By Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd)
The Indian Army has always trained and prepared for “conventional military operations”; the last one in which it actually went into operations was in 1971. The then Chief Late Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw, did not come in pressure under PM Indira Gandhi and bid for his time to kit up, train and plan his operations to achieve the National/ Political / Military aims.
Post-1971, there was a decade of peace and tranquillity, the Punjab insurgency aided and abetted by Pakistan ISI and their proxy actors brought in the insurgency to the border state in the West, while simultaneously sowing the seeds of troubles in the then state of Jammu and Kashmir and now a Union Territory.
Under late Gen Sundarji and a young Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi the military muscles were flexed and a series of exercises were planned as Brasstack’s I – IV, the last one was a major Exercise planned in the deserts of Rajasthan. The Indian Army post-1971 was equipped with the latest equipment and well trained to take any mission assigned. The Jaipur cricket match and the peace “tete a tete” between Zia and Rajiv pulled the two countries back from the brink of war.
In no time in the summer of 1987 India sent the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka, IPKF got embroiled in a bitter fight with the LTTE over a period of close to three years.
In late 1989, the Jammu and Kashmir insurgency was peaking and the focus shifted to J&K. Over the years and in 1999 we had the Kargil heights occupied by Pakistan Army regulars disguised as “Non-State Actors”.
The Indian Army though stuck to the basics of conventional warfare in its training ethos, on the ground it perfected and honed skills in counter-terror / anti-insurgency and a new term was coined “No War No Peace”. The counter-infiltration operations became the order of the day and these operations whether in the North East or Jammu and Kashmir became the stepping stones to demonstrate professional excellence by the Military Leaders.
The senior military leadership focused on the situation at hand focused on tackling the same. The Political and Military leadership in their Military Appreciation deduced that Pakistan will never launch a conventional military operation and use “Jihadis” to keep the LoC and Kashmir valley on the boil while simultaneously courting Khalistani Militants under the guise of Kartarpur Corridor created for religious purposes.
Keeping in mind the “Make in India” initiative of the Government, the Indian Army though a bit late than their naval counterparts in developing indigenous technologies created the Army Design Bureau (ADB) under the Perspective Planning (PP) Directorate. The ADB bridged the gap between the Industries – Academia – MoD – IA.
The tools for a modern-day warfighting capability and the challenges being faced were released to the Industry and Academia as Problem Statements, to find in-country solutions. These were assisted by policy decisions incorporated in the Defence Procurement Procedures as amended from time to time with Make I and Make II options; these two have multiple options of development. The MoD vigorously pursued the Technology Development Fund to assist the MSMEs and academia for R&D.
The MoD launched a Strategic Partnership for major platforms, seven products (aircraft, helicopters, aero engines, submarines, warships, guns and artillery and armoured vehicles).
Battlefield Management Systems, Future Ready Combat Vehicles, Infantry Combat Vehicles, modern-day drones (armed/unarmed) though planned, discussed have not moved forward. Though no reasons have been given as a matter of policy, it can, however, be assessed that the “General Staff Qualitative Requirements” finalised by the end-users had a major gap in the ambitious technologies sought and in-country capability. Notwithstanding the offers are given to OEMs in terms of offsets for developing the same in-country have not been implemented due to a complex policy of the offset being linked to the approval of the Defence Acquisition Council and the provisions of the DPP in vogue on the date and time of the approval.
The OEMs have been conservative in sharing their state of the art technologies on which millions of dollars have been spent to bring them to fruition, in the OEM perception would have to be traded at a pittance.
The OEMs kept the budgetary allocation of the offsets in their home countries and earned interest on the same without any benefit to the Indian Government.
When we have a crisis at hand as the current belligerence by the Chinese, as a country India has no options but to buy “warlike stores” off the shelf to the benefit of the OEMs who reap in profits due to price escalation as well as liquidity damages to be paid to the original recipients.
In order to prepare for the long haul and bring up to speed the indigenous capabilities, the industry leaders and services need to be joined at the hip. Service officers need to be embedded with timelines of delivery; supported by budgetary allocation. The B Tech/M Tech degrees need to be specialised and the course syllabi need to be revamped, by taking the assistance of Indian Professionals abroad.
A team of officers with the aptitude for the critical technologies have to be invested in by training them in Universities abroad /attach professionals on deputation to the MoD, through them to the Service HQs.
The US and Israel are hubs for start-ups of defence technologies and at Government to Government level a platform needs to be created to work on these technologies and their embedding into the current inventory of the Indian Armed Forces.
The office of the CDS has a major task of bringing about a consensus on what can be developed and deployed in the near to mid future timelines. Once deployed the platforms can undergo design and operational parameter changes as per the request of the end-user.
The budgetary support has to be channelized with an inherent restriction built in preventing any re-appropriation of these developments funds from the allocated budget. The PRIORITY LIST of the development pursuits should not be changed irrespective of hitting a wall, the solution has to be found out.
This initiative needs a Dr E Sreedharan; kind of a personality; who is focused on delivering the end result with a carte blanche “right” to overrule/walk into any office of the Government of India to get the work done in the given timeline, I am sure it’s not that big a challenge if the PM set’s his mind to the task at hand.
This will bring India to be an equal partner in a multipolar world as we stand up to the Chinese and give our friends in the region our support to the bullying of the Chinese and help contain their nefarious designs.
(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal.)