The Big Military Drift by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

 Also published in The Financial Express @

The Big Military Drift 

Our erudite External Affairs Minister with his sharp-witted interjections has put many doubting interlocutors in their place. India has overtaken its erstwhile colonial master as the fifth largest economy and is on course to be the third largest by 2030. The world seems to be our oyster. Except that it is not.  

The Big Military Drift

By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

The contemporary Indian narrative is one of an emerging power whose economic strides are a beacon of light in the darkness of a global slowdown, inflation, and looming food insecurity.  Tony Abbot, the ex-PM of Australia, calls India,  the democratic superpower,  the world needs. The global head of Goldman Sachs calls this century as an Indian Century. Heady stuff. Our Prime Minister draws widespread acclaim as an international statesman when he talks of India’s rising role in global affairs. Our erudite External Affairs Minister with his sharp-witted interjections has put many doubting interlocuters in their place. India has overtaken its erstwhile colonial master as the fifth largest economy and is on course to be the third largest by 2030. The world seems to be our oyster. Except that it is not. 


The main spoiler in this international oyster show is the Middle Kingdom. The 21st Century was to be a Chinese one.  Where has India popped up from? Hence India has to be put in place. Irrespective of being in a perceptible all-round decline, China is sparing no effort to be the most modern and effective military power on earth. Consequently, it is aggressively leaning forward on the LAC and steadily closing Indian options. PLA actions constantly threaten to force our hand to settle on a LAC on Chinese terms with a proviso of discussion on the future status of Arunachal Pradesh. Make no mistake. Xi Jinping will do everything in his power to destroy India if it comes in the way of his personal glory, the Middle Kingdoms primacy or the CCPs legacy. The PLA threat is now, here and potent.


The ‘$450 million spares for F16s’ from USA to Pakistan should also give us some distasteful food for thought. Our strategic partner is re-arming Pakistan to remind us of our relationship with Russia. If USA can arm Pakistan when the necessity is to give it disaster assistance, we should be ready to continue to receive advice on trade management with China when we might actually need military cooperation. Our quintessential partner Russia is so much into China that it will be fool’s paradise for us to rely on it for any purpose in case of any conflict with China.  It is only the Indian Armed Forces which can stop the Chinese juggernaut. The only way forward is Atmanirbharta. Is all this rocket science? No. It is oft repeated plain common sense. The question then is…why have we sat back on our haunches?  Why is India neglecting its military? Why is the government trying to catch up with Nehruvian times ? 


Neglecting the military? Am I talking sense or nonsense? We have just commissioned our indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant and have placed orders for adequate Tejas’, our own indigenous fighter aircraft. Surely, we are on the rise and on course! However, look behind this façade and there is another picture. The planes to fly off the carrier’s deck are yet to be locked in and they do not seem to be indigenous. The indigenous Tejas is not Atmanirbhar for engines. If the tap can be turned on for the F16 spares, it can be turned off for the Tejas engines also. Why are we in this state? 


If I have to answer it in one word, it is ‘Leadership’. Make no mistake, we have enough high caliber leaders – Political, Bureaucratic and Military. However, are these brilliant people exhibiting leadership collectively to strengthen India militarily? That is the question. Prima facie my proposition might look askance to the extent of being negative. However, one must grasp the strands to weave the picture.        


For a start, there is a lot of churn in the MOD- emphasis on ‘Atmanirbharta’, defence exports, ongoing reorganization of the erstwhile OFB, devolution of research to industry and academia, implementation of the import prohibited list and so on. These policies were welcome when enunciated. However, they are on the verge of hollowness of inaction.  There is no one appointed as Secretary, Defense Production since long. The Defence Secretary is now wearing this additional hat.  To expect him to be effective in this period of path breaking change is wishful thinking. He is not a superman. It is telling adversely on the system.  The officer appointed as the advisor to the MOD has no experience in acquisition or procurement. To expect him to step up to the task is also asking for too much. The largely nonperforming DRDO has been winged all of a sudden with the Secretary being changed mysteriously overnight. Add to all this, the post of the CDS has been left vacant since December. The NSA seems to be the ‘go to’ official in matters military. However, he has limitations of being only a human.  My interaction with those who handle these affairs at the helm, middle and bottom indicates a rudderless drift. It is palpable. One might think that is being harsh. Let’s take a look at some macro projects.         


I have always opinioned that the Strategic Partnership model was an unwanted bureaucratic procedure. Now it is compounded by leadership issues. The submarine project under the Strategic Partnership has hit a major roadblock. The fact that we need an indigenous tank for high altitude came forth in 2020 in the Eastern Ladakh crisis. There was news that the high-altitude proven Vajra chassis was being converted into tank. That was good news. Suddenly one hears that the project is dumped after two years, and we are going in for a lighter variety which is available only with Russians! Is this the government concept of Atmanirbharta? Surprising? In fact, incredulous. Is there more than what meets the eye? In fact, even more curious is that ever since the Ukraine war commenced, the general ‘Gyan’ was to reduce dependance in Russia. This move seems to be increasing RussianNirbharta. All said and done.  The day when we will have indigenous submarines or tanks for high altitudes is only getting farther and not nearer. 


Talking of Atmanirbharta, everyone was agog with praise, when two indigenous 155 mm guns – the Dhanush and ATAGS were under development. Dhanush recently entered service with fanfare. The feedback from ground is that its firing is very accurate. Its teething problems can be overcome. The major problem is with its production due to some self-erected roadblocks which are of erstwhile OFB heritage. If these cannot be surmounted with the new dispensation, then we are back to square one and the entire OFB re-organization is an exercise in futility. I cannot imagine for my life that the production of Dhanush is halted when there are completely indigenous solutions to its problems. On that I am clear. Is it external influence? Might be. On the other hand, there is a lot of news about ATAGS when it has not yet passed its trials!  It appears to be a competition between two indigenous contenders to edge out the other. This reminds me of the unseemly fight between Covaxin and Covishield in the national media when the vaccines were being rolled out. Ultimately we needed both to kick the Wuhan Virus out of India. Similarly, we need both the Dhanush and ATAGS to keep the Chinese at bay. We cannot do with one alone. Despite this being common knowledge, elements within the government itself seem to be killing one for the other. Vested interests?  Possible. Lack of knowledge? Yes! lack of intent? That is most apparent. Lack of leadership? Definite. 


I can go on with other cases. However, these major cases highlight the point I am making of the big drift. Just add to this mess. Our efforts at theatrisation have been undermined internally. Theatrisation, announced so proudly by our PM lies in tatters. The drift assumes dangerous proportions if one considers that the Indian Defence Industry is more interested in orders and is least interested in investing in R&D. If one combines this drift in capability building with the negatives of an un-modified Agnipath, the future is indeed bleak. 


Let us not get fooled by the sweet words of Tony Abbot or the head of Goldman Sachs. We can neither be a Democratic Superpower nor can the 21st Century be an Indian one if our military is not capable enough. It takes sustained effort over long periods to build a strong military. If I put it simply. That effort is lacking. India is Aiming Without Arming.  I hope my leadership is listening. India can not go off track. The Indian Military hierarchy needs to get its act together. 


I am quite confident that My Pet Monkey will take a customary swipe at the weaknesses I am portraying to denigrate and mock India. I have only one message to such monkeys. It is a measure of the strength of Indian Democracy as alluded by an ex Australian Prime Minister, that a commoner like me can question my leadership and supplicate for redress. I am sure, I will get a positive response also. Try posing such a question to your self-appointed ‘leader for life’ and you will find yourselves without minus some our organs. Then you will not be able to even mouth the expletives you have resorted to in your comments on my articles.  That is the strength of Democracy. It has character. Anyway, none from the CCP mold will understand all this. That is why the 21st Century is turning slowly and steadily from a Chinese one to an Indian one.    


16 responses to “The Big Military Drift by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. Sir, right on the dot except perhaps for some minor quibbles about the jet engine. This is probably the hardest technical challenge starting with basic metallurgy so is at least a decade long effort if funded as required. Till then we will have to depend on imported engines. In any case, if there's adequate planning we can stock up on engines and spares to last us for many years thus rendering our aircraft relatively sanction proof. The real benefit of the Tejas program -as significant as developing an engine- is the world beating CLAW software. With this foundation we can develop and deploy large numbers of autonomous and semi-autonomous aircraft such as the “loyal wingman” concept with less capable indigenous engines. These will be extremely cost-effective force multipliers and also provide a financially sustainable path for the iterative evolution to cutting edge propulsion.

  2. Till the top brass grab the bit between their teeth, Atmanirbharta in weapon systems ain't going to happen.Kudos on voicing the feelings of Indians concerned about defence matters.👏👏👏Re: Induction of the Vikrant. How much more reassuring would it have been to show the launch, if not launch and recovery, of at least one aircraft. The Vikrant could have hosted a detachment from the other carrier.

  3. Sir, 🙂 I started reading your post with the intention of challenging you but as I read through, I actually agree with you. There is indeed a leadership capability deficit.In fact one of the issues I have with the Modi dispensation (And let me state this – I'm a BJP supporter) is the lack of the long view, the strategic thinking. You bring out the core reason why this is missing – the leadership deficit.OK. Having said that, and recognizing the deficit, the next issue is where do we go from here. So long as there are green shoots (and I see some, not enough – I hope this is not wishful thinking on my part), I'm OK since tomorrow (hopefully) some of those green shoots will grow into Oak trees. The other question of course is HOW do we accelerate this process. Perhaps a post on that?And Sir, (:-) contrarian perspective) those monkeys are actually good. They first of all help by turning us all against them and secondly in the litter they leave behind lie seeds of their thinking – I would encourage their hubris, it will make them further arrogant and complacent, something that will be their weakness (as has happened in the past) when the time comes…Thank you for sharing your thinking.

  4. I agree with your thought process completely. I will attempt to put together some thoughts about how we can get leadership to focus on issues of relevance. Fundamentally it is lack of knowledge and fear of unknown.

  5. Thank you Sir,Your point – lack of knowledge hit home hit home for me. Just one example: (:-) Since I'm anonymous, I can be a mite specific). A while ago, I was at a certain office (a crucial one) at the MHA and they asked me for help (after they realized my background (Software) & skills). Specifically, they were having major issues (of scalability, availability etc.,) of a website of National Importance and wanted me to go with them to NIC, be their expert representative and help them negotiate these issues with NIC.I declined as the road they were proposing would have made things much worse for the website & them (They did their best including 😛 appealing to my patriotism)… Instead I suggested they scrap the website completely and get it redeveloped by an experienced third-party (and there are many in India). They said they couldn't do that because MHA could ONLY talk to NIC or CDAC for software – no one else, period…It is from this lack of knowledge comes the fear of the unknown. My take: Our bureaucrats are generalists – they has to be given the vast area to be covered, coordinated, managed. It is impossible to be both (two lifetimes needed) and so it is critical that the generalist (bureaucrat) leverages the specialists to cover the knowledge gaps. The other part is finding the specialists with the right mindset – those with no axe to grind vs. the sales people pushing their own wares, and build a pool of them.Today as I see it, most bureaucrats are advised by sales specialists (esp. from the MNCs) and herein lies the reason for skewed systems and the fear of damage. eg. I recently heard of such an example (and a huge one) in a nearby state. The concerned bureaucrat is now desperately trying to figure out how to recover. It seems this state will have to pay out 10s of CRs to just get the basics before they even restart.The knowledge needed exists in silos across the Country. We need mechanisms of crossing these Silos and pulling these together irrespective of affiliations and ownerships.I am aware of some of the work you've done post-retirement. Strength to you Sir!!!Jai Hind.

  6. “Make no mistake. Xi Jinping will do everything in his power to destroy India if it comes in the way of his personal glory, the Middle Kingdoms primacy or the CCPs legacy.”If you believe this then there is good news for India. Neither Xi Jinping or the rest of China believes India will become economically ascendant. The assessment is based on Indian economic growth relative to Chinese growth during the 35 year period from 1987-2021.2021:China: $17.7 trillionIndia: $3.1 trillion1987:China: $273 billionIndia: $279 billionNo one with objectivity sees India as having the potential to catch up to China based on the past 35 years of GDP data. It is very hard evidence. Therefore, you're wrong. China has no plan to undermine India because Indian economic potential does not pose a long term threat to China from the perspective of China. However, high caste Hindus are born with a sense of superiority and have watched Tamil Brahmins emigrate and become CEOs of Google, Starbucks, Fedex, and Barclays. High cate Hindus believe India will definitely become a superpower in the 21st century because discrimination, pride, and superiority complex against fellow Indians is so rife in Indian society and the accomplishments of mostly high caste Indians immigrants in the West. It all goes to the head of high caste Hindus, making them believe they couldn't possibly fail at building a successful, prosperous country. Nonetheless in the high caste Hindu worldview, there is still some doubt. If China does not believe in Indian potential then maybe India is bound to remain poor for the next 50 years? To erase any self doubt, high caste Hindus attribute menacing intentions in benign Chinese activities like high speed rail, airport, and road construction in Western China. The strategic community largely made up of high caste Hindus entirely convinced itself of Chinese designs against India (as a psychological defense mechanism to allay self doubts about Indian failure in the 21st century) and then devised the plan to confront China early by initiating a huge military buildup along the peaceful border with China. (Increasing Indian troops from 2,000 to 30,000 in Eastern Ladakh from 2010 to around January 2020.)India jumped the gun against China because of desperate egotism. India must first prove itself. If India can sustain a 10 year period of 8% growth then China will start believing that India is an emerging peer rival. But before India can prove itself, India should not jump to any conclusions about its own potential and certainly should not falsely believe China thinks highly of Indian potential.Bottom line: Sincere Chinese condescension towards India is robust evidence of lack of Chinese aggressive intentions against India. China is at India's doorstep not to initiative hostility but because India pushed first. Chinese planners regard the Indian front as a complete waste of time and drain on resources from the real confrontation with the US in the Western Pacific.

  7. very nice. At least some thinking has gone into building this narrative as compared to a bunch of monkeys banging randomly on a typewriter (or keyboard).I rather enjoyed reading the caste (or rather the “cate”) game you are playing. Just curious, how do you know “high caste Hindus are born with a sense of superiority”? Was one of you “low castes” laid off by a Tamil Brahmin and your posterior still stings? Oh but Tamil Brahmins are not High caste Hindus… whoops, my bad.”benign Chinese activities”… like Doklam you mean? How many chinese died there? 140? or was it 160? And you guys didn't even have the GUTS to acknowledge your dead…Thank you again. Good read!!! Looking forward to more…

  8. General, I request you publish the comment as a stand alone tweet. It's not necessary for your readers to scroll so far down.

  9. This 50 center is back ranting about things he either has no comprehension of or his victimhood card is his only way to justify his position in the world. Anyways, wrt China, its cheapest-at-all-costs model is not sustainable beyond a certain price differential, which they have already reached or are close to reaching. So, when Chinese products can no longer take/retain market share by dumping we will see what happens to the famed Chinese economy. India doesn't aspire for a superpower status if the meaning of the term is to be able to lord it over the rest of the world. However, if superpower capability is what's required to keep our independence, we will surely achieve it. Chinas aggressive intent was obvious from the 1950s when they invaded, occupied and embarked on a physical and cultural genocide of Tibet which hasn't yet stopped. It's hard to see what China stands to gain by holding on to Tibet by force or economic subsidies if a peaceful border is the goal. All they need to do is allow Tibet to be an independent and neutral country. Much cheaper in both the short and long terms. That they can't even contemplate this is an indication of the fragility of their polity that cannot accept anything less than the self-ordained “Middle Kingdom” destiny and India will need to be constantly on the watch. Written agreements are not worth the paper they are recorded on when it comes to China. To paraphrase, “No trust and always verify” should be the motto.

  10. Having seen similar systems being conceptualized & how their roads evolved, I agree with this perspective. Such systems are a multi-decade effort (witness how Tejas happened).It is critical we first identify those systems that are strategic to our needs (an aero-engine is one) and then setup a multi-decade effort to make them happen.And we must not accept failure but keep going. I would give the American effort in Hypersonics as an example of being resilient to failure: This one is from CNBC: – the interesting part is how they involve their startups right up front. AND despite all this, they continue to have failures: is a super-power indeed. We must learn from this, build the strength to persevere despite failures.

  11. “@MaxBlumenthalUS NSA offensive cyber-spying arm waged Trojan Horse attack on Northwestern Polytechnical University servers, has stolen over 140 gigs of data in recent years, according to joint Chinese 360 Security task force and university investigation”The US is using a tried-and-true shortcut to catch up in hypersonics: steal the technology. Northwestern Polytechnical University is a center of hypersonic development.

  12. Couldn't agree more indeed! We have certain capabilities but when working in silos, we can't get things done!

  13. No trust of course but verify thrice; twice openly and once clandestinely! It is a thieving monkey!

  14. 11 jinping has no balls .. china's military “muscle” is actually made of thermocol .. be gone chinese monkey

  15. “Make no mistake. Xi Jinping will do everything in his power to destroy India if it comes in the way of his personal glory, the Middle Kingdoms primacy or the CCPs legacy.” — print that in size 72 font and stuff it up your *** . Be gone chinese monkey !!

  16. when the writer says the system failed to deliver, the armed forces is also is the part of the whole system. the acquisition/procurement of the system by armed forces is seen only a plug and play ready to work systems. the bureaucracy or the top top brass of armed forces do not understand the time, finances and human resources required to develop a tech viable demonstrator, a working prototype and the production prototype. drdo is just another psu designed for non performance.

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