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Indian Army Downsizing: Strategically Imprudent – Analysis – Eurasia Review

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By Dr Subhash Kapila

The Indian Republic to attain and sustain the status of a credible
predominant military power in South Asia and to ascend the aspirational
ladder of emerging as a Major Global Power needs a 2 million strong
Indian Army. Any advocacy in political, strategic and military hierarchy
circles to downsize the Indian Army from its present levels of 1.3
million is strategically imprudent and negates India’s national
aspirations.

India’s credible military power levels which is a geopolitical
imperative in the prevailing security environment in 2019 and thereafter
cannot be achieved at ‘basement bargain rates’. Military power is
expensive and India has to divert resources from populist and
financially wasteful political schemes of past Governments to build up
the Indian Army.

More tellingly, Indian Army’s war preparedness grossly neglected by
the Government in ten years of 2004-14 has left in its wake glaring
voids in Indian Army’s fighting machine which have to be fast tracked to
make up the voids. Any fast tracking of war -preparedness in terms of
military inventories and completion of War Wastage stocking levels needs
short circuiting of ponderous defence acquisition processes and also
entails increased costs.

Indian Army strengths and force structures cannot be modelled on
Western templates strictly related to threat assessments. India unlike
United States and Europe shares contiguous land borders with its two
military adversaries, namely China and Pakistan.  Both have in the past
launched aggressive wars at short notice against India to achieve
political goals.

Indian Army’s strength, size and force structures need to be
therefore to be balanced both for physical manning of its long land
borders with China and Pakistan as well as threat assessments of enemy
plans.

In evaluating threat assessments of China and Pakistan to India’s
national security India cannot afford to revert to Nehruvian principles
of interpreting China and Pakistan’s intentions. Perforce Indian Army
strengths and force structures need to be based squarely on China’s and
Pakistan’s war waging capabilities against India.

In 2019, India stares at the possibilities of a Dual China-Pakistan
Threat challenging its geopolitical strengths and our adversaries open
intents to challenge India’s rise in the power calculus of Indo Pacific
and global security.

The Indian Army has to shoulder the following onerous security
tasks/challenges which on detailed examination would reveal that Indian
Army’s strength cannot be downsized without resultant security risks but
conversely dictate increased manpower and organisations to hone its
operational effectiveness:

  • Defend the territorial integrity and sanctity of India’s borders with
    China (3,488 km), Pakistan (3,323 km), Bangladesh (4,076 km), Myanmar
    (1,648 km), Nepal (1,571 km) and Bhutan (699 km). The Indian Army
    performs this task either by direct physical manning of the borders or
    as back-up support to Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), in case of the
    last three named.
  • India’s borders with China and Pakistan are ‘Live Borders’ militarily and need increased number of ‘boots on te ground.
  • Indian Army at all times has to be operationally ready to meet
    conflict escalation and short notice aggression by Pakistan and China by
    their offensive operations or military brinkmanship. This requires
    sizeable number of Indian Army Formations on its Order of Battle (ORBAT)
  • Indian Army needs a number of Strike Corps both against Pakistan and
    China for offensive operations as well as Strike Corps battle-ready in
    peace and war, as well as to provide existential conventional deterrence
    to its enemies.
  • Two separate Mountain Strike Corps are required for Eastern and
    Western Theatres. The Western Theatre where the China-Pakistan Axis can
    really come into play needs a dedicated Mountain Strike Corps.
  • With terrorism threat against India with external links gaining more
    prominence, the Indian Army needs to cater for over-sized Special Forces
    setup to liquidate such challenges beyond the scope of CAPFs. Mumbai
    26/11 carnage would have been nipped in the bud in the first 24 hours if
    Indian Army would have been used byte Congress Government.

In addition to the above vital security roles of physical
manning of China and Pakistan borders, India in coming decades will be
called upon to shoulder its fair load of regional security commitments
as the nett provider of regional security in close partnership with the
United States , Japan and Australia. India can no longer adopt a ‘Hands
Off ‘attitude towards regional conflicts and conflict escalation.

To meet such challenges Indian Army would need to create
Expeditionary Forces capabilities with both airborne and amphibious
capabilities.

Indian Army force requirements for such regional commitments have to
be created over and above the two vital security roles of defending the
territorial sovereignty of the India Republic both by defensive
operations and offensive warfare capabilities in form of Strike Corps
covering both the Pakistan Threat and China Threat.

With China-Pakistan Axis militarily concretising as evident in 2019,
no scope exists for Indian Army juggling its Reserve Formations between
the Pakistan Front and the China Front as done in earlier decades.
Dedicated additional Reserve Formations would be required for both
Fronts.

India can no longer afford to cut defence expenditure by downsizing
the strength of the Indian Army. In terms of national security
imperatives such an advocacy to cut down the operational strength of the
Indian Army can be viewed as downright suicidal. The Indian Army
hierarchy should not become willing accomplices in cutting the strength
of the Indian Army when no such visible cuts seem to be in the offing in
relation to the Chinese Army and the Pakistan Army.

Streamlining of Indian Army force structures is a viable option only
in terms of reorganising the logistics infrastructure without touching
the organic logistics complement of Strike Formations. Savings of
manpower from logistics pruning of static regional military set-ups
should be diverted to completing shortfalls of manpower of Fighting
Formations.

Indian Army downsizing of its strength is a periodic bug which bites
Indian Army hierarchy from political and bureaucratic pressures of the
Ministry of Defence. Also, pressures from the Finance Ministry too come
into play. Such pressures emanate solely from balancing the defence
expenditure figures without regard to Indian Army’s vital operational
roles and commitments.

The Indian Army military hierarchy should therefore be honour bound
not to allow Indian Army’s fighting strengths, capabilities and war
preparedness lapse into the Nehruvian ‘Pre-1962 Syndrome’.  It should
firmly oppose any such political or bureaucratic pressures.

Ironically, no debate seems to be emerging in tandem in Indian
strategic community circles as to why the strengths of the Para Military
Forces and the Central Armed Police Forces is exponentially increasing
by the day but calls are made only on the Indian Army downsizing?

With the contextual backdrop delineated, one can now briefly examine
the two vital security roles of the Indian Army in terms of physical
manning of India’s borders with China and Pakistan, and also having in
place existentially strong Strike Forces to provide credible
conventional deterrence.

The point already stands made that unlike United States and Europe,
India has the military challenge of manning long land borders which are
disputed by China and Pakistan. The terrain encompasses icy Himalayan
terrain to plains, desert and jungles. These terrain conditions and the
climatic and weather factors need extensive manpower as technology is
not effective in terms of surveillance. These types of terrains eat up
military manpower and therefore defensive deployments of Indian Army
cannot be cut down. Nor can the oversized Central Armed Police Forces
are operationally empowered to take over Indian Army tasks except in
some sectors more as ‘trip-wires’ than sustained defensive operations.

Compounding the above challenge is the long-held Indian security
axiom of “No Loss of Territory” to China or Pakistan in peace and war.
This multiplies the number of Forces required for conventional defence.

Indian Army Strike Formations need to be credible both in terms of
operational punch and complete strengths of manpower and materiels. The
niggardly approach of the previous Government towards raising of
China-centric Mountain Strike Corps, reportedly still not complete,
affects the credible conventional deterrence of the Indian Army.

Same has been the case of the Special Forces Command and the Cyber
Warfare Command. These should have come into being years back and be
effective in 2019.Strongly to be emphasised is that it is the ponderous
Indian Ministry of Defence that needs to be downsized drastically where
each section of functions are duplicated from the three Services
Headquarters. Wasteful expenditures indeed when no scope functionally
exists for duplication of functions being performed by the three
Services Headquarters.

If the Indian Prime Minister can run a country of the vast size of
India with a negligible Prime Minister’s Office to run governance of
India’s 1300 million citizens why does the Ministry of Defence need
hundreds of bureaucratic functionaries and civilian staff to run a
million plus Armed Forces?

 Realistically, the flab is in the Ministry of Defence oversized
staffing which in terms of good management dictating minimum points of
coordination extends to vast network of subterranean entities. All of
this leads to inordinate delays in defence decision making and a big
financial load on India’s defence budget which profitably could be spent
on adding more punch to Indian Army’s operational capabilities.

All that is required a limited size Defence Minister’s Office and
leave the remainder functions to the three Services Chiefs and their
Headquarters who have spent a lifetime in running and honing India’s
war-machine to good effect.

Similarly, under the Ministry of Defence there are bloated
bureaucracies in Controllers of Defence Accounts, Defence Research and
Development Organisation, Defence Estates management, Military
Engineering Services and Ordnance Factories Board. It is these outfits
that need serious downsizing. A few of these have been named.

 Management consultants should be outsourced to review the size and
functions of the Ministry of Defence and the major set-ups directly
controlled by it.

The Border Roads Organisation is no longer a productive organisation.
The same tasks can speedily be executed by India’s private sector to
meet operationally urgent requirement of strategic roads on India’s
Northern Borders. This Organisation ends to be completely wound up
plagued as it is by bureaucratic rivalries.

Pensions of Military Veterans should be a separate Budget allocation
divorced from the Defence Budget and such allocations is diverted to
acquisition of weapons and equipment. Military Veterans pensions are a
sacred obligation of any Indian Government and India owes a ‘National
Debt of Honour’ which the Modi Government has redeemed after decades of
neglect by OROP entitlements. The task must continue by establishing a
separate Budget Head.

Concluding, it needs to be strongly emphasised that no scope exists
for downsizing the Indian Army. India’s national aspirational goals both
regional and global strongly militate against such a step as imprudent.
India needs a 2 million strong Indian Army is view of the contextual
threatening geopolitical environment. The strength of the Indian Army
needs to be based on India’s security needs and military threats from
China and Pakistan. The Indian Republic in 2019 abounds in economic
resources which need only diversion from politically populist
financially wasteful schemes of the past Governments.

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