The answer lies in tactics. Human agency can provide the ‘brain power’ to counter technological superiority. The new CDS will have a lot of thinking to do
by Lt Gen (Dr) Prakash Menon (Retd)
The need is to fill a time gap of unknown duration through tactics that exploit the vulnerabilities of the tanks and armoured vehicles deployed. In Ladakh, the terrain is bereft of cover, and similar is the case in most parts of the north. The greatest vulnerability, especially for China’s frontline mechanised elements, is the combination of the ground and air threats. As a stop-gap, for the defender, the ground threat can be generated by foot mobile fire bases, which leverage terrain and are operated by numerous roving bands in very small infantry-based groups, including special forces.
Wherever possible, small groups of soldiers can also be motorised and this may require the lifting of the import ban on wheeled AFVs due to time constraints, unless indigenous procurement capability delay is acceptable. It will also involve making organisational changes, which is always a major challenge. The change in tactics could offset technological superiority, especially if brainpower, organisational flexibility, and leadership drive operational performance.
Admittedly, such a change in tactics is only an illustration, and surely the ‘brains’ on the ground would conjure better options. On the battlefield, the big is also vulnerable to the small. Notably, human agency and technology can also be on the side of the small.
Not Without Joint Deliberations
But a change in tactics involves the co-option of other branches of the Army as well as the other Services. Strengthening jointness is a necessary condition for changes in tactics. The change has to come about after joint inter-Service and intra-Service deliberations at various levels are carried out. Jointness was one of the main drivers of the reforms that created the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) post and brought about other structural changes, including the Department of Military Affairs and the post of the permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee. Strengthening jointness was to come through the creation of the Joint/Integrated Commands. The creation of such commands is a significant defence reform.
The untimely demise of Gen Bipin Rawat, India’s first CDS, in mid-December 2021 and the non-appointment of his replacement would surely have slowed down many of the initiatives that were underway. Technological superiority is equipment-based. In equipping, the fundamental issue is that the timeline of procurement decisions maturing to deployed systems is often unpredictable. The current inventory must provide the planning coordinates for field commanders at all levels. They must, in different configurations, put their heads together and look for a change of tactics in identified areas to offset technological superiority.
The debate on the future of the tank that has been provoked by the Ukraine war carries a message for the Indian military. The ultimate battle-winning factor is human agency and not technological superiority. The political leadership must take responsibility for the deferred appointment of the CDS, a major reform that was its own initiative. This is unless they believe that India’s geopolitical situation permits time for defence reform to await the arrival of the requisite personality by way of seniority. If that is the case, the move is inexplicable, for the Modi government is already empowered to set seniority aside. It is a power that was used when appointing Gen Rawat as COAS. Only the future may indicate the costs of delay in the appointment of his successor.
If hearsay has a role, one believes that the wait for the CDS will soon be over. Lost time cannot be recovered, but lost mental ground can be, and ‘putting the heads together’ can help. We urgently need viable solutions to determine the changes, if any, in the execution of our operational plans in times of peace and war. The new CDS has a lot of thinking to do. Let us wish him luck whoever he may be.