an environment where the adversary has digitised the battlefield and has engineered a net-worked command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) and counter C4ISR capabilities with a network interlinking weapon systems, aerial platforms, surveillance, and communications systems, thus allowing the exchange of vast amounts of real-time information of the enemy and the capability to communicate that information to all forces in near real time, the first priority is to blind and isolate the enemy’s command and control structure and alternate structuresfrom his tools for war fighting at the right time.

The priority need therefore, is to create a robust and reliable counter C4ISR, space and cyberwarfare capabilities to deny him information. Capabilities to counter his communication and command and control system will have to be built in which will include hard options. Capabilities to cut off his lines of communication and isolate his troops will have to be created and rehearsed. This will to a large extent retard enemy’s operation and provide own forces the opportunity to take the battle forward to blunt his operations.

Air defence, missiles and other resources required for this phase will also be a part of this priority. Alongside this, we need to digitise our own environment and harden them to be able to take the war into enemy’s territory.

The next priority relates to our own counter offensive and actions to divert enemy attention and resources. In this the capabilities of all the forces will have to be utilised.

It will therefore be seen that in an integrated joint warfare in a digitised environment the priority for procurement will be entirely related to the way the operational commander visualises the operations to unfold and progress rather than anything to do with equitable distribution of capital budget or satisfying all the services by procuring something for everyone.

Infrastructure and Monetising Defence Land

The CDS has spoken extensively about mobilising resources for construction of married accommodation for Armed Forces, handing over small pockets of defence land to state governments, asking state governments to build married accommodation for jawans in lieu of land, consolidating ordinance depots atDehu Road and Mumbai into one etc. The following questions arise:

Funds are allotted by the Government to meet the requirements of married accommodation for Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), civil Police, intelligence agencies, civil services, Research and Development Organisations, Ordnance factories and the entire gamut of Government agencies. None of these agencies go around creating their own funds for constructing married accommodation for their personnel.

What is wrong with the Armed Forces that instead of concentrating on their profession they are trying to find finances for the married accommodation for their troops?

The Government must be allowed to do its job instead of the Military taking on the Government’s responsibilities.

• Today only a percentage of married accommodation has been constructed which is available for troops in their peace locations. Due to shortage, married accommodation is allotted to troops in rotation and as a result a soldier manages to get a maximum of a year’s stay with his family during his peace tenure after a three-year field tenure. One year with the family in six years. Where is the logic? Is it fair on the soldier, his wife or his children? It is therefore imperative that the Government takes a pledge to slowly build more married accommodation over a period of time and implement the resolve. Land will then be required for construction of married accommodation. Are we prepared to buy land then at the then prevailing market price? Military lands now being talked of as surplus and is being offered for sale to State Governments must be properly protected to prevent encroachment andutilised at the appropriate time for construction or exchange for suitable land.

• Sub-units are expected to move out at least once a year away from the parent unit and train as a sub-unit to perfect their battle drills. This will also give an opportunity to junior officers to train themselves. Today this is a neglected subject due to increased commitments. This must be reintroduced. The surplus land that is being talked about today must be utilised for such training purposes. Expediency should not give way to long term interests of the organisation. Monetising Defence land would be an unpardonable blunder.

• The CDS has talked about consolidating the depots at Dehu Road and Mumbai into one and exchanging the land now with the one that is obvious, for infrastructure. Mumbai is an attractive aerial target. Should we allow the entire ordnance material in the region to go up in flames should it be attacked? Imagine the number of vehicles that would line up in times of war for collection of stores and the huge target that they would present. Logistic prudence suggests maintaining two establishments for security reasons.

• Asking State Governments to construct houses for Jawans needs a careful examination. Army’s requirements especially security needs and proximity to unit lines are very different from those of civilian Government employees. The quality of accommodation constructed by State Governments and its agencies are also questionable. It is most likely, due to various reasons, a large percentage of funds allotted for construction of accommodation may not also be put to use for construction purposes.

• There is an acute shortage of Classification Ranges and Field Firing Ranges available to the Services. As a result, firing practices and Battle Inoculation has largely been ignored in the Services. Formations and units undertake a ‘yatra’ at huge cost to go all the way to those few available field firing ranges to carry out their training and that too for very limited time so as to give a chance to the rest of the units of the other formations. Has anyone come forward to allot land to the Services for these purposes?

Retirement Age and Pension

• The CDS has suggested increase in the retirement age of soldiers as a means to sustain the present level of Budget. It is only a miracle that can manage the present commitments of the Armed Forces and modernisation with the present budget. Increasing the age definitely cannot.

• Should the young and fit profile of the Army be altered for a few hundred crores and that too for a limited period? Why can’t the appointments that can accept retired soldiers be identified and the soldiers who are willing to serve beyond their retirement age be reemployed in those positions instead of altering the age profile of the entire Army? It is the young, bold and risk-taking soldiers of the Army who had won us the 1971 and Kargil wars and are fighting relentlessly in the Line of Control (LOC), Line of Actual Control (LAC) and counter-insurgency operations. Should we alter this?

• The talk of huge sums as pensions to Armed Forces personnel is misleading without clearly putting out the number of civilians who are being paid their salary including NFU and pensions in the name of Armed Forces personnel and the amount involved. The country is entitled to know the facts.

• It may also be suggested that it would not be fair for the CDS to cast aspersions on officers as being self-centered and not caring about the jawans as it is the young officers who have led these jawans and have delivered every time when the chips were down and the situation so demanded.

• Pension is paid not only to the personnel of the Armed Forces but to every Government employee on retirement. The only difference is the limited one time increase of a percentage as One Rank One Pension (OROP) to Armed Forces personnel to compensate them for early retirement and for the increased pay and allowances his civilian counterparts have received till the age of 60 and consequently increased pensions. This drastically increases the overall lifetime income of a civilian when compared to a soldier which adversely affects a soldier’s savings during his service and his ability to fund the education, marriage and health issues of his family members after his retirement. The Government doesn’t seem to have any problem with the payment of pensions to civil services, Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU), civil police or CAPF. Why is there a problem only when it comes to pension for Armed Forces personnel? The one time increase in the pension in the name of OROP is yet to be paid to Military Veterans as per orders issued. Why? Has any other service or its personnel including Parliamentarians given up a portion of their pension as against Government orders?

Requirement of Aircraft

Forty-two Squadrons have been authorised for Air Force. Shortage of aircraft affects training of Pilots. We need to go by the authorisation or review the authorisation rather than finding lame excuses to question the demand for making up deficiencies in aircraft. When we talk of a two-front war, the Service cannot be expected to produce result if they are not adequately equipped and trained.

The Government needs to realise the importance of Navy in the context of the Indian Ocean acquiring prominence as a part of the Indo-Pacific Region. Undoubtedly the Indian Navy requires three aircraft carriers to meet the challenge. To question the possible requirement of aircraft carriers ten years hence and to cite the lead time required to procure the equipment is a mere excuse. Do we wait for the threat to unravel itself before considering the purchase of the equipment? India is a peninsular country and India’s trade is largely dependent on the sea routes. This fact should be factored in, in all our calculations when it comes to Navy’s requirements.

World over CDS or his equivalent handles military operations. Unfortunately, CDS in India has been kept out of operations and has been tasked to head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), a newly created administrative department, a part of the Ministry of Defence. Consequently, he seems to be taking on issues like military owned lands, ordnance depots, age of retirement of army soldiers, procurement of war like stores and equipment for the three services which are in the domain of the Service Chiefs.

In the present context where Service Chiefs are responsible for military operations involving their own Service and are accountable, it may not be appropriate to talk of issues within their domain leaving no option to them to express their views and concerns.CDS does not command the Service Chiefs.

Similarly, in an environment where the Armed Forces have been kept out of the Pay Commissions, it may be prudent to allow the Government to handle Pay and Pension issues of the Services rather than the Services applying short cuts to mobilise resources.

Procurement of Military hardware is an expensive game. It is unfortunate that the country has not been able to develop indigenous production capabilities despite seven decades having gone by. It may therefore be necessary to consult experts with Consulting Agencies in the field, to work on this problem. With two hostile countries in the neighbourhood and the aspirations of the people to become one of the major powers in the world growing, we may have no option but to build military capacity. It is time the country decides as to what it wants to do rather than cribbing over issues like pensions to veterans and Defence Budget.

The way CDS has been structured at present, how in an integrated joint operation in a digitised environment, command and control during war fighting is going to be exercised by the Service Chiefs is a mystery. Hopefully to exercise command and control over the operations in their respective theaters, Theater Commands are being created. With the authority to exercise command and control of the services remaining with the respective service chiefs, are the Theater Commanders going to take orders from all the three Chiefs?

How will such an operation be integrated especially when time is at a premium? What if directions from the Service Chiefs are contradictory? It is time the Government studies the methods adopted by the other armies and have an informed debate to review the structures and define the channels of command and control besides specifying as to how the actions by the various services including cyber, special forces, space, Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) etc. are going to be integrated when speed is likely to become the battle winning factor.

Brigadier V Mahalingam (Retd), is a former commander of a Mountain Brigade and former Force Commander of the National Security Guard the country’s elite Counter-terrorism Force.

This article was first published in the Indian Defence Review