The recent initiative by the Army Chief to right size and restructure the Indian Army is an exigent and laudable initiative, writes Lt General A.B. Shivane (Retd)
The present exercise presumably aims to address the force levels, organisation structures, capabilities and related shortfalls of the Indian Army with a view to optimally transform it, over a defined period, into an a lean, agile, versatile and technology enabled combined arms modular force, capable of meeting current and future operational challenges.
Indian Army is the third largest Army in the world. From 1948 to the present, it has grown approximately 3.5 times to a strength of over 1.2 million. While this manpower escalation is due to the dimension of territorial threats and pivotal role of ‘boots on the ground’, the size has become disproportionate to its shape in terms of sustenance and modernisation needs in the present fiscal environment. The result is the snowballing adverse imbalance between the 3 M’s: Money, Manpower and Material, creating a cascading criticality for today and capability voids for the future. In such an environment, finding ‘novel ways’ with ‘limited means’ to achieve ‘larger ends’ remains a challenge.
The recent initiative by the Army Chief to right size and restructure the Indian Army is an exigent and laudable initiative. The present exercise presumably aims to address the force levels, organisation structures, capabilities and related shortfalls of the Indian Army with a view to optimally transform it, over a defined period, into an a lean, agile, versatile and technology enabled combined arms modular force, capable of meeting current and future operational challenges. The spirit being that quantitative reduction will result in commensurate qualitative capability enhancement in defined timelines. However, it is neither new nor a unique exercise, having been credited in the past by several such studies on the subject, which have either gathered dust or failed to achieve desired results. The lessons are well known; denial of budgetary savings in revenue manifesting in commensurate capital enhancement for new schemes, lack of ownership to link resource decisions to defined modernisation outcomes, and absence of governmental support aggravated by bureaucratic hurdles. Thus, the success of the present exercise will depend on a ‘comprehensive, complementary and timebound’ institutionalised approach with politico-military harmony.
Expansion and contraction are defining force sizing characteristics of any vibrant modern military, driven by its peculiar strategic security environment and national interests. Rightsizing in this context is a proactive approach to restructure and realign its human resources with strategic security goals and desired capabilities. In contrast to the more reactive or cost-cutting measure of downsizing, rightsizing is intended as a long-term move to enhance efficiencies and future capabilities to minimise risks and vulnerabilities, based on the future security scenarios. The objective is to develop and field a credible force that is affordable, sustainable, versatile, technology enabled to deter and defeat potential adversaries, across the entire spectrum of conflict. Although financial imbalance may be the driver for right sizing of the force, the augmented shape of the force, its enhanced capabilities and readiness reflect the outcome.
Force sizing is thus a one subset of the macro transformation process. An effective transformation strategy in our context must tackle the following six issues: the “bigger the better” syndrome, the absence of a strategic culture exemplified by void of a national security strategy, the sustenance and capabilities voids, the imbalance and lack of reforms in the defence budget, bureaucratic decision-making apathy and risk averseness, and the absence of jointness. Thus, to be sustainable it must address all three critical components; transformed military culture, transformed defence planning process and transformed joint service capabilities.
India’s multi spectrum security challenges today, are fast outpacing capability building process impinging upon our national security. The capability cum technology gap between our adversaries; in particular the northern borders is widening, diluting our credible deterrence in the north and punitive deterrence in the west. Dokhlam type actions in our Northern borders, Kargil type limited conflicts and proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) are a manifestation of such rising vulnerabilities which would continue in the future. Further, realities of our turbulent disputed borders and diverse inhospitable terrain, requiring a manpower-centric deployment of troops for border defence and counter infiltration grid cannot be assuaged. Balancing the risks between present force requirements and future force vulnerabilities further complicates the equation. In order to bridge this capability gap, induction of high technology military systems, force multipliers, creation of requisite infrastructure and joint force capabilities are required to complement the present force rightsizing and reshaping effort. Further, success in countering future threats will require skilful integration of the core competencies of the three Services and their transformation into an integrated force structure driven top down by politico - military synergy.
“It is not the Big Armies that Win Battles… …It is the Good Ones” —Field Marshal Maurice Comte de Saxe (1782)
The defence budget a key enabler and an indicator of the demonstrated will of the government to achieve the desired ends, inevitably ends up as the prime villain. Given the pragmatic but limited nature of the defence budget, reducing revenue expenses and increasing capital availability poses the biggest hurdle. The challenge lies in either an ‘Army sized to Budget’ or a ‘Budget sized to the Army’. Given the Indian environment, a pragmatic approach would be a mean of both. The imperative is thus to transform to a right sized force, capable of being optimally equipped with modern equipment and fully sustainable within a realistic budgetary forecast, without diluting the mandated capabilities.
Deliverables of Rightsizing Decisions. Doctrinal outcome of rightsizing resulting in capability enhancement must manifest in the ability to defend two fronts with capability to achieve war objective on the primary front while denying the enemy victory on the secondary front and ensuing positive control on the internal security fronts, if required. This must be the strategic guidance of our operational philosophy and force development strategy based on threats envisaged and capabilities desired. Some of the deliverables of right sizing desired are:
‘Right sizing without Capability Outcomes’ would be haphazard and bereft of desired organisational and combat capability outcomes. The success of the present exercise will thus not be just the decisions taken, but by linking them to the future shape and modernisation outcomes of the Indian Army
Modernisation Outlook. Modernisation preserves the Army’s core capability to defeat and deter adversaries through combat overmatch, for the present and future conflicts. Accordingly, ‘Army Equipment Modernisation Strategy’ must address the strategic, technological and fiscal environments and build our equipping priorities based on value, vulnerability and risks in temporal terms. To build and maintain the desired capabilities, we must focus on affordable, sustainable, prioritised and cost effective modernisation decisions which integrate mature technologies and incremental improvements, while investing in emerging technologies for the future in a spiral approach.
Calibrating Modernisation Strategy: Ends, Ways and Means. Resource availability cannot dictate the ends required for the Army, but its calibration defines both the ways and means to achieve those ends. The ends are defined as the capacity and readiness to accomplish combat overmatch. The ways are to balance needs with limited resources to advance the most important modernisation projects and optimise combat readiness of the Army. The means are through a tiered modernisation duly prioritized, judiciously scaled and balanced with sustenance needs. Thus, the art of the calibrated modernisation will be to balance capability, sustainability, and readiness within the allocated resources to achieve the desired ends. The contours of such a strategy must entail:
Rightsizing is to do with human resources in war, which are assets rather than liabilities and thus the approach must be deliberate, project positive energy and must be seen as an opportunity for improvement rather than a reaction to a threat or crisis. Progressive right sizing and resultant qualitative force upgradation must be clearly articulated in terms of objectives, strategies and timings, disseminated to the environment, interlinked, and balanced on the same scale. To be seen as a balanced and fair strategy, it must also provide equal attention to and support those who need to be realigned. Last but not the least, it must begin with small near term, doables, which when achieved, create momentum toward desired mid term and long term objectives, rather than attacking rightsizing as a large, complex, draconian task.
To conclude, ‘Right sizing without Capability Outcomes’ would be haphazard and bereft of desired organisational and combat capability outcomes. The success of the present exercise will thus not be just the decisions taken, but by linking them to the future shape and modernisation outcomes of the Indian Army.
The author recently retired as Director General, Mechanised Forces, Indian Army.