Indian Army & Operational Preparedness: Agenda for the New Chief

26 Aug, 2014    ·   4623

Brig (Retd) Gurmeet Kanwal says that General Dalbir Suhag’s highest priority must be to address the ‘critical hollowness’ in the army’s operational preparedness

On taking over as the COAS from General Bikram Singh, General Dalbir Singh Suhag said his priorities would be to “enhance operational preparedness and the effectiveness of the Indian Army.” He also said that force modernisation, infrastructure development, optimisation of human resources and the welfare of personnel are issues that are close to his heart.

In March 2012, General VK Singh, the then COAS, had written to the Prime Minister about “critical hollowness” in the army’s operational preparedness. He had pointed out large-scale deficiencies in weapons systems, ammunition and equipment in service in the army and the fact that many of the weapons and equipment were obsolete or bordering on obsolescence. In particular, he had brought out that the artillery and air defence arms needed the infusion of modern guns, missiles and radars and the aviation corps required new helicopters to replace the ageing fleet.

Two consecutive reports of the CAG of December 2011 and November 2012 brought out that the state of defence preparedness was a cause for serious anxiety. The Standing Committee on Defence (SCD) in Parliament has also noted these developments with concern several times. In an unprecedented move, the SCD insisted on meeting the three Chiefs to take stock of operational preparedness. The SCD has repeatedly urged the government to increase the defence budget to enable the armed forces to undertake meaningful modernisation.

Military modernisation has two major facets: the replacement of obsolete and obsolescent weapons and equipment with modern ones, which results in increasing combat effectiveness; and the qualitative upgradation of combat capabilities through the acquisition and induction of force multipliers. General Suhag, like his predecessors, faces a major dilemma: given small budgets, how can the army improve operational preparedness while simultaneously making concerted efforts to modernise? Logically, operational preparedness takes precedence over modernisation. The art of military leadership lies in finding an optimum balance so that all efforts that are made to enhance operational preparedness also contribute substantively to modernisation.

The most critical operational deficiency is the inadequacy of artillery firepower due to the obsolescence of guns and mortars. No modernisation has taken place since the Bofors 155mm howitzer was purchased from Sweden in the mid-1980s. The ‘night blindness’ of the army’s mechanised forces needs to be rectified immediately. The F-INSAS (future infantry soldier as a system) programme for the modernisation of infantry battalions must be implemented on an urgent basis.

Air defence guns and missiles and their radar systems are reported to be 97 per cent obsolescent. The Aviation Corps urgently needs 197 light helicopters. The old and inefficient intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition systems available today adversely impact command and control and ‘targeting’ during war. Hence, the C4I2SR system needs a complete overhaul. The logistics support system also needs to be revamped, with the concept of ‘just in time logistics’ being implemented.

The new COAS will preside over the modernisation process during the remaining three years of the 12th Defence Plan, including the raising of 17 Corps for employment on the border with China. This Corps, being raised as a ‘strike corps’ for the mountains, is expected to cost INR 64,000 crore to raise and equip over a period of five to seven years. Approximately 90,000 new personnel will be added to the army's manpower strength, including those in ancillary support and logistics units. New weapons and equipment will have to be procured for the divisions, brigades and battalions of this Corps. It will be a retrograde step to milk these from existing battalions to equip new raisings.

Recruiting additional manpower of the requisite qualifications has so far not posed any problems for the world’s third largest volunteer army. However, finding officers for 17 Corps will be a major challenge as there is an ongoing deficiency of approximately 10,000 officers in the army.

General Suhag wishes to ensure that relatively softer issues like human resources development and the welfare of serving personnel and veterans are not neglected. Morale is adversely affected if these issues are not appropriately handled. This has been a rather contentious issue in the past and will require sage handling. Finally, civil-military relations have not been good in the recent past and need to be improved.

If one may take the liberty of using a few well-known American buzzwords and catch-phrases, the ‘revolution in military affairs’ had whooshed by the Indian army in the 1990s. The ‘transformation’ process that followed must be gradually implemented even though it is a decade late - primarily due to budgetary constraints. The COAS will be responsible for the transformation of the army to a ‘network-centric’ force capable of executing ‘effects-based operations’ over the full spectrum of conflict. General Suhag must forge a light, lethal and wired army that can fight and win India’s wars on the battlefields of the 21st century - jointly with the navy and the air force.