Politico-Military Leadership Challenges of 2021

"It has been one year since the CDS and DMA structure has come into being. Where is the national threat perception and the military threat assessment as its derivative? Have the lessons from the current crisis been factored in?"

Politico-Military Leadership Challenges of 2021

Sandeep Unnithan’s Interview of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in India Today gave me an insight into the current thinking. It was followed up by two outstanding articles. One by Admiral Arun Prakash in Indian Express and the other by  Lieutenant General Anil Ahuja in Gunners Speak. It set me thinking of three recent events which should make our politico-military national leadership think hard.

Firstly, China has published a National Defence Law with effect from Jan 2021. It gives the Xi Jinping controlled Central Military Commission complete sway in China. It enables nationwide or local defence mobilisation to protect China’s newly expanded national interests to include outer space, electromagnetic networks, and overseas development interests.

It talks of global governance and setting up international rules. It gives an ominously new meaning to civil-military fusion. Well. China appointed itself as the global military policeman. Secondly. Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Vietnam have signed up with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

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It compromises their role in any arrangement to rein in China, including the QUAD. Thirdly. The European Union-China investment deal led by Germany and France compromises their own Indo-Pacific strategy and dilutes the larger one. Besides this, Pakistan and North Korea will always dance to China’s tunes. In fact, a collusive threat from China and Pakistan will be the norm hereafter.

Most of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is already in China’s grip. Border Roads India (BRI) countries will be arm-twisted to side with China. It leaves the United States of America, United Kingdom, and India to fend off China. USA and UK are still in the throes of getting out of the grip of the Virus.

The Biden team is yet to outline its geostrategic vision as USA has daunting internal issues to surmount. Resultant. India must handle China on its own! That is the bottom-line confronting our politico-military leadership.

As we recover from the Chinese Virus, Indian aspirations will also go up and rightly so. Dismayingly, our internal politics are frayed with very little consensus on any issue. There is lack of political convergence even when the enemy is at the door.

Our economy is mercifully on the verge of a recovery but remains battered. It places severe restrictions on enhancing military capabilities and stamina. The chances of an enhanced collusive threat manifesting in the Summer of 2021 remains high. The threat, whether direct or indirect, will be multidomain in nature with a high degree of influence operations.

The paradigm of Indian security challenges just got stiffer. The new paradigm is evolving at a time when not only global issues are kaleidoscopic but domestic military issues are in deep flux. In such conditions our Politico-Military Leadership must get its Ps and Qs right. Issues which worry me in this paradigm are what I am highlighting.

The CDS and Department of Military Affairs (DMA) come into being with great expectations of change. In the past year we weathered an unprecedented crisis with China. Hence it is understood that envisaged changes will take time to crystallise.

However, the trend lines worry me. The Prime Minister, on 15th August 2019, in his address to the nation inter alia, said “India should not have a fragmented approach. Our entire military power will have to work in unison and move forward…”.

It was thereafter mandated to bring about jointness in operations, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance, etc of the three Services, within three years of the first CDS assuming office. In the past one year there has been too much discussion on theatre commands and far too less about Jointness.

To the extent that individual Services are coming out with their concept of each command in public. Where is the “UNISON’ factor of the PMs call? ‘Joint Commands’ follow ‘Jointness’ and not the other way around. Without Jointness, the Maritime, Air Defence and Logistics commands being contemplated will turn into low hanging ‘poisoned’ fruits.

Read the initial press release once again. The emphasis is on jointness in procurement, training and staffing for the Services through joint planning and integration with a time stipulation. It is not on restructuring of Military Commands and establishment of joint/theatre commands which is not time stipulated!  Yet we seem to be doing exactly the opposite. That too in a hurry. Further, joint commands which are politically distanced without a clear chain of command spell disaster.

Admiral Arun Prakash also made this point recently. It indicates either that the CDS and Service Chiefs are not on the same page or the political and military hierarchy are not in sync. Look at it another way. Promoting jointness will contribute to handling the immediate threats in 2021 better and also pave way for the future. Establishment of Joint commands, ranks, command and control etc are emotive issues and will be detrimental if implemented prematurely.

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It is oxymoronic to state that India must build capacities to handle China. The present level of preparedness enables us to deal with the immediate threat. What about the future? It has been one year since the CDS and DMA structure has come into being. Where is the national threat perception and the military threat assessment as its derivative? Have the lessons from the current crisis been factored in? It will take a long time for Indian Armed Forces to come up to thresholds where we can handle China on our own.

Till then we must think of other means – diplomatic and political. To that extent, our politico military moves in Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Middle East are significant. We are being heard in the evolution of a post-US dispensation for Afghanistan. We have started purposeful dialogues and action with all Indo-Pacific stake holders. We have refused BRI and RCEP.

In the same breath our politico military strategy must endeavour to make China and Pakistan look inwards. On this score there is very little clarity. Admiral Arun Prakash’s recommendation of a parliamentary committee with military advisers to oversee transformational reforms is sagacious.

It needs to be expanded into strategic spheres to evolve balanced continental, maritime and aerospace strategies. Capability building must be in response to a national threat perception and strategy. The Armed Forces capability building must be joint, holistic, innovative, and flexible to offset our deficiencies with what we have till our plans crystallise.

Let me explain further. Recently it was in the news that the US Marines are shedding their tanks and M777 ULHs for HIMARS (land based rockets) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).

While we do not have to ape them, their use of Rocket Artillery is thought provoking. Why are we not increasing our indigenously developed long range Rocket Artillery to offset our lack of aircraft as also lack of a suitable tank for High Altitude Areas (HAA) or for that matter to offset shortage of conventional artillery?

I wrote about this issue long back. Why is there no informed debate on the plan for the third aircraft carrier vis a vis additional submarine? All these have been left hanging in suspended inaction. The fact that there is not enough convergent thinking by military leadership is palpable. Overall, Jointness in planning is the first step! It is missing in action.

The third issue which troubles me is that the onus of funding/preparing for imminent conflict cannot be through internal economic saving measures like extension age of retirement and other administrative prudence. It is also dismaying to see individual Services putting out their perceptions in social media. Disjointedness again!

Getting back to the issue. Funding for national security is the job of the nation. At times like this, when Xi Jinping has ordered the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) to be ready for ‘war at any second’, there is no room for a guns vs bread debate.

In this context I am reproducing the prophetic feedback I got last year, from two retired cerebral generals - an Infantryman and a Gunner. One stated “National Security doesn’t come cheap not where India is. The Nation must bear this burden. Paucity of funds will remain a constant. While the Services leadership must do better in resource management to ensure the optimum utilization of funds the Government cannot absolve itself of its responsibility to provide adequately for defence, besides finding ways to ensure that the Services are not driven to situations where they feel compelled to raise retirement ages to save on pension”.

The other stated “it’s the Governments call to have an Army, Air Force and Navy. If it wants, it must find the money too. It is not for the Armed Forces to self-finance its modernization by monetizing land or cost cutting by some arbitrary age amendments.” These ring so absolutely true today. Somewhere India’s politico military leadership midwifed by an unaccountable bureaucracy resting on self-serving silos which comprise our defence establishment is going wrong.

Let me put in another manner. It is expected that the soldier fights till the last bullet and the last breath in defending the nation. Heroically – ‘Bharat ka Raksha Marte Dum Tak’. Does not this man, who is dying for the nation deserve to be equipped well till the last penny in the coffers? Even if it is at the cost of the nation going hungry or if its economy breaks down? Believe me, if he fails, the true Chinese Virus will consume us fully.

From 1962 till Galwan, this nation was in a psychological trauma. For the first time in six decades we have made the Chinaman look what he actually is. The moral and psychological advantage is with us. Press it home. The PM said “Jaan hai to Jahan hai”. I will take it a step further. “Desh Hai toh Azadi hai.”It is also up to the CDS and Service Chiefs to put it across as simply as that in the manner they choose fit. I do hope the four lions of the Ashoka Pillar finally turn their heads inwards speak to each other and then growl together in the right direction. It should be the Chinese one!

(Lt Gen PR Shankar retired as Director General of Artillery, Indian Army. The author has vast operational experience and has held many important command, staff, and instructional appointments in the Army. An alumnus of Defence Services Staff College Wellington, Army War College Mhow, Naval Post Graduate School Monterrey and National Defence College Delhi, he gave great impetus to the modernization of Artillery through indigenization.

He has a deep understanding and experience of successful defense planning and acquisition spanning over a decade. Major 155mm Gun projects like the Dhanush, M777 ULH and k9 Vajra, Rocket and Missile projects related to Pinaka, Brahmos and, Grad BM21, surveillance projects like Swati WLR and some ammunition projects came to fructification due to his efforts. You can reach him on Twitter:@palepurshankar, Email ID: [email protected])

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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