Indian Armed Forces: The Challenges Ahead
As India completes 75 years of its independence from 200 years of British yoke, there is much to celebrate about and equally much to introspect. Revisiting the functioning with stark honesty of all its institutions and governance structures will produce realistic mid-course corrections and suggest better paths for the nation to traverse. The Indian Armed Forces, unquestionably, one of the few institutions of the nation, which has lived up to its assigned responsibilities with elan and the desired results has much to be proud of. Nevertheless, many emerging aspects, nuances of the nation’s security and well-being have to be factored in and pursued earnestly with vision and resolve. For the nation’s honour, its Armed Forces can never be found wanting.
By any standards, India is located in one of the most geo-politically troubled regions of the world. That it is surrounded by two consistently anti-India neighbours, China and Pakistan, both individually and collusively posing threats, only aggravates the formidable challenges it has to confront for its security. Both these nations being nuclear powers, synergistically anti-India, also adept at asymmetric warfare makes India’s strategic challenges mind-boggling.
For the record, India overall, since 1947, has done reasonably well in keeping at bay the many diverse security challenges which came its way. However, the strategic and military lessons from our confrontations, since 1947, must never be forgotten.
Soon after attaining independence and the accession of J&K to India, the Indian Army successfully thwarted the Pakistani tribal invasion in J&K which had threatened to wrest the state from the Indian Union– that if the Army was not halted prematurely, the Army would have ensured that portions of J&K and Gilgit-Baltistan would have also not been in Pakistan’s possession. Subsequently, the Chinese perfidy led to our debacle in 1962. The 1965 War, again triggered by Pakistan to foment unrest in J&K led to India having a clear upper edge at the termination of operations. In 1971, India’s Armed Forces brought to the nation its finest hour, ever in its long history, by dismembering Pakistan and a new nation, Bangladesh, being born. Pakistan, after a lapse of nearly 30 years, once again committed a folly by capturing some border posts in Kargil and subsequently was inflicted a telling defeat by the Indian Army and Indian Air Force. As recently as in May 2020, the serious Chinese border transgressions in our Eastern Ladakh sector also brought out some deficiencies in our security preparedness.
In addition, the Army has also to keep its counter-insurgency expertise in fine fettle for some parts of the nation, notably insurgencies in J&K and North East too have a tendency to flare-up. In addition, Pakistan’s efforts to trigger secessionist winds in Punjab can never be taken lightly by the Indian Army in concert with the para-military and state police forces.
As the Indian Armed Forces continually prepare to combat and defeat the enemies of the state, its top military and political leadership has to bear in mind certain imperatives which are sine-qua-non in ensuring the nation’s territorial integrity and well-being. Defence reforms, where required, must be conceived by institutionalizing review committees and on a time-bound basis and not as knee jerk reactions once any cataclysmic events befall the nation. Secondly, the government must allocate atleast 2.5 to 3 percent of the GDP for defence as recommended by many Inter-Parliamentary Standing Committees for Defence in the past–the current allocation of 1.5 percent or lower is woefully inadequate for modernization.
Among Indian Armed Forces myriad critical accretions, the Indian Air Force fleet has to be speedily augmented to a minimum 42 fighter squadrons strength while the Indian Navy’s submarine force also needs substantial accretions. Our indigenous defence production remains well below expectations and the government has to come up with innovative and encouraging measures to give a fillip to the ‘Atam Nibharta’ schemes. We need substantial augmentation to our R&D budgets and induction of drones for a variety of roles. Genuine public sector and private enterprise cooperation is warranted, beyond lip service, to attain self-sufficiency in our defence needs is the need of the hour.
Importantly, what is indeed beyond comprehension is that even after seven months of Gen Bipin Rawat’s tragic demise, no CDS has yet been appointed. Once the new CDS is appointed, among his first priorities will be to go into the much debated and essential theatrisation conundrum. Meanwhile, the Indian military will do well by studying the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict and drawing early lessons from it as we have similar equipment fielded by both the warring nations. Additionally, the Indian military must study emerging aspects of future warfare, newer technologies, nuclear, cyber and space warfare where China has taken a leap.
Many dispassionate observers feel that in many facets of Indian society there is a marked increase in politicization of institutions and undue infusion of religion and regionalism. All these aspects are anathema to the ethos, upbringing and handling of the Armed Forces and it is thus imperative for the military’s top hierarchy to ensure that such foul winds does not permeate into our traditional noble value systems.
The Indian Armed Forces have their work cut out to sustain the nation’s honour and territorial integrity as it has done admirably in the past. We have the respect and love of our people to sustain us even if somewhere governments falter. As a Veteran, all I can state is that the Indian Armed Forces will remain ever-ready to do the nation’s bidding and as true and resolute professionals, bring glory to the nation in all battlefields which they encounter.
(Lt General Kamal Davar is one of India's leading strategic experts and was India's first DG, Defense Intelligence Agency).