Lean and Mean

Four ef­fi­ciency stud­ies, each un­der a Lieu­tenant Gen­eral, were com­mis­sioned in May 2018 and are ex­pected to be in in early 2019

India Today - - COVERSTORY / ARMY -

ised Army Plains In­fantry Di­vi­sions or RAPIDs, mo­bile di­vi­sions each com­pris­ing an ar­moured bri­gade equipped with bat­tle tanks that would punch through en­emy lines and two mech­a­nised in­fantry bri­gades that would carry troops in newly ac­quired ar­moured per­son­nel car­ri­ers.

The son of re­tired army deputy chief Lt Gen. Lachu Singh Rawat, the cur­rent army chief was deep-se­lected by the gov­ern­ment over two other se­nior gen­er­als in De­cem­ber 2016. Since then, he has con­stantly pressed his field com­man­ders on their pre­pared­ness to fight wars at short no­tice. ‘Cold Start’, the army’s bat­tle strat­egy evolved after the 10-month Op­er­a­tion Parakram stand­off with Pak­istan in 2001, en­vis­ages the army go­ing into bat­tle at a few hours’ no­tice.

But, as a gen­eral says, a lot of Cold Start-re­lated tac­ti­cal work was up in the air be­fore Rawat’s time. “What he’s try­ing to do is ac­tu­ally im­ple­ment those on the ground,” one gen­eral says. In the pipe­line is a plan to re­duce the num­ber of army com­mands fac­ing China from the present four to just two.

If Gen. Sun­darji gave the army RAPIDS, Gen. Rawat has called for rais­ing IBGs. Equipped with in­fantry, tanks, ar­tillery and mech­a­nised in­fantry, the IBGs will be com­manded by a ma­jor gen­eral and op­er­ate un­der the 14 corps-sized for­ma­tions in the army. The con­cept is sim­i­lar to the US army’s ba­sic ma­noeu­vre unit, the in­fantry bri­gade com­bat group, and the PLA’s ‘com­bined arms bri­gades’, a fea­ture of China’s mil­i­tary re­or­gan­i­sa­tion un­der way since 2013.

The IBGs will re­place the pri­mary al­larms fight­ing unit, the in­fantry divi­sion. Each in­fantry divi­sion is a force of around 14,000 sol­diers backed by an ar­moured bri­gade of 80 tanks and ar­tillery bri­gade of 500 guns, and can in­de­pen­dently fight a ground war. One school of thought within the army calls for re­plac­ing all the 40 in­fantry di­vi­sions with nearly 140 IBGs. This will, how­ever, de­pend on the re­sults of a test bed in two of the corps in the Chandi­mandir-based Western Com­mand this year, where field ex­er­cises will be car­ried out to see how it will work. The 2,900-km Indo-Pak bor­der is not uni­form—the LoC in Kash­mir is rugged moun­tains, Akhnoor and Ch­hamb in Jammu are in the plains, Pun­jab is criss­crossed by rivers, Ra­jasthan and Gu­jarat

The de­fence bud­get, at just 1.58 per cent of the GDP, is the low­est in over 50 years, the army has ar­gued

have deserts and marshes. Each IBG on the western bor­der with Pak­istan will be sec­tor-spe­cific, each area get­ting the re­sources it needs to strike across the bor­der in case of a con­flict. The deserts will have a dif­fer­ent ap­pli­ca­tion. “The chief wants to fix troops and equip­ment for each of these sec­tor-spe­cific IBGs,” a se­nior army of­fi­cial says.

The IBGs, the army feels, will kill sev­eral birds with one stone. They will op­er­ate di­rectly un­der the Corps HQ, thus, do­ing away with divi­sion head­quar­ters. They will see an in­crease of nearly 95 ma­jor gen­er­als, needed to com­mand nearly 140 IBGs, thereby in­creas­ing the pro­mo­tion prospects of lower ranks. Cur­rently, a colonel has to wait for nearly six-to-eight years to be­come a bri­gadier. The army has pro­posed di­min­ish­ing the im­por­tance of the bri­gadier rank by mak­ing it a ‘non-se­lec­tion’ grade ap­point­ment as it is for the equiv­a­lent ranks of air com­modore and com­modore in the In­dian Air Force and Navy. All colonels will thus au­to­mat­i­cally be­come brigadiers, draw­ing higher pay and with bet­ter prospects of be­com­ing ma­jor gen­er­als. These mea­sures will re­duce the to­tal num­ber of brigadiers from 1,165 to 936, in­crease the num­ber of ma­jor gen­er­als from 301 to 396 and, over­all, re­duce 134 of­fi­cers in the army.

The army has pro­posed do­ing away with all its divi­sion head­quar­ters be­cause the corps will now di­rectly con­trol the IBGs. They will also abol­ish the NCC Direc­torate, the Mil­i­tary Train­ing Direc­torate and the Deputy Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Mil­i­tary Farms. Sev­eral other sep­a­rate di­rec­torates will be merged. The DGs of Per­spec­tive Plan­ning and Weapons & Equip­ment di­rec­torates are to be merged into a sin­gle di­rec­tor gen­eral (PP & WE). The Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Sig­nals and Tele­com and Di­rec­tor Gen­eral In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy are to be merged into the DG-ST.

Some of the of­fi­cers it thus saves will be moved into the Direc­torate Gen­eral of Shap­ing of In­for­ma­tion En­vi­ron­ment (DGSIE) to fight hy­brid war­fare, an­other of Gen. Rawat’s pet themes. Hy­brid war­fare is a mil­i­tary strat­egy that is a lethal cock­tail of con­ven­tional war­fare with ir­reg­u­lar war­fare, law­fare, cy­ber war­fare and diplo­macy. This pro­posed spe­cial­ist ver­ti­cal will en­able the army to fight a de­fen­sive hy­brid war­fare chal­lenge.


The world’s sec­ond largest army faces mul­ti­ple chal­lenges, each of which

has changed in vary­ing de­grees over the past three decades. It is fight­ing an in­sur­gency in Jammu and Kash­mir that has flick­ered with vary­ing in­ten­sity. Its troops are strung out over 4,000 km of dis­puted bound­aries with Pak­istan and China. Fight­ing a full-scale con­ven­tional war on a col­lu­sive Chi-Pak axis is now cast in stone in its mil­i­tary strat­egy. “It’s not just about fight­ing a two-front war, it’s also about ob­tain­ing de­ci­sive mil­i­tary ob­jec­tives on both fronts,” a se­nior army of­fi­cial says. What has changed dra­mat­i­cally, how­ever, is the army’s abil­ity to pay for all of this.

Over the next decade, the army needs to find Rs 100,000 crore to pay for new at­tack he­li­copters, util­ity he­li­copters and mis­siles to re­place its 1980s arse­nal. The army has over 800,000 in­fantry. These num­bers mean even the cheapest item on its shop­ping list—as­sault ri­fles, car­bines and light ma­chine guns—will cost Rs 15,000 crore. Yet, the army also needs to find the man­power and equip­ment for its Moun­tain Strike Corps—three di­vi­sions that will move into China in the event of a mil­i­tary con­flict—and to staff new di­rec­torates it is cre­at­ing to re­spond to nascent threats like in­for­ma­tion war­fare.

All these re­quire huge jumps in bud­getary al­lo­ca­tions at a time when the gov­ern­ment is fo­cused on re­duc­ing the fis­cal deficit—the gap be­tween rev­enue and ex­pen­di­ture. In its bud­get this year, the army got Rs 17,756 crore less in cap­i­tal out­lay and Rs 24,755 crore less un­der the rev­enue head than what it had sought. The army ac­counts for 55 per cent of the de­fence bud­get, but swal­lows 69 per cent of the rev­enue bud­get of all the three ser­vices. The de­fence bud­get, at 1.58 per cent of the GDP, is the low­est in over 50 years, the army has said while ar­gu­ing for a bud­getary hike. The gov­ern­ment is un­likely to re­lent.

A July 23, 2018, state­ment tabled in the Ra­jya Sabha by MoS for de­fence Sub­hash Bhamre cap­tured the gov­ern­ment’s think­ing. “The de­fence bud­get as a per­cent­age of GDP may ap­pear to be de­creas­ing due to in­creas­ing trend in the growth of GDP,” Bhamre said. “How­ever, it is in­creas­ing in ab­so­lute terms, im­ply­ing higher spend­ing.”

To bol­ster his ar­gu­ment, Bhamre men­tioned the ‘to­tal de­fence bud­get’ this year—Rs 4.04 lakh crore (and not the Rs 2.9 lakh crore which the gov­ern­ment spends only on the armed forces). This also in­cludes mil­i­tary pen­sions, which was delinked from the armed forces’ bud­gets and placed un­der the MoD bud­get in the 1980s. Seen in its en­tirety, the de­fence bud­get is ac­tu­ally 31 per cent larger be­cause of this hid­den pen­sion com­po­nent. All told, Bhamre said, the de­fence bud­get in 2018-19 would ac­count for 16.6 per cent of the to­tal cen­tral gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­ture.

Bhamre nudged the armed forces to “op­ti­mally utilise” their bud­gets, ask­ing them to “repri­ori­tise schemes to en­sure ur­gent and crit­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties are ac­quired with­out com­pro­mis­ing op­er­a­tional pre­pared­ness”. The state­ment shocked the armed forces, par­tic­u­larly as the MoS men­tioned the touchy is­sue of de­fence pen­sions.

In­dia pays out $15 bil­lion (Rs 1 lakh crore) for its 20 mil­lion de­fence pen­sion­ers a year, a fig­ure al­most equal to the salaries it pays to serv­ing

per­son­nel. This fig­ure, an­a­lysts note, is more than Pak­istan’s $9.6 bil­lion de­fence bud­get this year and is pro­jected to climb over the years, fur­ther in­creas­ing the mil­i­tary bud­get’s rev­enue com­po­nent.

The navy and air force have re­ceived smaller out­lays. The navy asked for Rs 37,932 crore but was given only Rs 20,848 crore, Rs 17,084 less than what it had sought. The IAF got Rs 41,924 crore less than what it had de­manded. With mi­nor bud­getary in­creases barely suf­fi­cient to cater to in­fla­tion, there is de­spon­dency all around. To make mat­ters worse, in

2017, the gov­ern­ment took away duty ex­emp­tions on the im­port of de­fence equip­ment, which means the de­fence ser­vices have to pay more for hard­ware. This trans­lates into a 20 per cent hit on the cap­i­tal bud­get across the ser­vices.

The bud­get cuts, as one ser­vice chief told in­dia to­day, show the yawn­ing gap be­tween in­tent and re­al­ity. “We as­pire to be a su­per­power and we want to be strate­gi­cally au­tonomous, which means we can’t have mil­i­tary al­liances. But cre­at­ing hard power re­quires a hike in de­fence spend­ing, which isn’t hap­pen­ing ei­ther.”


The rev­enue cap­i­tal mis­match has been faced by sev­eral of Gen. Rawat’s pre­de­ces­sors. As far back as 1975, then Lt Gen. K.V. Kr­ishna Rao headed a panel that spoke of the need to re­duce the army’s teeth-to-tail ra­tio or the ra­tio of fight­ing per­son­nel to the sup­ply and lo­gis­tics per­son­nel. In 1998, un­der what was in­for­mally called ‘save and raise’, Gen. V.P. Ma­lik ‘sup­pressed’ 50,000 va­can­cies within the army. The army would work with man­power de­fi­cien­cies and not re­place re­tir­ing sol­diers. It was a great idea, but got scup­pered by the Kargil war of 1999. Overnight, the army grew by over 150,000 sol­diers as it raised two new corps, one in Ladakh and an­other in Pathankot, to man the gaps along the LoC. In or­der to brighten ca­reer prospects in the armed forces, they pushed for higher pay and al­lowances and pen­sions un­der the sixth and sev­enth pay com­mis­sions over the past 20 years. These have now come back to bite. “We are in a Catch 22 sit­u­a­tion,” says a se­nior army of­fi­cer. “The armed forces are a low pri­or­ity ca­reer op­tion, so pay has to be kept at the level it is to at­tract peo­ple, oth­er­wise you won’t get good can­di­dates.”

Gen. Rawat is con­fi­dent the gov­ern­ment will ap­prove his re­struc­tur­ing. This shouldn’t be a prob­lem be­cause ever since the de­feat in the 1962 war, when the Nehru gov­ern­ment was ac­cused of foist­ing an un­pop­u­lar gen­eral on the army, suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have left the army to it­self. The army is yet to project the sav­ings on ac­count of re­or­gan­i­sa­tion, but back of the en­ve­lope cal­cu­la­tions show it could shave off up to Rs 6,000 crore from its rev­enue bud­get if it re­duces 50,000 sol­diers.

But will the fi­nance min­istry, which al­lo­cates bud­gets, trans­fer rev­enue sav­ings to the cap­i­tal ac­count? There is no ev­i­dence to show this will be the case. Still, Rawat be­lieves the gov­ern­ment will meet him half­way. “I am quite con­fi­dent the gov­ern­ment will sup­port us. You know when we tell the gov­ern­ment that ‘we are com­ing half­way, are you also will­ing to come half­way?’, I’m sure they will un­der­stand.” It re­mains to be seen how the fi­nance min­istry re­acts to this.

“The de­fence min­istry al­ready ac­counts for 33 per cent of the gov­ern­ment’s en­tire cap­i­tal spend,” says Lax­man Ku­mar Behera, a scholar at the MoD think-tank In­sti­tute of De­fence Stud­ies and Analy­ses (IDSA). “It is dif­fi­cult to see how the fi­nance min­istry will want to in­crease this al­lo­ca­tion. All sav­ings will only go into the Con­sol­i­dated Fund of In­dia.”

For­mer North­ern Army Com­man­der Lt Gen. H.S. Panag says the re­forms are mean­ing­less with­out the gov­ern­ment fi­nal­is­ing a na­tional se­cu­rity strat­egy after which it can kick off re­source-in­ten­sive mod­erni­sa­tion plans like seam­lessly link­ing up sol­diers on the bat­tle­field through in­for­ma­tion-tech­nol­ogy and sen­sory net­works like those in the armies of the US or China. “Tech­nol­ogy ac­qui­si­tion is an ex­pen­sive ex­er­cise which needs the gov­ern­ment on board. Since this is not a pri­or­ity for the gov­ern­ment, this (the re­forms) will re­main noth­ing more than a plan for in­ter­nal re­forms,” he says.

“Fu­ture wars will need all three ser­vices to fight to­gether. Hence, ‘joint­ness’—the three ser­vices fight­ing to­gether—is the need of the hour” LT GEN. D.B. SHEKATKAR (Retd) Head, MoD re­form com­mit­tee “Tech­nol­ogy ac­qui­si­tion is ex­pen­sive, it needs the gov­ern­ment on board. Since this is not a pri­or­ity, this (Rawat’s blue­print) will re­main noth­ing more than a plan for in­ter­nal re­forms” LT GEN. H.S. PANAG (Retd) For­mer North­ern Army Com­man­der “De­fence al­ready ac­counts for 33% of the Cen­tre’s en­tire cap­i­tal spend. How will the fi­nance min­istry top this?” LAX­MAN KU­MAR BEHERA, IDSA

Down­siz­ing the army is a con­cern shared by the gov­ern­ment. A re­port sub­mit­ted to the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sory Board, which op­er­ates un­der NSA Ajit Do­val, last Novem­ber rec­om­mended cut­ting 20 per cent of the stand­ing army into re­serve for­ma­tions to save costs. The re­port, in­de­pen­dent of the four stud­ies be­ing un­der­taken by the army, was pre­pared by for­mer North­ern Army Com­man­der, Lt Gen. D.S. Hooda. A big im­pon­der­able, though, is the fate of all such re­form plans—Gen. Rawat’s in­cluded—at a time when the gov­ern­ment is rapidly slip­ping into elec­tion mode. And it’s easy to be scep­ti­cal. The In­dian Army is a be­he­moth that in­her­ently de­fies any at­tempts at change. None of the army’s right-siz­ing moves over the past three decades have suc­ceeded. And last but not the least, a change at the top fre­quently re­sults in a change in pri­or­i­ties.


The bane of all at­tempts to re­form bud­gets is the fact that these are sin­gle-ser­vice en­deav­ours. An­a­lysts point out that the army’s at­tempts to re­form it­self suf­fer from the same prob­lems af­flict­ing na­tional se­cu­rity. It re­flects a sin­gle-ser­vice ac­tion when the rem­edy lies in a joint ap­proach. “Fu­ture wars will not re­main only army- or in­fantry-cen­tric. They will need all three ser­vices to fight to­gether. Hence, joint­ness—the three ser­vices fight­ing to­gether—is the need of the hour,” says Lt Gen. Shekatkar, who headed the MoD re­forms com­mit­tee. “The ser­vices haven’t even touched the toe­nail of this ele­phant in the room,” says an MoD fi­nance of­fi­cial. “Why do the ser­vices need 17 sep­a­rate com­mands? Why is there a South­ern Naval Com­mand in Kochi and an Air Force South­ern Com­mand in Thiruvananthapuram?”

These are so­lu­tions which have to be pushed through at the po­lit­i­cal level. But here again, the gov­ern­ment is yet to act on one of the most con­tentious rec­om­men­da­tions of the Shekatkar com­mit­tee—the cre­ation of just three joint theatre com­mands: north, south and west— which will merge the ex­ist­ing 17 com­mands. Each com­mand will re­port to a theatre com­man­der. The theatre com­man­ders will re­port to the Chief of De­fence Staff (CDS), the sin­gle point mil­i­tary ad­vi­sor to the gov­ern­ment. It is also yet to act on the pro­posal for a per­ma­nent chair­man, Chiefs of Staffs Com­mit­tee (a half­way house to a CDS). The post is presently held in ro­ta­tion by the se­nior­most of the three ser­vice chiefs. For years, the ser­vices could never build a con­sen­sus on the roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the per­ma­nent chair­man. This year, how­ever, after years of in­fight­ing, they did the un­think­able. Navy chief Ad­mi­ral Su­nil Lanba, chair­man, CoSC, says the ser­vices fi­nally buried their dif­fer­ences on a per­ma­nent chair­man, CoSC, and sub­mit­ted a pro­posal to the gov­ern­ment last year. Now, the ball is squarely in the gov­ern­ment’s court.

Gen. Rawat says the army’s re­formed struc­ture will lead to more jointmanship and has called for of­fi­cers from the two other ser­vices to be posted within each oth­ers’ com­mands to in­crease ef­fi­ciency.

Rawat has an­other year to go be­fore he hangs up his boots, the first chief in nearly two decades to en­joy a full three-year ten­ure. This year will be cru­cial for him to re­alise his vi­sion. He is con­fi­dent his suc­ces­sors will carry on his re­forms, a task that could take up to five years to re­alise. His suc­cess or lack of it will de­ter­mine whether the In­dian Army turns into a 21st cen­tury fight­ing ma­chine or be fated to re­main in the last cen­tury.

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