For years now one has been hearing the oft repeated phrase, “India lacks strategic vision” and to those few who retain sanity in this chaotic republic, the statement rings true. In the melee of organised and disorganised confusion, the country bumbles along, and succeeds, to the surprise of those who have had fleeting experiences, as also to some cynics in the intellectual domain. An uncontrolled, indisciplined, overly democratic, argumentative population, in perpetual free-fall, has really no time for policy or strategy. It is a ‘dog eat dog’ existence, with every man for himself, fearless within the cocoon of blissful ignorance. After 67 years India got itself a Prime Minister with a vision, a man dedicated to the up liftment of the country and its projection as an effective power in the geopolitical arena. Will we benefit from his strategic vision?

In a country surrounded by belligerent and adversarial nations, national security becomes a dynamic proposition. The military needs to be vigilant all the time. While maintaining tactical and operational readiness, the military can sans afford to lose sight of its strategic vision, nor its strategic perspective. The recent declaration by the Army Chief that he is ready to fight a two and a half front war, supported shortly thereafter by the Air Chief that the IAF can fight a two front war raised many an eyebrow. But you don’t make such statements without strategic foresight. And while the Navy Chief didn’t say it in so many words, the Navy’s strategic footprint is probably the largest of the three services.

The military traditionally plans at each level, the strategic, the operational and the tactical levels. The plans are invariably war-gamed to elicit validity and efficacy which offer the basis for forward planning and acquisitions. The recent event of the Doklam stand-off intruded into our strategic sphere but we addressed it to stifle the ‘nay-sayers’ and moved ahead to the next step. Firstly, the quick response from the Army and its ‘hackles-up’ approach to the situation, the second the IAF demonstrating its versatility of operations from highways and lastly the news showing how maritime security and the Navy’s desire to maintain a permanent presence in the Indian Ocean has taken up an all important position. Each of these represent a strategic statement which, in fact, has been in the ambit of military planning for some time.

The strategic importance of the “Chicken’s Neck” is indisputable and its susceptibility a matter of dire concern. The Indian Army and indeed the country will throw in its entire might to prevent the noose to tighten or a severance to occur. The Doklam stand-off suddenly shifted the country’s perpetual Pakistan centric focus to the ever-existing but generally dormant China. 1962 will forever haunt us, I guess. The IAF, crying hoarse for over a decade at the steady abatement of its fighter squadrons, displayed air power’s maxim of flexibility by operating every type of aircraft from designated highway stretches to project its strategic capability to shift forces between theatres, should the need arise. The Navy’s quiet launch of its nuclear submarine, unnoticed by most, is analogous to the alligator slipping into the water when it sights its prey.

Let there be no doubt about the nation’s armed forces. We may be short on assets but our courage to fight remains undiminished. Like street fighters, when the chips are down in an encounter we always look for a strategic blow/hold which will cripple the enemy and immobilise him for some extended period, or go for the jugular. So also in warfare. Use your elements to target centres of gravity at different levels to make him reel back. And while we are at our strategic planning, let us take a second look at our northern neighbour and the true capabilities that he could bring to bear on us, rather than gawk in awe at the sheer numbers at his disposal.

An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Mshl Sumit Mukerji has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinction He has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command.

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