No Silver Bullet, No Magic Wand, Just Bitter Pills

“In the absence of suitable equipment, structural reforms and an all-round upgrade of our fighting forces, the future conflicts are fraught with danger.”


No Silver Bullet, No Magic Wand, Just Bitter Pills

Sandeep Unnithan, in his impeccable style in his article in India Today on 18 January 2021 has given an overview of the dangers that our security system faces, and a dark prophesy in veiled references to the chasm where we may be heading. With no Naib Subedar Bana Singh or Colonel Narendra Bull Kumar to assist us in crossing the crevices of willful ignorance in taking affirmative action, are we at a crossroads to lassitude and passivity, or is the Indian State looking to ramp up adequately to meet the future threats?

The fourteen battles that shaped the destiny of India were, the Battle of Hydapses, the Second Battle of Tarain, the three battles of Panipat, the sieges of Chittor and Haldighati, the Battle of Buxar, the Battle of Plassey, Kashmir 1947, 1962 Indo-China War, 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars and the Kargil conflict. Five of these have occurred in the last 74 years, the other nine over the previous 2272! The obvious historical trend suggests that India may quite possibly have a serious conflict in the not too distant a future.

Conflict with our belligerent neighbours has been a constant of history since Independence and will remain so. With Pakistan, because of the nature of their governance, quality of the civic state and traditions and customs of the ruling elite, conflict is a distinct possibility. With China due to their growing pugnacity and ability to work as a state without restraints consequent to their economic and technological growth, conflict is a question of time. Unstable peace is what is likely to continue as a logical fallout in the interim.

The recent report of Gen QJ Bajwa talking ‘Time to extend hand of peace’, needs to be taken with caution, as the fork may well lie below the silver tongue. The imperatives to jaw reconciliation and pacification may be many, but there are umpteen bitter lessons to the contrary from 1947 to 1999. It is only the radical change brought about by the abolition of Article 370, which has altered the status quo in the appreciation of our resolve.

The Battle of Hydapses was won by Alexander, as Porus underestimated Alexander’s ability to cross the Jhelum in spate. Let’s not be lulled into being protected from a devious and duplicitous China or a deceitful and deceptive Pakistan by the valour of our Armed Forces or the strength of world opinion. In the absence of suitable equipment, structural reforms and an all-round upgrade of our fighting forces, the future conflicts are fraught with danger.

The Budget

“The budget poses the question therefore, how serious are we with regards to meeting the future threats? China has increased its defence budget by 6.2%. While its GDP growth has declined over the last decade, its Defence budget has continued to show an ever-increasing trend.”
Insignia's of the three services at the National War Memorial, New Delhi; File Photo

During the post Budget interview with the Finance Minister, it was brought out that the Defence Capital Budget has been increased from Rs 1.13 Lakh Crores to Rs 1.35 Crores, an increase of about 19%. The fact remained that emergency purchases of Rs 20,776 Crores had been made over and above the BEs of the previous year, to meet the security challenges on the border. In essence, we did not have the requisite resources to meet the threats, and when this year’s BEs are compared to last year’s REs, there is no increase. This was the condition when there was no real conflict.

The FM did state that the concept of a non-lapsable fund, is being examined. The concept had been mooted about a decade ago, and was out rightly rejected, as it did not suit the accountant’s way of budgeting. That it would be administratively and operationally far more convenient to work with, was of little consequence. Watch this space. The budget poses the question therefore, how serious are we with regards to meeting the future threats? China has increased its defence budget by 6.2%. While its GDP growth has declined over the last decade, its Defence budget has continued to show an ever-increasing trend.

Military Reforms

“The question that arises is how serious are we really about indigenisation? Do we have a long-term vision and the financial willingness to invest in it, or are we happy to buy and keep the factories and R&D centres of USA, Russia, France, Israel, UK etc. turning?”
India showcases its military might on its 72nd Republic Day; File Photo 

That China has reformed and is in the process of reforming its military, by way of reorganising its forces and building up the border infrastructure is well known. What is worth noting is the unreported investments in technology and force multipliers such as drones, lasers, secure communications, anti-satellite systems, stealth aircraft, silent propulsion systems for submarines etc. In fact, it engaged in a sort of competition to develop military technology superior to that of the USA, and to export it.

This has come through heightened efforts to acquire science and technology since the mid-90s. This national effort has now matured over more than 25 years, while we still struggle to design and make our own infantry rifle. In its Annual Report 2020 to Congress, the Office of the Secretary of Defence, USA, brought out that the PLA is ahead of the USA in areas such as Shipbuilding, Land based conventional ballistic and cruise missiles and Integrated Air Defence Systems.

The saga of the MRCA acquisition by India is well documented, and India has yet to place an order for Mine Sweepers, twelve years after shortlisting and then cancelling the order due unsubstantiated reports of tender violations. The navy is currently bereft of this key capability. The drawings and details to manufacture the 155 mm Bofors gun were apparently held within the country, but never exercised for decades.

The gun has now made its appearance in the form of the howitzer Dhanush. The question that arises is how serious are we really about indigenisation? Do we have a long-term vision and the financial willingness to invest in it, or are we happy to buy and keep the factories and R&D centres of USA, Russia, France, Israel, UK etc. turning? In essence despite many attempts to indigenise our arms industry, not much headway has been made. One of the primary reasons is a lack of adequate greenfield research and a near absence of a Blue Ocean strategy to push innovation and development.

Future Wars

“The conflict in 2020 between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh was but a trailer on the impact of sensors and drones. Couple this with the development of AI and autonomous weapons by states willing to develop them, and the nature of conventional war would have changed forever.
A US navy launch of multiple swarming drones; File Photo

The conflict in 2020 between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh was but a trailer on the impact of sensors and drones. Couple this with the development of AI and autonomous weapons by states willing to develop them, and the nature of conventional war would have changed forever. Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal turned off the radio of his Centurion Tank to avoid listening to an order to withdraw. In future wars, a smart enemy would have neutralised all communications. It is only when as a country we possess weapons of similar or better potency would it cause an adversary to be dis-incentivized.

It was apparent that despite their valour and hugely nationalistic feelings, the Armenians were ill prepared for the onslaught of modern-day weapons, resulting in pain and suffering of the people, leading to the brokered peace, with the intervention of Russia and loss of long held territory. Much needs to be done by our establishment to develop these weapons. Mere ‘Exercises’ with our friends is unlikely to help, when push comes to shove, we will be on our own, it is the blood of our soldiers which will be spilled. We need to be capable enough to fight our own battles.

Conclusion

“Mere ‘Exercises’ with our friends is unlikely to help, when push comes to shove, we will be on our own, it is the blood of our soldiers which will be spilled. We need to be capable enough to fight our own battles.”
Statue commemorating Indian battlefield victory; File Photo 

History has taught us that peace is a fragile unstable element, and that war is inevitable. The investments in finances, organisational resources, sustaining policies and a political will to develop a truly worthwhile indigenous arms industry have been exemplified by their omission and dearth. To enable our Armed Forces to be victorious in future wars, calls for an all-round national effort to design, develop and make our weapons and systems. It bids and demands for a suitable reorganisation of our forces to thereafter to be able to effectively utilise these weapons of deterrence.

(RAdm Vineet Bakhshi, an alumnus of NDA, served as Commanding Officer INS Shivaji, Director General Naval Projects (Mumbai) and Chairman and Managing Director of Goa Shipyard Ltd. He can be reached at vineet.bakhshi@gmail.com and vineetvcn@gmail.com. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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