The Indian military is a wonderful organisation that has its foundations right. They have understood the nuances of integration and jointness. But more often than not, when it comes to application of concepts and philosophies to operational art and its deliverables, it’s like searching for a word in the dictionary, which you want to use as a synonym, you find it, then you don’t know how to craft a sentence out of it, then when finally, you do, it seems like a misplaced adjective. It’s like once someone got a very fancy Tattoo in mandarin, she thought it said, ‘life is beautiful’, but what it said was ‘soy sauce best used for fish’.
Right from the very start, the cadets at the National Defence Academy are trained together and the primacy of those three years is creating a bond. The belief is that, if you go through the rigours together, you end up stronger as a team. But the paradox is that in your final term you are an army, air force or naval cadet. The very bonding is segregated into compartments of expertise that will rule both their professional and personal lives for good amount of their military service.
Thereafter they are out in the environment doing their bit, learning the ropes, some climbing it too. There are no professional interactions, thought sharing, they in fact are never even on the same boat. Even stations are segregated to army Cantonments, Air Force stations and naval ships. Even if they are just sharing a boundary wall. The logistics are different, the engineering support systems are different, in fact the worst is that even the security systems are skewed.
The first time they actually really meet, is when and if they have worked hard, climbed the ladder, flown the bird, or sailed off the horizon in the merit-based selection for the higher command courses. But here lies the problem. The course is conducted for Colonels and equivalent ranks, who have already commanded their Battalions, they are almost out of the tactical battle fields.
All the three services have different higher command courses and to add on a college of defence management run separately. None of these officers completing this course actually goes back to the field of conduct. They are posted to staff and instructional appointments, where all they do is firefighting and planning again in silos. Only at the Integrated Defence Staff is there some jointness. Or that I am led to believe.
In the army the Colonel is the longest rank you hold. You take over a command of a Battalion for two years at the minimum. Then you do a graded staff for two years. The higher command course for a year. Then again, an instructional, graded staff and some lucky blokes with good Initiating Officers get to enjoy a foreign deputation for two to three years. By the time your board for Brigadier takes place, you have spent another two years. So, all in all approximately you have waited 8-10 years in that rank.
Now what have you accomplished through those years… command… staff…. course… staff… staff…and all these in different organisations, with different functions, with absolutely no continuity or even connection to a field of expertise, that is so badly needed at this stage. Only 2% would have got a tri-services exposure. Even in that exposure, most of it relegated to a non-inclusive desk, where you are best known as a ‘go to man’, for liaisons and maybe some inputs that you will never have but have the capacity to seek from a higher service headquarters.
What do we need?
We need a systemised professional military direction, where we follow the adage, catch them young, make them learn, ensure they deliver, make the delivery credible. We need to make cross domain tenures in each other’s fields of commonality a compulsion. Examples that come to my mind are security (both of men and material), special forces, intelligence, cyber warriors, logistics and procurement, financial planning, training establishments and commands and most of all in the planning branches of every operational HQ.
There is an urgent need to first synchronise training. We need to have schools of learning organised. While the air force and the army have a junior command course and equivalent, the navy has nothing in place to train the officers of that rank and seniority in junior command. Time at sea and on the job, training taking precedence. In that same analogy the Indian army and the air force would also not need a junior command course, they are forever with troops on the ground.
Even the selection for Defence Services Staff College is different for all the three services. While the army goes through a one-time clear all subjects through a written exam procedure. The air force and the navy do not have the same selection criteria. Officers therefore at DSSC, the first institution for jointness after NDA, are in incomprehensible leagues of perception, experience, and ambition.
We need a joint junior command course where every junior officer of every service jointly is introduced to a two up joint operational philosophy, at the same time homing in to service specialisations. Even the DSSC entrance exams need to be reformulated to include the tri services thought process of operations and planning. At the DSSC we need to purely focus on jointness, giving the junior command course a facelift of teaching modalities of warfare two up.
Thereafter the senior command course be run as a joint command course for officers going to be commanding Battalions, ships, and air bases. The Senior Command Course should primarily focus 25% on operational and tactics, 75% on unit administration, financial management, morals and ethics and leadership modules.
There is no need for three different Higher Command Courses. All must be leveraged under a single tri services institution. Experts from all three services should be drawn in to formulate, define, refine, and postulate the best way of delivery of content. A think tank from the selected thereafter should be posted to a desk of integrated application at command HQs and be given adequate continuity to be relevant.
Peer learning is the best form of learning. Jointness and integration will happen when you fight the logic of application with varied perceptions and analogies. Once officers complete the higher command course, it has to be ensured that they are cross posted into identified streams of application in various institutions and HQs. The onus of the officer’s professional growth thereafter is with that HQ.
The Military Secretary’s branch however needs to have a balancing sheet. It is often seen that the officer in a virgin and foreign environment, who has it all uphill due to the new facets of adjustment, ends up competing with his batch who have towed the safe line constantly. That needs to be moderated and no career damage be ensured.
We have to fight integrated; we can’t do that if we don’t plan jointly. How we finally use the finite resources to orchestrate the type of war we want to fight is basically semantics of availability, time, space, assets, and operational philosophy. But to fight integrated we need to train jointly. There are no short cuts. There has to be both a bottom-up approach and a top-down approach. Bottom up to ensure constant training and implementation of processes and top down to set the organisational charts and validation of processes.
The Next Generation War
We have to fight integrated. We constantly keep saying, future wars are going to be short, ambiguous, and limited. But what is going to define the type of war is the time before the war. The battle of wit, in the military domain called the grey zone and the hybrid forms of warfare. Where the means is INFORMATION … overload or denial. Future warriors need to be aware without casting boundaries or segregations.
The main war or the larger time period (the period of shaping the battlefield in the invisible domain) will be fought from a room, with a computer and an intelligent evolved mind. Artificial intelligence is the means for the SILENCE BEFORE THE WAR. There are no definite spaces, and it doesn’t define the medium of land, air and sea. It is in shades of grey, is non attributable, silent, and hazardous.
But when and where do we teach this. A simple analogy is, a human being spends most of his life hours on a bed, sleeping, watching tv or just lazing. Yet we spend more on our drawing rooms and the furniture there, than a comfortable mattress and pillows. We know that the destruction capability of the time before war is far more dangerous than war itself. It might not be in the physical dimension, but in the financial and the psychological domains. So where are we training to adapt, inculcate or operationalise this aspect?
We need to spear head the thought process of fighting through and in silence. Non attributable and lethal. So how? We need to incorporate the military intelligence school of training into a centre of excellence for this form of warfare. Get in the expertise and the experts. Select the capable to understand, learn, innovate, implement and operationalise theories. We need to have departments of validation.
We need to cross pollinate through all available national assets. Government bodies, media centres, intelligence agencies, industry, cyber warfare experts to include ethical and unethical hackers, polity, bureaucracy, and the military. The way technology is growing and manifesting, we better soak in the pace of change and the inevitable employment of dimensions and options short of war. Failure to do this and train formally to mitigate the effects will lead to an Armageddon of de-capacitation and chaos.
About the Author
The author is a military analyst and commentator on national security issues. Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India