Bravery and inspiring leadership has been the enduring legacy and cornerstone on which rests the edifice of the much loved and admired Indian army. The cliché of the ‘man behind the gun’ being the true differentiator, has been the unquestioned and consistent dogma of a generation of competent soldiers. The time is perhaps ripe to look afresh and challenge this hypothesis, as we hurtle headlong into the rapidly evolving digital world of high technology, and smarter weapons.
What good is the years of intense training and unmatched bravery of a highly competent special forces patrol crawling stealthily in the undergrowth to tackle its enemy, when it is taken out in a nano second by a drone attack from the sky, in the darkness of a pitch black night?
Whilst the Indian army has a reasonable record of being innovative in problem solving, and coping with shortages, its record in imbibing technology has been lukewarm to say the least. It suffers from the compulsive desire to seek out state of the art technology for high value and big ticket items. On the other hand it has failed to exhibit the same degree of urgency or commitment to identify and deploy the smaller value ordnance of wider application. It is an established fact that that high value and high technology items of an armies inventory are often the least usable components of warfare.
Much like the expensive crystal crockery which remains locked in the cupboards of most homes. The billion dollar radars and air defence systems and the like, more often than not take priority over the humble hundred dollar night vision goggles and bullet proof jackets or even the lowly life saving ballistic helmets. There is thus a technological imbalance in the high end items of our war waging inventory vis a vis the more mundane but equally important wider use daily use equipment of the war machine .
Some of the blame (a small portion nonetheless) for this state of affairs can be placed on the reluctance bordering on lethargy with which the Indian army has taken steps to integrate and imbibe technology. For example while thousands of laptops, and computers adorn our offices, their actual usage is abysmal. Same is the case with the high tech accessories of many of our weapon systems, communication and surveillance equipment. We are often lackadaisical in their maintenance, upkeep and in exploiting their full potential. In fact as an army I feel we have yet to make a conscious transition from brawn to brain.
Technology as is evolving today is much too important a war winning factor to be treated so nonchalantly. It is in essence the real game changer. True RMA can only come about if we harness usable front end technology across the full spectrum of war.
Network Centric Warfare cannot be won unless we are determined to understand its real nuances, and grasp the fact that, at its core lies an integrated approach to multi disciplinary technology. The rapid advances in robotics, unmanned weapons and surveillance systems, nano and stealth technology would change the complexion of future war so dramatically that bravery alone would be a poor match to a tech savvy adversary.
The Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) of China seems to have grasped this indisputable paradigm shift and has given not only high but paramount importance to modernisation based on technology. The US department of defence report of 2013 on the PLA tabled in the congress recently states, “…The People’s Republic of China(PRC) continues to pursue a long-term comprehensive (technology based) military modernization program designed to improve the capacity of its armed forces to fight and win short duration high intensity regional military conflict…” It is already adept at cyber warfare, and is fast catching up with the latest generation of modern weaponry. Unless we too show similar urgency and a passionate determination to demand, design and imbibe technology the asymmetry based on numbers and the force multiplier effect of technology would put us at a serious disadvantage.
Lt Gen Sudhir Sharma,PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VSM,(Retd) is the Chairman of MitKat Advisory Services, India’s leading premium risk consultancy.