Organisational and Structural Changes in the Armed Forces-Part II

Sub Title : Key aspects that require attention to make the transformation meaningful

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 2 May – Jun 2023

Author : Lt Gen Arun  Sahni, PVSM, UYSM, SM, VSM, Former Army Commander, Indian Army

Page No. : 20

Category : Military Affairs

: May 27, 2023

Armed Forces must carry out organisational and structural changes to keep in sync with the rapid changes taking place in the character of war due to multifarious factors. In Part 1, carried in the last issue, we covered evolutionary changes in the Indian Armed Forces basis lessons learnt, ‘jointness’, integration of logistic and training facilities and civil military fusion. In this part we dwell on some key aspects that require attention to make the transformation meaningful

The accelerated pace of change of the ‘character of war ‘ due to the advent of path breaking technologies, militarisation of space and cyber domain and emergence of smart cum disruptive weapon platforms, like the drone/UAVs with multiple variations, has not only forced doctrinal and strategic reviews in the Armed Forces, but has necessitated a relook at their tactics and reevaluation of their respective ‘capabilities and capacities’, to address these dynamic changes in the battlespace. The previous article on the subject in the Mar- April  2023 issue of the magazine, looked at the evolutionary changes in the Indian Armed Forces, based on the experience of previous conflicts and ‘limited wars’ with our inimical neighbours. Towards ‘jointness’ and efficient utilisation of existing resources amongst the three services, it was recommended that systematic integration be done of logistic and training facilities, while creating conditions of enhanced civil- military fusion. Unfortunately the basic ‘bone of contention’ is yet not resolved, being a cumulative outcome of historical wrongs and machinations by the colonial power, at the time of Independence. It therefore warrants that the Armed Forces of tomorrow, are not only prepared to meet the existing threats, but be prepared for future wars. Towards this in the current article one will look at a few key aspects that require equal attention by the Government and the Armed Forces, while restructuring for future wars.

The Rationale

The emergence of new ‘domains of warfare’ of space and cyber and exploitation of the latter for impacting the cognitive faculties of the adversary, through focused and sustained  ‘influence operations’, has far reaching asymmetric impact. Concurrently, the activism of non-state players to promote and achieve ideologically derived objectives, independently or supported by an adversarial State, along with the kinetic and non-kinetic means of waging war, requires the nation and its Armed Forces to be prepared for complex ‘hybrid’ / ‘grey zone warfare’ or ‘non-contact’ conflict. Also, the non-attributability of cyber space has created vulnerability in all national structures of governance and administration. This demands a robust and integrated planning at the Apex level for a synergistic application of national resources, both military and non-military.

The institutionalising of the appointment of CDS and Dept of Military Affairs, with ‘theaterisation’ in the foreseeable future requires formal ‘Command and Control’ structures at the strategic and operational levels. Modern warfare and changing character traits of the younger generations has forced a relook in the Armed Forces, towards management and training of its precious human resource. Future leaders will need to be able to think through ambiguity and complexity. Operational doctrines and strategies need to be harmonised with changed realities and correspondingly the tactics will need to be relooked at the execution level. To extract the maximum ‘bang for the buck’ for limited financial allocations, there is a need to relook at the equipping philosophy in different sectors, with diverse terrain and climatic conditions. Also, there is a need for mid-course corrections to the ongoing ‘Make in India- Defence’ initiative, with greater emphasis on R&D and innovation.

Deterrence – Strategic Communications

The challenge of the Indian Armed Forces, to fight on ‘two fronts’, requires robust and effective ‘deterrence’. Therefore, within the gambit of ‘nuclear deterrence’, ambiguity and strategic signalling needs to be refined in the current nuclear doctrine. With the emergence of cyber threats and increasing threat of cyber warfare, there is a need to look at cyber deterrence. Discussions on this subject are at an evolutionary stage and require greater deliberations. Question arises – Is there a need to have bilateral agreements with our adversaries to exclude specific areas and functions from cyber-attacks, like financial institutions, air traffic etc.? This is in a manner similar to what we have for conventional conflict. Also, formal agreements on cyber-attacks are there between a few major nations of the world. The contours of its architecture and manifestation, in our case needs to be formalised.

Similarly, the growing malice of ‘Influence operations‘ through fake news, doctored videos, targeted narratives based on half-truths and use of ‘tool kits’ on various social media platforms to target the cognitive domain of the general public needs to be defeated. It is imperative to highlight that effective ‘deterrence’ needs to have in place a well thought out strategy for strategic signalling. Strategic communications is another area that needs to be looked at for greater impact in tackling the cyber challenge.

Security Planning at Apex and Operational level

Systematic changes in the National Security Architecture in India, since 2015, has seen evolutionary changes in the ‘national security management’. The amendment of the ‘Allocation of Business Rules (AOB) -1962 in 2019 accorded constitutional validity to the appointment of NSA and NSCS as its secretariat. It also formalised the structures and processes for apex level security deliberations and planning that was put in place post the nuclear tests in 1998 and the 1999 Kargil conflict. Institutionalising of the appointment and responsibilities of the Military Advisor in 2018 and Maritime Security Coordinator, within the NSCS, has ensured that the military inputs are weaved into the national security planning. At another level the ‘Defence Planning Committee (DPC)’ and the ‘Strategic Planning Group(SPG)’ chaired by the NSA, have the CDS and three Service Chiefs as integral members, ensuring appropriate military inputs, for security planning at the apex. However, the intricate linkages of internal and external security challenges would be better served if the Home Secretary and Internal security advisor in the MHA, are part of the  deliberations in the DPC. This is to synergise and avoid mismatch in development of  infrastructure and capacity building of the CPMF, deployed alongside the Army, on the international borders. There have been incidents where the last mile connectivity required by the ITBP in peace time, is of superior specifications than the feeder arteries being developed by the Army.  Also, at times there is a priority mismatch in the annual list of projects being considered by the two uniformed forces.

To facilitate better insight and enhance transparency about the activities of the Armed Forces on matters military, within the elected political hierarchy, it is strongly recommended to establish a ‘military wing’, suitably staffed, within the Lok Sabha Secretariat. This can function as a single point mechanism for routine interfacing with the nations elected representatives.

Structures – ‘Military Strategic’ and ‘Operational Strategic’

The Armed Forces, to comprehensively address the nation’s external security challenges in a joint and integrated manner, are in the final stages of carrying out organisational change of ‘Theaterisation’ of its combat resources. There is a need to ‘design’ these structures through a systems approach, that optimises the USP of the three Services; and thereafter empower them with suitable processes. These integrated command structures will be required to carry out centralised planning and institute a suitable ‘Command and Control’ (C2) structure. As the  current system of Service specific operational planning and execution, under respective Chiefs, will no longer be relevant . These functions will automatically come under the charter of the CDS. For him to carry out dynamic planning, monitoring and to exercise control on the Theatres, there is a need to establish a separate department / directorate in his Secretariat, for ‘military strategic’ responsibilities of planning, monitoring and providing higher directional control on the operational functioning of the ‘Theatres’. The formulation can be carved from the existing staff with the respective service headquarters. As once the integrated commands are formed, then the respective service Chief would only be responsible to – Raise, Sustain and Train. This new department will be integrated and staffed with officers from the three services and also be responsible for Information Warfare, Cyber and Space operations. At that stage it may be prudent to empower the VCDS with the delegated powers of the CDS, for routine secretarial functioning or empower him with the powers of Secretary GoI. There will be a need to create another VCDS for overseeing the functions of operational command and control.

Theatres would also require a near similar structure at the ‘operational strategic’ level, for the Theatre Commander.  This department would be responsible for the C2 functions of  integrated planning, execution and conduct of operations. This will have to be a new raising with staff from the three Services. The current system of Service specific operational planning by the respective Army Commanders would continue as hitherto fore for operational and tactical battle.

Review – Structures, Doctrines and Strategies

The rise of abstruse, protracted and indeterminate conflict in a hybrid environment demands a review of the current doctrines and strategies at the operational and tactical levels, for undertaking future conflicts in a multi domain asymmetric environment. It will need to incorporate the Armed Forces enhanced role in the IOR, aerospace domain and formalise exploitation of the ‘Special Forces Division’ unconventionally, for strategic gains.

There is a need to encapsulate the  revolutionary changes being fuelled by technology, in the form of disruptive weapon and surveillance platforms, enhanced potency of the legacy equipment and network enabled operations. Incorporate the increased capability with UAVs/ drones in different modes, ISR by satellites and deep strikes with missiles and long  range vectors. The potency of Information Warfare and the functioning of the Defence Cyber and Space Agencies will need to be harmonised with the kinetic options, in any future doctrine. It is for these reasons that US has raised a ‘Futures Command’ to be able to experientially make necessary modulations to their existing military strategies and tactics, or formulate new concepts and doctrines.

The Russian- Ukraine conflict underway since Feb 2022, is an open book of changing tactics and ‘grey zone operations’. Some of the key lessons require revision of our tactical drills. There is a need to carry out suitable modulations in our tactics for evasion and destruction of Loiter Munitions, counter drone platforms, use of Air Defence to counter disruptive threat of drones/ swarm drones, use of irregulars like the ‘Wagner’ group with regular soldiers  for fighting in BUAs etc.

In view of the diverse terrain profiles on our external frontiers, it may be prudent to look at sector specific equipment and war waging essentials. This will simplify the procurement and trial process and bring down the cost of new age weapon platforms and systems. For example drones /UAVs in high altitude areas are better served with fixed wing systems, whereas the rotary and lighter quad/hexacopter are better for plains and hilly terrain. The complexity and cost of an equipment increases, when the same system has to perform across a range of temperatures and adverse climatic conditions, i.e. in extreme cold conditions prevalent at high altitude areas to the extreme heat of the deserts. Two separate platforms will be more economical and effective. This methodology of procurement will speed up the induction process, as also increase the effectiveness of the systems.  This could be formally adopted, when the Armed Forces commence their integration process of Theaterisation.

Professional Military Education (PME)

The 21st century has witnessed an accelerated ‘velocity of change’ both in the ‘character of war’ and ‘societal transformation’. It has therefore made it incumbent for militaries across the world, to review their training and recruitment policies and institute processes for continuous upgradation of knowledge and skill sets, not only of the ‘rank and file’, but across different levels of military leadership. Leaders till now have just about got used to dealing with VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). But now with ever-evolving technology developments, new processes, increased domains of warfare and shortening of the OODA cycle – leaders and organisations are facing even stronger headwinds, for successful outcomes. It is for this reason that there is greater emphasis on PME. There is a need for PME to develop a technological mindset  and increase threshold of  domain specialisation for effective ‘decision making’.

There is also a need to ensure that future leaders develop a measured ‘risk taking’ capability. As current military leaders, to a large extent are playing safe and are risk averse. This not only requires well thought out programmes under PME, but also dynamic HR Policies, that ensures – personal aspirations of military men are in harmony with the organisational goals.

HR Policies

Within the Armed Forces there is a need for reviewing and harmonising the HR Policies, before carving out of integrated Theatres. Also, with the increasing dependence on technology, and complexity of processes, there is an increasing requirement for specialists vis a vis generalists and greater domain specialisation. This would require longer and repeated tenures for these experts – be it cyber, space, quantum communication, EW, Information/Influence operations, strategic signalling and defence procurements, etc for the Services. Also, for increased effectiveness, aptitude based posting of officers to different Directorates of Service HQ, should be adopted.

Longer tenures at apex level of military leadership for the Principal Staff Officers handling critical functions at Service headquarters, like –  Capability Development, Procurements, Information Operations and Intelligence functions etc, is imperative. There has to be a concerted effort in the promotion policy that officers spend at least 30–35 % of their Service, in directional appointments, similar to that in the civil services. Bureaucrats are empanelled as Joint Secretary at around 17/18 years of Service and thereafter spend at least 40% of their Service tenanting critical appointments. Therefore, systematically the military officers need to be empanelled as Maj Gens by 25 years of service, instead of the current 33-34 years. This is a gradual process and would require suitable amendments in policies and staff tables.

Military Diplomacy

World War II is replete with examples of the role and success of military diplomacy, when other means fell woefully short of expectations. India has finally realised that this land of ‘ahimsa’ also needs to be realistic on the role the Indian Armed Forces can play, in furtherance of national vision. More so with our close bonds with the Armed Forces of our South Asian neighbours, less Pakistan.

The Navy by its inherent role and task is India’s representative on foreign shores and soils. The Army and the Air Force span  a similar expanse, through in lesser intensity, through the institutionalised joint training exercises and air manoeuvres with liberal democracies and countries in the near and extended neighbourhood. The professionalism of the Forces  enhances India’s image and stature internationally and also acts as an instrument of diplomacy. These military ties within South Asia is a cumulative impact of policies that led to doing courses at each other’s training Institutions/ Academies, joint exercises and serving in UN missions and have been successful in assuaging each other’s security concerns.

The joint visit of the Army Chief and the Foreign Secretary to Nepal and Myanmar, in the recent past, proved productive. It led to launching of joint operations by the two armies to flush out militants, seeking sanctuary in the jungles straddling the two countries. ‘Operation Clear’ was jointly launched with the Myanmar Tatmadaw, to flush out VBIGs. Earlier a similar exercise was done jointly with the Royal Bhutan Army, to flush out ULFA militants. These military to military relations need to be formalised earliest. The current change in mandate of the military diplomats to further exports of ‘Make in India- Defence products’ is again dynamic use of the military outreach.

The aspect of military diplomacy should be institutionalised and in the foreseeable future, we need to have professional military officers who are also regional experts. Their employment in  country specific branches at the MEA, and International bodies dealing with security aspects, will be a step in the right direction.

Capacity Building – Make in India

The future capability of the Armed Forces is essential to maintain military balance for a full spectrum war on land, air, sea, space, and the cyber and psychological domains. There is therefore a need for the GOI to support the military in actualising its ‘long term integrated capability development plan’. The emphasis of the GOI on indigenous production / procurement of military hardware, under its  ‘Make in India- Defence’ and restricting  imports of nominated military weapon systems/ sub systems and hardware, by promulgating ‘positive indigenous lists’, is laudatory and has  given a major impetus for self-reliance in defence.

However, for timely and responsive capacity building, there is a need to address the existing shortcomings in the process and procedures. The current procurement procedures are ‘process driven’ instead of  being ‘result oriented’. The GOI has done a lot to support private industry including MSMEs for defence manufacturing. But there is still a lot to be done to provide the private sector a level playing field with the Public Sector Enterprises. There is a need for greater accountability of DRDO for its Defence R & D. The quest to do everything in house by the DRDO, impacts timely availability of niche technologies. It is important to note that ‘in time’ payments, especially to the MSMEs is a must, for their financial health and survivability. This issue requires priority attention.

There is a need for  change in the mindset towards indigenous procurements. Once the equipment/ platform meets the basic technical specifications – ‘must do’ criteria’s, it should be accepted into service. For the follow on delivery / subsequent procurements, it should formally insist on the best specifications feasible. This will give a boost to the private industry that remains under pressure for ‘returns on investments (ROI)’. The need for repeated trials needs to be reviewed, especially where the cost is exorbitant, eg for Loiter Munitions with different loads and ranges. An alternate methodology of ‘on site’ technical evaluation of the company can be adopted, especially when a similar equipment, with variations in specifications, has been already manufactured by that private company is ‘in service’.

In conclusion

May I highlight, that the greatest disruptor in the foreseeable future is likely to be Artificial Intelligence and its exploitation for warfighting. There is a viewpoint that opines, that it may change, not the character but the ‘nature of war’, with unknown consequences.  Therefore, Armed Forces need to be deliberate in formulation of their ‘action plan’ to carry out restructuring and redesign of the force, in tune with the future realities of war fighting. But thereafter change management needs to be with an open mind, dexterity and alacrity.