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Shaping The Army For Future Wars

Warfare is evolving faster than warfighters while legacy structures, processes, and doctrines are at odds with emerging realities. Holistic transformation of the military is hindered by the primacy of bureaucracy, along with politicians relying on bureaucratic advice, with little understanding of the changing character of warfare. The Indian military must calibrate its capability as a total of synergetic application of warfighting elements in a multi-domain environment - land, air, sea, space, underwater, cyber, and cognitive domains

By Lt Gen Ashok Bhim Shivane

Army Day Feature

“New conditions require, for solution … new and imaginative methods. Wars are never won in the past.”
Gen Douglas MacArthur

The evolving geopolitics, volatile security canvas, and the changing character of war require a deeper understanding of the larger construct of warfare. The battle space is becoming more expansive, complex, contested, and lethal. Ironically, warfare is evolving faster than warfighters. Legacy structures, processes and doctrines are increasingly at odds with emerging realities. In this cauldron, the militaries are conservative by nature, status quo by culture and thus guilty of preparing for not only the last war but the wrong war. The recent wars and their responses are a testimony to the same.

Indian Army’s Path to Future Readiness

The Indian Army’s vision is to transform into a modular, lean, agile, adaptive technology fused and self-reliant future-ready force to deter and win present and future wars in a multi-domain operational environment. As part of a force reshaping effort, the Indian Army is reviewing its structures and human capital, while undertaking modernisation and technology fusion with capability development endeavours committed to the vision of Atmanirbharta.

Technologically our modernisation focus remains to fight the last war with dwindling defence budgetary support and reforms, strategically we lack a national security strategy and integrated vision, and operationally, higher military leadership remains wanting in the nuances of the operational art and joint warfare construct

This transformation faces challenges due to the absence of a defined National Security Strategy (NSS), a Comprehensive Defence Review (CDR), and a credible deterrence against periodic turbulence by China and Pakistan. The primacy of bureaucracy, along with politicians relying on bureaucratic advice, with little understanding of the changing character of warfare, hinders holistic military transformation. The transformation process, including the establishment of Integrated Theatre Commands (ITCs), thus lacks holistic envisioning, foundational constructs and comprehensive legislative support and thus remains sluggish.

Military Transformation and Shaping Challenges

Military transformation is a process that shapes the changing nature of military competition and cooperation through new combinations of concepts, capabilities, people, and organisations. Military transformation to be sustainable must address all three critical components; transformed politico-military culture, transformed defence planning process and transformed joint service capabilities. Future-ready Army must have a budget-supported transformation plan that prioritises people and balances operational readiness (a combination of operational preparedness and operational effectiveness), with doctrinal reconstruction, restructuring, modernisation, and reoriented professional military education.

Both China and Pakistan understand the language of power and nothing else. Ironically, they periodically exploit our defensive and reactive responses. An odd surgical strike does not bury the ghosts of Kargil or Galwan. The reactive and defensive operational philosophy must transform into a preemptive and proactive strategy with deterrence based on denial and domination

The military needs to think beyond doctrinal updates, techno-savvy silver bullets and operational quick fixes to empower human capital and fundamentally reshape its doctrinal, structural, and organisational culture. It needs empowered strategic leadership, manufacturing prowess and homegrown technologies. Technologically our modernisation focus remains to fight the last war with dwindling defence budgetary support and reforms, strategically we lack a national security strategy and integrated vision, and operationally, higher military leadership remains wanting in the nuances of the operational art and joint warfare construct.

Strategic Imperative for Change

In the Indian context, while the integrity of continental boundaries remains primary due to disputed borders, we need to look at future capabilities beyond threats from just LC and LAC. The development of the maritime and aerospace domain merits due consideration. The future restructuring philosophy will need to focus on a ‘capability-based approach with deterrence based on denial strategy’. Capabilities must optimise future technology fusion in all domains and agile force structures must deny future threats by superior proactive and preemptive operational orientation.

The military must calibrate its capability as a total of synergetic application of warfighting elements in a multi-domain environment – land, air, sea, space, underwater, cyber, and cognitive domains. The need is to optimise tri-service capabilities beyond a single-service parochial approach based on an integrated military strategy to achieve desired political objectives. Capabilities take time, threats don’t wait, and intentions can change anytime.

Both China and Pakistan understand the language of power and nothing else. Ironically, they periodically exploit our defensive and reactive responses. An odd surgical strike does not bury the ghosts of Kargil or Galwan. Doctrinally, the present reactive and defensive operational philosophy must transform into a preemptive and proactive strategy with deterrence based on denial and domination.

The need is for a knowledge-based, decision-oriented, lethal networked joint force strike capability in both the kinetic and non-kinetic domains with offensive dissuasive posturing, and preemptive intent. The strategic and operational leadership construct too needs reorientation, as deterrence without human will remains a cliché. Victory or success remains a human endeavour.

The Indian military must graduate from their traditional two-dimensional spatial orientation to a vertical and cognitive integrated third-dimensional manoeuvre. The vertical component must include high altitude long-duration UAVs, Drones, UCAVs and airborne cum space satellite systems

Capability Development Matrix:

Surface to Space Continuum. The military must graduate from their traditional two-dimensional spatial orientation to a vertical and cognitive integrated third-dimensional manoeuvre. The vertical component must include high altitude long-duration UAVs, Drones, UCAVs and airborne cum space satellite systems.

Jointness to Interdependence. The level of interoperability and complementarity between land, sea and aerospace must achieve the desired speed, economy and operational acceleration. ‘Integrated Joint Theatre Command’ is indeed the destination but the path must be trodden by first strengthening desired capabilities and jointness of cultures.

Modular Combined Arms Integrated Force. The force constitution must be based on intrinsic combat, combat support and logistics elements including Attack Helicopters, UAVs, Air Defence, Artillery and C5ISR capability. Force application must be in an escalatory matrix by modular and scalable forces while in situ forces with inherent reserves provide the immediate pre-emption capability.

Technology Infusion. The mantra is quality over quantity and capability over capacity. In addition to technology induction, areas of C5ISR, Information Warfare, Cyber, Space and AI must find focus with a shift from a platform-centric approach to a network-centric approach culture.

Thought Leadership through Revitalised Professional Military Education (PME). A revitalised PME must result in creating and nurturing strategically minded intellectual thought leaders who demonstrate critical thinking, creative skills and technology adaption embedded in ethical military character to optimise joint force combat effectiveness in future battle space. A proactive mindset and offensive orientation is essential. Indeed ‘Men of Steel’, with a vibrant head, broad shoulders, and a straight spine.

To Conclude

The Army must dispassionately evaluate the current capabilities, structures, planning, and processes with objectivity. It is essential to identify the shortcomings, address the root causes and bridge these gaps through futuristic institutional reforms. Time is not on our side.

-The author is a PVSM, AVSM, VSM has had an illustrious career spanning nearly four decades. A distinguished Armoured Corps officer, he has served in various prestigious staff and command appointments including Commander Independent Armoured Brigade, ADG PP, GOC Armoured Division and GOC Strike 1. The officer retired as DG Mechanised Forces in December 2017 during which he was the architect to initiate process for reintroduction of Light Tank and Chairman on the study on C5ISR for Indian Army. Subsequently he was Consultant MoD/OFB from 2018 to 2020. The Officer is a reputed defence analyst, a motivational speaker and prolific writer on matters of military, defence technology and national security.The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily carry the views of Raksha Anirveda