Compared to Indian Army, it is assumed that the Chinese armed forces are better equipped and in the non-contact domain the PLA may be at an advantage.
Though the Indian Army is as old as the Indian nation, its origins go back much further to the 18th and 19th centuries, having evolved from the units and levies raised by the East India Company and thereafter the formations of the British Indian Army. It’s a battle hardened and highly experienced force which has seen four major wars and a limited war fought in very high altitudes. The army has seen action overseas as a peace keeping force in Sri Lanka, in restoring a lawful government in Maldives and across the borders in stopping Chinese encroachment in Bhutan. Its various units and formations have won laurels as part of UN forces. The army has been deployed in counter-insurgency role in various troubled parts of the country for long stretches and its multi-dimensional contributions in nation building are a source of great pride for the citizens of India.
Looking back, among all this, the Indian Army’s finest hour was the Liberation of Bangladesh, in a swift war fought half a century ago. Pakistani forces in the erstwhile East Pakistan, were out manoeuvred and soundly defeated leading to their surrender and capture of largest number of Prisoners of War, since the Second World War. Brilliant military leadership and thorough professionalism resulted in the birth of a new nation. In large measures, this victory was due to the ethos, discipline, a high sense of regimentation and the organisational structure of the army.
While the force structuring of the Indian army is well geared for carrying out its role and tasks, we need to do a reality check of the present state of affairs as relevant to national security. First and foremost, India’s ongoing security problems are land centric. We have unsettled and disputed borders with our two major adversaries. Going from East to West, there is a 3,488 km long Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, which is contested all along by the manufactured claims of our northern neighbour and has well identified disputed and sensitive areas. Almost in continuation is the disputed boundary with Pakistan on the world’s highest battlefield at Siachen Glacier. Thereafter is the Line of Control (LC), stretching over 740 km through J&K and which remains live with frequent exchange of fire with Pakistani troops. As the international border with our western neighbour nears the Persian Gulf, we have the boundary dispute at Sir Creek in Rann of Kutch.
Moving inwards from the borders, Indian army, para-military forces (again populated by the army) and Central Police Organisations (CPOs) have been embroiled in combatting militant insurgency in J&K and the North East, which is aided and abetted by inimical neighbours. To add to this, there is a Maoist insurgency waxing and waning in the heartland states of the Union, where fortunately the Army deployment has been avoided so far.
The live situation on the LAC and the LC, has to be handled by the army and this it does by having a large number of its formations constantly deployed in a state of battle readiness. While the IAF provides valuable support in terms of logistic and transportation reach, in the less than war situation permanently obtaining on these borders, it is the land forces who have to brace up for the long haul from the icy Himalayan heights to the foothills of J&K.
Given these kinds of commitments on the borders as well as the hinterland, necessitates the primacy of operations by the Army, where units and formations are deployed around the year. With past history of defending our own borders on multiple occasions and fighting insurgencies, India has a vast and varied experience of operational management.
The face-off between the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA in Eastern Ladakh, has led to comparisons of all kinds between the armed forces of the two countries. While it may be stated with a fair degree of certainty that the human resource of our army is superior to the conscript intensive PLA ground troops, it is generally assumed that the Chinese armed forces are technologically better equipped and that while a contact battle in the high mountains may favour the Indian army, in the non-contact domain the PLA may be at an advantage.
What exactly does this imply? In the present scenario along the Northern borders, any physical capture of territory would involve a contact battle with human element being predominant in the conflict. This would be supported by non-contact (kinetic) dimension, involving long range vectors and missiles which can cause damage in depth areas to a varying array of targets. The third form is non-contact (non-kinetic) warfare which encompasses electromagnetic, cyber, space, information warfare and psychological operations. The non-contact domain is all encompassing and goes far beyond the military, to include economic, energy, environment, water and any other resources which affect the net prosperity and capability of the nation.
Budgetary constraints and labyrinthine processes have undoubtedly been a dampener in acquisition of military weapons and equipment. However, that is not something which cannot be corrected. What is relevant here is a look at our capacities and capabilitiesin the technological fields related to contact and more importantly non-contact warfare.
Indian scientists have made remarkable progress in the fields of space research and missile technology. A similar momentum is required in other dimensions of non-contact conflict. A major initiative in this regard was the setting up of the Army Design Bureau (ADB) by the Indian Army in September 2016. Among other things the ADB has endeavoured to energise young scientific minds in harnessing cutting edge technology for military applications. The leading technical education institutions of India, are populated by faculty and students who have both the capacity and capability to provide top rate technical solutions to the plethora of technological problems and requirements for developing equipment related to different domains of warfare. This initiative by the Army has been moving ahead albeit slowly. However, as it gains momentum, systems will have to be put in place for transfer of technology, from prototype to assembly line products.
Our first Prime Minister called scientific institutes and other projects the temples of modern India, which would jump start progress in technology. Premier institutes like the IITs, IISc, IIITs and now a whole array of NITs, are national assets producing a regular stream of competent and qualified professionals. Unfortunately, harnessing these bright minds towards increasing the country’s technological capabilities is something that is not attempted systematically. Graduates from these institutions migrate abroad and are highly successful in major tech companies. They also go into fields which provide financial recompense of a high order but are totally unrelated to professions for which they have been educated and trained. These young brains are infused with a will to do and it is this spirit for achievement that needs to be channeled by programmes like ‘Make in India’, Startup India, Digital India etc. The major fields that need to be focused on and progressed for application in army systems include Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Quantum Computing & Communications, Biomaterials, Energy Capture & Storage and smart sensors. All these would be the primary drivers in multi-domain noncontact warfare to pulverise an adversary.
We have considerable parts of such an architecture in place. What is required is melding things in a way that students at an IIT or a startup or even an established company, can work on projects and problems that will enhance the country’s capability for multi-dimensional non-contact warfare. They can be as much a contributor to national security as a frontline soldier on the icy heights. India’s capabilities are under utilised at present making our northern adversary look more formidable than he actually is. The future for the Indian army lies in winning India’s wars with Indian solutions.