Addressing the Rashtriya Raksha University last month, the ex-army chief, General M M Naravane stated, “Whenever we talk about the armed forces, and whenever we talk about investments and expenditures made for the armed forces, we should see this as an investment – an investment on which you get full returns, and it should not be seen as a burden on the economy.” He also mentioned that whenever there was a national security crisis the economy suffered, and added, “avoiding such kinds of shock can only happen if the armed forces of the country are strong.” General Naravane’s words were a cry to the government to listen to the forces, and stop pushing illogical schemes without assessment and consultation.
This is not the first time that armed forces have raised concerns about lack of funding impacting the development of capabilities as also fought tooth and nail against hair-brained schemes pushed by the government. General Bipin Rawat stated in a seminar in March 2018, “We have to build and develop confidence amongst investors that the nation’s borders are secure, and the internal security situation is under control for which there is a requirement for budget for the defence forces.” The fact that development needs security must never be ignored.
Service HQs have been compelled, due to a lack of funds to utilize equipment which should have been discarded decades ago, MIG 21 aircraft and Cheetah helicopters being examples. Both have been exploited beyond their shelf lives but cannot be discarded as replacements are slow. Modernization continues at a crawl.
While funds recede, threats increase. Recent reports mention possibilities of the Chinese PLA attempting fresh incursions. The armed forces remain in a heightened state of alert along northern borders. In Kashmir, intelligence inputs indicate launch pads in POK are filled with terrorists awaiting infiltration. Our adversaries will always exploit any chinks in our armour.
There is a belief amongst policymakers in Delhi, cut away from reality, distant from the armed forces and with the ears of the political leadership, that future wars would be in the Grey Zone. Operations, if any, would be limited in scope, hence manpower can be reduced. This is based on the premise that possession of nuclear weapons will preclude any major conflict. Their primary task remains to curtail the salary and pension component of the defence budget for which they keep inventing hair-brained schemes.
The reality is that Grey Zone warfare is perpetually ongoing. It would become predominant only when the adversary realizes that gaining claimed objectives by physical actions is impossible. While nuclear weapons may preclude large scale operations, the fact remains that India will not resort to a nuclear threat in response to terrorist actions and creeping operations with limited objectives. It is this that our adversaries have exploited.
Further, despite alliances and partnerships, the nation would have to handle its security problems alone. The most that allies and partners would offer is sympathy and criticism of the adversary, none of which has any impact on the battlefield. Hence, our armed forces must possess capabilities to win wars when launched by the enemy and to deter its attempts at misadventure by possessing requisite power.
Power is a combination of capabilities, manpower and government policies. Government approval for countermeasures on both fronts has stalled misadventures by adversaries. In a region where demands on India are territorial, holding ground is essential for deterrence and denial. Once grabbed by an adversary, regaining without escalation is difficult. This has been proved in Ladakh.
The government is responsible for ensuring that armed forces possess the requisite capabilities to deter the enemy. Being a democracy service chiefs would never accuse the government of failing to provide desired resources, though they may raise their concerns in discussions and debates. This was evident during the Kargil war, when the army chief, General Ved Malik, stated, “we will fight with what we have,” aware that there were gaping shortcomings in capabilities, which Pakistan exploited.
General Rawat had stated in an interview, “We were always tasked for defending our borders. And when you have unsettled borders on your north and west, you don’t know which side the battle will commence and where it will end. So, you should be prepared on both fronts.” While the armed forces mention two fronts, the government has a different perception. For years the government perceived that diplomacy and trade would contain the Chinese threat, while the armed forces could handle Pakistan and the terrorist threat. This misbelief led to low defence budgets.
Thus were born Indo-China summits.
However, diplomacy failed with Doklam and subsequently with Ladakh. It continues to fall short at pushing the Chinese to withdraw to pre-April 2020 positions, thereby placing the onus of keeping them at bay on the armed forces. India’s recognition as a major global player is determined by its ability to thwart offensive designs by China.
For achieving this, the armed forces need trained and motivated manpower. Currently, there are multiple schemes being pushed by protected bureaucratic elements, after obtaining approval of the national leadership, without consultation of service HQs, for curtailing manpower as also reducing salaries and pensions by various schemes. While these may appear logical to a non-military mind, they have inherent shortcomings impacting defence preparedness for which views of service HQs are paramount.
Currently, forces are compelled to counter what has been approved by the national leadership. This happens because the nation lacks a politico-bureaucratic-military interface to jointly discuss suggestions prior to rushing them to the national leadership. This shortfall is because the bureaucracy and the forces continue to distrust each other and play the one-upmanship game.
Arbitrary decisions, taken by those unaware of operational realities degrade organizational efficiency rather than improve it. There is a need to rethink what we truly need, an armed force capable of posing a threat to our adversaries or one suppressed into losing its teeth due to budgetary constraints and hair-brained schemes dreamt up by those who desire to please their political masters. The government should realize that investment in military capabilities is not an expenditure but an insurance policy which safeguards the global standing of the nation.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.)