India’s unfolding national security makeover

India’s unfolding national security makeover

Lt General RAJSHUKLA present member UPSC

In the ten years of its existence, the Modi government has laid a strong foundation for India’s National Security Makeover. We are in the midst of the most far-reaching reforms in Defence and National Security since Independence.
While a great deal has been achieved, given the enormity (China) and complexity (technological innovation that is driving the most fundamental change in the Character of War in recorded history) of the National Security Challenge, there are still multiple transitions to be made. So, some honest stocktaking may be useful.
The Grand Strategic geometry was laid out by the Prime Minister himself, in his address to the Combined Commanders in December 2015. The address was remarkable for its breadth of vision and clarity of purpose – it laid out the roadmap pertaining to our evolutionary strategic outlook, structural reforms, technological revamp, cultural transitions, institutional and capacity upgrades to include power projection. He urged a comprehensive reform in doctrines and strategies, albeit one rooted in our own genius as also the need for thought leadership to drive change
through the National Security System. So ambitious was the sketch that there were deep misgivings about delivery – after all, many such initiatives in the past had turned out to be stillborn.

This time however, the reforms have unfolded in precise tranches, with unfailing regularity and dogged resolve.

It all began with the creation of the CDS/DMA, a path breaking move, even more powerful in conception and sweep, than the American Barry Goldwater Nichols. The salience of the step went beyond the structural corrections that were manifestly visible: it corrected a major anomaly in India’s Civil – Military Relations (CMR) frame, returning to the Defence Services their legitimate voice in strategic – military affairs. It allows, even exhorts them, to think for themselves, conceptualise, drive and execute the much-needed change in the national security frame, of course under robust political oversight. Quite unprecedented.

We have seen a new normal in the nation’s strategic outlook, symbolised by the Balakote & Kailash Range operations. In one swift strike we signalled to our adversaries, what would have taken months of tortuous diplomacy to convey likewise: there will be costs to pay for adventurism of any sort.
Defence in the Modi era, has also emerged from the shadows of Foreign Policy – extremely salient, from the point of view of a transforming strategic outlook.
It recognises the fact that force and diplomacy are two equally salient sides of the foreign policy coin – their attributes must be applied in concert to strengthen India’s strategic posture. The Prime Minister puts it eloquently, ‘shanti ki chah aur shakti ki raah, bhinn nahin hain.’ The road to peace and the path to power are convergent. As a consequence of a major military re-balancing to the North (LAC with China), our defence posture now is a more accurate reflection of the threat. Ourdeterrence has been vastly strengthened, in terms of ISR, force levels, mechanised forces, artillery, force multipliers, reserves, technology upgrades and response
options.
The drivers of the Aaatmanirbharta in Defence initiative, go far beyond the critical objective of self – reliance. It is an ambitious venture to usher in a new culture of innovation, energy and enterprise, an invite to talents from the world of science and technology, business and enterprise in India to come together, to create defence capacities and supply chain resiliencies for the future. Enabled by iDEX, Indian start-ups like 114ai, 3rditech and New Space have shown the potential to scale up and grow into ‘National Champions’ of the future. Elon Musk has
demonstrated that even in high end national security ventures like space, what were once country things are now fast becoming company things. In Ukraine, warfighting is being embellished more by commercial off the shelf technologies, not those provided by government funded labs. So, the thought and speed with which private sector competencies / start up energies are integrated into capacity building and warfighting will determine the power of the Indian military of the future. In the stated context, while the Corporatisation of the OFB was long overdue, the DRDO Reforms are simply breathtaking. Cumulatively, the sustained initiatives are an expression of India’s resolve to be a Global Innovation Hub as also a Defence Powerhouse – if out of the top twenty defence Corporate Majors in the world, seven are Chinese, why should India not have similar aspirations?

The Defence Services have evolved a broad consensus on the contentious issue of Theatre Commands, and are now addressing the nitty gritty of implementation – so Theatre Commands will happen soon. A Joint Culture is being invigorated. Even more significantly, the process of unlocking of data, structuring digital pipelines and embracing a penumbra of technologies to lay the foundation of an AI Enabled Military with multi-domain capacities has begun. The latter is a humongous challenge– development of Large Language Models (LLMs), compute capacities, clouds, facial recognition software, coders and algorithms across all the grids of warfighting, will need great creativity – it will be however, the secret sauce for our Asymmetric Addressal of China.
The addressal of the Chinese military juggernaut is not merely a function of enhanced spending. Asymmetric Deterrence of China is a distinct possibility.
The differential in defence spending between China and the USA is similar to that between India and China. In terms of deterrence radiation however, China is perhaps doing far better because of the ‘displacement anxiety’ that it is causing in Pentagon – there is a lot we could do by way of deeper reforms, organizational re- structuring, technological innovation, imaginative strategizing & delivery audits without necessarily spiralling costs. If the animal spirits of innovation are to be truly unleashed, we will need a leap of bureaucratic faith (by the leadership of the civil
and military bureaucracies, not the political class alone) – rules and procedures will have to be surgically scaled down, innovation centres created in every arm of the defence enterprise, a culture of risk taking encouraged, failures funded and entrepreneurial cross connects allowed their natural flows.
There is far greater latitude for the Defence Services today, to ideate in the public space and shape the national security narrative. The ORF driven, Annual Raisina Dialogue, has grown into this fount of deep conversations in foreign policy, geo-politics and geo-economics. Recently, the Indian Army hosted the first ever Indo-Pacific Army Chiefs’ Conference, a global gathering of seventeen Chiefs of Armies & twelve Heads of Delegations from countries as geographically diverse as Brazil, Tonga, UK, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Indonesia and the USA. The Chanakya Defence Dialogue and the Global Technology Summit, soon thereafter, completed the circle. New Delhi now is coming into its own as this global epicentre for deep, thoughtful, well rounded, comprehensive ideation in National Security.
The embrace of the mantra of civil-military fusion, is yet another bold initiative of the current makeover. The niche domains of national security are getting so complex that military capacity building of the future will need to pivot from mere equipment acquisition to talent acquisition. A historic beginning has been made in India. We need to accelerate these cultural transitions.
While in laying the edifice for the makeover many mountains have been moved, higher peaks still need to be scaled. China is the first of those peaks. What makes the China Challenge worrying, is that it is complex, sophisticated and laced with strategic cunning – it goes beyond mere operational rebalancing: not only the capacity blitzkrieg in the WTC but the wider technology zoom, its determined embrace of digital combat and its signature projects like the Rocket and Strategic Support Forces. We need to move fast to address these lags in our strategic deterrence.
There are other challenges as well, namely, addressing the lessons coming out of the recent conflicts around the globe, like the power of asymmetry and the magic of precision. Houthi missiles at an outlay of 5 million dollars are overwhelming American air defences worth 250 million dollars. Low cost Shehzad loiter munitions coming out of Tatarastan are wreaking havoc in Ukraine with telling accuracy. Innovation cycles are now delivering in six months what traditional procurement cycles will take over six years.
We still have a long way to go; it is not a done deal as of yet. The national security makeover that has been set into motion, therefore, needs to be taken to its logical conclusion. While ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ must remain the guiding light of our engagement with the world, we must reduce the risks of doing so, by paying equal heed to the wise words of Swami Vivekanand – “the world is but a gymnasium where nations come to make themselves strong.” ‘Peace through strength’ must be our credo.

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