Lt Gen (Dr) Prakash Menon, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd) Writes :
The dawn of 2020 heralded, three simultaneous, path breaking and long- awaited steps in India’s defence reforms – the institution of the posts of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (PC-COSC) and the concurrent creation of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in the MoD with the CDS as the Head of Department (HoD). The Group of Ministers’ (GOM) Report of 2002 had recommended the CDS and in 2012, the Naresh Chandra Committee had recommended the PC-COSC. The two were debated as binaries and therefore the creation of both appointments to be tenanted by the same person was a surprise. But the greater surprise was the DMA that among other things was specifically mandated in the Allocation of Business (AoB) Rules – “the facilitation of restructuring of Military Commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint / theatre commands”.
What should now be apparent to India’s strategic cognoscenti, is that the political leadership has clearly ended the debate on whether India requires Joint or Theatre Commands and who has to facilitate the restructuring. They have clearly indicated that, Jointness in operations and optimal utilisation of resources are the twin objectives and structural changes through integration of resources is the methodology.
Resource constraints especially of air power have been cited as one of the main arguments against integration. But even that argument has become a victim of the defence budget squeeze that is not only certain but can be expected to endure for at least five years if not more. For, even if India’s economic fortunes recover in a couple of years, the competing demands of development may not permit any major increase in defence spending. On the contrary, the defence budget will decrease and the current 20% budget cut for the first quarter is a harbinger for the future. Since, more resources cannot be created by increased budget, it has to be generated by ‘optimum utilisation of resources’, which is a domain that is pregnant with possibilities.
The opportunity dwells in our existing service specific structures. Structurally there are at present 17 service specific commands with complex geographical overlaps: The Western Air Command/Army’s Northern and Western Command; South-Western Air Command /Army’s Southern and Western Command; Central Air Command/ Army’s Central and Eastern Command; The Eastern Air Command/ Army’s Eastern and Central Command; Eastern Naval Command with Army’s Eastern/Southern & Andaman Nicobar Command/ Eastern Air Command/ Southern Air Command; Western Naval Command/Army’s Southern and South Western Command/ Southern Air Command and South Western Air Command.
Additionally, the need for integration in Air Defence, has long been recognised but remained prisoner to turf battles. Each Service has its training Commands which are necessary establishments but despite several efforts have resisted the creation of joint training institutions. Defence Services Staff College has continued to have Commandants from the Army instead of being a rotational one. The integration of logistic functions has remained in limbo despite the identification of its potential. In essence, structural integration involves creation of integrated structures based on operational imperatives and some on functional commonalities. Thus, a Maritime Command and an Air Defence Command would represent structures based on operational and functional logic, respectively.
Structural integration should allow for savings in manpower. For, unless manpower costs in terms of salaries and pensions are controlled and reduced, capital outlays will progressively reduce, and the Armed Forces will be burdened by insufficient funds for maintenance and inability to replace outdated inventory. The impact on military effectiveness will be devastating and therefore there is every reason to reduce the manpower costs. Salary outflow reduction is possible through manpower savings through integration. For sure, its quantum is presently unknown, but it certainly represents a pathway amongst others. The adverse impact on capital outlay due to manpower costs is obvious from the graphs below,
The creation of integrated structures must be preceded by a determination of the military leadership of where and what types of wars should India be prepared for. Defence planning certainly involves a good deal of guess work, yet a combined intellectual interrogation of military possibilities will still have to be undertaken and a collective understanding reached. What form of military power should be developed and what should be its priority must be collectively decided based on realistic assumptions of budget availability.
The concept of usable military power should be adopted. This is the category of weapon systems that are usable in the Indian context, to operate under the nuclear shadow. Long and medium range firepower on aircraft, ships and ground based mobile artillery systems, cyber systems, brigade sized forces, UAVs, Special Forces and tools for information warfare are some areas of usable military power. An aircraft carrier task force would also qualify as usable military power as its mere presence in any area can create strategic effects. On the other hand, the utility of nuclear assets, the Army’s Strike Corps and Anti-Satellite capability are areas of deterrent power whose utility is constrained by the nuclear shadow in contrast to usable military power. In the author’s view, application of this framework in the context of the Western, Northern and Maritime spaces should free up manpower that serve to restore the edge to capital outlay.
Structural Integration must also be accompanied by deliberate and focused efforts to use technology especially Information Technology and Artificial Intelligence to replace manpower through technology. The scope for this is unlimited and must remain a continuous effort. This will however require capital in the short-term whereas the savings from manpower will accrue in the long-term. Prioritisation of fund allotments must privilege the replacement of manpower through technology.
The other method available to reduce manpower costs is by outsourcing identified functions. The scope lies in the increasing convergence between the military and civil in several areas like transportation, vehicle maintenance, peace time logistics supply chain and cyber warfare. Expanding the Territorial Army would also reduce pension outlay but the impact will be marginal considering the scale of the pension outlay. The problem is however not intractable in the long run. A solution suggested by the Standing Committee on Defence of the Sixteenth Lok Sabha and operationalised by the Takshashila Institution Discussion Document titled ‘Human Capital Investment Model for National Security’, offers a way forward. However, the urgency to seek a solution to the burgeoning pension demands need not wait the restructuring process.
Budget squeeze should speed up the process of Joint/Theatre Commands. There must be a realisation that the integration process provides an opportunity to deal with the budget squeeze, even if it has to be done at a slower pace, due to resource constraints. Integration facilitates synergy and one can do more with less. The political leadership has been decisive on the creation of the Joint/Theatre Commands. It is now the turn of the military leadership to ensure its realisation. It will not be easy but ‘it has to be done’ must be the spirit that embodies the effort.
 Resettlement of Ex-Servicemen Thirty Third Report http://184.108.40.206/lsscommittee/Defence/16_Defence_33.pdf
Lt Gen (Dr) Prakash Menon, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd) is Director, Strategic Studies Programme, Takshashila Institute, Bangalore. He commanded a battalion, brigade and CI Force in Central, North and South Kashmir. He was also MGGS Northern Command, Comdt NDC and Military Adviser in the National Security Council Secretariat.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.