Friday, February 3, 2023
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General Rawat is front-runner for CDS but all he talks about is cosmetic changes in military

A ‘toothless’ Chief of Defence Staff observing the niceties of ‘first among equals’ can achieve little on the ground.

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Army chief General Bipin Rawat, who is the front-runner for the post of the Chief of Defence Staff, in a recent interview to ThePrint talked about a range of issues, from India’s operational strategy with respect to China to the role of the CDS and his plan to form Integrated Battle Groups.

My assessment of the fine print shows that there is a greater need to focus on transformation of the defence forces and not just look at mere cosmetic and incremental changes.

Role of CDS

General Bipin Rawat said that the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) will have to be the “first among equals”. Whether he is a four or a five-star General is a non-issue, he said. “He will have to shed the inhibitions of that (his) service and convince the other two,” he said.

According to him, the CDS should integrate training and logistics for the three services. “Some of the operational doctrines would have to be integrated. And finally, we will have to come out with theatre commands,” the Army chief said.

I am afraid the General is focused on incremental and not transformational change. His own experience with the Chiefs of Staff Committee should have convinced him that ‘first among equals’ does not work in the military.

Based on the Group of Ministers’ report in 2001, the integration of training and logistics for the three services has been a ‘work in progress’ under the Chiefs of Staff Committee with little result on the ground. A ‘toothless CDS’ observing the niceties of ‘first among equals’ will meet the same fate. Even if the CDS is not a five-star General, there should be no doubt about the hierarchy of command.

Also read: Chief of Defence Staff bold step but Modi govt’s big challenge will be inter-service rivalry

Operational strategy against China

The Army chief said that there is a need to review our deployment along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and not just replicate the LoC model. He instead called for technology-driven surveillance and reconnaissance, and building reserves for rapid response to cater for operational contingencies.

There can be no quarrel on this score. But what General Rawat has highlighted is a tactical issue, which can be corrected in-house. The northern front certainly requires a different strategy. Our border infrastructure is still inadequate when compared with China’s.

The qualitative and quantitative asymmetry in military technology is frightening. Our operational strategy is based on the traditional understanding of high-altitude warfare – occupy dominating heights and force the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into engaging with our troops in close combat from a disadvantageous position.

On the other hand, the PLA, which adopted the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) two decades ago, is more likely to rely on high-end military technology to inflict a psychological defeat on the Indian forces. Borders of nuclear-armed nations do not or, I dare say, cannot change. However, a humiliating defeat can still be inflicted in selected sectors through the overwhelming use of aircraft, drone, missile and artillery-based precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and cyber-attacks to destroy deployed forces and infrastructure.

Therefore, it may be more prudent to go on the offensive on a wide front to secure territory and selectively engage the PLA in close combat to neutralise the advantage of PGMs.
Talking about a possible war scenario with China, General Rawat said the Chinese will focus “first on pulverising Indian command, control and logistics centres with missiles rather than fighting a full-fledged intense war in the initial stages”. If this is the modus operandi of the Chinese, then the General should focus on the larger issues of a radical review of our operational strategy against China and modernisation of our forces to seek parity with the neighbour.

Also read: Pakistan knows we’ll retaliate, they should remain in fear: Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat

On Integrated Battle Groups

General Rawat spoke in detail about the creation of Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) – more potent than a Brigade but more agile than a Division, which will be ready to go on the offensive in 24 hours. Two experimental IBGs will soon be in place in 9 Corps and 33 Corps.

IBGs will certainly be a part of General Rawat’s legacy, but this again is merely an incremental organisational change to better execute our pro-active operational strategy.

The transformational change requires a holistic review of our elephantine armed forces and archaic structures/organisations. It demands replacing forces with technology-driven resources.

The General’s legacy

General Bipin Rawat deserves to be complimented for the in-house reforms/changes he has pursued and executed during his tenure.

History has rarely given leaders a second chance to complete a mission they set out on. As a front-runner for the CDS, General Rawat may get that second chance with a tri-service charter in the next three months. With the Narendra Modi government keen to own and fund transformational changes in the Indian military, there cannot be a better opportunity.

Armed with an experience of nearly three years as the Army chief, the General must challenge and alter the status quo and bring about transformation through a revolution in Indian military affairs – RIMA – to fight the wars of the 21st century.

Also read: Air Marshal Nambiar, Kargil hero famous for jugaad in combat should have been IAF chief

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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  1. If RMA is to be achieved – the first CDS should be from the Navy – which the most technologically advanced service.
    The moot question is whether an Army CDS (especially if he is from the infantry) will be able to visualise and implement modern High-Tech RMA concepts in all the 3 Services.

    • The first CDS, as envisioned is not going to bring home the bacon.
      His four star rank does not give him enough beef.
      Many eggs need to be broken to make a future omelette.
      Those who wish to maintain the status quo must understand they cannot have their cake as well as eat it.
      Five stars with At lest six years tenure and seniority above defence Secretary, he should assemble a team of our brightest younger officers, supplemented by diplomats and academics/technocrats, into a HQ , to anticipate the future threat and plan and implement revolutionary change.
      Methinks we need the sharp, short shock of a military defeat to pull ourselves out of complacency.

  2. Panag is quite right.
    This mish mash of the chain of command does not work in the Army – seniority and command must be with the Commander tasked with change.
    Rawat has put the cart before the horse!
    There has been no vision and long term thinking, – not surprising we are confused, as the integrated long term security strategy is missing, without which we are all blind men. A comprehensive long term vision of India’s role in the world, future technologies, our relationship with our neighbours, a realistic view of the future size of our economy, must shape our diplomacy as well as our strategic defence plan, from these come our blueprint of army reform.
    THEN ONLY – As Herman Goering said, we have to break eggs to make an omelette.
    Firstly the CDS should have been a five star commander, with a determination to bring about ‘revolutionary’ structural reforms, with a seniority above the defence secretary. A younger man with at least six years tenure. Even if this meant upsetting the IAS and disrupting the order of succession by seniority.
    The CDS should assemble by promotion from brigadiers and Colonels a specialist general staff of the brightest, tasked with change, These younger officers, will be destined to become future Army Commanders and Chiefs and will take ownership of the reforms, this will illustrate the emphasis placed on reforms and the need to rectify as Gen Panag puts it the ‘Frightening Situation’ vis our adversary China.
    The concept of battle groups go as far back as the Wehrmacht where army formations badly mauled could be reassembled rapidly from fragments of retreating units. An example is the counter attack to Montgomery’s Market Garden offensive, by General Model.
    Battle groups were also formed for specific tasks integrated with an air element of Stukas.
    But returning to army reforms, What’s most important is a budget for reforms which unfortunately due the state of the future economy none will be forthcoming.
    Our WW2 Army needs to be replaced with a modern hi tech integrated Defence force the Army element of fewer than 300,000 personnel.
    The integration should be such that the separate arms of army, navy and airforce are obsolete. There should one intergrated defence force even at the battalion level.
    What should be done with the hundreds of thousands redundant defence soldiers. Well there is an insurgency which will continue, and by freezing recruitment to all para military and state police forces they can be absorbed by these and by early retirement.
    But to fund modernisation for the Army everything should go to this smaller defence force , a separate budget and funding should be provided for these surplus redundant officers and soldiers partly out of paramilitary and state police budgets.
    The Indian army should change it officer recruitment policy by recruiting from technology backgrounds such as graduates from IIT by increasing remuneration , China is already doing this by emphasis on recruiting officers from the science and engineering departments of their best universities. The also have a huge territorial army like exchange programme where Chinese managers of hi tech companies are trained as TA officers in the PLA and PLA officers are sent on deputation to technology companies. Future PLA Commanders will be combat men all with academic science and technology backgrounds.
    Indias long chain of deployment holding our borders by hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers part of an archaic 2 world war army, is not going to work. They might as well be farmers holding pitchforks.
    Most of our `generals including Rawat cannon even imagine the changed warfare in twenty years, the revolutionary technologies and the entirely different type of warfare from China. The Romans changed warfare, Ghingis Khan did the same, those who fought the in old ways were annihilated.
    India has is not aware of the new warfare that coming from China. There is no vision no urgency.
    Gen Panag aptly describes in his article our failure to reform as frightening,

  3. Defence forces can have only incremental changes, bit by bit and stage by stage. In fact any new doctrine has to be validated- war gamed, tried on ground and modified and remodified… So, it takes time. Warfare has a long history. Incremental changes only have a surprise element that wins in a battle, not the big mouth. Print media will do good to defence by not getting involved too deeply. Warfare is an Art, though effected by all facets of human endeavour.

  4. War is game of bravery , but a person decide that he will do or die no wepon can defeat it,unfortunatly indian solder is out in this quality,in current history,America used latest technology aginst Taliban but cant win it ,now bagging for his remaining solders living in fort to safe return.pak army has given them training and vision ,Indian cant bear it.

  5. The front-runner for the post of the Chief of Defense Staff, speaks too much. Too much. Not often well. He was not present during the latest Arunachal’s incursion controversy, nor was he involved in the Ladakh region scuffle. These are intriguing silences from someone who seems predestined to become Chief of Defense Staff. on the other hand, it pours out on points of details. He makes assumptions about how a potential conflict with the big northern neighbor will unfold. Heshould re-read the course of some of the great conflicts of the past World War I or the Second World War. He would learn that at the outbreak of hostilities the plans prepared by the staffs were foiled! A chief of staff must have a vision of defense in all its aspects, he is a key figure in the organization of the defense. He must also participate in the rationalization of relations between the political and the military. In reality, it is the entire administrative and defense organization of the country that should be reformed. The appointment of a chief of staff does not regulate everything, it is a piece, important, but not enough to trigger a revolution in Indian military affairs.It is to be feared in the current context that the creation of this post remains an empty shell.

  6. Itna paisa mein itnaich milega, kindly adjust. Third class poor socialist state, third class obsolete armed forces, third class socialist leaders will only get a toothless yes boss cds.
    Indian armed forces will fight 21st century wars with rusted swords, bow and arrows, donkey mounted cavalry coz horses are unaffordable for the socialist Bharat.

  7. We are placing too much faith, one fears, on the newly created post of CDS to transform our war fighting capabilities. It will lead to better inter service coordination, which in any case is Raksha Mantri’s job. It will be interesting to watch the emerging relationship between CDS and NSA.

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