Thursday, June 1, 2023
YourTurnSubscriberWrites: Downsizing Army is counterproductive. India needs a strong defence force

SubscriberWrites: Downsizing Army is counterproductive. India needs a strong defence force

India has to first develop a robust defence industry. It is not viable to do so with only imported technology and weapon systems, writes Col KL Viswanathan.

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How will a Nation measure the success and efficiency of its armed Forces – saving money or fighting capabilities? While cutting strength or reducing costs is desired and useful, it should not be at the expense of the efficacy of the fighting soldier or the combat capability of the defence forces in the now and in future.

The Defence Forces are the guardians of the sovereignty of any Nation. The more than 4000 kms of land border, in varied terrains, that India shares with two belligerent neighbours, makes it imperative for India to maintain a strong, robust and efficient army. The strength required to patrol these long borders is so enormous that obviously, it is nearly impossible to keep constant vigil on every inch of the border, every minute. Yet the job has to be done. Besides, India also has a coastline of 7516.6 km – 6100 km of mainland coastline + coastline of 1197 Indian islands. These “borders’ naturally extend to the third dimension, in the air. The enormity of defending such borders is all too evident.

For a decade or so now, there are talks of downsizing the Indian Army. The” lean and hungry” look has haunted friend and foe equally from centuries ago. It is probably very easy to trim down the Indian Army to a “lean” status by reducing the strength. But to maintain the “meanness”, the fighting edge, besides considerable planning, costly resources by way of technology and equipment will be required. That will entail considerable capital intensive defence expenditure. Also, this paradigm shift cannot take place overnight and will take up considerable period of time. While this transformation is implemented, we cannot leave the Nation vulnerable to intimidation or attack. For most period during implementation the two “systems”, old and new, will have to run in parallel. Yet the question remains. Can this be done in the case of India, with its unique borders and neighbours?
Let us examine, using a simple illustration, without getting into too many technicalities and statistics.

As part of using technology to reduce manpower, one recommendation is extensive use of drones, in place of soldiers, for surveillance. The terrain across the 4000 plus km borders varies form high altitude, snow laden, mountainous, riverine, jungle, plains and deserts. The number of drones with very different technological characteristics to suit varying weather and terrain – for instance the physical and technological characteristics of drones to be used in high altitudes will be different from those to be used in plains -, including redundancy, required will be enormous. Elaborate support infrastructure by way of hardware and software will have to be deployed to collect, collate and assimilate the information generated from the network of drones. In many places drones may have to be manually monitored. Potent and viable reactionary forces will have to be stationed at strategic locations to thwart potential enemy action. Until the efficacy of the new surveillance system based on drones is established, the current “manual” system etc. will have to be in force, entailing double expenditure for the duration.

Extend this scenario to all areas of replacing manpower with technology. It is evident that modernization and going lean will entail a manifold increase in defence expenditure in the short term – say, for the next 15 to 20 years. Here is the spending on Defence in 2022 by US $770 Bn, China 230 Bn, India $50 Bn, Pakistan $8 Bn (source GFP), for an idea of the sort of money involved in modernization. Also note that the US and China equip their defence forces with indigenous weapon systems where they pay less for more and their defence expenditure bolsters internal economy. The real picture is that India has to first develop a robust defence industry in the country to be able to go “lean and mean’. It is not economically viable to do so with only “imported technology and weapon systems”.

Tail piece: While we can continue to discuss reducing the strength of our defence forces, let us not be under any illusion that we can do it any time soon or do it at all. We need to maintain a strong defence force to guard our long and unique borders that call for “boot on ground” vigil. For the present our most potent weapon system is our soldier. Let us not lose him/her to drawing room debates.

These pieces are being published as they have been received – they have not been edited/fact-checked by ThePrint.

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