[PM and Doval]
The worst fears about the Defence Planning Committee (DPC) being yet another bureaucratic contrivance rather than an instrument for centralizing national security and defence decision-making were realized once the outcome of its first meeting became known.
One report talked about the DPC chaired by NSA Ajit Doval with the three armed services chiefs — Admiral Satish Lanba, General Bipin Rawat, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, defence secretary Sanjay Mitra, expenditure secretary Ajay Jha, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, and Lt Gen Satish Dua heading the Integrated Services HQrs as member-secretary writing up the minutes, surveying the “geostrategic landscape” and deciding to come up with an äction plan. Another reported that the stress was on the military services alighting on a coordinated plan to avoid developing duplication and triplication of capabilities that would be mindful of the financial constraints and keep in view rapidly advancing technologies and the likely nature of the wars of the future. In this context, the navy was asked not to push for the third indigenous aircraft carrier (that NHQ had hoped would have on board the prohibitively costly electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) that the US Navy is finding to be unaffordable. All present also apparently agreed that the flab needs to be excised. That’s all that has come out in the public realm.
This is all very good, particularly the non-sanctioning of the EMALS carrier that this analyst has long suggested is a criminal waste of money and operationally will reduce the Indian navy’s footprint in the Indian Ocean, because the bulk of the not so very large naval forces will have to be deployed to protect its prized aircraft carriers — which however many ships are tasked as escorts will be unable to do given that the near future heralds the dawn of hypersonic glide weapons speeding to targets at Mach 7+ , superceding supersonic Brahmos-type missiles that had already rendered aircraft carriers obsolete as I have argued in my writings, and extensively in my last book, ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’.
But these are operational aspects of force planning that the DPC, perhaps, will deliberate on, hopefully with an open mind, in the months to come. The basic problem, however, is with the forces that the services HQrs have planned. I have long contended that the Indian armed services, considering their organization and history, are not transformation-minded and, therefore, not transformation-enabled. What they have in mind when talking future war capability is beefing up the force structure in place with modern versions of weapons already in the arsenal. So it is one-for one replacement, which is all that they are catering for as their force planning predicate. This defeats the entire notion of a transformed military based on genuine integration in line function and in terms of support logistics, full-spectrum command, control and communications, and procurement.
Moreover, with robotic, functionally autonomous, weapons now being experimented with in terms of man-machine interface by advanced militaries, and with cyber capabilities integral to the offensive and defensive plans and generally warfighting, what the DPC should ideally do is design a future force guided by these defining metrics. This will necessitate configuring a singular future force with air, land, and naval elements that are slimmed down, and which will require the military’s “tail” to actually be lot bigger in size than “teeth”. This goes against the grain of the flawed understanding of trending military technology in govt and military circles, which is reflected in the illiterate Indian print and electronic media, and in DPC wanting “lean and mean” military forces. (Talk of banalities!)
Such force redesign is impossible without a military organization with a single head of the armed forces and one-point adviser to govt — Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). CDS is what the Modi government promised before it was elected in 2014. Four years later the country gets the NSA as CDS (as the previous post in this blog argued) and in Doval, a policeman fixated on Pakistan and smaller and weaker neighbouring states, not a strategist with the mental wherewithal for strategic thinking. All you have to do is listen to the speeches he has delivered to-date (and to be found on youtube.com) to know that not a single original idea has ever been uttered by him on national security issues in the flood of banal statements that he has mouthed over the years. Hard to imagine then that overnight he will become a tremendous intellectual defence resource for the country, and hence even less likely he will be able credibly to give imaginative guidance to the services chiefs and MEA, or instruct the defence and expenditure secretaries to fork out the monies (which task — allocation of funds for military planning being beyond his brief as NSA-cum-DPC head).
What he will end up doing is leave it to the military chiefs to draw up plans. Whence, he can be certain there will be no re-orientation of the armed forces from Pakistan to China, and no restructuring of forces to follow in train, involving the rationalizing of the armoured-mech heavy land forces into a single composite armoured-mech corps with materiel and monies thus freed up diverted to raising and forward deployment of three offensive mountain corps for rapid debouching on to the Tibetan plateau for war. This would mean paying only lip service to the “Wuhan consensus” that Modi and Xi agreed on and which the foreign secretary Gokhale is threatening to implement when the trouble is there was no consensus.
Jay Ranade, the Mandarin-speaking former RAW man on China ops, for instance, points out that two very different communiques were issued at the end of the Wuhan Meet. The Indian version mentions “guidelines” issued by the principals to their respective militaries to ensure there’s no Dokla La redux, but the Chinese version, typically, has no such mention. Consequently, while India will put out — as per China friendly MEA’s faulty appreciation of what transpired at Wuhan, Beijing will sit pretty and do nothing other than maintain its agro on the LAC and await the Modi govt, prompted by Gokhale and his ilk to, as usual, do its trademark tail-between-the legs routine!
Meanwhile the defence secretary will again get to play god, and play off the three armed services against each other — because the DPC does not in any way sideline the defence secretary’s role. And the expenditure secretary will report to Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, about the proceedings, allowing him to sit back and do the normal thing when resources are scarce — fund programmes in drips and drabs to guarantee that India’s military has only limited capabilities for use against, weaker, smaller adjoining states, if that, leaving national security no better off after the DPC than it was before its founding. This is the reason why I had warned that the DPC will amount to nothing more than yet another bureaucratic layer gumming up the works, another bureaucratic pimple on the already pock-marked face of the Indian state.