It begins with cutting army’s flab

It begins with cutting army’s flab

P K Vasudeva

Presently, the Indian Army has 1.25 million troops, including 43,000 officers, divided into six operational/regional commands and one training command. The six commands have 14 Corps, 50 divisions, and over 240 brigades under them. The army has the biggest share of the annual defence budget -- Rs 1.71 lakh crore out of the total Rs 3.18 lakh crore. But 83% of its outlay is meant for revenue expenditure that is for day-to-day running costs and salaries and merely 17% is left for modernisation.

The armed forces’ slow modernisation, mainly due to the financial crunch, is dangerous for the country’s national security. With a poor tooth-to-tail ratio, the army is not fully geared to effect swift high-voltage strikes. A better tooth-to-tail ratio will come about only through greater streamlining and integration. This is also important because the nature of warfare itself has changed, with greater emphasis on limited, high-tech wars. Therefore, we need a fighting force that is rapidly deployable and operationally versatile. Last year, the government notified rules to enable joint theatre commands bringing together the three services. 

We must take a leaf out of China’s military reforms playbook. As part of its modernisation drive, China has already slashed its army strength by three lakh troops. Plus, it has a head start in integration with the PLA, PLA Strategic Support Force, PLA Rocket Force, PLA Navy and PLA Air Force much better integrated under Beijing’s Central Military Commission.

A new comprehensive study, chaired by the army’s DG-Perspective Planning has recommended the reduction of army manpower in non-operational organisations by about 27,000 personnel, as well as their restructuring for better efficiency and effectiveness. The proposed reduction is part of bigger reforms to transform the army into a lean, mean force, which will entail, among other things, slashing manpower by around 1.5 lakh personnel over the next 6-7 years to save about Rs 7,000 crore annually in revenue expenditure.

There are about 1.75 lakh officers and soldiers deployed in non-operational organisations ranging from the Military Engineering Services (MES), National Cadet Corps (NCC), Border Roads Organisation (BRO), Territorial Army (TA), to the operationally-crucial Assam Rifles, Rashtriya Rifles, and Strategic Forces Command, all of which do not come under the regular standing army.

The army had last year conducted four studies on force reorganisation and optimisation, flattening headquarters at different levels, cadre review and terms of engagement for officers and jawans, which are to be gradually implemented after approvals from this year onwards. The measures include relocation of 229 officers on staff duties to frontline operational posts and creation of a new post of deputy chief of strategy for military operations, intelligence, logistic planning, among others.

The committee has also recommended the concept of theatre commands for effective operational management. An integrated theatre command envisages a unified command of the three Services, under a single commander, for geographical theatres that are of security concern. The commander of such a force will be able to bring to bear all resources at his disposal — from the army, air force and navy — seamlessly.

The integrated theatre commander will not be answerable to individual Services, and will be free to train, equip and exercise his command to make it a cohesive fighting force capable of achieving designated goals.

The new concept of Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs), which the army plans to create as part of overall force transformation, is close to implementation. IBGs are brigade-sized, agile, self-sufficient combat formations that can swiftly launch strikes against an adversary in case of hostilities.

The army is raising new IBGs that can mobilise fast and strike hard across the borders with Pakistan and China, as part of its ongoing endeavour to reform its entire warfighting machinery and give effect to the ‘Cold Start’ doctrine. Major-Generals will command the new self-contained IBGs, centred on T-90S battle tanks with a mix of infantry, artillery, air defence, signals and engineers.

The prime minister has recently said he will appoint a Chief of Defence Staff. This ‘single-point military adviser’ will be able to analyse the operational strengths and weaknesses and the interdependence of each of the services on the other to meet the complex emerging challenges in a nuclear environment. India will have better integration of theatre commands under the CDS to face the twin threats from China and Pakistan jointly.

(The writer is a defence analyst and commentator)

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