Restructuring the Indian Navy to Meet Emerging Challenges

Sub Title : Indian Navy must quickly adapt to the technological changes taking place

Issues Details : Vol 13 Issue 5 Nov/Dec 2019

Author : Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, AVSM**, VSM, (Retd)

Page No. : 16

Category : Military Affairs

: December 9, 2019

The present day environment, wherein the future is unfolding rapidly and more disruptively than had ever been deemed possible, warrants that the Indian Navy  quickly adapts to the changes taking place. In  several cases, this will call for a major restructuring effort. Admiral Pradeep Chauhan presents  a comprehensive analysis of what the Indian Navy needs to do, so that it can adequately meet  the emerging challenges

On the last day of May of 2019, Admiral Karambir Singh, PVSM, AVSM, took office as the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS). As the current incumbent, he is the 24th in a very distinguished line of succession to this high office. The admiral inherits a navy that has, over the current decade, become well known across the globe as a highly professional armed force whose combat capability is assessed to be of NATO standard. He will be the one to take the Navy into the third decade of the current century and the task before him is no mean one. His endeavours will have to be undertaken within an environment wherein the future is unfolding rapidly and more disruptively than had ever been deemed possible. The Indian Navy will need to adapt to the changed environment and, in several cases, this will call for a major restructuring effort. However, this will call for considerable adroitness on the part of the CNS and his Principal Staff Officers (PSOs).  On the one hand, there is an undeniable seductiveness in finally being able to throw out the bathwater. On the other, there is the attendant risk of throwing out the baby with it.

Perhaps the most widespread changes are those ushered in by the fourth industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 will force the advent of ‘Navy 4.0’. As the new Indian Navy struggles to get out from the shadow of the old one, there is a need to identify at least the contours of the changes that are already upon us and to try and discern the shape and form of changes that lurk in the hazy yet near future.

Here is a short list of what I believe to be the twenty most immediate challenges within the maritime domain, which will have to be faced by the Indian Navy in the coming few decades.

  • The accelerated militarisation of space.
  • A sharply increased militarisation of the underwater domain.
  • A blurring of the distinction between the virtual world and the real one.
  • Miniaturisation – through the adoption of nanotechnology.
  • The rapid replacement of ‘digitisation’ by ‘digitalisation’.
  • The maturing of robotics and additive manufacturing driven by artificial intelligence.
  • A rapid spread of minimally manned, unmanned, semi autonomous and fully autonomous vessels operating upon, under and over the sea.
  • The replacement of explosive ordnance by electromagnetically driven kinetic ordnance (e.g. rail guns, extended range munitions, hypersonic missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles [HGV], etc.)
  • The continuing replacement of kinetic energy weapons by directed energy ones.
  • A revival of lighter than air ships in large load long endurance (L3E) configurations.
  • The gradual expansion of Mature Precision Strike Regimes at sea.
  • The widespread employment of lawfare to shape the operational environment, as also to shape operational outcomes.
  • Tri service simultaneous operations in own and enemy ‘brown’ (littoral) waters.
  • A sharply increased centrality of psy ops and population conditioning through the replacement of traditional vertically structured communication by the horizontal proliferation of social media.
  • An increasingly ubiquitous impact of climate change.
  • An increase in tri service commonality of advanced weapon sensor suites.
  • The steady replacement of crude oil and its fractional distillates by natural gas as a ‘bridging solution’.
  • A steady replacement of petroleum driven propulsion for sea going platforms by hybrid power.
  • A steady increase in the economic viability of deep seabed mining.
  • A shift to the oceans as a source of fresh water, whether by way of reverse osmosis desalination plants, or Low Temperature Thermal Desalination (LTTD) ones.

The pain and short term turmoil of the restructuring that the Indian Navy will need to undergo are undeniable disincentives for leaving one’s comfort zone. There is, however, no alternative and the longer this is put off, the more difficult it will become to transform.  For one thing, the Navy’s investment in ab initio training and education, as also in retraining and reeducation of all its cadres will need to be undertaken. There is a need for the Navy’s leadership to resolutely resist the strong temptation to assign this responsibility to the existing cadres of the Navy’s Education Branch. This is because these cadres are very substantial part of the problem, albeit for little or no fault of their own, and hence cannot simultaneously represent the solution – at least not just yet. And yet, they do represent the first step in this process of reorganisation and so the question that the naval leadership must answer is: “Who will educate the educators?”, or, “How should the Navy produce not one but a whole cohort of Dronacharyas?” The answer lies in a sequence of first defining what exactly an officer is, and then expending enormous time and effort in producing such ‘officers’, only thereafter producing ‘naval’ officers, and only thereafter producing a specific type or branch or specialisation of naval officers.  The conundrum of the time taken to train versus that available for operational utilisation of the trained individual is actually a false one, for a poorly trained individual will damage the system throughout his or her deployment within it. Restructuring the training pattern of the officer corps in general and of the Education Branch in particular are issues of the first order of importance in creating a ‘future ready’ navy.  Perhaps the answer to finding these ‘educators’ might lie in accepting the risk of relying upon ‘spoken reputation’ rather than upon suitability assessments through Annual Confidential Reports, since the ‘milk of human kindness’ appears to have blurred the distinctions between the excellent, the merely average, and the unsuitable.

There is a great need to for the Indian Navy to invest its human capital in processes of technology intensive research that is guided by the Navy’s warfighting cadres. The Navy sends over 60 extremely bright and talented young men and women every year, to undergo MTech programmes in leading universities and institutes, such as the IITs (though not limited to these alone). If these ‘beautiful minds’ were to be guided by warfighting needs that were to be specifically articulated by the Flag and Senior Officers of the Indian Navy’s Executive Branch, the navy will, over a relatively short period of time, master the intricacies of cutting edge technologies such as electromagnetic applications, directed energy weapons, pixel based stabilisation, producing indigenous systems and solutions, thereby breaking free of the seemingly perennial dependence upon one or another foreign source to satisfy the Navy’s warfighting needs. From amongst the officers who are thus selected and guided, those who demonstrate an especial proclivity and talent need to be structured into a special and attractive cadre. The Indian Navy’s Weapon and System Engineering Establishment (WESEE) has been doing a phenomenal job over the past several decades, and, if empowered with the ability to generate career based, tenure relevant and financial rewards, it could easily be the core of such a restructuring.

The creation of a large, competitive and competent ‘Information Technology’ Branch, complete with attractive avenues for career enhancement by way of promotions all the way to Flag Rank, is another restructuring imperative that urgently needs to be undertaken. The highest level of IT enabled expertise is ubiquitous across the entire Industry 4.0 landscape, and the game changing potential of ‘Navy 4.0’ cannot be realised without it. The present process of tinkering with the system by establishing an IT Cadre is unlikely to be much more than a cosmetic change- giving an aspirin to a seriously ill patient might ensure that he dies without a headache, but it will not prevent him from dying. A veritable transformation of naval technical thinking is needed and this requires extensive and disruptive restructuring.

With outer space and inner space (cyberspace) both becoming critical areas for enhanced maritime scouting (search, patrol, tracking, and surveillance), classification, identification, localisation, targeting, combat decision making (‘engage’ or ‘evade’ decisions), and weapon delivery, the Indian Navy cannot continue to rely upon its quintessentially Second World War organisational, administrative and functional structures. The creation of a Space Command notwithstanding, navy specific structures as well as structures to enable and promote an effective interface between the Navy and the Space Command form important segments of structural reforms that are urgently needed.

The segregation of technical inputs from operational ones in the formulation of Staff Requirements is another area that is positively screaming for restructuring. It is a grossly suboptimal arrangement that breeds infighting amongst Branches that ought to be synergising their excellent individual efforts. The need for a totally revamped assessment directorate that will be able to merge the technical and tactical aspects of weapon sensor suites is dictated by the changes listed at the commencement of this article. It is most especially driven by the need to transition from the present explosive centric weaponry, through an intermediate stage of kinetic weapons, and to a phase dominated by directed energy ones that can be readily adopted by all three of India’s defence forces in tandem. There is little remaining scope for weapon sensor suites designed for/or by any given armed force, which are incapable of proliferation to the others. Lasers, and later, particle energy weapons, are set to change the future of warfighting and the Navy needs not only to make itself ready for their advent, but to be the lead player in this endeavour.

It must not be thought that addressing the physical sciences will be enough.  For the past several years, this belief has guided the Navy’s training philosophy. While the primacy of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum is a given, many other capabilities will be required for the Indian Navy to be a recognised and acknowledged global force.  Amongst other, genuine skills in the interpretation and application of international law — including ‘International Humanitarian Law’ (IHL) and the ‘San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea’ will be needed.  The present structure of the Judge Advocate General’s Branch may be just about adequate to cater for the disciplinary provisions of the Navy Act 1957, and the Regulations for the Navy, but it falls hopelessly short of the requirement.  There is already a felt need for seagoing officers of the Judge Advocate’s Branch who can advise the commander of a flotilla or fleet on the nuances of international law, and the discernment, exploitation and countering of ‘lawfare’, which is rapidly becoming a tool of choice in navies not only such as the Chinese navy, but also the navies of the USA and Russia, and those of multinational groupings such as NATO or the EUNAVFOR.  The beefing up and restructuring of the JAG Branch will rapidly become an inescapable necessity if it is not one already.  International Maritime Law is not the only discipline of the social sciences in which expertise needs to be intrinsic to naval operational functioning.  International (especially regional) politico military structures, the active promotion of cultural sensitivity, multi lingual capabilities, and an ability to determine how much of what one considers to be ‘new’ is actually ‘old’ (all of which demands a fairly thorough knowledge of military history), are all attributes that require entirely new organisational and functional structures.

Similarly, any organisational restructuring of the Indian Navy must most certainly encompass the interfaces through which it seeks to shape external opinion and maintain internal morale. This requires a major restructuring of its organisations and processes for engagement of the media, most especially social media  platforms. The selection and training of personnel for such tasks are crucial factors that can all too easily collapse if not provided with the lightest of organisational touches. The Indian Navy will need to demonstrate significantly enhanced levels of imagination, delegation and support if it is to make a success of this vital activity.

The Navy’s intelligence organisation is yet another that is ripe for extensive restructuring.  Maritime intelligence is a niche but expansive field, especially for a navy that seeks to be a core part of India’s regional and global endeavour.  Restructuring here is a weighty business. It requires, at the very minimum, the induction of a sizeable number of officers and sailors drawn from pure volunteers, the creation of attractive career enhancement structures, investment in intensive training, and, the creation of a separate Naval Intelligence Branch supported by a proper legal framework.  Proposals for the creation of an Intelligence Branch have been made several times in the past. Some have been painstakingly thorough, but all have foundered, receiving short shrift from the senior naval leadership. Ironically, the Navy is all too often raucous in its collective lament over the lack of intelligence but seems pathologically unable to internalise the fact that high quality intelligence cannot be delivered by a minimally manned, legally unsupported and inadequately trained set up.

As the Indian Navy expands its footprint across the Indo Pacific, it needs to ensure that it does not repeat the mistakes of the IFS in having insufficient human ‘bandwidth’ for the enormous task at hand. The Navy’s ‘Foreign Cooperation’ and ‘Foreign Liaison’ structures require very substantial beefing up and reorganisation. At the headquarters level, the Navy must find a solution to current administrative issues that have effectively prevented the embedment of its officers within the various divisions of the MEA. Likewise, at the field level, with India about to establish as many as 18 new missions in Africa, the Navy must proactively seek to position Naval Advisers/Attachés in littoral States. The current practice of positioning defence attachés in proportion to the standing strength of the three defence services is indefensible and must give way to a more mature tri service restructuring, whereby naval attachés/advisers are positioned either singly or in addition to those from the Army and/or the Air Force, on a functional basis.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Indian military endeavours will fail if synergy is not achieved across the three defence services. This is properly the task of the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS). However, the Navy needs to evolve structures that will add genuine capability to HQ IDS at every level. India’s three Defence Forces cannot be perceived as being willing to cut off their noses to spite their collective face.  Put more plainly, there is little room for excessive zeal in defending one’s own turf to the detriment of tri service understanding. This requires promotional structures to be significantly modified so that promotion to selection grade ranks to which the best and brightest of each Service aspire, is strongly linked to tenures in HQ IDS and other tri service structures.

In resisting disruptive transformation at headquarters levels, the senior leadership of the Indian Navy has often tied its own hands by a professed adherence to the dictum that the navy must have a favourable ‘teeth to tail ratio’.  This is, of course, an unexceptionable fact. However, within the expanding navy of a growing ‘maritime’ India, there is a dire need to define what exactly constitutes the ‘teeth’ and what constitutes the ‘tail’.   There is no way that such a navy can get by while keeping critical organisational structures – especially those at headquarters levels – grossly undermanned or poorly organised or poorly trained. If this restructuring requires a protracted battle with an unsympathetic bureaucracy that is ill disposed towards genuine transformation, then this battle must be joined with gusto but with the degree of planning and adroitness in execution normally reserved for combating a military adversary. In short, a full fledged ‘campaign plan’ must be evolved that will span time and changes in incumbency.

The sine qua non for the restructuring of the Indian Navy must be the determination of the answer to a deceptively simple question, namely, “What is the ‘front end’ of the Navy’?  The obvious answer is the navy’s ships, submarines and aircraft.  But is that really all that needs to be said?  Is the front end the training systems that produce the human resource that will optimally man, maintain, exploit and sustain these ships, submarines and aircraft? Does the front end comprise the navy’s technical structures without which these ships, submarines and aircraft can neither float nor fight nor survive? Is the front end the structures for indigenisation without which the present dependence upon imports – and the political strings attached to this import dependence – can never be diminished?  Is the front end the military diplomatic interfaces with which the navy interacts with the world and  in so doing, shapes the Navy’s probable battlespace?