General Bipin Rawat assumed charge as the Chief of Army Staff on January 1, 2017. His appointment, though shrouded in controversy, indicates that he enjoys the support and goodwill of the government. In addition, the image of the Indian army is at an all-time high, after it successfully executed surgical strikes on terrorist camps across the Line of Control, in retaliation to the ongoing belligerent action by Pakistan, waging a proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir.
This restored the dwindling faith of the people that the Indian army was and is resilient enough to meet the aspirations of a resurgent nation. This gives the new incumbent a running start and an unparalleled platform of political support to address the critical challenges faced by the Indian army. This can be ably supplemented by cerebral, soldierly and communication skills which, I am aware, are in abundance with General Rawat.
The first and foremost challenge is to restore the intrinsic strength of unity in the Indian army and to reignite the fervour of oneness in the “rank and file”. It requires a two-pronged initiative. Internally, the existing policies/parameters of the military secretary needs urgent review, which, in the cloak of quantification, is obstructing the primacy of merit. Major policy changes initiated in the recent past, at times without adequate debate and at times, without the consensus of the Collegiate of the Army Commanders, has precipitated a feeling of casteism in the organisation. As if there are two distinct groups of “haves and have nots” in the army. This, in some cases, may be true or misplaced but is being exacerbated by social media.
In addition, there is a societal change underway as a consequence of the fabric of the officer cadre. The challenges to leadership need to be looked at and there may be a requirement for formal interfacing on this subject, hitherto taken for granted. Concurrently, on priority, there is a need to seek prompt political patronage to redress the anomaly of seniority of civilian personnel in military organisations, based on the hierarchical command structure, vis-a-vis the status accorded to civilian defence personnel, based on financial benchmarks. Also, there seems to be a continuous but concerted onslaught on degrading the status of military officers/personnel by civilian bureaucracy due to misplaced perceptions. This can only be redressed by the involvement of the political leadership.
The present state of confrontational relations with Pakistan and the much-awaited political focus to achieve conflict resolution in Kashmir by the country’s leadership may result in a limited conventional conflict with our western neighbour. Therefore, there is a need to re-accord priority towards conventional operations, especially at the conceptual, planning and execution level. This in no way implies that there should be a dilution in the vigour and commitment of the army to conduct counter terrorist operations. The Indian army has the capacity to meet these twin objectives. In my opinion, the strategists in India have resonated the Western viewpoint of the irrelevance of conventional conflict. Its repetition at various forums has, to an extent, lulled the security establishment into thinking conventional operations are passe and this is the era of only asymmetric-cum-irregular warfare.
In the context of our country, which has such large unresolved land borders, the reality of conventional conflict will remain in the mid-term. In addition, 2016 has been a landmark year for national security as witnessed in an assertive political resolve in dealing with Pakistan’s proxy war, manifesting itself in greater freedom to military commanders for border management. Therefore, the military hierarchy needs to develop capacities to harmonise political and military objectives, in consonance with national aspirations.
Another concern is the slowdevelopment of border infrastructure and road-rail linkages along the northern borders, which the chief has a first-hand experience of. There is an urgent need for restructuring the Border Road Organisation, sensitisation of officials to the impediments of existing capacities/workforce and benchmarking financial allocations for developmental works.
Modernisation of the Indian army has become an urgent priority; though there has been a lot of positive action by the defence minister, there haven’t been much gains on ground. Time is closing in and the capabilities of the DRDO and DPSUs to address our critical requirements, especially of major weapon platforms for artillery, mechanised warfare wherewithal and small arms, etc, needs to be assessed pragmatically.
While it is a priority to support the indigenous efforts of the DRDO for weapon systems, the present politico-bureaucratic-military hierarchy needs to know that going slow on the acquisition of other weapon systems under consideration may not be prudent. Each weapon system has a specific role and enhances the overall battlefield impact. The chief, with his insights, will be able to contribute very effectively. Another area of concern is the technological sovereignty of critical cyber wherewithal. This needs to be given a fillip on the technical front and by raising an effective cyber force to address our defensive and offensive capabilities. I shall not dwell on the merits of who, where and what shape it should have, but suffice to say that whatever we do, we need to be fast.
It is useful to highlight that seeing the importance of crippling the dependent systems of the conventional army by inimical elements through the cyber domain, the US army recently upgraded the Cyber and Special Forces Command.
There is a never-ending list of essential requirements but on priority, the above issues need to be addressed. Best wishes to the new chief to keep the flag of the Indian army at its zenith.