Highlighting the Government’s policy on defense way back in December 2015 while speaking at the Combined Commanders Conference, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi said that major powers are reducing their forces and relying more on technology. Back then, we were still constantly seeking to expand the size of our forces. The PM reminded us that modernization and expansion of forces at the same time are both difficult and unnecessary goals. We need forces that are more agile, mobile, and driven by technology and not just human valor.
Bharat’s immense military assets
Bharat has huge military assets. The government plans to use them and emerge as a more efficient fighting machine. Designed primarily to defend the country’s boundaries, the army has become heavily committed to regional security duties in Kashmir and the Northeast. Right now the main threats are from Pakistan and China.
By 2010 actual fighting units including the Infantry, Armoured Corps and the Artillery constituted just 25% of the Armed Forces. The morale of the Armed Forces was at an all-time low. Poor pay and allowances (when compared to their civilian counterparts) led to declining standards. As many as 8,000 court-martials were reported between 2000 through 2007.
By late 2017 the Army had 12 Lakh jawans + 43000 officers, Navy (57000 sailors + 10500 officers), and IAF (1.27 Lakh airmen + 12000 officers) totaling 14.5 lakh active personnel. There were also 5 lakh second-line troops (subject to recall to service until 50 years of age).
All three services and the civilian and defense agencies were working without coordination between each other. The Navy had a shortage of sailors while the Army was short on officers.
Reforms were undertaken and the three services were asked to be more efficient and effective by employing faster or simpler working methods.
Officers were ordered to achieve the goals of the nation by simplifying how information flows between different levels within the Army. Reluctance to share information with employees of different divisions were hampering our defense planning. They were provided with sophisticated artificial intelligence-aided technological tools and applications to help them create powerful strategies.
By doing things only when absolutely necessary we had lost our edge in locating potential dangers and possible threats. Other than China and Pakistan, we have let in radical fundamentalist Rohingyans through our porous borders with Bangladesh. Instead of a military organization that was combat-capable with their weapons and equipment, ours has become a peacekeeping force within our country.
Lacking a central authority, we were not organized for operations, missions, and tasks that a conflict might demand from our forces. This is because individual services attended to driving their own agenda at their own levels.
In the last few years, things changed and a number of Army defense reforms have been brought in by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). More than at any other time after independence, there is a commitment to change the way the Indian defense forces are organized.
For decades, reports have revealed the fundamental inefficiencies rooted in our military structures and processes. Still, the same system was used during decision-making. It was all then comfortably blamed on a lack of political will. Major changes have been made in the way our defense forces are organized.
Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)
The creation of a CDS was suggested almost two decades ago by the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) in February 2000. KRC recommended the appointment of a CDS as a means to provide single-point professional military advice to the political leadership.
PM Modi first promised us one on August 15, 2019. In August 2020, General Bipin Rawat was appointed India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). He had served for three years as the Army Chief. The CDS is the principal military adviser to the defense minister on all matters related to the tri-services, something that was being done separately till then.
General Rawat headed the new department of military affairs (DMA) created on January 1, 2020, and has both civilian and military officers on its roll. The three service chiefs were to advise the minister on matters exclusively concerning their respective services. The department of military affairs was to focus on promoting jointness in procurement, training, and staffing for the tri-services.
Make in Bharat
Imports accounted for 60-65% of the country’s military requirements and it has signed contracts worth billions of dollars during the last decade. The import of 101 defense equipment items was stopped. This import embargo gave a huge push to Make in Bharat.
The military hardware on the negative import list includes assault rifles, sniper rifles, artillery guns, short-range surface-to-air missiles, long-range land-attack cruise missiles, beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, corvettes, missile destroyers, light combat helicopter, ship-borne cruise missiles, light combat aircraft, light military transport aircraft, conventional submarines, a variety of radars and different types of ammunition.
By 2020, 87% of all defense acquisition approvals went to domestic vendors. Rs. 52,000 Cr. budget was earmarked for domestically manufactured defense equipment in 2020-21. This encouraged greater private sector participation and Bharat is now a defense exporter. It is estimated that contracts worth almost 4 lakh crore will be placed upon the domestic industry within the next six to seven years.
Bharat has 17.5 lakh acres of Defence land which was uploaded on a GIS-based platform. A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer system used for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface. GIS can show many different kinds of data on one map, such as streets, buildings, and vegetation.
Around 15 additional GIS layers were created for various specialized needs. The MoD sets up its own LAN and all MoD organizations went online. All Canteen Stores, Cantonment services, MoD pensions too went online. As part of ease of doing business with the defense sector, all No Objection Certificates (NOCs) went digital.
Border Roads Organization (BRO)
Border areas are being connected like never before with development and faster improvement of border infrastructure being given top priority. Zojila pass opened almost a month ahead of schedule. The link road between Dharchula and Lipulekh was inaugurated.
6 bridges were inaugurated in J&K. 44 bridges were built by BRO and launched simultaneously. The World’s longest tunnel above 10,000 ft, the Atal tunnel in the Rohtang pass opened for traffic in October 2020, providing all-weather connectivity to our northern borders.
Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd (GRSE), an MoD undertaking developed the first-ever indigenously designed modular bridge in 2020. It reduces cost & import dependency for modular bridges and is extremely important for hilly terrains.
Bharat had ordered 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France (the equivalent of two squadrons) of which 23 have arrived. This is in fact the first major IAF procurement of state-of-the-art aircraft after 1996. They carry long-range Meteor air-to-air missiles and are considered to have an edge over fighter planes available with Pakistan and China.
The planes equipped with the Hammer missiles have enhanced Bharat’s capability to carry out air-to-ground strikes like the one in Balakot. Timely delivery and induction happened despite the Covid-19 challenge.
Earlier women officers were assigned only ground duties. Stree Shakti opened up the gates of the Indian armed forces for women more meaningfully. In 2015 the Indian Air Force (IAF) decided to induct women into the fighter stream. By early 2021, the Indian Navy deployed four women officers on warships after a gap of almost 25 years.
Women pilots of the Indian Navy flew for the first time as part of the Commission for SSC Women officers. In May 2021, the Army inducted the first batch of women into the Corps of Military Police, the first time that women joined the military in the non-officer cadre. All Sainik Schools are now open for girl students from the academic session 2020-21.
Other reforms include energizing and reforming defense research. Five labs with young scientists below 35 years of age only were launched in 2020. They include Artificial Intelligence in Bengaluru, Asymmetric Warfare Technology in Kolkata, Cognitive Sensor Technology in Chennai, Smart Materials in Hyderabad, and Quantum Technology in Mumbai.
Reform of the 41 ordnance factories across the country was recommended decades ago. The government has finally corporatized the Ordnance Factory Board.