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Strategic Readiness: Incubating Military Effectiveness

Sub Title : Conflicts around the globe reignite the debate for military preparedness

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 5 Nov – Dec 2023

Author : Lt Gen N B Singh (retd)

Page No. : 53

Category : Military Affairs

: November 27, 2023

“The greatest victories that have been won in war do not depend upon a simple superiority of technology, but rather on a meshing of one side’s advantages with the other’s weakness so as to produce the greatest possible gap between the two.”

Background 

The ongoing battle in Gaza has exposed once again the importance of Military Effectiveness –  a core dimension of  Strategic Readiness(SR). SR  is a military`s ability to provide adequate forces to meet the demands of a country`s National Military Strategy.  It measures readiness parameters and  identifies capability gaps and  risks, across strategic and operational domains covering key  resource areas. It aims to identify readiness deficiencies that can impact a military`s  performance abilities i.e. military effectiveness (ME). After being subjected to a technological surprise by Hamas, a bunch of irregulars, the IDF has responded with massive fire power which has caused enormous collateral damage. To be able to convincingly defeat the Hamas and Hezbollah, IDF will have to demonstrate enduring SR and ME. It is too early to foresee the full impact of IDF`s planned offensive despite the heavy posturing  seen.

For an Army, SR  is its ability, through time and space, to provide field commanders with trained and ready tactical units that can meet mission related  operational demands. SR  is measured  by assessing several readiness pillars: manning, training, equipping, engineering sustainment, logistic  capacities and industrial capabilities. SR comprises several core dimensions that require continuous development to enable a military to be prepared for various contingencies. These are military effectiveness, operational readiness, structural readiness, mobilisation readiness, sustainment readiness and resilience. ME refers to the competitive advantage that a military possesses over its adversary i.e.  the operational and technical overreach, the  agility and depth   with which a military  can paralyse its  adversary in all warfighting domains. It entails  the performance of similar military activities better than the adversary . A Nation`s resilience, technological superiority, ability to innovate on the fly,  new  warfighting concepts are key to ME .

Militarily effective forces possess the resilience to overcome new threats  posed by a determined enemy. On one hand ,the war in Ukraine has demonstrated  how superior technology can be effectively utilised by a military to stymie high tempo offensives. On the other, the Gaza war has shown how vulnerabilities in technology reliant defences  can be penetrated by a determined force to launch high impact operational surprises. The answer obviously lies somewhere mid stream technology driven survivability domes and firewalls have to have human oversight 24×7. Never letting  ones guard down and exposing  vulnerabilities, as an old idiom conveys.

Readiness is a complex issue  and is not permanent. It changes continually due to loss of skills and competencies as personnel undergo rotations/retirements and  equipment capability degrades due to usage, age and adverse effects of deployments. This point is frequently misconstrued by commanders when  readiness gets assessed  based on inspections  and garage availabilities. It  is critical for commanders to know how far a force can run and how long it can jump. It is not enough to achieve force parity by mirroring deployments or achieving a quantitative advantage in force ratios. At times resource shortages (trained operators /crew, low equipment readiness rates) can spiral into critical vulnerabilities. Capability matching involving  periodic readiness assessments, analysis of adversary`s capabilities and operational innovations to develop suitable countermeasures are indispensable if enduring ME  is to be retained.

The recent capability surprise suffered by Israel at the hands of Hamas is an example of how readiness degrades with time. The last time this happened was 50 years ago in 1973. Since then, Israel has achieved self reliance,  transformed into a high tech networked, militarily effective  force with numerous   sensors and detectors deployed  along the 37 mile long border to guarantee early warning . An Iron Dome provided an overarching survivability umbrella and was claimed to be a game changing futuristic system. All this was    duly supplemented by  resources deployed for  INTEL- Humint,  Sigint, Mashint, Geoint. Yet it has suffered a massive defence mechanism failure that could adversely impact the aura of invincibility the IDF has built over the years. An enigmatic  example of readiness decline. Like the Bar Lev line, the $1 billion iron wall (fence) was supposed to be impenetrable.

Operational readiness

Operational readiness is a key component of strategic readiness and defines the status of major constituents of a fighting force and whether these  have the resources and training  to undertake missions for which they were designed and kitted. It indicates whether an existing unit or formation  is at peak capability for carrying out combat operations.  Viewing readiness through a ‘fight tonight’ lens and the practice of focussing on tenure related short term issues  does not nurture readiness that any military needs to maintain  desired levels of combat capability. Ukraine war  has demonstrated lessons for world armies to think, train and plan differently sensor -shooter links, precise fires, battlefield transparency, use of civilian networks,  communications, targeting in a contested electro magnetic spectrum, distributed logistics i.e.  pushing out ammunition and material to small teams and units that are widely dispersed are some areas that need to be analysed. The scale of attrition- loss of blood and metal has been unprecedented with even the stronger power finding it difficult to replenish daily losses. Repair echelons and depots , if intelligently integrated into SR planning , could have   served as  firm bases  to enable  replenishment of  daily losses. Forward sustainment bases,  pre-positioned stocks, forward repair teams, organic industrial base capacity ; all these   enhance tactical and operational readiness to sustain tempo of operations.

Military Effectiveness

ME comprises  components like  quality of the force, skill levels , integrated readiness, force agility , technological superiority  and operational concepts . All of these are required to be assessed in relative terms. It is important that while assessing ME,  shortfalls in ground  force capabilities like surveillance or fire power are offset by integration of resources from  another, say the Air Force/ Navy, to create a capability overmatch and  staying power. Many historians have opined that the use of air power in 1962 could have changed the course of the war. The war in Ukraine has demonstrated how sustainment readiness is a critical lever that has  wide ranging effects on  mobilization, operational and structural readiness and hence military effectiveness and resilience. The halting of the Russian offensive was a consequence of high attrition and equipment failures that could not be regenerated  in quick time to restore  mass and  sustain operational tempos. It is reported that north of  Kiev, Ukraine was outnumbered 12:1. How militarily effective IDF has been caught on the backfoot, remains an enigma.

While mobilisation, structural, operational  readiness are needed to  architect a potential capability,   sustainment readiness is essential  for turning  this  potential capability into its actual warfighting  capacity. ME and resilience come higher up in the ladder,  enabling a force to spring back from initial surprise and losses,  creating  new opportunities and fighting  back to convert defeat into victory. It enables a military to stay in the fight. A nation needs to  possess the wherewithal to transform into a war economy to manufacture munitions, spare parts , game changers     to generate  resilience and prevent the adversary from achieving its strategic aim .Resilience  reflects the ability of military forces, military infrastructure and  national assets  to absorb, withstand, and rapidly recover from the adverse impacts  of an enemy attack . For Ukraine ,  a factor that stands out is the resilience of its people while in case of  Israel it has been   its  mission focus and chutzpah apart from national resilience that has  provided it a battle winning edge .

The impressive counter attacks  by IDF during the Yom Kippur war are perhaps the finest example of how  ME   created the competitive advantage for IDF to push back the Egyptians. In Gaza strip , Israel`s initial response  has been impactful, but with mounting civilian casualties, IDF may be constrained to proceed in a calibrated manner.   In East Europe ,  Ukraine`s counter offensive is unable to maintain required operational tempos as they can  barely manage equipment readiness rates of 50% — finding it difficult to replace daily attrition. How can enduring  ME be inbuilt by the military   and retained 24×7 is a question that needs to be considered by military strategists and planners, taking into account the qualitative and quantitative strengths of the prime adversary (PLA), that has the largest standing military and is  aspiring for technological parity with the world`s  lone super power.

The Ukraine war and Gaza conflict have demolished the myth that   technology can replace mass.  Given below are  three issues that could have a lasting impact on military effectiveness . These are soldier or personnel readiness , equipment readiness and technological dominance.

Soldier Readiness

Soldier readiness also referred to as Individual readiness   relates to training, equipping, combat skills and competencies    of an individual while operating in a team or  performing specialists functions . Operator and maintainer skills have  played a major role during combat . Weapon handling ,   gunnery skills,  expertise in operating complex sensor shooter links, EW systems and AI driven devices  are some present day skills that can raise  a unit`s operational effectiveness. Superior technical skills demonstrated by  Ukrainians has enabled its forces to digitalise vintage Soviet  platforms and network these for todays algorithmic warfare. Using its access to Starlink, a constellation of LEOS ( low earth orbit satellites) it has provided connectivity  and intelligence down to small teams and sections . This has allowed it to use data streams in smart ways. Live feed of the frontlines can be seen on a Macbook and  COTS drone  despatched to precisely locate targets and destroy   using precision fires. Data driven combat is being waged at unprecedented speeds and accuracy. All this will be feasible if soldiers are trained for  21st century skill sets , not sluggish battle drills  of previous wars. The Agniveer scheme provides an opportunity to usher  a transformational change in  human resource recruitment and competency development.

Equipment Readiness.

Increased battlefield transparency as has been witnessed in the war in Ukraine could lead to massive attrition in future wars  and forces may be out numbered with rapid reduction of combat power. Add to it low equipment readiness rates due to ageing inventory and band aid engineering sustainment measures   , there could be a crisis  after a few weeks of warfighting. The set back the IDF suffered in Lebanon in 2006 led to significant changes in weapon platform design and development , more so wrt survivability, agility and situational awareness. The lesson learnt from  the Nagorno – Karabakh conflict and Russia`s offensive into Ukraine have initiated a host of new developments within PLA. The vulnerabilities of East European platforms against modern day countermeasures should trigger a host of home grown innovation to upgrade and make these future ready. Up -armouring, up- gunning , re-powering and digitalization are prospective areas where newer combat capabilities can be created in legacy platforms . New acquisitions need to focus on increased tactical and operational mobility of platforms in high altitudes, all round survivability , operability, durability  , modularity and high maintainability. One significant lesson from the current conflict in Ukraine has been the  importance role  local supply chains , maintenance / industrial surges and home grown innovations can play towards military effectiveness . The is therefore a need to put the Make in India programme in the overdrive,  create a robust defence  industrial base that can roll out large number  of simple, bespoke,  lethal weapon platforms powered by indigenous generic or foundational systems . A study of the future battlefield in the sub continent is essential to identify futuristic operational requirements that could set the stage  for future equipment capability development.

Technological Dominance

The war in Ukraine has become a test bed for technology. It has  honed the concept of the “kill chain“ that was talked about in Powerpoint presentations since the nineties,  animating  the seek and destroy principle. Search and destroy has become a reality. Sensors of all kinds ( video, thermal, radar)   detect targets , pass target data to the  platforms and the best located shooter delivers precision fires to destroy the target. Combat operations will now be under constant observation and contact. Drones have become the heart of this web based operations. It is not only collecting huge amount of imageries but also using elementary ML and AI, identifying  if the target is a T72 or T90, concomitantly  transmitting coordinates for precision fires. This digitization has made Russian platforms appear helpless, despite their relative sophistication and fire power. It is reported that software based targeting has reduced ammunition expenditure by 15 -30%. Technology helps condition tactics, strategy, organization, logistics, intelligence, command, control, and communication. Technological dominance could  thus become a key pathway towards achieving ME. With PLA aspiring to achieve technological parity with US and striving for technological dominance, it can bring in new forms of preemption. It is important that the Indian military recalibrates programmes like IDEX, IDEX Prime, TDF to incubate ME and develop  novel capability surprises. Our youth has to be groomed  to innovate ahead of  rest of the world. Space, cyber, EW, anti drone, high powered microwaves, quantum computing, AI are some areas where sustained efforts are required to achieve technological parity if not dominance over  PLA . However, excessive dependance on technology could result in diminishing returns as events in the past and present are revealing.

Preventing Preemption

Today the bandwidth to deliver surprise over an expanded battlespace has increased due to globalization, covering cyber, electro magnetic spectrum,  space, information, besides  conventional domains. It has become increasingly feasible for adversaries to develop counters to known capabilities. Dependence on foreign systems has created vulnerabilities, as specifications get shared if similar systems are acquired by others e.g. Sukhoi, S400, T90/T80 tanks. Counters get developed in quick time. This fast tracked cycle of measure/countermeasure/counter-countermeasure will continue to add surprise to future conflicts. In the new era of aspiring power competition, PLA could employ many layers of stand off in multiple domains to deliver surprise. Non- kinetic effects like disruption of communications, denial of tracking & navigation capabilities, fakes, information overload could precede kinetic operations. The future force may therefore have to equipped with abilities to operate across domains. This calls for employment of the military`s intellectual firepower to think beyond the algorithm and evolve doctrine, organizations, training, leadership, systems, human resource and processes for sustained ME. Exercises and experimentation must follow thereafter, replicating the future battlefield-expansive, lethal and hyperactive with increased strategic ambiguity and entropy. The capability of early warning and launching own surprises across the Himalayas must be silently incubated and honed.

Conclusion

The best way for a military to know its strengths is to do vulnerability matching. ME can be incubated by  intentionally working on leveraging traditional competencies and balancing vulnerabilities. The Indian soldier has a strong competence in operating from fixed positions in mountains. The battle of Saragarhi and Rezangla are examples of  some great last stands  in history. The art of guerilla warfare perfected by Shivaji against the Moghuls is worth reinventing  in its modern, technology driven avatar to cause catastrophic disruptions. The Himalayas too have since times immemorial provided an impregnable line of defence to the subcontinent. ME against the PLA needs  to be woven around the unflinching courage, toughness of the Indian soldier, traditional combat skills  and advantages of terrain with innovative employment  of technology.