Perhaps no defence procurement has drawn as much public attention as the recent announcement of the purchase of the Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, along with its refurbishing costs and associated complement of fighter aircraft and helicopters. The reasons are varied. Some have questioned its very need while others have commented on cost-effective alternatives having been ignored. Some have argued that the Indian air force, with its long range SU 30 fighter and flight refuelling capability, could have provided the fleet with much more, while others are unhappy at the prospect of a ship headed for the scrapyard being given free, but with a huge attendant bill for retro fitment and equipment added.
There have been others who have endorsed this move, giving operational and other grounds to support their views. It is also not without significance that this project has been under active consideration for nearly ten years and such procrastination in itself has generated speculation and debate. An interesting aspect of the debate has been that many retired senior officers from all the three services have expressed views, apart from editors and security commentators.
Undoubtedly, of all the major defence procurements of recent years, this deal has clearly elicited strong views on both its desirability or otherwise. Such divergent views, especially from senior retired military professionals, some themselves sailors, have left many observers of national security issues somewhat puzzled.
The chief of naval staff, while announcing the finalization of negotiations, was quoted as saying that Gorshkov’s acquisition would make India capable of power projection and give the navy, for the first time, capability to take on even shore-based air force fighters. Admiral Nadkarni, a retired CNS member and a commentator on security affairs, wrote a column in rediff.com in 2001, which, while confirming the navy’s need for an aircraft carrier to defend its fleet on the high seas and against air strikes, said that anti submarine patrols and strikes against surface targets were added bonuses, not necessities. He felt there were reasonable alternatives and concluded that getting the Gorshkov to do the job was like using Schumacher’s F1 Ferrari to do your weekly shopping. So within the maritime fraternity itself, there are divergent views on this subject.
It is not this writer’s case to add to this debate. What is intriguing however is that some of the projects of the three services that are coming to fruition now (including the Gorshkov) have been on the wish list of the services for over a decade or two. The IAF flight refueller aircraft and AWACS requirements were projected in the mid-Eighties. While FRA deliveries have just begun, the latter will materialize five to six years hence.
The indigenous main battle tank should have been operational with the army by the mid-Eighties. Instead, deliveries of T90 tanks procured from Russia have only just begun. This reflects poorly on the defence management and decision-making process, which adversely affects modernization and consequently the operational capability of the armed forces. But more, when projects drag on indefinitely, does the security management system have a self-regulatory mechanism to pause and reflect on the relevance of requirements projected a decade or more ago' The system does not, because this could draw it into another vicious cycle of prolonged file pushing lasting perhaps another decade. The alternative adopted by the services is the soft one of grabbing what they get.
One weakness that afflicts the Indian security establishment is the absence of integrated operational planning and execution. This leads to each service modernizing its forces and equipment individually in a scenario where roles and missions overlap and are sometimes duplicated. In a dynamically evolving technological and security scenario, Indian security planners therefore run the risk of preparing to fight the last war.
The prudent alternative is to go back to the drawing board and look at how security challenges of the future can optimally be met — not forgetting the political, economic and social compulsions of the nation. Perhaps there are lessons to be learnt from the Americans. The president recently declared that the nation would skip a complete generation of weapons in order to meet evolving security challenges.
India is one of the few countries faced with security threats from insurgency and asymmetric warfare at one end and nuclear war at the other. While the spectrum of threat has widened, the middle space, namely conventional war, for which the Indian defence management and the armed forces have traditionally been organized, has shrunk considerably.
In response, no fundamental changes in the management of defence and the doctrines of the armed forces have so far been visible. Even the few changes that were proposed at the higher management level after Kargil have been slow in coming and some buried for lack of consensus or integrated thinking. The absence of a chief of defence staff is one. To meet emerging challenges, the Indian military and civil bureaucracies need to break out of traditionalism and aim for transformation through innovativeness.
The world over, some important factors are now forcing another look at whether past patterns of the way armed forces are structured, organized and equipped are relevant to a rapidly changing future. One is the horror of nuclear war and the danger of conflicts rapidly approaching the nuclear threshold, another the growing potency of asymmetric warfare and finally, a revolution in military affairs brought about by the march of technology (including that of space). This blurs the roles between the three services.
Many in the West are attempting to understand the deeper ramifications of these changes with a view to adapting accordingly. Indeed, scientific tools of operational analysis and quantitative analysis are being used extensively to arrive at optimum solutions with regard to systems and operational capabilities, respectively.
In India, a dynamic approach would be to rationalize roles and missions and then for each service to carry out a one time “zero based” approach to service organization and modernization plans. This needs a bold and dynamic defence management system, which continues to elude us.
Viewing modernization merely in terms of advanced weapon systems is already an outmoded concept. Modernization must strive towards achieving integrated operational capabilities efficiently and effectively. Synergizing of optimum operational capabilities across the spectrum including agencies and institutions outside the military must be the management goal of security planners and managers, as security threats now need an integrated response. Operational capabilities to achieve defined military objectives must flow from perceived threats and national military strategy to meet them.
How best these operational capabilities can be achieved by either or two or more of the services must emerge through scientific analysis techniques and not by resorting to subjectivity or institutional parochialism. Force structures and defining of roles and missions amongst the services must also flow from such scientific analyses.
Since the Indian security management system lacks integration of operational planning and conduct of operations, servicewise budget distribution continues to follow historic percentage shares except for minor variations. The services view their respective shares as sacrosanct and the defence ministry has learnt not to tread on this emotive inter-service turf. Between and within the services, institutions specializing in OA and QA applications are non-existent. Service headquarters are largely guided by subjective and operational arguments and limited by their command oriented rather than collegiate decision-making cultures.
In the absence of a CDS, no professional audit is possible beyond the service headquarters. In such an environment it is hardly surprising that procurement decisions become the subject of major controversies. This results in doubts and anxiety in the lower formations of the services and is detrimental to the nation’s security.
New security challenges require priority spending on capabilities like nuclear, space and counter-terrorism on land, sea and in the air that in the past made virtually no demands on the defence budget. If indeed the nation’s security is to be managed within resources that the nation can afford, then there is no option but to resort to scientific methods of determining how desired integrated military capabilities could best be achieved with maximum-security returns on investments made.