Cut flab in Army, but not in a rush

Media reports that have been circulating suggest that the Army, one of the three armed services, has instituted a study headed by Lt. Gen.

Media reports that have been circulating suggest that the Army, one of the three armed services, has instituted a study headed by Lt. Gen. Philip Campose, a retired vice-chief of army staff, to suggest ways to make cuts in the force in around three months’ time to rightsize the Army. The aim is to initiate targeted reductions to improve the force’s tooth-to-tail ratio — the number of personnel required to support a combat soldier. If the approach to reduce the size of the Army, and that too within a period of three months, is true, nothing can be more amateurish than what is being attempted.

There is no denying the fact that the size of the defence services has bloated much beyond the needs of efficient war-fighting. The “tooth-to-tail ratio”, which is under scrutiny, has become a cliché among some intellectuals who simply do not understand that the military’s size and shape has an irrefutable relationship with the country’s military doctrine for war-fighting and the consequential constituents of military structures.

Military modernisation is a field that is least understood. It is assumed that it is related to inducting high technology weapons and equipment. On the contrary, it encompasses the renovation of a wide spectrum of war-fighting related specialties, such as joint warfare concepts and doctrines, higher defence management set-ups, military organisations from the highest to the lowest levels, the logistics chain, command and control structures, C5I2SR systems, infrastructure, mobility including trans-regional transformations, training needs, human resources policies and a host of other issues. Changes that will be brought through the modernisation process will contribute to efficient integrated joint war-fighting. The scope of military doctrine evolved will be restricted to the extent of availability of funds, and the timeframe needed to induct high technology, modern weapons and equipment.

Cutting the military flab is not a standalone issue, but a part of the military modernisation process. When such a plan is set in motion, it creates a few new structures to operationalise the revised war doctrine and some of the weapons and equipment systems inducted. However, it will resize a number of structures that are not in sync with the revised war doctrine. Arbitrary cutting of the tooth-to-tail ratio is nothing but an attempt at a surgery without knowing where the tail is or how much of it needs to be cut.

China went through the process of military reforms at least 10 times since 1949. Its military strength stands at 2.3 million. China’s President Xi Jinping, during his speech on September 3, 2015 at the World War II victory celebrations, announced a further cut of 300,000 troops. At the end of this 11th phase of restructuring, China’s military strength is expected to be two million, compared to 6.27 million in 1949. Have the force reductions come about by cutting the tooth-to-tail ratio and that too within a timeframe of three months The world’s military community must be amused by our approach to force reduction and military modernisation. The examination of a few sample areas will elucidate the point.

China today has five theatre commands. They are the five joint operational commands. Its entire fighting forces, including those guarding the borders, are under these commands. The United States controls global operations through six of its unified theatre commands. What about India India today has 14 operational commands (six of the Army, three of Navy and five of Air Force), and a joint service theatre command based in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

What happens in the event of a war between India and China In China’s case, the western theatre command headquartered at Chengdu (Sichuan) alone will handle the entire military operations from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, including border management in peacetime and the switchover to a wartime scenario.

India will field nine operational commands, besides units under the Union home ministry, and with most commands having overlapping jurisdictions. Do we realise the implications of such a confusing arrangement managed by multiple headquarters, commanders and staff in a serious business such as war

Take the case of military logistics chains. Today, each service has its own logistics chain to meet their requirements, based on our British-era war strategy and doctrine. In case we adopt an integrated joint war-fighting concept, the logistics chain can be combined and some restructuring done to meet the logistics requirements of an integrated joint war-fighting machine.

Do we straightaway get to the business of making these changes, and some others that are clearly visible No. By acting abruptly we will only create a huge unsolvable confusion. The answer lies in undergoing restructuring after remodelling our war strategy and military doctrines. And there is no doubt this process cannot be completed in three months; it will have to be handled in a time-bound manner and in well-thought-out phases.

This job should be entrusted to a new Chief of Defence Staff, and his team comprising the three service chiefs. The government can give the final nod to that.

The process of military modernisation and restructuring can be initiated by the government enunciating the national security strategy and appointing a CDS. That will send a clear message indicating its resolve to modernise the defence forces and adopt integrated joint operations as its war-fighting strategy. This must be followed up by the issuance of a national defence strategy by the defence ministry. The threat perception, extent of military capacity to be built and the scope of joint war-fighting will have to be defined in this document.

The bureaucracy could pose a number of impediments and suggestions on how not to restructure the defence forces. But it is in our national interest and the political leadership should step in and push through these reforms, the way Mr Xi Jinping did for China.

Brig. V. Mahalingam (Retd) is a strategic affairs and defence analyst. He commanded a mountain brigade in the Kashmir Valley and was force commander of the National Security Guard.

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