India’s Defence Capability and Readiness: Learning from US NDSC Report | Security Risks Asia Made with Humane Club

India’s Defence Capability and Readiness: Learning from US NDSC Report

Published Nov 27, 2018
Updated Jun 11, 2020

United States NDSC review of National Defence Strategy outlines critical shortfalls and proposes key recommendations to overcome the same, India could well pick up relevant aspects for examination and implementation.

Here is an over review of the NDSC Report and how India could utilise the deliberations –

The Assessment and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission (NDSC) released on 14 November 2018 is entitled, “Providing for the Common Defense.”

The US Congress mandated 12-member Commission was charged with “reviewing the current national defense strategy of the United States, including the assumptions, missions, force posture, force structure, and risks associated with the strategy.”

The Commission “conducted a comprehensive assessment of the strategic environment, national security threats, the size, shape, and posture of the force, military readiness and capabilities, and the allocation of resources”.

The Commission comprised of senior civil and military officials as well as foreign and defence policy experts which having adopted the consultative and consensus approach arrived at conclusions as applicable to the United States Defence Forces.

The basis of the examination was assessment of effectiveness of the National Defense Strategy of the United States 2018 (NDS 2018).

Extrapolating observations o f the NDSC to the challenges and responses in the defence and security domain in India may lead to some interesting revelations.

The NDSC  for instance confirms that the threats outlined  in the NDS 2018 are apt however castigates lack of clarity of approach for success against the two main rivals – China and Russia.

Concurrently “Great power rivalry,” in the context of the United States can be translated to regional power contest or competition between India and China spreading across the Indo Pacific which can no longer be wished away.

The spread of radicalism in the North Western zone of South – South West Asia and beyond in Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue to remain a major challenge for India in the years ahead.

Military structural limitations and capability can also be seen as a “threat”.  “Resource shortfalls, unanticipated force demands, unfilled capability gaps, and other risk factors threaten DOD’s ability to fulfill the central goals of the NDS 2018”, states the NDSC Report.

 Many would echo the same factors underlying capability shortfalls of the Indian armed forces.

The NDSC recommends investments for “rapid improvement,” of capabilities but based on, ”operational concepts,” which are precisely defined and are not vague as is seen in the NDS 2018.

The perils of excessive involvement of US armed forces in, “counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency,” is highlighted which may be applicable to Indian Army’s involvement in theatres ranging from J & K to North East.

The Indian Army leadership resisted government demand for employment to counter Left Wing Extremism in 2009-10 which obviously was the right decision else it would have been turned into a policing force.

Changing the mindset of counter insurgency and Line of Control (LC) domination operations needs greater consideration by military commanders in India. The time required to make this shift may vary from weeks to months and will have to be factored in particularly in the wake of the much touted Cold Start strategy.

With reference to Pakistan evolving for concepts for effective conventional operations preventing or deterring use of assets such as the battlefield rocket Nasr needs consideration by the three services.

While integrated battle groups planned by the Indian Army may be an answer, orchestrating these to achieve campaign objectives while at the same time avoiding a nuclear response from Pakistan in the short window available is the key challenge.

Has this been thought through in reorganisation of the Indian Army based on quasi Integrated Battle Groups is not clear?

China could be expected to simultaneously launch information and cyber operations impacting command and control and/or infrastructure as well as conduct aggressive manoeuvres on the International Border/Line of Actual Control and/or move an armada in the Indian Ocean posing a major decision dilemma cum paralysis.

Indian Armed Forces plans for Net Centric or the lower hierarchical Net Enabled operations are as is evident from recent acquisitions shelved and the integrated battle appears to be the option that was first proposed in the early 2000.

This implies the Army fighting a Third Generation Warfare – muscle or steel versus steel.

The conflict space has however shifted to a much more complex unconventional approach “such as hybrid warfare (warfare combining conventional and unconventional elements), gray-zone aggression (coercion in the space between peace and war), and rapid nuclear escalation…,” as indicated in the NDSC.

The pithy argument that extrapolating from threats envisaged by the United States may not be realistic as emerging pattern of activities of China and Pakistan on the land borders and the IOR, indicates that we may not be too far from what has been called as hybrid and gray zone combat.

Rapid modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is a potent threat for the future.

PLA is likely to acquire fifth generation warfare capabilities covering all domains – land, sea, aerospace, cyber, information and media – the Unrestricted Warfare scenario painted by PLA Air Force Colonels in 2000.

See How the US, China and Russia are developing Technologies for Future Wars

In the wake of a cut back on resources as is evident from plans of the Indian Army to reorganise and regroup resources – Indian military is likely to be hopelessly outcompeted by the PLA by 2035.

Deterrence and War Avoidance is the principle military strategy outlined in the Joint Indian Armed Forces Doctrine 2017. 

This does not permit large gaps in technology and capability that are likely to emerge between the Indian Armed Forces and the PLA in a decade or so

The need is thus as the NDSC outlines with respect to the US Department of Defence, “link objectives to operational concepts to capabilities to programs and resources”.

Given the siloed structure of the Indian armed forces and the ministry of defence despite the creation of supra structures recently such as the  Defence Planning Committee and placing the Strategic Planning Group (SPG) under the National Security Adviser (NSA) the critical, “link,” outlined above is missing.

There is a need for measuring operational readiness periodically, an exercise that is the work of the National Security Council Secretariat, hopefully this is being carried out ??

Human resource development is another aspect that the NDSC has indicated which needs attention by the Indian armed forces.

While the number of optees for a job in the military remains high, there is a need for leadership and military operational development.

Ideally an exercise as the NDSC needs to be undertaken in India for greater clarity on issues touched upon herein.

This could be the mandate of the HQ Integrated Defence Staff which has the resources and expertise requiring a military heavy knowledge base.

A regular readiness posture review of the armed forces is another requirement which should be presented to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

These recommendations are by no means novel  yet the time has come to seriously consider these de novo.

However as William Holland North American recruiter for Wikistrat global consultancy monitoring Pakistan’s nuclear program suggests,  “Getting India’s political class up to par on providing its armed-forces leadership with credible threat deterrence may prove more difficult than actually fighting Pakistan,” may be a difficult proposition to achieve.