Roadmap to military self-reliance

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Roadmap to military self-reliance

With so much at stake regarding military power, it will be prudent for India to handle its relations with China with deftness, restraint and patience. It must formulate a strategy to the two-front dilemma

The message conveyed by the military uniform donned Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and the Commander-in-Chief, Joint Operations Command, Xi Jinping, while inspecting the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) 90th foundation day parade on July 31 was unmistakable: The PLA, denoting military power, will be in the vanguard of China’s foreign policy.

Military power is one area which the Indians seem to have not fully comprehended, especially the way it is determining China’s foreign policy choices. There is no other reason to explain the casual manner in which sensitive statements are being made by those responsible to deliver in case of an escalation of the Doklam Army face-off.

Take Minister of Defence, Arun Jaitley for instance, speaking in the Lok Sabha on July 28, he said: “The Armed Forces are fully equipped to face any contingency and any shortfall of ammunition would be expeditiously made up.” The task of a Defence Minister is not to help procure ammunition for the Armed Forces from within the country and abroad. This is the job of the bureaucrats, both civilian and military, who do not seem to be paying attention to this issue. This is exactly what the recent Comptroller and Auditor-General’s 2017 report has lamented about when referring to the grave shortfall of ammunition.

Jaitley’s grandiloquence has been more than matched by the Chief of the Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat’s assertion that “the Indian Army is ready for a two and a half front war.”

There are four problems with his statement:

  • It is suicidal, impossible and fantastical to believe that war objectives, however modest, can be attained by defeating two nuclear weapon powers.
  • Having achieved good interoperability, the two adversaries are capable of fighting common conventional war missions together.
  • Given the numerous capabilities across various war domains, no single service (the Indian Army) can declare that it is ready for war.
  • The Army leadership has not thought it necessary to have a common assessment of the Doklam face-off with the other two wings of the defence services.

At the time when the Indian Army was reportedly building up troops to meet the Doklam challenge, the other two service Chiefs were out of the country on peacetime missions. Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa was in France from July 17 to 20, and the Navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba, who is also the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, was away to Mozambique and Tanzania from July 23 to 30.

The inescapable conclusions are: While war may not be on the anvil, India is definitely not ready for it. And  yet, the political leadership is not directing the Armed Forces to build capabilities for a winnable war.

Unlike India, China has built military power which implies achieving synergy by optimal utilisation of all military capabilities across various war mediums. This has been achieved by military reforms keeping pace with technological progress. Unfortunately, India has not done this which is why its political and military leaders keep assuring the nation that a repeat of the 1962 war will not happen.

China has built warfare capabilities in six domains or mediums  namely — land, air, space, sea, electromagnetic and cyber. In addition, it has a plethora of ballistic and cruise missiles and armed unmanned combat aerial vehicles with good accuracy which China says it would use freely to complement its Air Force.

In order to synergise these capabilities, President Xi Jinping, as the Chairman of the CMC and the Commander-in-Chief of the Joint Operations Command, had initiated far-reaching military reforms in 2015. Two aspects of these reforms that directly affect India are noteworthy.

First, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is being strengthened with increased budgets, manpower, capabilities and capacities. The implication of this is that unlike all wars that India has fought, the next one, both with China and Pakistan, will have a dominant Naval component. The war will not be restricted to land and air domains only.

Second, the PLA, which has traditionally led and fought wars, will no longer do so. The PLA numbers are being reduced by one million (10 lakh), from 2.3 million to 1.3 million by 2022. The inferences for India are two-fold: One, the PLA will fight a non-contact war with minimal casualties. And two, since the PLA will have minimal war role (its utility will be more in peacetime: For offensive border management posture and for military coercion), the Indian Army will not have much to do, more than maintaining an operationally defensive posture with minor counter-attack possibilities.

Not only will the PLA concentrate on non-contact warfare, it will use its ‘short of war’ assets, which in conjunction with its psychological warfare capabilities, will be employed to the hilt. For example, if the PLA was to unleash its offensive cyber war capabilities to black-out Indian communication networks in the military, the Government and financial spheres, it cannot be construed as an act of war.

Similarly, the PLA could kill India’s satellite in low, polar or even geo-synchronous orbits with its proven anti-satellite capabilities. This too would not be enough reason for India to go to war. In other words, China has the means to retaliate against the Doklam face-off at its place of choosing from a position of strength without getting into a slanging match with India.

Given this it is difficult to agree with the recent assessment of the Vice Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Sarath Chand that “China is bound to be a threat for us in the years ahead.” This assessment is at least two decades old. China became an immediate threat in 1998 when after India’s nuclear tests, the PLA, because of its good border management, was able to do regular Line of Actual Control transgressions. Today, the threat is at level three. Level one because of its better border management; level two  because of its military reforms wherein the focus has largely shifted to non-contact warfare; and level three  because of its good interoperability with the Pakistan military. This has changed the warfare further.

For instance, in a war with Pakistan, the Indian military (all three services) will find it extremely difficult to shift limited war assets from east (against China) to west (Pakistan). This will be more acute for the Indian Air Force, which despite airpower flexibility, will find it difficult to swing its combat capabilities for use against Pakistan.

With so much at stake regarding military power it would be prudent for India to handle its relations with China with deftness, restrain and patience by formulating a strategy that finds an answer to the two-front dilemma and a roadmap for building military power.

(The writer is editor, FORCE newsmagazine)

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