Tracks Changing For Indian Armed Forces

Tracks Changing For Indian Armed Forces

Mon, 05/18/2020 - 09:59
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By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

The Pandemic Effect

The Pandemic is a watershed event of 21st Century. The eventual normal is more than 4-5 years away. In between there will be many false normals. Major upheavals in geopolitics, economies and lifestyles on the cards. While the Indian economy is under the pump, this period also represents a period of economic opportunity for India as we seek ‘Atma Nirbhartha’.

Armed Forces must protect this transition from severe economic disruption to relative stability and prosperity while achieving their own ‘Atma Nirbharta’. However economic disruption will further hammer the already contracted defence budget. Hence modernization under drastically shrunk budgets is the norm.

The defence establishment is aware of this harsh reality. The consensus is that the only option is indigenization. Relook at GSQRs, increasing age of servicemen, 3-year tour of duty are incremental ideas. There is a requirement of a visionary restructuring. This is an attempt to put things in perspective before we reboot with the wrong software.

Changing and Evolving Militaries in Future

International military circumstances are changing drastically due to recessing economies and disruptive technologies. Currently all armed forces are like single shot guns. Fully loaded and cocked. If fired, all these onetime wonders cannot be reloaded during the Pandemic. Unaffordable. Hence, countries will preserve Armed Forces and avoid major conflicts barring some growling around.

New normals will emerge as economies revive. With the available clouded clairvoyance, we need to define these new interests and threats. Simultaneously Armed Forces will have to reorient war fighting with new tools of disruptive technologies in an era of multi domain operations. . Hence countries will reload Armed Forces with capabilities in line with new interests and threats.

Armed Forces which cannot handle this massive change will be dinosaurs in the new era. Will the new threats be different from the old ones?  Yes and No. The basic constituents of the old threat will continue. However the form and content will change.

Threat Scenario

In our context, threats from Pakistan and China will be constants. The Kashmir problem will persist. When seen in the evolving paradigm, the present threat from Pakistan and China remains nominally the same. However levels will be depressed notwithstanding the media hype and hoopla.  However when all factors are booted in, things change drastically.

There is some clarity emerging and a window is evident. India needs to utilize this widow to its advantage. So let us start with granulating the threat in its correct perspective.


The Virus is raging in Pakistan. The toll is mounting. Its economy is in ICU. Pakistan’s begging bowl has become bigger with holes in it. It cannot service its loans. It is bleating for loan write offs. Locust attacks threaten food security. The CPEC is an albatross around its neck. While the nation is going down, the Army is busy securing a 20% income hike!. Baluchistan situation is worsening. Inward remittances have stopped, and the Gulf job market has collapsed. Pakistani ex cricketer Javed Miandad has even come out in social media begging for alms to safeguard their nuclear assets.

Afghanistan and Taliban will keep it fully committed and make the Pashtun situation even worse. Pakistani ability to be a conventional adversary will be negligible for a long time (if at all).  However low-cost options in Kashmir will continue. Pakistani lines of action will be infiltration of terrorists couched as home grown resistance movements, manufacturing and boosting the Intifada call, internationalization of Kashmir, harping on plight of Muslims in India, conducting a high-octane IW campaign and be an catspaw in collusion with China.


The Chinese economy will shrink during the Pandemic. Joblessness and unrest will increase. A major portion of PLA will be deployed to ensure that CCP remains in power. However, China will continue its endeavor to achieve global domination. Its primary focus will remain on its overseas assets, South China Sea and Taiwan.

It will also continue its endeavor to modernize, transform and expand its Armed Forces as laid out in its White Paper on Defence of 2019  despite inevitable delays. As per the 2013 White Paper the PLA had a total of 2.3 million servicemen, with 235,000 in the Navy and 398,000 in the Air Force. Today, the Army is less than 50 per cent of the total.

A strength of half million has shifted to the Navy, Air force, Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force (responsible for space, electronic warfare cyber warfare). A Marine Corps of 30000 has come up under PLA Navy. It has drastically reduced Infantry. China’s transformation is however encephalitic.

If the focus is overseas and away from land borders and if its Army and especially the Infantry strength is reducing, there must be a finite limit on the threat it poses to India across the Himalayas.  As per an analysis by Belfer Centre, Havard Kennedy School, force parity exists between India and China on the Himalayas.

It also suggests that while Indian strength is focused on China, the Chinese strength also caters for internal tasks in Tibet and Xinjang.  Hence India is in a better position to defend the LAC. Taking all issues into consideration any analysis clearly indicates that

A large scale offensive needs a preponderance of 6-9 times at the point of attack in the Himalayas. Even after inducting 20-30 divisions into Tibet a meaningful strategic outcome is doubtful. Inducting such large forces into inhospitable terrain for extended periods with uncertain outcomes against a nuclear power is not a gamble modern China can take under pandemic conditions or beyond.

It creates unacceptable imbalances elsewhere. Chinas best bet is to create some awkward situations along the LAC periodically to tie down Indian Forces and show them in poor light as highlighted in my article ‘Are We Ready Across the Himalayas'. 

Chinese focus is to expand its Navy and overseas capability. Hence the threat is more in the IOR and to our Island territories. To this end China will project and posture a sizeable threat along the LAC to keep India tied down territorially. It allows China to continue expanding its footprint with its Navy unopposed.

China will continue to focus on Taiwan South, China Sea, and its Overseas Assets even after the pandemic situation stabilizes.

China will continue to support Pakistan and use it as a catspaw against India. 

Internal Situation.

The internal situation is largely stable including Kashmir. The Kashmir situation is vastly better since Abrogation of Article 370. The issue is now confined to the Valley only. The way the situation is developing and seeing Pakistani constraints to support terror, the CAPFs can handle the problem with the Army in support role.

Strategic Independence

I had previously written about defence being a prime vehicle in attaining strategic independence.. While the Pandemic has forced the threats to temporarily recede, it will also force us to change. In my opinion we must use this opportunity to sort out our incongruences. In fact we have no choice.

Strategic independence and self-sufficiency are hydra headed problems since the threats have changed, resources are few and form of war is changing in a zero-sum game. It demands new thought, innovation, adaption to the situation and importantly a joint approach to iron out the incongruence’s of the defence establishment. I will only highlight some aspects of the issue. 

Threat and Orientation Mismatch.

Our main adversary is China. Yet our main strike reserves are poised against Pakistan which is no more a conventional threat of any significance. Our main threat is emerging in the IOR. Our focus is on territorial defence and land borders. We are not facing the correct adversary in the correct direction and in sufficient strength. Very clearly Indian Armed Forces are in a state of serious imbalance and the Indian Army is oversized. Pruning manpower and restructuring reserves into dual tasking is the only way forward..

Manning the LAC.

Holding the LAC in strength with a mass of Infantry in static defences needs a relook. It will be better to hold it lightly with greater emphasis on surveillance, reserves, firepower (ground and air based including precision systems which are manned and unmanned) and cyber power. This should not be confused with peace time postures which are understandably and necessarily thin. Freeing and pruning manpower will allow investment in disruptive technologies. 

Focus on IOR.

We need to concentrate on the Indian Ocean Region. Increase naval power. Increase Maritime Domain Awareness, wide area ISR and precision strike capability. We have the technology to do so. This must be underwritten by strong sensor-shooter linkages. In our case the opposite has happened. The available UAVs are split between Services and the Army has split the sensor-shooter link it had.

Defanging Pakistan.

Pakistan has started approaching everyone for a loan write off. It has even started a campaign seeking public donation to retain and safeguard its nuclear assets. This is the right time to denuclearize Pakistan. India should start an international campaign to link loan write offs with de nuclearization and full verification of Pakistani nuclear assets. After all a suitcase bomb out of Pakistan can not be ruled out for use by terrorists. 

Disengagement from Kashmir.

The Internal situation in Kashmir is the responsibility of the Government and not the Indian Army. The situation in Kashmir has changed significantly post abrogation of Article 370. Time for the Army to ease off from the Counter Insurgency situation, be held as a reserve force and concentrate on its primary role only?  In any case the obsession and involvement of certain leadership elements within the Indian Army with Kashmir has not solved the problem. It has only enhanced their careers, made them narrow CI experts with limited value to the larger defence establishment.

Tone Down Unsustainable Ideas. Defence budgets must cater for multiple technologies in multi-domain operations. Hence a severe contraction of conventional capabilities is inherent. Recession compounds the problem. Consider this. We need modern fighter aircraft. We cannot afford it.  Army has surplus manpower which we do not need and cannot afford. We have home grown missile technology. That is cheap. So we should reduce manpower, defer fighter aircraft procurement, and go in for long range precision missiles till our economy picks up. Hence instead of toning down GSQRs we need to look at toning down our unsustainable ideas and shed our fixations.


There is need to innovate. For example, a higher velocity tank gun (105 or 125mm) mounted on the indigenous K9 Vajra Chasis will give us an effective tank for the high altitudes in the LAC. It is a readymade simple indigenous option. Should we frame General Staff Quality Requirements at all? Just sit and develop. The Israelis developed flares and Electronic Counter Measure to counter Egyptian shoulder fired Air – to – Air missiles during the Yom Kippur war and deployed them effectively! Should we wait for an expensive Future Ready Combat Vehicle and Future Infantry Combat Vehicle inordinately? Do we need them at all in view of the receding threat of Pakistan? Can we do with just upgrading the existing BMPs? Innovate. Innovate and Innovate.     

Import Moratorium.

Simply ban imports except in niche areas and keep them to a bare minimum. Let us start looking at import substitution, upgradation, reverse engineering, improving quality and cost control as high priority areas. DRDO, OFB, DPSUS, IITS and all others should start focusing on these activities and Armed Forces need to drive them. Take responsibility. The bureaucrat, scientist or the industrialist does not fight. Armed forces do. Time to control their own destiny – provided their leaders can! 

‘Atma Nirbharta’

Achieving self-sufficiency in defence must be a revolutionary affair. It is not just a matter of just indigenization and internalizing. It is a matter of major restructuring with an innovative vision and a broad world view. The senior leadership of the Armed Force must take responsibility. They need to rethink from first principles. Old formats like old economies will cease to exist. The leadership of the Armed Forces must rise above itself as a joint force. Tall order since the Chief of Defence Staff concept itself is new. The other option is to go the Goldwater Nichols Act way. In fact I do not think we have any other option but to change tracks. 

Republished with permission from