The Financial Express, reported that the capital budget allocation for the Indian Army has reduced from Rs 36, 481.90 to Rs 32,102 crore ( down by 12.2%). Even worse, Indian Army was able to spend just around 40% of its allocated budget. During the mid-year review itself the Army’s capital budget had been reduced.
The COAS recently has stated that “ trailers of future conflicts are perceptible and these are being enacted daily on the information battlefield, in the networks and cyberspace. They are also being played along unsettled and active borders”. He underscored the requirement of ready and capable forces in the face of “unique, substantial and multi-domain” security challenges, especially along our Northern borders.
The Finance Minister highlighted in the budget that that technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), geospatial systems, drones, semiconductors and its ecosystem, space economy, genomics and pharmaceutical, and clean mobility systems are areas of focus since “[They] have immense potential to assist sustainable development at scale and modernise the country.”
Lastly, the ongoing Ukraine crisis is being played out in multiple domains information(networks, cyberspace, battlefield surveillance), space, economy, energy and diplomacy just as I had outlined in an earlier article. The air land and sea domains are yet to be breached. As per a New York Times analysis, USA has mounted an information based multidomain campaign to avoid war!
What do these four facts tell you? The Army Needs a Serious Rethink. Let us see why and how.
The recently released US Indo Pacific Strategy gives “Conflict along the Line of Actual Control with India” prime billing. The LAC situation is current, ongoing and escalating in the Gray Zone. Lt Gen Prakash Menon opines, that the statement of the COAS is a warning to the government about the “Information Battlefield”. With a gorilla sitting on the LAC and a chimpanzee jumping up and down on the LC, if the government needs a warning from COAS, through public media, it reflects on an utter lack of politico military fusion. India does not need Issac Newton to explain the gravity of the situation. For the next decade or so, India cannot drift away from an LAC oriented continental strategy. In such circumstances, underfunding the Indian Army continuously for two years and not budgeting for the Information Domain at national level is strategic sacrilege. First and foremost, the Government needs a strategic rethink.
On the other hand, if the Army has not been able to spend 40% of its allocated budget then there are serious issues. If the Army has Capital proposals which are at budget stage and has not been allotted funds then either they are not priority schemes or the defence finance department has not let the proposals go through on flimsy grounds. On the other hand if the Army does not have priority schemes ready for being budgeted then the Army has to do serious introspection. It highlights incapability in the capital acquisition vertical of the Army to fast track priority cases. More importantly, if the COAS is focussed on the Information, Network and Cyber domains and there are no matching proposals in the procurement pipeline in these capabilities, then the situation is even worse. It reflects a yawning gap between our wish list and capability development plans. One should not also forget that the COAS is not alone or the first in voicing his view of the information battlefield. The late CDS spoke of Non-Contact warfare and the necessity of capability development along similar lines, when he had assumed his appointment as COAS. A major ingredient of Non-contact warfare is Surveillance, Networking, Cyberspace and Information backed by long range precision firepower. If after five years of identifying a futuristic requirement, we are not able to develop the capability we need, then where are we headed? My (un)educated assessment is that our capability development plans are not in place. So if we do not have a realistic and realisable plan, what use is a budget?
Let me dwell on the outlines of such a plan. Capability in an “Informatised and Intelligentised battle field” ( to borrow Chinese terminology) has to be proactive to obtain the adversary’s information and disrupt his systems as also reactive to protect own systems. An important driver of the plan is that the systems we need for “Informatisation” must be based on appropriate technologies which are environmentally blended to the Himalayan battlefield rather than the kind which the Chinese routinely bleat about. My question is – has an holistic assessment been made and a procurement plan drawn out? If such a plan existed, the tone and substance of the COAS would have been different.
Further, I would like to substantiate what I have stated. Let us take drones as an example. The nation saw a drone display at the end of The Beating Retreat ceremony. That is not capability. It is only potential. To convert potential into capability we need different kinds of drones across the battlefield spectrum with multiple payloads anchored by cyber-proofed communication networks. We neither have the drones nor do we have indigenous payloads. Otherwise we would not have been importing Predators from USA at an astronomical cost. The pity is that the complete technology – flight platforms, next gen payloads, AI, communications et al is available in India to cater to our needs. However it needs a program in mission mode run by the Army/Navy/Air Force to integrate all the technologies and come up with solutions. That has been beyond the Armed Forces who have constantly refused to invest time, effort and money for the long term beyond giving this requirement to the DRDO which has not delivered a decent flying sausage for the past two decades. A disintegrated system is clearly weighing us down. Consider some other capabilities. Is there any doubt that we need a high altitude capable tank in double quick time? We need to and can evolve into one with the available technologies and capabilities indigenously. However, the Army is doing the ‘Full Monty’ acquisition, by slavishly adhering to that bible called DAP. At this rate, I will bet a bottle of scotch if we can see an indigenous tank deployed in five years. The tale of gun procurement, which is close to my heart, is one of sorrow. When the trials of the indigenous Dhanush were completed five years back, there was joy on the horizon. Five years later production is yet to start since there are hitches. With an integrated approach all problems can be overcome…that is a different story. The tale of networking has been playing out for the past three decades. Initial systems like BSS and ACCCS, developed with foreign assistance are outdated. Others are still over the horizon. While the nation is seeing trailers of future conflicts in the information battlefield, in the networks and cyberspace domains, we remain waiting for our own capabilities! The Army needs to look deep within.
Has anyone wondered why this is happening? It is happening because our competent Generals , who are extremely good at fighting, have become one dimensional in a multi domain battlefield. They have just got used to the fact that they will fight with the wherewithal provided by the nation. Invariably there is a half-hearted attempt at indigenisation followed by import. It has been repeatedly proven that we are incapable of delivering “Atma-Nirbharta” to ourselves. Merely publishing a no-import/negative list or mandating that 60-70% of capital budget will be from indigenous sources will not work beyond a point. In new disruptive technologies it will be a non-starter without outcome oriented projects. It has been my firm opinion that to achieve Atma-Nirbharta one needs FIRE IN THE BELLY, late Rahul Bajaj style. That is sadly missing when it comes to capability development while plenty of it is evidenced in operational matters. It is my experience that in the Army, the person who knows how to fight does not understand technology or acquisition. The person who knows technology is not involved in acquisition or operations. The person involved in acquisition might not be operational or technical at all. This is a vicious cycle of mutual exclusion. Capability development needs a balanced mix of operational experience , technological knowhow and acquisition acumen. The Army has not been able to find this balance due to its internal HR policies which are stilted and straight jacketed. They have not progressed with time or the requirements of the modern battlefield whose ‘trailers’ we are witnessing.
Is all lost? No. Not at all. There is an acute awareness at national level to garner technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), geospatial systems, drones, semiconductors and its ecosystem, space economy, genomics and pharmaceutical, and clean mobility systems to assist sustainable development at scale and modernise the country. These are all dual use technologies. Get the drift? Latch on to this surge. The Army needs to venture into Civil Military Fusion. While this is ideally a top driven model, there is plenty of scope for the Army to take the initiative and demand for Civil Military Fusion from the national leadership. This will completely offset budget shortages. The fundamentals of networking and cyber capabilities lies in indigenous semiconductors, processors, software and a healthy start up environment. That is fully available in India to meet Civil and Military requirements as I had explained in an earlier article . However to convert the potential into reality, the Army will have to sheet anchor the effort since it is the most affected.
Three years back (in 2019) I had penned an article on Generalship in Multidomain Operations. From then to now nothing seems to have progressed. If the Indian Army wants to be competitive in the battlefield environment which the COAS has painted, it will have to reinvent itself. There is no other choice. Otherwise we will have more Galwans where we will lose our valiant soldiers needlessly. Just reflect. If we had the clairvoyance of battlefield surveillance in depth and adequate long range firepower at our beck and call, Galwan would not have happened at all! Since we do not have both in adequate measure, we will be consigned to gray zone bullying by an aggressive China.
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