Foolish schemes will undermine our defense

Speaking to Rashtriya Raksha University last month, former army chief General MM Naravane said: “Whenever we talk about the armed forces, and whenever we talk about investments and of spending on the armed forces, we should see that as an investment – an investment that you get full returns on, and it shouldn’t be seen as a burden on the economy. He also mentioned that whenever he there was a national security crisis, the economy was suffering, and added: “avoiding such types of shock can only happen if the country’s armed forces are strong”. General Naravane’s words were a cry to the government to that he listens to the forces and stops pushing illogical projects without evaluation or consultation.

It is not the first time that the armed forces have worried about the lack of funding affecting capacity development, while fighting tooth and nail against the senseless projects pushed by the government. General Bipin Rawat said at a seminar in March 2018: “We need to establish and develop investor confidence that the country’s borders are secure and the internal security situation is under control, which requires a budget for the defense forces. The fact that development needs security should never be ignored.

Service HQs have been forced, due to a lack of funds, to use equipment that should have been abandoned decades ago, the MIG 21 aircraft and Cheetah helicopters being examples. Both have been mined beyond their lifespan but cannot be discarded as replacements are slow. Modernization continues at a stealthy pace.

As funds dwindle, threats increase. Recent reports mention the possibility of the Chinese PLA attempting further incursions. The armed forces remain on heightened alert along the northern borders. In Kashmir, intelligence information indicates that the POK launch pads are full of terrorists waiting to infiltrate. Our adversaries will always exploit the chinks in our armor.

There is a belief among policy makers in Delhi, cut off from reality, away from the armed forces and attuned to political leaders, that future wars would be fought in the gray zone. Operations, if any, would be limited in scope, potentially reducing manpower. This is based on the premise that possession of nuclear weapons will prevent any major conflict. Their main task remains to reduce the salaries and pensions component of the defense budget for which they keep inventing far-fetched plans.

The reality is that the gray zone war is perpetually ongoing. It would only become predominant when the adversary realizes that it is impossible to achieve the claimed goals through physical actions. While nuclear weapons can prevent large-scale operations, the fact remains that India will not resort to a nuclear threat in response to terrorist actions and creeping operations with limited objectives. This is what our adversaries have exploited.

Moreover, despite alliances and partnerships, the nation should manage its security problems alone. The most allies and partners would offer is sympathy and criticism of the adversary, neither of which impacts the battlefield. Therefore, our armed forces must possess capabilities to win wars when launched by the enemy and to deter his misadventure attempts by possessing the requisite power.

Power is a combination of capabilities, manpower and government policies. The government’s approval of countermeasures on both fronts blocked the adversaries’ misadventures. In a region where demands on India are territorial, holding ground is essential for deterrence and denial. Once seized by an opponent, regaining without escalation is difficult. This has been proven in Ladakh.

The government is responsible for ensuring that the armed forces possess the capabilities required to deter the enemy. As heads of democracy, chiefs would never accuse the government of not providing desired resources, although they may raise their concerns in discussions and debates. This was evident during the Kargil war, when army chief General Ved Malik said “we will fight with what we have”, aware that there were gaping gaps in capability, that Pakistan has exploited.

General Rawat said in an interview: “We have always been responsible for defending our borders. And when you have unstable borders in the north and west, you don’t know which side the battle will start and where it will end. So you need to be prepared on both fronts. While the armed forces mention two fronts, the government has a different perception. For years, the government perceived that diplomacy and trade would contain the Chinese threat, while the armed forces could manage Pakistan and the terrorist threat. This mistaken belief has led to low defense budgets.

Thus were born the Indochinese peaks.

However, diplomacy failed with Doklam and then with Ladakh. It continues to fail to push the Chinese to retreat to pre-April 2020 positions, placing the burden on the armed forces to keep them at bay. India’s recognition as a major global player is determined by its ability to thwart China’s offensive designs.

To achieve this, the armed forces need a trained and motivated workforce. Currently, there are multiple schemes pushed by protected bureaucratic elements, after obtaining the approval of the national leadership, without consulting the service HQs, to reduce the workforce as well as to reduce salaries and pensions by various schemes. While these may seem logical to a non-military mind, they have inherent shortcomings that impact defense preparedness for which the viewpoints of service HQs are paramount.

Currently, the forces are forced to counter what has been approved by the national leadership. This happens because the nation lacks a political-bureaucratic-military interface to jointly discuss suggestions before rushing them to the national leadership. This shortfall is due to the fact that the bureaucracy and the forces continue to be suspicious and play the game of one-upmanship.

Arbitrary decisions made by those unaware of operational realities degrade organizational effectiveness, not improve it. We have to rethink what we really need, an armed force capable of posing a threat to our adversaries or a force that is suppressed until it loses its teeth because of budgetary constraints and the far-fetched plans dreamed up by those who want to please their political masters. The government should realize that investing in military capabilities is not an expense but an insurance policy that protects the nation’s global position.

(The author is a retired Major General in the Indian Army.)

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