May - 2013 ISSUE

Force Magazine
Silence of the Guns - June 2012
At the cost of war-preparedness, successive chiefs of army staff have sought personal glory
By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

The former chief of army staff, General V.K. Singh’s letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh written (in March 2012) before demitting office had its effect. The general wrote about glaring deficiencies in the army which impinge upon war preparedness. Within weeks, also keeping the recently-tabled Standing Committee on Defence (2011-2012) report in the Parliament in mind, defence minister, A.K. Antony cleared two issues which affect armed forces preparedness, especially of the army.

The service headquarters financial powers have been increased to Rupees 150 crore from the existing Rupees 50 crore annually, and the defence ministry has fast-tracked army procurements, specifically of the artillery, worth Rupees 15,000 crore. These include new regiments of BrahMos cruise missiles and Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers. On the face of it, this is good news; but given the perspective, it is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction of the government hoping to buy peace.

To begin with, General Singh’s intention when writing to the Prime Minister was not honest. On 13 January 2012, during his traditional Army Day press conference, FORCE asked him if, given the glaring deficiencies, the army was prepared for war. His prompt reply to a packed audience was that the army was well prepared to face any challenge. This was three days before he approached the Supreme Court, and weeks before he wrote to the Prime Minister consequent to his petition being rejected by the highest court.

To be fair to General Singh, most of his predecessors have had two things in common with him. Unlike the other two defence services, the army has a tradition of overstating its war preparedness to the media. A recently retired army commander told FORCE that “About 50 per cent of what a COAS says about preparedness is usually exaggerated.” It is only when the chips are down, do army chiefs admit that all is not well. Case in point is the 23 June 1999 interaction of COAS, General V.P. Malik with the media. Asked by a journalist how the army would fight in the face of severe shortages, at the time when it appeared during the Kargil conflict that Pakistan would broaden the war, General Malik’s spontaneous reply was: “We shall fight with whatever we have.”

The other tendency peculiar to the army is that it usually opts to overstretch itself much beyond its mandate, and this works to the service’s operational disadvantage. For instance, the raisings of nearly 70,000 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) forces from within its own resources depleted the army’s war wastage reserves alarmingly, which till date have not been made up. Successive COAS, since General B.C. Joshi ordered the quick raisings of RR in 1994 to meet the Pakistan-supported terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, have, mostly out of office, lamented about lack of modernisation and war preparedness. General Joshi’s successor, General Shankar Roychowdhury makes the point forcefully in his 2002 book, ‘Officially at Peace.’ He writes that: “Our apparent tolerance towards these blatant terrorist attacks (from Pakistan in J&K) was actually due to the run-down in our military capabilities for decisive punitive action. Effective counter-offensive capabilities were the precise area where the Indian Army’s potential had been greatly eroded.” The general was referring to the period between November 1994 and September 1997, his term in office.

Fast forward to the 1999 Kargil conflict. Writing in his 2006 book, ‘Kargil: From Surprise to Victory’, General Malik writes that: “When the Kargil war began, it was not the vintage but the deficiencies of weapons, equipment, ammunition and spares that worried us more. Even infantry weapons such as medium machine-guns, rocket launchers and mortars, apart from signal equipment, bullet-proof jackets and snow clothing for high-altitude warfare, were in short supply. Besides weapons and equipment, the ammunition reserves for many important weapons were low.” He further writes that: “No single issue has stymied the modernisation of the Indian Army as much as the Bofors artillery gun, which paradoxically was the most useful weapon during the Kargil war. We had no spares of the guns due to the ban imposed on the manufacturers.” General Malik was the COAS from October 1997 to September 2000.

Now let’s look at Operation Parakram from December 2001 to October 2002, when the army was in eyeball to eyeball confrontation with the Pakistan Army. A former northern army commander told FORCE that northern army command, under Lt General R.K. Nanavaty had major deficiencies in equipment and ammunition. This was communicated to the COAS General S. Padmanabhan after orders for army’s mobilisation had been issued.

However, when General Singh wrote to the Prime Minister, he had personal vendetta and not the service good in mind. This, otherwise, is what he should have done at the beginning and not at the fag-end of his inglorious tenure in office. The Standing Committee on Defence (15h Lok Sabha) has done one better on army headquarters by highlighting lack of preparedness in its report tabled in the Parliament in April 2012.

Under the heading, ‘critical shortages of armament with army,’ the report notes that: ‘There are huge gaps between the sanctioned and the existing machines with Army Aviation. If the sanctioned and the existing strength are compared, there is a shortage of 18 Cheetah, one Chetak, 76 Advanced Light Helicopters and 60 ALH (Weapons Systems Integrated). The deliberations have further indicated that the tank ammunition is another critical area having shortages. Another area affecting the army preparedness is requirement of guns for our army. Yet another area with critical deficiencies is air defence.’

Probably the most distressing deficiency highlighted in the report is the lack of proper bullet-proof jackets for soldiers. In his book, General Malik writes that after the 1999 Kargil war, when Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee met a seriously injured soldier in a military hospital, he asked him what he could do for him. Forgetting his pain, the soldiers’ reply was: ‘Sir, please get us lighter weapons and equipment which we can carry on these mountains more easily.’

Hasn’t General Singh written precisely about the same deficiencies as have been highlighted in the Standing Committee report? It is reasonable to conclude that in the last 18 years since 1994 when RR units were raised in a hurry to meet the impending threat of terrorism, little seems to have been done by army headquarters towards its primary task: prepare the army for war. While various COAS must take the blame for abdicating their responsibilities in varying measures, four reasons which have led to this deplorable situation need to be addressed.

One, unlike the air force and navy whose force levels are structured around platforms which are technology intensive and expensive, the army’s force levels are around its manpower. Thus, while the army has the largest annual capital budget allocations as compared with the other two services, they are spread thin across various acquisitions. It is incumbent on the army headquarters to ensure that (the numerous) acquisition procedures are time-bound and inclusive involving all relevant officials. This does not happen. In his testimony to the 15th Lok Sabha Standing Committee on Defence, the defence secretary told the members that:

“Take the case of formulation of GSQRs (General Staff Qualitative Requirements). There are cases where GSQRs have been formulated, re-formulated, again formulated and it takes months. Then, comes the framing of RFPs (Request for Proposals). Now, our procedure says that normally four weeks must be taken for formulation of RFP. I have got the figures of the army. At an average what we have worked out, nine months have been taken for the formulation of RFP, something which should have been done in four weeks. Then technical evaluation should take 12 weeks. The average time taken at TEC (technical evaluation committee) is six months. Then comes GS (general staff) evaluation. As per procedure, it must be from 28 weeks to 54 weeks, but on an average the army has taken not less than 18 months. There are cases where RFP has been issued but have been rejected. I have a figure from 1 September 2010. As many as 41 RFPs of the army were rejected and the reasons were — faulty GSQR, stringent GSQR, fault vendor analysis which implies that we may have anticipated three vendors but only one responded, or we may have short-listed five vendors, but only two responded. Then there are technology transfer issues and other miscellaneous reasons where attention had not been paid.”

This is not all. The GSQR are formulated without the direct involvement of the MGO (Master General Ordnance) at army headquarters. The MGO is a principal staff officer of the COAS and is responsible for life cycle costs of procured equipment. It needs to be understood that equally important as induction of equipment (since most is procured from foreign OEM or with their involvement), is its war worthiness throughout its life-cycle, ammunition stockings, and up-gradation. The MGO deals with these matters.

Two, COAS’ have an irrepressible urge to leave a legacy. Considering that modernisation is work in progress, war doctrines are viewed as tangible issues to be remembered by. After the 1999 Kargil war, General V.P. Malik enunciated the ‘limited war doctrine’. After Operation Parakram, General N.C. Vij spoke about the ‘Cold Start doctrine’ in 2004. His successor, General J.J. Singh re-named Cold Start as the ‘pro-active doctrine’ and also became the first COAS to issue the ‘Sub-conventional operations doctrine’. General Deepak Kapoor, who succeeded him declared the ‘two-front war doctrine’. And General V.K. Singh wanted to be remembered for the ‘Transformation’ within the army. While there is nothing wrong with labels, the problem is that they are not backed by requisite capabilities. FORCE has witnessed numerous army exercises (corps level manoeuvres) which were purportedly meant to vindicate the doctrine of the day. Without exception, all important capabilities in these exercises were notional. These included massive firepower, network centricity, adequate air defence, and ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance). It stands to reason that exercises are meant to smooth procedure, but to stretch them to imply that notional capabilities are for real is both fantastical and counter-productive.

Three, by over-reach of mandate, the army dilutes its focus from the core issue. The army since the 1999 Kargil war boasts of being prepared to meet challenges across the entire spectrum of war. These include sub-conventional war (terrorism), conventional war, and fighting a conventional war in a NBC contaminated environment. While the army’s mandate is to fight a conventional war against the backdrop of a nuclear overhang, the other two domains are outside its mandate and capabilities. A former COAS told FORCE that in case of a war with Pakistan, the RR would go back to its primary task on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. Terrorism and securing the internal lines of communications will be the responsibility of the paramilitary force and the state police. But has this been practised? Given that calm (however uncertain) prevails in the border state and the paramilitary forces are confident of taking on terrorism, should not the army go back to the Line of Control. We have the deplorable experience of the 1999 Kargil war when senior army commanders focussed on terrorism failed to grasp the reality of territorial occupation by Pakistan.

Take the case of fighting in a NBC environment. As Pakistan is unlikely to use chemical or biological weapons the issue boils down to a likely use of nuclear weapons by our adversary. FORCE has so often witnessed army exercises where army officers thoughtlessly make the point that men and equipment will be able to operate in NBC contaminated environment and continue towards objectives. The stark truth is that in case of an actual use of nukes, the conventional war would stop in the tracks. The war domain would change requiring an entirely different response, of which the field army leadership would not be a part of. According to knowledgeable insiders, except for the Chairman chiefs of staff committee, the other two service chiefs are not in the nuclear weapons’ delivery loop, which runs from the National Security Advisor to the Chairman COSC and the Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command. Against this backdrop, what does ‘Transformation’ that General Singh spoke about mean? The army has listed numerous tasks as its responsibility. These include conventional and sub-conventional wars, capability to secure island territories, maintain out-of-area capability, provide assistance to UN troops, and maybe combat anti-Naxal operations in the foreseeable future. Conventional capabilities refer to fighting on two-fronts, a full-fledged war with Pakistan and a border war with China. General Singh as the Eastern army commander, before becoming the COAS, had presided over a number of studies instituted by army headquarters related to capabilities needed to successfully undertake all desired tasks.

These studies led to the belief that the army should transform itself into a capability-based rather than a threat-based service. And this is what transformation is all about. The problem with this approach is that it equates all tasks, understating the external threat from two known adversaries. Thus while field formations want defined capabilities to fulfil their operational and tactical level mandate, army headquarters is focussed upon acquisition of a plethora of capabilities for sundry diffused tasks. This approach militates against fast modernisation and war preparedness.

Not only the army needs to stay focussed on acquiring threat-based capability, it should apply itself more on the new adversary, China. What are China’s strengths that it is likely to use against India, is the question that needs to be asked? Except for ballistic missiles and Special Forces, most of People’s Liberation Army’s strengths exist in the non-kinetic domain, about which the army can do little. These include space, cyber, and ISR capabilities. Given these realities, the army needs to approach the government for building national hard-power deterrence to take on the Chinese challenge.

This is not all. Inadequate infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control as compared with the Chinese side remains a major inadequacy towards war preparedness. FORCE had visited Kameng district in Arunachal Pradesh in 2011. Sadly, the roads and tracks are as non-existent as they were in the Sixties. Most of the forward posts occupied by the army and the ITBP are air maintained. While this is beyond the control of the army, it should at least continue to raise this issue at the highest level, including the Prime Minister. The 15th Lok Sabha Standing Committee on Defence report has highlighted this issue. It reads that: ‘The committee may again like to emphasise that the strategic infrastructure need special dispensation with regard to forest/wide life clearance. The defence ministry accordingly should take up the matter with the state governments and ministry of environment and forest so that the clearances are in place by construction of roads within the stipulated timeframe.’

And four, the army needs to keep its overall strength in check. At present, it is 1.3 million (13 Lakh) strong and would increase further if the government accepts the raising of a mountain corps. According to the Standing Committee on Defence report the overall ratio of army’s capital and revenue outlay has over the years shifted towards revenue budget which deals with combatant pay and allowances. In 2007-2008 the ratio between capital and revenue outlay was 26:74; in 2012-2013, it stands at 20:80. To recall, before the 1999 Kargil war, COAS General Malik has sought to reduce the army’s strength by 50,000 soldiers through a non-field force review; basically reducing the tail to sharpen the teeth. At present, with the China threat across the Himalaya, the army has sought to increase its numbers. Probably, there is a need to undertake an internal adjustment review. The RR could be reduced drastically, and a large number of combatants on officer’s private tasks could go back to active duties. If the army is unable to remain lean and mean, it will not be able to modernise properly. The army’s 11th and 12th defence plans (2007-2012, and 2012-2017) have sought to focus on precision fire power, air defence, aviation, future infantry soldier as a system, infrastructure development, network centricity, and achieving battle field transparency through improved surveillance, night vision and target acquisition. With half this period already gone, very little has been achieved.

Inadequate firepower for contact battles is a critical shortcoming. During the 1999 Kargil war, the army had three advantages: the Pakistan Army did not join the war; the Indian Army took the risk of shifting a large number of artillery guns from other theatres; and artillery was used to good effect in direct firing role. These operational benefits will not be available in a full-fledged war with Pakistan. While artillery for the depth battles have been added to the inventory, doubts remain about their accuracy and actual use considering that both sides are expected to avoid collateral damages. Artillery for the contact battles will set the stage for how the war progresses, especially when the army has adopted the strategy of multi and shallow penetrations. The following article highlights the dire need for field artillery for contact battles.


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