‘The bud­getary al­lo­ca­tion to the Army in the re­cent years has been fairly con­sis­tent’

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The Chief of Army Staff Gen­eral Bikram Singh says that his sin­gle most im­por­tant area of fo­cus is to en­sure the high­est state of op­er­a­tional pre­pared­ness. In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with SP’s Land Forces, he as­sured that with high lev­els of mo­ti­va­tion and morale, the In­dian Army is fully pre­pared to take on the present and fu­ture chal­lenges with elan and pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

SP’s Land Forces (SP’s): You have now been the Chief of Army Staff for more than a year. Which are the ar­eas within the Army or in your re­la­tion­ship with the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) where you have been able to pos­i­tively in­flu­ence mat­ters and set into mo­tion some long-term cor­rec­tive mea­sures/re­forms? Chief of Army Staff (COAS): As the Army Chief, it is my bounden re­spon­si­bil­ity to

chart a course that pre­pares the Army to meet fu­ture threats and chal­lenges ef­fec­tively and con­tin­ues to live up to the faith and trust that the na­tion has re­posed on its sol­diers and com­man­ders.

To start with, on tak­ing over as the Chief of Army Staff, I had laid down cer­tain ‘thrust ar­eas’ to re­align the fo­cus of the In­dian Army. Th­ese form the foun­da­tion of a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach to build- ing an Army that re­mains a ready, po­tent, re­spon­sive and ac­count­able in­stru­ment of na­tional power—a vi­sion that I have ar­tic­u­lated time and again.

To en­sure the high­est state of op­er­a­tional pre­pared­ness is my sin­gle most im­por­tant area of fo­cus. Another crit­i­cal chal­lenge re­mains that of force mod­erni­sa­tion and ca­pa­bil­ity build-up. It has been my en­deav­our to bring in greater transpar- ency and ac­count­abil­ity in our poli­cies and pro­ce­dures. Fi­nan­cial pro­bity is in­te­gral to main­tain­ing and pre­serv­ing our core val­ues, which form the ba­sic ed­i­fice of our strength and struc­ture.

Our sol­diers re­main our most pre­cious re­source. A re­view of the hu­man re­source pol­icy is al­ready un­der way to meet in­di­vid­ual as­pi­ra­tions and or­gan­i­sa­tional needs. I have main­tained that as an or­gan­i­sa­tion

we need to cut down on ac­tiv­i­ties that do not have a bear­ing on our op­er­a­tional pre­pared­ness. I am also com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment that of­fers chal­leng­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to our ju­nior lead­er­ship.

There is greater syn­ergy now, both with the MoD as well as with sis­ter ser­vices and all other agen­cies, who are the stake­hold­ers in na­tional se­cu­rity, some­thing that I have up­held as a pre-req­ui­site to achiev­ing our com­mon aim and pur­pose.

I have al­ways main­tained that our vet­er­ans, veer naris (brave women) and wid­ows who have made tremen­dous sac­ri­fices are our strength and it is our duty to look af­ter their well-be­ing. Spe­cial cells for ex-ser­vice­men have been set up at all head­quar­ters. To usher all ranks into their sec­ond in­nings, place­ment nodes have also been cre­ated un­der Army Wel­fare Place­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (AWPO). In ad­di­tion, spe­cial dis­charge drills are be­ing con­ducted at Delhi for of­fi­cers and at Reg­i­men­tal Cen­tres for Ju­nior Com­mis­sioned Of­fi­cers and other ranks.

My ef­forts thus have been to­wards mould­ing the Army into a co­he­sive, con­fi­dent and ef­fec­tive force and bring­ing about a well­ness that per­me­ates across the rank and file. Let me as­sure the na­tion that with high lev­els of mo­ti­va­tion and morale, the In­dian Army is fully pre­pared to take on the present and fu­ture chal­lenges with elan and pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

SP’s: Which are the ar­eas where you have not been able to make any head­way de­spite a strong de­sire on your part to do so and what is pre­vent­ing you from do­ing it?

COAS: There is no area where progress has not been made. We have made head­way on all fronts, al­beit the pace may be slightly slow in cer­tain cases.

Long-term pro­cesses need to be im­parted with im­pe­tus to achieve our vi­sion. Ca­pa­bil­ity build­ing re­quires time, com­mit­ment and re­sources. Most projects have long ges­ta­tion pe­ri­ods and are spread over many years. The progress has to be viewed in this con­text. There are ar­eas where the progress has been slower than what is ex­pected. Mod­erni­sa­tion of the In­dian Army re­quires to pick up pace. In-house pro­cesses are al­ready be­ing re­fined and the gov­ern­ment’s con­tin­u­ous fo­cus and sup­port is crit­i­cal. De­fence in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment in view of the cur­rent and fu­ture threats would re­quire fo­cused com­mit­ment.

Another area that as­sumes im­por­tance is in­di­geni­sa­tion of de­fence in­dus­try, greater op­por­tu­ni­ties and role of pri­vate play­ers and a boost to de­fence re­lated re­search and de­vel­op­ment (R&D). We are quite hope­ful that the pos­i­tive im­pact of the ef­forts that have been put in this di­rec­tion should be vis­i­ble in the near fu­ture as it has far-reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions on our self-re­liance in de­fence equip­ment and ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

SP’s: Which are the ar­eas where you have not been able to make any head­way de­spite a strong de­sire on your part to do so and what is pre­vent­ing you from do­ing it?

COAS: There is no area where progress has not been made. We have made head­way on all fronts, al­beit the pace may be slightly slow in cer­tain cases. Long-term pro­cesses need to be im­parted with im­pe­tus to achieve our vi­sion. Ca­pa­bil­ity build­ing re­quires time, com­mit­ment and re­sources. Most projects have long ges­ta­tion pe­ri­ods and are spread over many years. The progress has to be viewed in this con­text. There are ar­eas where the progress has been slower than what was ex­pected.

Mod­erni­sa­tion of the In­dian Army re­quires to pick up pace. In-house pro­cesses are al­ready be­ing re­fined and the gov­ern­ment’s con­tin­ued fo­cus and sup­port is crit­i­cal. De­fence in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment in view of the cur­rent and fu­ture threats would re­quire fo­cused com­mit­ment.

Another area that as­sumes im­por­tance is in­di­geni­sa­tion of de­fence in­dus­try, greater op­por­tu­ni­ties and role of pri­vate play­ers and a boost to de­fence re­lated R&D. We are quite hope­ful that the pos­i­tive im­pact of the ef­forts that have been put in this di­rec­tion should be vis­i­ble in the near fu­ture as it has far-reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions on our self-re­liance in de­fence equip­ment and ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

SP’s: Of late, it seems China has been far more ag­gres­sive on the line of ac­tual con­trol (LAC) than in ear­lier years and the con­duct of PLA/Bor­der Guards has been ag­gres­sive, to say the least. What is the Army’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion of China’s in­ten­tions of adopt­ing the cur­rent tac­tics and ag­gres­sive stance?

COAS: I do not agree with your ini­tial state­ment. Few bor­der in­ci­dents that took place have been un­duly hyped up. Th­ese iso­lated in­ci­dents must be viewed in the over­all con­text.

Peace and tran­quil­lity pre­vail along the LAC and bor­der ar­eas as a re­sult of com­mit­ment by both na­tions to abide by ex­ist­ing bi­lat­eral agree­ments and pro­to­cols. In ad­di­tion, mech­a­nism of Bor­der Post Meet­ings (BPM)/Flag Meet­ings has been ef­fec­tive in re­solv­ing most bor­der is­sues. Fur­ther strength­en­ing of con­fi­dence build­ing mea­sures (CBM) has been achieved by the Bor­der De­fence Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment (BDCA) signed dur­ing the Prime Min­is­ter’s visit to China on Oc­to­ber 23, 2013.

SP’s: The de­lays in mod­erni­sa­tion of the In­dian Army are well chron­i­cled and the rea­son­ing has also been un­der­stood gen­er­ally by mil­i­tary an­a­lysts. How­ever, that gives no sat­is­fac­tion to sol­diers and for­ma­tion com­man­ders who face our ad­ver­saries at the bor­ders where small skir­mishes may well es­ca­late into bor­der con­flicts. As the COAS, are you sat­is­fied with the cur­rent hold­ings and the sta­tus of equip­ment and mu­ni­tions for war? COAS: Mod­erni­sa­tion of the In­dian Army is a con­tin­u­ous process that en­sures the Army is fully ca­pa­ble of meet­ing any threat in the op­er­a­tional en­vi­ron­ment pre­vail­ing on our bor­ders. Ef­forts are on­go­ing in con­junc­tion with the Min­istry of De­fence to en­hance the ca­pa­bil­ity of in­dige­nous weapons and

‘Due to the spe­cial em­pha­sis laid on in­di­geni­sa­tion by the De­fence Min­is­ter, as re­flected in the fore­word of DPP 2013, I am con­fi­dent that there will be pro­gres­sive im­prove­ment in the com­ing years’

equip­ment. It would be rea­son­able to state that our sol­dier is well-equipped for any op­er­a­tional con­tin­gency.

Am­mu­ni­tion man­age­ment is a dy­namic process wherein con­sump­tion and re­coup­ment of any de­fi­ciency is a func­tion of pro­duc­tion ca­pac­i­ties of ord­nance fac­to­ries and avail­abil­ity ex im­port. A com­pre­hen­sive long-term Am­mu­ni­tion Roll on Plan for con­tin­ued build up of am­mu­ni­tion re­serves in a phased man­ner is al­ready be­ing im­ple­mented on ap­proval by the MoD.

SP’s: A Moun­tain Strike Corps stands sanc­tioned by the gov­ern­ment. Among the vet­er­ans the view per­sists that mere rais­ing of more man­power, with­out tac­ti­cal and op­er­a­tional level avi­a­tion re­sources, long-range fire­power, re­con­nais­sance and sur­veil­lance re­sources and many other force mul­ti­pli­ers would be mar­ginal value. May we have your ob­ser­va­tions on this im­por­tant is­sue?

COAS: The ca­pa­bil­ity of an Army is an amal­ga­ma­tion of equip­ment and man­power, both of which are pro­cessed si­mul­ta­ne­ously for ca­pa­bil­ity en­hance­ment. In­dian Army pe­ri­od­i­cally car­ries out re­al­is­tic threat as­sess­ments and for­mu­lates the ca­pa­bil­ity re­quired for un­der­tak­ing its man­dated char­ter. Ac­cord­ingly, mod­erni­sa­tion and force struc­tur­ing are for­mu­lated and ap­proved by the gov­ern­ment. When­ever ac­cre­tions are sanc­tioned, the req­ui­site com­bat sup­port, re­con­nais­sance, sur­veil­lance and lo­gis­tic com­po­nents are also sanc­tioned along with it.

SP’s: Con­sid­er­ing the pull out of the North At­lantic Treaty Or­gan­i­sa­tion (NATO) and the US forces from Afghanistan in 2014, how does the Army as­sess the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan-Pak­istan re­gion and how will it im­pact the In­dian Army?

COAS: The tur­moil in Afghanistan-Pak­istan re­gion and re­cent se­cu­rity de­vel­op­ments are def­i­nitely an is­sue of con­cern. With the stated pull out of troops by the United States in 2014, the se­cu­rity dy­nam­ics in the re­gion will un­dergo a change. Be­ing part of the re­gion, th­ese changes are bound to have cer­tain im­pli­ca­tions for In­dia as well.

SP’s: There has been in­or­di­nate de­lay in rais­ing and es­tab­lish­ing the In­dian Na­tional De­fence Univer­sity (INDU). When is the INDU likely to be es­tab­lished and what are the for­mal­i­ties that are still to be com­pleted?

COAS: The process of set­ting up of INDU is on a fast track mode af­ter ac­qui­si­tion of land at Bi­nola and Bi­laspur, Gur­gaon and sub­se­quent foun­da­tion stone lay­ing cer­e­mony by the Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia in May 2013.

De­tailed project re­port along with the lay­out plans have been sub­mit­ted by the Ed­u­ca­tion Con­sul­tants of In­dia Ltd (EdCIL), a Min­istry of Hu­man Re­source De­vel­op­ment (MHRD) en­ter­prise and the Re­vised Cab­i­net Note is in the process of be­ing sent for in­ter­min­is­te­rial con­sul­ta­tions. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, INDU Act is also be­ing pre­pared by the con­sul­tants and is likely to be sub­mit­ted to MoD at the ear­li­est. This will also be put through in­ter-min­is­te­rial con­sul­ta­tions af­ter which it will be tabled in the Par­lia­ment. Af­ter the pas­sage of INDU Act, all other pro­cesses of ten­der­ing, con­tract­ing and ex­e­cut­ing the project will com­mence in­clud­ing award of de­gree to af­fil­i­ated col­leges. It is ex­pected that the en­tire in­fra­struc­ture will be ready and the Univer­sity fully func­tional by end 2018. Head­quar­ters In­te­grated De­fence Staff (HQ IDS) is closely work­ing along with MoD and other con­sul­tants for early set­ting up of INDU as per the time­lines ap­proved by the De­fence Min­is­ter.

SP’s: Have the plans to make the Army’s Spe­cial Forces and In­fantry Ghatak Pla­toons more po­tent and ef­fec­tive, been re­alised? What is the new equip­ment, if any, that has been in­ducted to en­sure this?

COAS: The mod­erni­sa­tion plan of Spe­cial Forces in­volves in­creased fire­power, sur­viv­abil­ity, sit­u­a­tional aware­ness and com­mand and con­trol to op­er­ate across the en­tire spec­trum of con­flict. In ad­di­tion, mod­erni­sa­tion of avi­a­tion as­sets and in­creas­ing air­lift ca­pa­bil­ity will fur­ther en­hance their op­er­a­tional reach. With new tech­nolo­gies com­ing in, mod­erni­sa­tion and ca­pa­bil­ity de­vel­op­ment of our Spe­cial Forces would re­main an on­go­ing process, one that is ac­corded high pri­or­ity in our plan­ning and pro­cure­ment pro­cesses.

The Spe­cial Forces have been equipped with mod­ern weapon sys­tems along with sur­veil­lance and tar­get ac­qui­si­tion de­vices as part of their ca­pa­bil­ity en­hance­ment to con­duct man­dated tasks both by day and night. Be­sides this, ac­tion is at hand to en­sure high mo­bil­ity of our elite forces, be it on land, air or sea. As re­gards the Ghatak Pla­toon of In­fantry Bat­tal­ions, a com­pos­ite pack­age of ad­di­tional equip­ment and de­vices for spe­cial op­er­a­tions, re­ferred as ‘Ghatak Brick’, is also in the pipe­line. This upgra­da­tion would fa­cil­i­tate the Ghatak Pla­toons to con­duct their tasks with en­hanced ef­fi­ciency and com­par­a­tive ease in con­ven­tional as well as sub-con­ven­tional op­er­a­tions.

SP’s: Re­cently it was cov­ered in the me­dia that Nax­als are rais­ing Bat­tal­ion sized units for fu­ture op­er­a­tions. Does that in­di­cate a role for the Army un­der­tak­ing an­tiNaxal op­er­a­tions in the fu­ture?

COAS: Anti-left-wing ex­trem­ism (LWE) op­er­a­tions are be­ing co­or­di­nated and con­ducted by the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs (MHA) in con­junc­tion with the af­fected state gov­ern­ments. Our Cen­tral Armed Po­lice Force (CAPF) are fully geared and com­pe­tent to take on the chal­lenge. The Army is only in an ad­vi­sory ca­pac­ity and is pro­vid­ing train­ing to the state po­lice/CAPFs as and when re­quired.

SP’s: In a fairly large num­ber of in­ci­dents in the past few months in Jammu and Kash­mir (J&K), it seems that Army units and sub-units have suf­fered causal­i­ties due to their own lax­ity. While we have no doubts that or­ders in­clud­ing stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures do ex­ist to pre­vent such hap­pen­ings, why are they be­ing flouted, es­pe­cially in ar­eas where alert­ness and readi­ness are para­mount for their own safety and se­cu­rity? Are there any other rea­sons for this ob­vi­ous flaw?

COAS: The sit­u­a­tion in J&K was im­prov­ing as was ev­i­dent from all pa­ram­e­ters which clearly pointed to an early re­turn of rel­a­tive nor­malcy. This was ob­vi­ously due to the re­lent­less ef­forts of the In­dian Army ably sup­ported by all el­e­ments of our se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus.

Viewed in ret­ro­spect the re­peated calls for re­vo­ca­tion of the Armed Forces Spe­cial Pow­ers Act (AFSPA) were per­haps on ac­count of the im­proved se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion. How­ever, there was a need to fur­ther con­sol­i­date and sta­bilise the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion, lest any pre­ma­ture ac­tion neu­tralised the ad­van­tage gained by the re­lent­less of­fen­sive ac­tion of our sol­diers.

There have been iso­lated vi­o­la­tions of stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures (SOPs), how­ever, remedial re­course has been ef­fected. Th­ese aber­ra­tions not­with­stand­ing, we must never triv­i­alise the sac­ri­fices of our brave sol­diers. As the COAS, I salute all my sol­diers, who in the line of duty and best tra­di­tions of our Army have made the supreme sac­ri­fice.

SP’s: How long will it take the In­dian Army to be ready for net­work-cen­tric op­er­a­tions? What is hold­ing it back?

COAS: Net­work-cen­tric op­er­a­tions in­volve de­vel­op­ment of in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy (ICT) in­fra­struc­ture and suit­able ap­pli­ca­tions. While our net­works at strate­gic and op­er­a­tional level are well de­vel­oped, we need mo­bile and flex­i­ble tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem (TCS) to be fielded at the ear­li­est. At the same time, while some ap­pli­ca­tions have been fielded suc­cess­fully, oth­ers are at dif­fer­ent stages of de­vel­op­ment through in­dige­nous pro­duc­tion by the De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) and de­fence pub­lic sec­tor un­der­tak­ings (DPSUs), in keep­ing with se­cu­rity con­sid­er­a­tions. I would also like to high­light that in the field of ICT, the de­vel­op­ment cy­cle has to be tele­scoped to beat tech­no­log­i­cal ob­so­les­cence.

The above not­with­stand­ing, I ex­pect the In­dian Army to be net­work-cen­tric in line with our laid down ob­jec­tives in the days ahead.

SP’s: We are ex­er­cis­ing with var­i­ous friendly for­eign coun­tries. Have th­ese ex­er­cises in any way im­pacted the op­er­a­tional/ equip­ment phi­los­o­phy of the Army?

COAS: The com­bined ex­er­cises are aimed at achiev­ing de­sired ca­pa­bil­ity dur­ing op­er­a­tions that may be un­der­taken in the af­ter­math of a dis­as­ter sit­u­a­tion or for op­er­a­tions against ter­ror­ists un­der the aegis of the United Na­tions. Such ex­er­cises also en­able the de­vel­op­ment of min­i­mum in­escapable in­ter­op­er­abil­ity, which is es­sen­tial for achiev­ing the syn­ergy be­tween two Ar­mies.

The In­dian Army has ben­e­fit­ted im­mensely from this ex­po­sure, both op­er­a­tionally as also with re­spect to tech­nol­ogy re­lated is­sues.

SP’s: At the cur­rent level of bud­getary al­lo­ca­tion for de­fence, the pro­ce­dural com­plex­ity that ef­fec­tively pre­cludes the full util­i­sa­tion of al­lo­cated funds within the fi­nan­cial year and the hes­i­tancy of peo­ple in charge in tak­ing pro­cure­ment

de­ci­sions, will the In­dian Army be able to equip, up­grade and mod­ernise in con­for­mity with ex­ist­ing plans? Very lit­tle has been achieved in the Twelfth Five Year Plan, there­fore given the above en­vi­ron­ment, what makes us con­fi­dent that it will be achieved in the fu­ture?

COAS: De­fence ac­qui­si­tion is a com­plex process that needs to bal­ance the com­pet­ing re­quire­ments of ex­pe­di­tious pro­cure­ment, de­vel­op­ment by in­dige­nous de­fence sec­tor and con­for­mity to the high­est stan­dards of trans­parency, pro­bity and pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity. High lev­els of pub­lic pro­bity and me­dia scru­tiny im­pose a de­gree of cau­tion, mak­ing the process more deliberate, as tenets of the De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure (DPP) have to be fol­lowed con­sci­en­tiously.

While there have been some time over­runs, it would be in­cor­rect to state that very lit­tle has been achieved in the Twelfth Five Year Plan. Thirty-nine con­tracts have al­ready been con­cluded in the Twelfth Plan. A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of schemes linked to the mod­erni­sa­tion of Ar­tillery, Army Air De­fence and Mech­a­nised Forces are in fairly ad­vanced stages of pro­cure­ment and ought to fruc­tify within the Twelfth Plan.

The bud­getary al­lo­ca­tion to the Army in the re­cent years has been fairly con­sis­tent. The Army has car­ried out a holis­tic re­view and re-pri­ori­ti­sa­tion to ac­cel­er­ate ca­pa­bil­ity de­vel­op­ment. I have also con­sti­tuted a Higher Fo­rum on Op­er­a­tional Pre­pared­ness and Mod­erni­sa­tion un­der the Vice Chief, which is closely mon­i­tor­ing all mod­erni­sa­tion ef­forts. The Army re­mains com­mit­ted to ac­cel­er­ate pro­cure­ment and max­imise op­er­a­tional readi­ness. We have set achiev­able tar­gets and are mak­ing steady progress. The nu­mer­ous ini­tia­tives have al­ready started show­ing re­sults. In the cur­rent fi­nan­cial year, we have far sur­passed the re­sults of pre­vi­ous years.

Stream­lin­ing and re­fine­ment of the pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dure is a con­tin­u­ous process. Ex­pe­ri­ence gained has ad­e­quately been sub­sumed in suc­ces­sive ver­sions of the De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure (DPP). MoD as well the three ser­vices have taken great care to min­imise sys­temic de­fi­cien­cies of all na­ture and are work­ing in uni­son to en­sure timely and un­hin­dered pro­cure­ment. Due to the spe­cial em­pha­sis laid on in­di­geni­sa­tion by the De­fence Min­is­ter, as re­flected in the fore­word of DPP 2013, I am con­fi­dent that there will be pro­gres­sive im­prove­ment in the com­ing years.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ANOOP KAMATH / SP GUIDE PUBNS

PHO­TO­GRAPH: NEETU DHU­LIA / SP GUIDE PUBNS

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