Arun Prakash writes: Agnipath, between the lines

The prospect of a military defeat is so appalling, and its consequences so appalling, that nations are prepared to make any effort to avoid such an outcome. For this reason, national security has historically been considered, throughout the world – by economists, not soldiers – as “the first charge on the treasury.”

Unfortunately, independent India has seen defense spending relegated to the “non-plan” category, within the realm of the Soviet-inspired centralized economy. In another anomaly, the veterans’ pension bill – a separate cost to the treasury – was linked to the defense budget and its (inevitable) growth appeared as an excuse for dwindling funds available for force enhancement and hardware replacement/upgrade.

Thus, governments slowed for years, due to “lack of resources”, due to the army’s demand for a mountain strike corps. But, ironically, the 2020 Chinese incursions into Ladakh resulted in the deployment of 50,000-60,000 troops – more than a corps force – and a massive unplanned outflow of expenditures to support that deployment indefinitely.

The most frustrating aspect of this situation was the fact that the Ministry of Finance, instead of finding ways and means to raise the additional funds necessary for national defense, transferred responsibility to the armed forces, asking them to develop measures to reduce the pension bill. One supposes that Agnipath’s scheme, launched with great fanfare, is the result of this request.

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But rather than engage in a critique of this controversial project, which has already seen much controversy, controversy, and public upheaval, let me focus on two larger issues, which are at the root of so many errors in our approach to national security.

Every nation faces the eternal “guns-for-butter” dilemma, and must find its own way to solve what the US military calls the “end-ways-means” dilemma. All major powers conduct a periodic review (every 4-5 years) of their evolving national security objectives, the options available, and the economic/military means available to achieve them. Such reviews automatically generate assessments of the opponent’s current/potential threats to national interests, as well as the military’s physical/operational state of readiness.

From here, it is a short step to estimate the military capabilities required, and the financial support the nation will need. Aside from providing financial guidance, this process also facilitates the development of a national security strategy. China, our adversary in the neighbourhood, since 2002 publishes with uninterrupted regularity the “Defense White Paper”, which summarizes all of the above, and is available on the Internet; Information for enemies and friends alike.

On the other hand, the Government of India has neglected to do any such practice, in the past 75 years. In so doing it has deprived itself and the taxpayer of a comprehensive national security picture of: (a) where we stand; (b) Where do we want to go; and (c) how do we intend to get there? Unsurprisingly, India is among the few major powers that have failed to issue a national security strategy or principle and is thus seen as providing volatile responses, to emerging threats as well as fiscal austerity in the field of security.

The second fact that we must face is that our armed forces have remained in the period of the Second World War, as far as their organization and doctrines are concerned. The half-hearted attempts at organizational reform have been unsuccessful due to a lack of political will as well as due to internal resistance on the part of the services; With the formation of the Chief of Defense Staff and the establishment of a Department of Military Affairs provides the latest examples.

However, the most troubling loophole is that our 1.4 million military has not fully benefited from the 1980-2000 era’s “military affairs revolution”, has not learned all the lessons of the ongoing “hybrid war”, and continues to focus on the “boots on” syndrome. Earth”. Given the changing nature of warfare, downsizing of the Indian Army, by replacing manpower with smart technology and innovative tactics, has become an urgent necessity. Against this background, an Agnipath-style scheme, appropriately shaped, and focused on enhancing “combat effectiveness” rather than “creating savings” or “job creation”, would have launched a reform process. But there are a number of caveats that must be taken into account in this context.

First, given the precarious security situation, on the country’s northern and western borders, as well as the ongoing internal turmoil, this is not the best time to throw the armed forces – already under manpower – into turmoil, with radical new recruitment yet to take place. his experience. the system.

Secondly, such a scheme, in its current form, is suitable only for the army, whose large component of the infantry is not overburdened with technology. In the case of the Navy and Air Force, it should be recognized that a minimum of 5-6 years is required before a newcomer can gain sufficient work experience to be tasked with operating or maintaining lethal weapons systems, machinery, and complex electronics.

Third, no matter how extensively the issue was discussed in meetings or in files, a radical change of this kind had to undergo trial before implementation at the service level. Ideally, it was possible to allocate a few units of the regular or regional army as a testing ground, and get feedback.

Finally, the bitter experience of the past has shown that the Ministry of Interior resisted the introduction of ex-soldiers into the armed police and paramilitary forces, on the grounds that it would spoil the career path of their cadres. Likewise, state governments and other agencies have blatantly ignored the reservations imposed on the ESM. Therefore, if an Agnipath scheme is to make a meaningful promise of employment or education after demobilization, it must be authorized by an act of Parliament, similar to the “American Soldiers Act” enacted by the US Congress.

In conclusion, upon seeing burnt train wrecks, wrecked buses and social unrest, which are often seen in the wake of many recent pronouncements, one is left to wonder whether dissenting opinions are tolerated and contradictory advice accepted or given any weight in our high-level decision-making forums?

The writer is a retired Chief of the Navy staff.

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