Bureaucracy, management, administration, call it what you will, every organisation must have a hierarchical authority, numerous offices and fixed procedures so it can function properly. The administrative structure of a large or complex organisation can impede effective action if it follows rigid or complex procedures that baffle and frustrate the people this bureaucracy deals with. The military bureaucracy does not go out and fight in a war.
Instead, it is supposed to offer a support system for organised use of force against human and technological opposition. Bureaucracy facilitates the maintenance of elite power and suppresses or pre-empts nonhierarchical and self-reliant forms of human interaction. For historical reasons rooted in colonial rule, the military bureaucracy is supposed to be a pioneering and model bureaucracy.
Thus the military is closely intertwined with the government and civilian bureaucracy, which are responsible for deciding how a nation defends its borders and when it should go to war. To understand the military bureaucracy as it applies in the Indian context, it would be prudent to understand what the Indian armed forces look like and what is their spread in terms of application in war and location in peace and finally what it takes to make this behemoth work.
The armed forces have six main tasks:
- To assert the territorial integrity of India
- To defend the country if attacked by a foreign nation
- To send own amphibious warfare equipment to take the battle to enemy shores
- Cold start which means Indian Armed Forces being able to quickly mobilise and take offensive actions without crossing the enemy’s nuclear use threshold
- To support the civil community in case of disasters (such as floods)
- Participate in United Nations peacekeeping operations in consonance with India’s commitment to the United Nations Charter
In India, it is a completely voluntary service, the military draft having never been imposed, unlike the US or Israel. The army has rich combat experience in diverse terrains due to India’s diverse geography and also has a distinguished history of serving in United Nations peacekeeping operations.
Initially, the army’s main objective was to defend the nation’s frontiers. However, over the years, the army has also taken up the responsibility of providing internal security, especially in insurgent-hit Kashmir and the Northeast.
The Indian Army has seen military action during the First Kashmir War, Operation Polo, the Sino-Indian War, the Second Kashmir War, the Indo- Pakistani War of 1971, the Sri Lankan Civil War and the Kargil War. Currently, the Indian army has dedicated one brigade of troops to the UN’s standby arrangements.
Through its large, sustained troop commitments, India has come in for much praise for taking part in difficult operations for prolonged periods. The UN peacekeeping operations in which the Indian Army has participated include the ones in Cyprus, Lebanon, Congo, Angola, Cambodia, Vietnam, Namibia, El Salvador, Liberia, Mozambique and Somalia. The army also provided a paramedical unit to facilitate the withdrawal of the sick and wounded in Korea.
The beginning of the 21st century saw re-orientation for India in the global stage from a regional role in the subcontinent to a major role in the Indian Ocean region stretching from the Gulf of Aden to the straits of Malacca. 2011 saw the rise of India’s interests far beyond the Indian Ocean region.
At present, the number of Indian men and women in service and designated as reserves are as under.
- Component Active and Reserve
- Indian Army 1,129,900, 960,000
- Indian Navy 58,350, 55,000
- Indian Air Force 127,200 ,140,000
- Indian Coast Guard 9,550
- Indian Paramilitary Forces 1,300,586, 987,821
The headquarters of the Indian armed forces are in New Delhi, the capital of India. The President acts as de jure Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, while de facto control lies with the executive. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is the ministry charged with the responsibilities of countering insurgency and ensuring external security of India. Internally, military forces are bureaucratic in form, with a strict hierarchy and division of labour, rigid rules and duties. The function of military forces is to be able to use organised violence against opponents, usually seen as similarly organised.
Because the killing of other humans is not readily undertaken by many people in modern societies, military recruits undergo extensive training, indoctrination and isolation in a military environment. The key to military performance is unquestioning obedience to orders. Military forces use violence as the ultimate defence of state interests, and not surprisingly the ultimate sanction against internal resistance in armed forces is also violent: imprisonment or even execution. Military forces even more than other bureaucracies are similar to authoritarian states in their denial of the right or opportunity to dissent, in their demand for obedience and in their use of reprisals against recalcitrant subjects.
Within the military, the officer corps is a politically aware stratum. Both by the origin and by hierarchical position, the officer corp tends to be a strong supporter of state political systems based on authoritarian principles, similar in nature to the military itself. By contrast, the military rank and file are more often working class in origin and are structurally removed from political activity.
To manage, operate and be accountable for every word and action both spoken as also written the military has a hierarchical structure starting from the headquarters at New Delhi, going down to the lowest level of functioning that may be a “section/troop” in the Army, a “division” in the Navy or a “flight” in the Air Force.
At each step (seven tactical commands for the Army, five operational and two functional commands for the Air Force, three commands for the Navy) there is a designated commander who is assisted by suitably structured staff to carry out tasks, whether at the macro level as in strategic planning command decisions or at the lowest nano-level of physical movement of men and material. This then constitutes military bureaucracy. To add to this, as in any bureaucracy including the military is due to the requirement of maintaining strict discipline at all costs is further straitjacketed to work within the parameters of the following statuettes:
- The Official Secrets Act 1923.
- The Army/Navy/Air Force Act 1950.
- The Army/Navy/ Air Force Rules 1954.
- Regulations for the Army/Navy/Air Force 1987 (As Amended).
An insight into this organisation would be invaluable to understand the intricacies of military bureaucracy. This is depicted in the chart below as an example. In India, military bureaucracy is divided into two parts — the controlling part and the executing part. While the former is the Ministry of Defence and the latter are part of the service headquarters and down the pecking order to the foot soldier.
While the former is responsible for laying down policy, rules, regulations and adhering to budget allocations the latter is responsible for ensuring the same in letter and spirit. The dichotomy lies in the fact that whereas the former lacks any hands-on experience of armed forces functioning, the latter due to inherent customs and regulations follows a straight and narrow path hemmed as it is between the various statuettes.
In essence, this dichotomy produces the effect that of an administrative system in which the need or inclination to follow rigid or complex procedures impedes effective action — or to put it plainly that innovative ideas that get bogged down in red tape and bureaucracy. India is a country with diverse borders in a volatile neighbourhood.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan has unleashed four wars on it since 1947. India also lost badly against China in 1962. More importantly, the Indian army has had to deal with insurgency on a regular basis both in Kashmir and the northeast. Our frontiers notwithstanding, the protection of our sea lanes and offshore assets also have to be ensured. Needless to say that our airspace and beyond is also inviolable.
The vagaries of weather and terrain with temperatures varying from -50°C to +50°C need to be vectored in. Add to this overseas deployment as part of our commitment to the United Nations. Next in the domain of diversity is the manpower that constitutes the numbers in the forces. As a National Force, it is open to Indian Nationals as also domiciles of Nepal. It has its own implications varying from shoe and uniform sizes, food habits and even to social preferences.
Though the religion, caste and creed divide is absent, certain specific rituals and customs specific to various denominations are permissible. As an example, a formation may have troops that are a mix of Jats, South Indians and Gorkhas. Arranging specific rations ranging from vegetarian to non-vegetarian and from only rice to only flour is in itself a complicated effort.
Add to this the lack of indigenisation of most individual and crew-served weapons and we see the diversity ranging from weapons from the erstwhile Soviet Block to those from the UK and USA to even some from Israel. The inventory is so huge that it would take many supercomputers to even make a simple excel sheet let alone fill in the diverse modes of acquisition, usage, repair/condemnation and finally disposal.
The effect is further magnified when the type of equipment in terms ranging from the lowly shovel to the highly sophisticated tank, ship or aircraft are taken into account. To further substantiate the morass, training, handling, practising on simulators or in actual further compound the issues at hand. An area that most citizens are unaware of is the handling of movements across the country for routine transfers, training and operations involving agencies ranging from animal transport to the airlines.
The man management includes issues like health, housing and education as also sports and entertainment. This not only for the soldiers but also institutionalised for their family and dependents. Another area of diversity is the location of units and formations. Large tracts of land are occupied in cantonments and training areas transcending geographical barriers.
Their records, upkeep of the facilities thereon and ensuring that encroachments do not take place is entrusted to a specific department. The need to maintain a young profile essentially translates that the workforce is relieved of its duties at a comparatively younger age than their counterparts in the civilian world. The management of such large numbers of veterans is another complexity that the average military bureaucrat has to deal with.
Finally, all of the above has to be achieved within a specific amount allocated every year in the Union budget presentation. With the aim of smoothly running and handling this complex situation, the personnel are either generalist administrative officers of the IAS and the junior staff of the central secretariat service on one hand and hardcore military officers, junior commissioned officers and other ranks on the other hand.
Interestingly other than civilian-run departments like the DRDO, pay and pension accounts offices and lands all other processors and decision-makers are no experts. Because of the military’s rigid bureaucratic structure and because of its relative isolation from other social forces, the military is an intensely conservative structure.
The reason for this conservatism is that introducing weapons systems also require an internal social change in areas such as corps organisation, training, battlefield tactics and command structures. Changes that adversely affect particular bureaucratic empires in the military are resisted most of all. Fundamental changes in military organisation or doctrine often require outside intervention, for example by civilian political elites.
Another reason for the conservatism of military forces is that most of them are at war only a small fraction of time, and in between wars there is no ‘marketplace’ test of the current doctrines. Internal conservatism is one reason why militaries are notorious for being prepared to fight the previous war. Ongoing efforts at the modernisation of the armed forces, however, unless accompanied by significant political reforms, may fail to change our military strategic position, particularly with respect to Pakistan and China.
Despite importing large numbers of conventional weaponry over the last three decades, if we wish to effectively confront critical security challenges we must address a civil-military imbalance that hampers coordination and an illegitimate procurement process that threatens to further entrench government corruption.
What makes the problem worse is that India is pouring money into its military. Yet those making the decisions tend to be politicians and bureaucrats with little understanding of how to invest the cash. Procurement procedures are arcane and the military suffers from the regular lash of red tape wielded by bureaucrats who are afraid of losing turf.
That the integrity of these bureaucrats is doubtful does not help. New Delhi is crawling with middlemen acting for various companies and brokering defence deals with bureaucrats and politicians. Unfortunately, nothing is being done to bring transparency or efficiency to the system. If we are to become the global player we aspire to be, we have to reform our defence establishment. The recent controversies are either exposing the deep rot that has set into the Indian system or beginning to set the agenda for long-overdue reforms.
The need for overdue reforms cannot be overemphasised. What is shocking is that significant operations, logistics or even welfare-related provisions related to the defence services which require a decision at government level including even those which have received an in-principle assent of the political executive, are junked by junior babus who do not even care to put up the file to their seniors and reject such proposals at their own end by initiating misleading file notings. Similarly, the men or women in uniform following in the shoes of their mentors in South Block seldom question arbitrary decisions and just accept everything that comes as a fait accompli. Typical examples of how military bureaucracy works or in the extreme do not.
This illustrative example has been picked from a critical functional area related to the Armed Forces. The aspects of planning, procurement, production, deployment and obsolescence have all been incorporated. A lightweight bulletproof jacket is required. Its importance had come to light when an infantry jawan combating terrorists was killed wearing such a cumbersome jacket. An item that is available off the shelf internationally.
How its procurement would proceed in our context is as given below? Typically the requirement would be raised by the main users of the Infantry. A request for provision would be sent by the directorate general of Infantry (DG INF) duly approved by its Director-General, an officer of the rank of Lt General equivalent to a joint secretary in the Government of India to his counterpart in the directorate general of weapons and equipment, (DGWE), both sitting approximately 500 mts apart connected by telephone and on the intranet.
A running file in hard copy and a duplicate file would be generated. The DGWE would then send the said file on a formula one circuit to ascertain, firstly whether at all a replacement of the said item would be required or not, secondly, whether it could be produced in the country or needed to be imported and finally for its cost evaluation. The file would wind its way from the DGWE’s office to that of the operations directorate, on to the ordnance and completing its journey at the perspective planning and financial planning directorates.
Keeping in mind the working days, holidays, absenteeism of concerned officials and the normal fact-finding gestation period the onward and return journeys would take at least six months. In the meantime, ten more fatal casualties due to similar equipment fault would have taken place and converted to statistics. Having got a unanimous clearance that it was needed, it had to be imported and was available off the shelf at a competitive price, and that adequate funds from the yearly budget were available for procurement of “X” number of items, a note for procurement would be sent to the concerned section in the Ministry of defence, (MoD).
The lowest rung in the MoD a section officer who has never seen a bullet let alone a bullet proof jacket would be the first one to comment on the note duly approved by no less a person than the COAS. The file would then take off on a perilous journey covering the chain up to the Secretary of Defence with each one in the chain either initialling the file or putting his own version of the item generally of not agreeing to the proposal.
The secretary not wanting to be seen in a poor light for outright rejecting the proposal would then forward it to his counterpart in the department of defence production to ascertain why shinning India could not produce this item. The journey would then end at the doorstep of the defence research and development organization (DRDO) and the ordnance factory board (OFB).
The DRDO would be quick off the blocks and would immediately commission a team of scientists and other officers of the MoD and OFB to visit foreign countries to assess the availability and efficacy of the requested item.
The procedure of selection, sanction to travel, issue of visas and booking of tickets as also arranging their stay and demonstrations in the host country would take another three months or so. From the time the proposal had reached the MoD we are looking at roughly six months down the line.
The team’s visit over a few samples would be imported from various countries for evaluation and user trials on one hand and an effort at reverse engineering in our own ordnance factories. The field trials would be conducted in actual combat infested areas and the results would filter up the chain of command to the MoD. An average gestation period of three months for this to happen would be reasonable. Simultaneously the efforts at reverse engineering would be going on and the DRDO and OFB would claim to be able to produce an even better version than the original.
However, with a rider that it would take at least one year to produce a prototype and if approved another couple of years for its introduction in service. In the interim 20 more casualties both fatal and seriously wounded would have occurred and reported. Finally, the MoD would constitute a committee to evaluate the foreign bids as also the home product. A global tender of RFA would be issued and the price negotiating committee set up.
This would take another six months if not more to fructify. The end result the firm declared as LI or the lowest bidder would be identified and an order placed. Just as the order was to be executed there would be a leak in the media that a particular minister’s kin who was the front man for the foreign supplying company had influenced the deal and a vast sum of money had crossed hands for the same.
Uproarious scenes erupted in Parliament, news channels ran regular news debates addressed by a host of retired army officers and bureaucrats all condemning the disgraceful act. The company was banned and the order scrapped. In the interim twenty more casualties both fatal and seriously wounded including four young officers had occurred and were duly reported.
They like all those before they joined the ranks of the Unknown Soldier. Cut to the ceremony at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate on January 26. The Prime Minister, the Raksha Mantri and the three service chiefs among others pay homage to the martyrs surrounded by gun-toting personnel of various agencies all wearing the obsolete and ineffective bullet proof jacket.
Retired Colonel Anil Kaul is a recipient of a Vir Chakra.