The Indian Army in 2020

 Gen S PadmanabhanNational Security, is that ambience, in which a nation is able to protect and  promote its national values, pursue its national interests and aspirations, in spite of, or, in the absence of, external or internal threats, real or perceived. Threats to national security may impact on any aspect of a nation’s life, ranging from its territorial integrity and internal cohesion to  its economy, political structures and institutions, diplomacy, national leadership, national character, morale and so on. The armed forces of a nation have a vital role to play in meeting these threats. India’s national interests, simply stated, are as follows :

  • National sovereignty.
  • Unity and integrity of the country.
  • Democratic and secular polity.
  • Economic development.
  • Social and economic justice.
  • Favourable world order.
  • Preservation and promotion of our values.

Our Strategic Vision

Nations adopt a national strategy in order to attain their national interests or goals. Clarity of strategic vision is very important if the national strategy is to take the nation on an optimal course to its desired national objectives. Let us, briefly, examine our strategic vision.  We are one of the oldest civilizations on Earth. Nearly, a sixth of the human race is Indian. Our country occupies a strategic location on the southern promontory of the Asian land mass and dominates large expanses of the Indian Ocean including the routes to the oil rich Gulf region, South East Asia and the Orient. These intrinsic attributes qualify, indeed demand, that India be a major player at the world stage. By tradition, India has been a peace-loving and responsible nation. It has abjured aggression, espoused the doctrine of ‘Ahimsa’ or non-violence, led the non-aligned group of nations and played a constructive role as a member of the United Nations. This tradition clearly suggests that India should aspire to become a benign and moral superpower, rather than one, whose brute strength or wealth alone, confer on it, its place under the sun. Any examination of our strategic environment must be carried out against the backdrop of our strategic vision and the long term plans and strategies needed to realise that vision. By such an examination, we shall be able to predict the strategic environment of the decades ahead, and arrive at the appropriate force structure and equipment profile for our Army of the future.

The aim of this article is to visualise the likely national security environment in 2020 with special reference to the threats and challenges that may confront us at that time, and arrive at the most appropriate force structure and equipment profile for the Indian Army of 2020.While the focus in this article is on the Army, it must not be construed that the Army can fulfill its missions without the active partnership of the Navy and the Air Force. Joint, or preferably, integrated tri-service functioning in war and peace will be an essential pre-requisite for success in all our operations.With this background, let us examine the geo-strategic environment we might face in 2020.

The Geo-Strategic Environment

Two major events, roughly a decade apart, have played a major role in shaping the current geo-strategic environment. The first being the demise of the Soviet Union. It brought the Cold War to an end, and conferred on the USA, an unchallenged pre-eminence in the world as the sole superpower. The second was the ‘9-11 Event’ – the 11th September 2001 terrorist attacks on targets in Washington DC and New York. This impelled the USA to declare ‘War on Terrorism’, and attack Afghanistan and Iraq with a ‘coalition of like-minded countries’, with the purpose of ousting their regimes, which were sponsors of terrorist groups like Al Quaeda and were hostile to the USA. The USA believed that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).The impact of these two events are now being clearly felt in international affairs and by all indications, appear to be long lasting.

We need to take note of the following major ramifications, which are specially relevant to India. The USA has become hegemonic. Her style of diplomacy is increasingly becoming peremptory and coercive. The UN has been sidelined by the USA, which, acts at will, ignoring the need for UN’s sanction. The USA has adopted the doctrine of ‘Preemptive Military Intervention’. In consonance with this doctrine – threats, whether real and present or, perceived, are not allowed to mature, by use of military force. The USA has drawn a list of countries, which are ‘of concern’ to it. Of these, it has dealt with Afghanistan and Iraq. North Korea and Iran await similar treatment by the superpower.

Recently, India has voted in favour of a USA backed resolution against Iran possibly to secure military materials, nuclear technology and fuel for civilian purposes. China is neither amenable to coercion nor susceptible to being ‘contained’. Besides, because North Korea is a protégé of China, the latter has a major role in USA’s dealings with that country. The USA has also economically engaged China, as it provides a large market for US manufactured goods. The USA believes too, that as the USA-China trade gets increasingly intertwined, the likelihood of an armed conflict between the two will correspondingly reduce.The European Union, despite reservations on the part of some constituents, is for purposes of realpolitik pro-USA. Russia, because of her present economic debility, is supporting the USA or, at least, not opposing her. It may become more independent in its attitude as its economy recovers, a process that has already begun.

Pakistan is a ‘major non-NATO ally’ of the USA and also its frontline state for the ‘War on Terrorism’. The US has troops and aircraft on Pakistan’s soil.  It has been permitted to set up bases in return for huge subventions and to bail out Pakistan from the brink of a near-collapse economic situation. In effect, Pakistan has become a client state of the USA with a less than independent foreign policy.

Terrorism, religious  fundamentalism, nuclear and missile technology proliferation are pressing concerns for the US. It believes that these could ultimately pose danger to its ‘homeland’, something about which the USA is hypersensitive, or, even paranoid.These are some of the ramifications of the two events i.e. the Soviet collapse and the 9/11 event, which shall continue to influence international relations in the next two decades or more.

However, by 2020, some changes would have taken place with regard to the circumstances of the world’s principal nations. These are enumerated as follows. The USA will continue to be the preeminent power. Nevertheless, her ‘edge’ over China would have reduced to a small margin.  China would be increasingly inclined to join issue with the USA, taking into account its envisaged near-superpower status. However, she would not risk her new found prosperity by being over-assertive with the USA and thus risk war. India would have caught up with China and achieved parity with China in many areas, but not military. Pakistan will continue to be the USA’s client state, and in case the latter so presses, she may even enter into a comprehensive peace agreement with India. Otherwise, Pakistan would prefer to keep tensions alive with India in order to extract concessions and benefits from both China and the USA who will want an economically resurgent India to be reined in.

The USA’s ‘War on Terrorism’ may prove to be endless as, though the enemy has been rightly identified, the means being applied are all wrong, indeed, self-defeating. Radical religion will pose problems for the entire world as such. As radicalism flourishes in less developed countries, by 2020, there would also be a large number of very poor countries with radicalism well entrenched.After this brief estimate of the geo-strategic environment in, 2020, let us turn to India’s internal security environment.

India’s Internal Security Environment in 2020

India is a rapidly developing country with a GDP growth of seven percent.  It has a huge reserve of technical manpower and strong liberal political culture, a youthful population more than half of which will be below 30 years of age in 2020.  It also has strong and apolitical armed forces. Our present concerns, which may persist in future are as follow. The present rate of population growth is 1.6 percent. It is imperative to bring it down to one percent by 2020-2025.The political culture in the country has deteriorated over the years. Communalism, sectarianism, regional parochialism, and sub-nationalism are on the rise. There is growing criminalisation of politics and a culture of ‘vote banks’ has taken root. Politicisation of the bureaucracy and the police, is well-established.

The Armed Forces have, so far, been able to remain insulated from politics. Unless these evils are overcome, in 2020, we may have a nation whose internal security environment will be extremely unhealthy. Distributive justice with regard to sharing of revenues and the fruits of development is an imperative, if radical left movements, currently active in the country, are to be eliminated by 2015 or so.  The separatist movements in the North-East and J & K must be amicably resolved.

Black money and drug trafficking must be put to an end as they not only ruin the economy but also corrupt the youth.Attention to the above areas of concern will enable India to achieve desired internal security by 2020. Let us now identify the threats and challenges India is likely to face in 2020.

Threats and Challenges to India in 2020

India is not likely to face a military threat from the USA or China because of its strength, both military and economic. A medium level military threat may arise from Pakistan if it fails to make adequate economic and political progress, or, its leadership passes to radical elements, or, the country as such, fails and lapses into a state of anarchy. Bangladesh may pose a very low level  threat if it decides to encourage demographic ‘aggression’ by using its over-sized armed  forces in support. Threats of non-state groups armed with WMD could become a reality. They could be acting on their own initiative or, at the behest of a sponsor nation. This dimension of WMD would warrant war-like response from us. 

Apart from military threats, a number of non-military challenges may have to be faced by our Army in the 2020 time frame. These are as follows. Human resources of appropriate quality may get drawn to the more lucrative civilian sector. The terms and conditions of service and satisfaction levels of personnel, must be made more attractive. We should also enroll more short service personnel than regular cadres to reduce pension liabilities and for better career management of officers. Funds allotted to the Armed Forces should be sustained at a level of three per cent of GDP for at least 12 to 15 years so as to ensure requisite modernisation and making good existing shortfalls.

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) must be upgraded qualitatively and top quality scientists should be inducted into it. Rightfully, their expectations of pay and research facilities will be high. These must be met. Private sector participation in defence R & D and development of complete systems by them, must be facilitated. Government should fund their defence research projects and give them guarantees of sizeable orders to encourage their partnership with the DRDO.

Scientific and technical manpower will be eagerly sought by other countries. To overcome this ‘brain-drain’, we should improve the working conditions and research facilities in our country. The IT driven revolution in military affairs requires that the Army ‘manages’ these changes in a systematic and smooth manner. We need to create an integrated force working  in an ‘unified battle space’; seamless communications; extensive exploitation of IT with excellent ‘cyber security’; top quality space based and terrestrial surveillance systems and fully operationalised C4I2 systems. This convergence of various technologies and capabilities will bestow the forces with much enhanced force-multiplier benefits through Network Centric Warfare (NCW). We have a long way to go in this regard. Internal contingencies of various types could retard or block the Army’s effort to achieve optimal development in the next 15 years. We need to be prepared with suitable contingency plans to overcome these ‘drag’ factors.                    

In the unlikely event of our prognosis being grossly in error, the following extreme contingencies could occur.   The USA, in a bid to prevent China from superseding her as the superpower, provokes China to a war with possible use of nuclear weapons. China, in frustration with the US-India Axis and to teach India a lesson, may declare war on us. Pakistan may join China in the war against India, or, allow to be used as a proxy to support China in a ‘holding’ mode.

Nature of Warfare in 2020

We have already seen that war with the USA and China (and, indeed, other advanced countries) is most unlikely. War with Pakistan may however occur, as also minor skirmishes with Bangladesh. Such engagements may have the following characteristics. They will be of short duration, say, a week or less. Penetration in depth is unlikely to be attempted by either side. ‘Cold Start’ will be attempted whenever possible to achieve surprise and maximise gains. The entire border is likely to be activated with shallow thrusts, very heavy firepower and short span manoeuvres. Nuclear weapons may not be used; their use may, however, be threatened. Special Forces and coup-de-main forces will play a major role. Integrated action by all three services will be crucial for the enhancement of our combat power vis-à-vis the adversary’s. Levels of technology employed in the wars will be higher than at present. Wars will end in stalemate, with little or no gain, and heavy losses to military as well as civilian targets. In the case of Bangladesh, the threat is of such a low level as to be non-serious. However in the skirmishing, the danger of casualties to unarmed civilians will be great and will need to be handled with firmness and imagination.

Indian Army: 2020 

The foregoing threat assessment and the likely nature of any future war we may be required to fight, including the extreme contingencies we have listed, should give us the ‘Vision’ of the Indian Army, 2020. We may state this vision as follows: -“The Indian Army, 2020 will be an optimally equipped and weaponised force, with the capability to operate effectively in an integrated joint services environment, over the entire spectrum of conflict, in a regional context.”    The vision statement spelt out above, is appropriate to the restrained aspirations of this huge and benign country, whose ethical values and traditions inhibit it from anything less modest than what has been stated. It also ensures that this country shall never again have to undergo the humiliation of foreign conquest, as in the past; hence the emphasis on optimal strength, under all conditions of warfare.

Role of the Indian Army Armies are maintained by countries in order to safeguard their core values and national interests from external aggression and internal subversion. The Primary and Secondary roles of our Army are as under.   

Primary Role. Deter external aggression and, if deterrence fails, defeat it by force.

Secondary Role. Assist the Government in overcoming internal threats, foreign sponsored or indigenous, and aid the civil authority when requisitioned for the purpose.

Capabilities Entailed by the Role

The capabilities that the Army must posses to fulfill its role must be identified in accordance with our ‘Vision’ for the Army. The capabilities, thus identified are as under.

Deterrent Capability.   The Army should be so strong in both conventional and nuclear weapons, that potential aggressors are deterred.

War Fighting Capability. If deterrence fails, the Army should be able to fight a successful war against the enemy, over any terrain, and in conventional as well as NBC warfare situations.

Internal Security Management Capability. The Army should be able to deal with and manage internal security situations of various types like insurgency, grave law and order situations; and also render aid to civil power, when requisitioned under various situations including disasters, both natural and man-made.

Force Projection Capability. The Army should be capable of operating ‘out-of-area’ as part of an integrated task force, when ordered by the Government.

Peace Keeping Operations Capability. The Army should be able to undertake UN Peace Keeping Missions in any part of the world and inter-operate with Army components of other countries in such operations.   Though we presently posses all these capabilities in some measure, the desired level is yet to be realised in many areas. Resource inadequacy, lack of clear policy directions from the Government, frequent ‘re-thinks’ on the part of the Army, failure of timely supplies of material and shoddy quality of what has been supplied, are some of the reasons attributable to the Army’s inability to achieve and retain the desired level of capability at all times. Perhaps, even more important reason, is the knowledge driven Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), which accelerates the process of obsolescence of equipment, doctrines and tactics. It is in this critical area of RMA that a lot of work needs to be done so that we can have adequate levels of the desired capabilities, at all times.Let us now examine whether the present structure of the Army needs to be altered to enable the Army to fulfill its assigned role better.

Structure of the Army : 2020

It is idle to claim that our organisations have ‘stood the test of time and war’ and, therefore, need not be tampered with. The nature of wars we are likely to face has changed. The battle zone is virtually transparent to surveillance devices. The range and lethality of weapons has increased many times over. Precision guided munitions have replaced the old area-neutralisation munitions. Means of mobility have increased. And the convergence of Information Technology, computers, all-weather sensors, communications and firepower resources has vested commanders at various levels, with unprecedented real-time knowledge of the situation as also the ability to alter it at will. These developments necessitate a review of our existing force structure.

Macro-level Restructuring

The Army has always been regretting the blunting of the ‘Combat Edge’ it had over its traditional adversary. The calculation of force ratios between the adversaries was hitherto done on a service to service basis - our Army versus the opponent’s, our Navy and Air Force versus the opponent’s. This gave us a skewed idea of the capability of our armed forces as a whole vis-à-vis our adversary. Wars are not fought service wise. All the services have to join during combat. In such a milieu, the three services should be integrated into one strong unified force with – unity of command and control, total synergy in operations, and much superior and economical employment of the resources available to the armed forces. There is bound to be great opposition to this idea, just as in the case of formation of the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) in 2001-2002. There is no escaping the military logic of creating suitably constituted integrated theatre commands and functional (non-territorial) commands for the Armed Forces as a whole. The benefits that will accrue are : cohesion among the services, synergy leading to maximisation of combat power, better exploitation of the RMA brought about by C4I2 enabling Network Centric Warfare (NCW), strategic and intra- theatre flexibility in handling of resources and, above all, classic unity of effort. No specific solutions are offered for the creation of such integrated theatre commands. If the idea suggested above raises discussion on this important issue, our aim would have been achieved. Hopefully, this idea too, is NOT put into cold storage like the creation of the post of Chief of the Defence Staff!