The military capability gap came into public knowledge after a top secret letter of the former Chief of the Army Staff was leaked to the press. It had highlighted the hollowness and residual military capabilities that are getting eroded by every year without being resuscitated. Assertive China and possible collusion with Pakistan has highlighted that the current military capability gap is unaffordable and inadequate to deal with two front wars. The big question is why India has reached this stage with such large capability gap and hollowness? Is it due to neglect, lack of timely projection of induction and replacement of obsolete weapons and systems, inaccurate assessment of threats and vulnerabilities, or the political leadership considered that threats are not potent enough to spend budget on military hardware?
The answer probably lies in the fact that if the institutional mechanisms are overlooked and professional advice is brushed aside, the system is likely to collapse or will develop gaping holes. The political leadership has stopped direct channel of communication with the military hierarchy and it has led to slippage in capability building.
No nation can build capabilities overnight or in a matter of five years. It requires sustained efforts and continuous budgetary support to prevent collapses of the system and erosion of military capabilities beyond a point of criticality. Reactive and knee jerk reactions are strategically unwise steps to makeup the hollowness. It requires an in-depth study and analysis to lay down the minimum threshold capabilities that should act as red line for the government to take immediate steps to make up the hollowness. There is a need to strengthen the institutional mechanism and put in place measures to fill the operational vacuum on priority:-
- Interaction between the military professionals and political leadership debating capability audit is a must. It should not be a token interaction but direct debate to give course correction to the capability development process. All member of the CCS should be part of this deliberation including NSA.
- Strategic defence and security review is an essential part of determination of capabilities in the immediate and distant future.
- Long Term Integrated Perspective Plans (LTIPP) should be approved by CCS with dedicated budgetary support.
- Periodic review of progress of acquisition and development of weapon systems by DRDO and its corporate partners is essential.
At this critical stage where China is becoming assertive on land and maritime domain, the critical capability gap will hurt India’s vital strategic interests. Shopping list is long but what needs to be done at this stage is to prioritise the threshold capabilities and put in sustained efforts to mitigate the operational vacuum. One must remember what Napoleon said “Space we can recover, lost time we can never”.