On January 6, 2016, Lt General V.K. Kapoor (Retd), Editor of SP’s Land Forces, interviewed Chief of the Army Staff General Dalbir Singh in his office in South Block. In a free and frank atmosphere, this highly decorated and widely experienced Chief of the Indian Army spoke about the roles and modernisation status of the Indian Army. He elaborated on the professional and institutional ethos which makes the Indian Army one of the most potent fighting forces in the world whose professional competence, courage, valour and sacrifices for the country are legendary.
SP’s Land Forces (SP’s): How do you perceive the current global and regional security environment? What kind of challenges do they pose for India?
Chief of the Army Staff (COAS): The contemporary security environment is dynamic and poses challenges across the entire spectrum of conflict to include both conventional and unconventional scenarios. These range from traditional ‘Land Centric Threat’ along our borders to ‘Asymmetric Threats’ including proxy war and its manifestations. There are emerging challenges in information dimension and space domain as well, besides cyberspace which is all encompassing. We are keeping ourselves ready and alert to take on all challenges accordingly.
The apex National Security Establishment as well as the armed forces are fully engaged in maintaining operational readiness and enhancing capabilities, including in collaboration with like-minded friendly countries, to deter and defeat threats across the entire spectrum, if and when they manifest.
SP’s: The fight against terrorism has become a priority among all nations. The ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the largest terror group in the world, aims to create an Islamic caliphate across the world. In our neighbourhood Pakistan is virtually a factory for training terrorists and is indulging in state-sponsored terrorism. Additionally a large number of professional terror groups are available for hire. How is the growth of terrorism and other related forms of asymmetric warfare going to affect India in the future and what steps would the Army like to take to prepare for this type of conflict?
COAS: The recent massacre at San Bernardino, California, on December 2, 2015, whose perpetrators can be traced back to Pakistan and who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State are indicative of the growing footprints of ISIS, particularly in the Af-Pak. No part of the world can remain insulated from this looming threat and their sponsors in our neighbourhood. We have taken proactive steps to institutionalise intelligence sharing with like-minded countries and develop cogent response mechanism to thwart their designs. The likely ‘spillover effect’ of terrorism from Af-Pak remains our immediate concern as Taliban had demonstrated the potency of its resurgence in the capture at Kunduz on September 28, 2015. Regionally, we are shoring up the capability of Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF) to combat this threat through training and in advisory capacity.
Jammu and Kashmir is most vulnerable to the nefarious designs of ISIS/Pak, be it radicalisation of youth or ‘lone wolf’ attacks motivated by its divisive ideology. We are constantly monitoring these developments in concert with other security and intelligence agencies and are fully prepared to meet the growing threat of asymmetric warfare being waged by forces inimical to India’s interests.
SP’s: Three additional commands were to be raised, namely the Cyber Command, Special Forces Command and the Aerospace Command. What is the current status of these projects? In light of the growing challenge of international terror groups should Special Forces Command be given the priority for raising?
COAS: The security environment in India’s neighbourhood is complex and in a state of constant turmoil/evolution. Threats and challenges are multidimensional, thus our security response system needs to encompass the entire spectrum of conflict. Info warfare, cyber warfare and weaponisation of space are an emerging dimension of threat.
While certain capabilities in the Cyber, Special Forces and Aerospace domains already exist, these are to be jointly built upon by the Services in keeping with the national security requirements. As a first step, we are presently considering raising of tri service agencies for each of these domains, as part of a ‘Phased Adaptive Approach’.
SP’s: In April 2015, the Defence Ministry decided to downsize the 90,000-strong Mountain Strike Corps that was announced by UPA to act as a counter to the expanding Chinese military capabilities and intrusions. It was to be raised over seven years at a budget of Rs. 64,478 crore. Now, it seems that the force will have 35,000 soldiers and the cut has been attributed to “severe fund shortage”. What is the status of raising of the Mountain Strike Corps?
COAS: In consonance with our perspective planning with reference to capability development along northern borders, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in July 2013 had sanctioned accretions for the Indian Army which includes the Mountain Strike Corps. As far as raising of the force is concerned, I can assure you that it is progressing as per approved schedule.
Creation of desired capability to mitigate the threats being faced by nation is a priority for the armed forces as well as for the government. The sanctioned raisings will be completed in the desired time frame.
Immediate equipping and arming of these forces has been done from the existing stocks held with the Indian Army and indents have been initiated to make up these depleted stocks. The government is committed to recuperate these stocks at the earliest. Resolute steps are being initiated to ensure that there is no depletion of stocks and necessary financial support is provided for the sustenanceof new raisings as well as modernisation plans of the Indian Army.
SP’s: Effective surveillance and reconnaissance are an essential part of current and future capabilities at unit and formation level? UAVs are critical to this requirement. What is the concept of Indian Army in this respect and where are we at present?
COAS: An integrated Battle Field Surveillance System, with mutually complementary sensors at all levels, provides the required combat information to the decision makers. UAVs are the only aerial means of ISR and target acquisition available to the Field Commander for employment of his long-range vectors to engage targets in depth, hence are a potent force multiplier.
In order to afford comprehensive and gap free surveillance all along the borders, there is a need to augment the present holding of UAVs. The requirement of additional UAVs has been included in the Long-term Integrated Perspective Plans (LTIPP) and their procurement is being pursued expeditiously.
SP’s: What is the current policy on women’s entry into the armed forces, Permanent Commission for Women Officers (WO s) and what is the Army’s stand on women being enrolled in the combat arms such as the armoured corps and the infantry?
COAS: The Permanent Commission has already been extended to women officers in AEC & JAG and at present IA is holding 54 Permanent Commission WOs. Issues related to granting of Permanent Commission to Women Officers in Technical and Combat Support Arms are being studied.
SP’s: The ratio of revenue to capital budget in the army’s portion of the defence budget leans heavily in favour of the former in view of the larger manpower. This leaves a relatively smaller sum in capital budget for new procurements and modernisation. What can be done to improve this situation?
COAS: The force level of the IA is based on the overall threat perception for both existing and perceived threats in the current and future scenarios. Currently the strength of standing Army is approx 1.23 million wherein, mostly, the ‘soldier’ himself is a weapon system. This accounts for relatively higher amounts being allocated to revenue head accounting for salaries and sustenance purposes. Thus leading to a perception of skewed ratio of funds, being heavily in favour of revenue at the cost of capital.
I must point out that capital acquisition and modernisation of the Army gets due priority. The modernisation/capital budget is separate from the revenue (salary and sustenance) budget. The capital budget is not based on the expenditure/allocation for revenue budget but on requirements projected, prioritised and sanctioned by a collegiate involving the CCS, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Defence and Army HQ. The onus of procurements rests on all the stakeholders. The capital modernisation budget over the years has been in sync with the absorption capabilities of the various organisations involved.
SP’s: What tactical concepts should the Army adopt in view of the stated position of the Pakistan Army with regard to the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield?
COAS: As we all know Pakistan has been a revisionist state, which has, thus far, attempted to balance its conventional asymmetry through proxy war against India.
I would emphasise that our nuclear doctrine is comprehensive and unambiguous and India possesses credible deterrence against any nuclear threat.
Measures to prepare IA to fight in such conditions in terms of doctrine, training and equipment are in place. Upgrades of existing equipment are being addressed at highest level on priority.