• Mon. Jun 17th, 2024


In the ten years of its existence, the Narendra 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 Challenge, there are multiple transitions still 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, one remarkable for its breadth of vision and clarity of purpose – it laid out the roadmap for our evolutionary strategic outlook, structural reforms, technological revamp, cultural transitions, and capacity upgrades to include power projection. 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. 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 exhorts them to think for themselves and drive 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 swift strikes 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. 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.

The drivers of 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. So, the 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. 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 bcome 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, 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 ORF driven, Annual Raisina Dialogue, has grown into this fount of deep conversations in foreign policy. Recently, the Indian Army hosted the first ever Indo-Pacific Army Chiefs’ Conference, a global gathering of Chiefs of Armies. 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 comprehensive ideation in National Security.

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 sophisticated and laced with strategic cunning – it goes beyond mere operational rebalancing: not only the capacity blitzkrieg in the WTC but the 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.

While ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ must remain the guiding light of our engagement with the world, we must pay 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.

(Lieutenant General (Retd) Raj Shukla, PVSM,YSM, SM, ADC is a retired General Officer of the Indian Army who served as the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Army Training Command (GOC-in-C ARTRAC). He assumed office on 1 May 2020, succeeding Lt Gen P C Thimayya. He superannuated on 31 March 2022.Presently he is a member of UPSC.)

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