Linking Force Sizing Decisions to Future Capability Outcomes

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)

Issue: 4 / 2018Illustration(s): By Anoop Kamath

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.

Force Sizing & Military Transformation

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.

Operational Rightsizing Imperatives and Challenges

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.

Ideating Right Sizing Outcomes

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:

  • Size and Shape of the Force. Rightsizing should manifest in the ability to optimise 1,50,000 to 2,00,000 personnel of the present strength over the next five years to balance quantity with quality. Force optimisation must reshape the Army with a quantum jump in teeth-totail ratio, modernisation impetus and joint operations culture. There is a need to address organisation inertia in rightsizing static headquarters commencing with Army HQ, pruning/reorienting field army headquarters by removing peacetime redundancies, duplication and flab, as also adding teeth to combat echelons to fight and win future wars. This should also include simultaneous optimisation of burgeoning civil manpower of Ministry of Defence (MoD) and monolithic civil establishments paid out of the defence budget. This flab is protected and kept invisible. A 10 per cent cut in all static headquarters and a 5 per cent cut in divisional and above headquarters flab is highly possible. Disbandment of intermediate headquarters has its own dynamics and needs greater deliberation. Simultaneous reforms in HR policies and training needs, also merit complementary effort.
  • Force Reprofiling and Force Restructuring. The Army should modify its structures to achieve a ‘lean and mean’ profile, with the thrust to convert some existing structures into ‘smarter’ technology enabled ones. Reorganisation of infantry units to reprofile the fourth company to an SF company with an integral sniper platoon, mix of medium and light mechanised forces with integrated attack helicopters, multi-tier integrated air defence systems, reprofiling selected artillery units with long range precision fires, restructuring existing intelligence staff to ISR and IW structures and reorienting additional signal units to electronic warfare assets are some of the plausible deliverables. Analysis of the future security scenario has also thrown up the need for a rapid reaction joint force requirement with enhanced vertical lift and amphibious forces capability, besides joint force structures for special forces, cyber and space warfare.
  • Joint Force Capabilities. ‘Building Joint Capabilities’ will be the key enablers in securing India’s security interests and would be fundamental to any future conflict. It necessitates that our structures, operational concepts, doctrines, training and acquisition processes for induction of strategic force multipliers are synchronised to optimise the capability development strategy within the realistic budgetary allocation. Synergisation of operations through interoperability and interdependence would be the way forward.
  • Logistic Transformation. The fusion of logistics, information and transportation technology to deliver logistics based on “just in time” and “just what’s needed” is essential. Presently there are too many independent logistic entities wagging their tails. Thus, an integrated theatre logistics based on a responsive and multilayered concept with better management tools and automation must be implemented to enhance efficiency as also prevent duplication and plug inefficiencies.
  • Budgetary Rebalancing. To be sustainable and modernised with desired operational capabilities, the present force levels need to be optimised initially to generate a revenue: capital ratio of 70:30 and finally leading to an ideal 60:40 ratio. The ratios will only matter and make a difference provided matching budgetary support is assured. The defence budget must be increased from current levels of all-time dip of 1.49 per cent of GDP other than pensions (for FY 2018-19) to closer of the world average of 2.5 per cent of GDP over the next five years. Defence budgetary reforms must also be pursued in right earnest, complementing the military transformation effort.
  • Technology Empowerment. Technology is a key force multiplier, which must occupy the center stage of rightsizing outcome, supported by more specialists, as compared to generalists. The present state of low technology profile of 8:24:68 (state of art: current: vintage), against the desired 30:40:30 needs immediate redressal. The four core capabilities of a network centric force and C5ISR which must manifest are shared situational awareness, decision dominance, joint force synchronisation, rapidity of force application and precision fires for favourable force exchange ratios through information and integrative technologies.

‘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

Linking Rightsizing to Calibrated Modernisation Strategy

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:

  • Tiered modernisation to enhance capabilities while mitigating the risks of low funding availability. This approach prioritises Modernisation Level 1 (state-of-the-art) of a smaller force which is at high risk and high readiness priority, while ensuring Modernisation Level 2 (current) of the majority of the balance force to upgrade when funds become available. The Army must place first priority on formations most vulnerable, that is, those facing the greatest risk when employed.
  • Bridge technology gaps and shorten acquisition timelines with mature/in service technologies earliest, by way of product improvements in the short-term for which technologies change rapidly. Followed by sub system/system upgrades in the midterm for which technology changes more slowly and equipment replacements in the long-term for which technology changes even slower.
  • Prioritised modernisation based on acquisitions adding maximum value to combat effectiveness, mitigating critical vulnerabilities and accepting certain risks. Risk must be assessed in temporal terms and accepted in certain areas to ensure that the more critical areas are addressed prior.
  • Modernisation decisions must be both affordable and cost effective within the overall budget to include life cycle costs. The opportunity cost of “over-spending” to close a specific high cost gap is that we will not be able to afford closing several other gaps; thus, we must make cost informed decisions to manage ‘best bang for the buck’.
  • The fiscal requirements for modernisation must be carefully balanced against the fiscal requirements necessary for sustaining the force at hand in its life cycle. Modernisation and sustenance are two sides of the same coin. Thus, standardisation and commonality of a family of platforms and interoperable technologies will reduce sustenance cost with better inventory management.
  • Modernisation foundation must be based on indigenous capabilities even if marginally lower, and where insufficient then based on a joint collaboration with an Indian firm with levers in our hand.
  • Formation and unit specific equipping with sector specific force multipliers as sector stores, will produce greater effects rather than diluting equipping and distributing limited assets across the board without major payoffs.
  • In an era of effect based joint operations, interoperable and synergised modernisation strategy for joint force capabilities is not only financially wise but operationally prudent.

Managing Change and Transition

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.