The transition that Indian Army needs

In the eight years of its existence, the Modi government has laid a strong foundation for India’s national security makeover. While a great deal has been achieved, given the complexity of the national security challenge, there are still multiple transitions to be made.

The signature initiative of the Modi government was the creation of the CDS/DMA. It righted a major anomaly in India’s Civil-Military Relations (CMR) trajectory, giving the defence services their legitimate voice in strategic-military affairs. It exhorts them to think for themselves, design and drive change in the national security frame, of course under political oversight.

We have seen a new normal in the nation’s strategic outlook, symbolised by the surgical strikes and the Balakote and Kailash Range operations. There was strong signalling to adversaries: there will be costs to pay for military adventurism.

Defence in the Modi era has emerged from the shadows of foreign policy. It recognises that force and diplomacy are two equal sides of the foreign policy coin — their attributes must be applied in concert to strengthen India’s strategic posture. As the prime minister put it eloquently, ‘shanti ki chah aur shakti ki raah, bhinn nahin hain.’ The road to peace and the path to power are convergent.

As a consequence of a major military re-balancing to the North, our defence frame now is a more accurate reflection of the threat. Our deterrence has been strengthened in terms of ISR, force levels, airpower, mechanised forces, artillery, reserves, technology upgrades and response options.

The drivers of Aatmanirbharta in defence initiative go beyond self-reliance. It is an ambitious venture to usher in a new culture of innovation, energy and enterprise, an invite to talents from the world of science and technology, business and enterprise in India to come together, to create defence capacities and supply chain resiliencies.

There has been considerable delegation of powers as also far greater latitude to military commanders and civil servants to execute projects, as also greater freedom for the defence services to ideate in public space and shape the national security narrative.

Events like the Raisina Dialogue are significant in terms of shaping global conversations. The political agenda setting for national security is far sighted. Delivery is now in the hands of the bureaucracies — military, civil, administrative and technological — who need to step up to the challenge, while freeing themselves from bureaucratic knots of the past. Should we do so, there is no reason why Indian defence will not begin to punch in accord with its own strategic weight.

In doing so, China is the obvious first stop. What makes the China Challenge worrying is that it is complex, sophisticated and laced with strategic cunning — it goes beyond mere operational rebalancing and lies in the broader strategic-military landscape: not only the capacity blitzkrieg in the WTC but the wider technology zoom, its determined embrace of digital combat et al. To close the gap with China we need to ideate and execute far better, with speed.

Asymmetric Deterrence of China is a distinct possibility. The differential in defence spending between China and the US is similar to that between India and China. In terms of deterrence radiation, China is doing better because of the ‘displacement anxiety’ it has caused in Pentagon — there is a lot we could do by way of defence reforms, organisational re-structuring, technological innovation and imaginative strategising to cause similar anxiety in Chinese ranks. In terms of budgetary optimisation and manpower, there is a need to prioritise emerging technologies as also make a determined pivot from an employment avenue model to a youthful, talent retention model.

Digital capacities in combat are transforming warfighting. Autonomy, combat clouds, enterprise powered operations, and precisionary have the potential to take warfighting to a new level. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and associated technologies will transform not only militaries but the foundation of power. The Indian military must make the transition from industrial era warfighting to digital combat.

Strategic-military futures will be shaped not merely by the embrace of technology, but by the quality of technological innovation. The speed with which private sector competencies/ startup energies are integrated into warfighting will determine the power of the Indian military.

None of the foregoing will be possible without agile bureaucracies. Centralisation, rules and procedures mitigate against the spirit of innovation, the latter being an ethos that will simply die in the face of centralisation and control. If the animal spirits of innovation are to be truly unleashed, we will need a bigger leap of bureaucratic faith.

Civil-military fusion is the mantra of the future. It calls for bringing together of the talents of the military, industry, business, academia, centres of science and R&D, startups, technologists, domain specialists and bureaucracies in the pursuit of national security objectives.

India today is in a geopolitical sweet spot. The natural trajectory of the nation is pointed towards growth and prosperity. The national security makeover that has been set in motion, needs to be taken to its logical conclusion, if we are to ensure that India attains its place in the world.

The writer is a former army commander

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)

Roy Walsh

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