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Current Military Preparedness & Pending Reforms Post-Kargil War

It may be all very well for our political leadership and senior military leadership of the time to make a big ‘song and dance’ about the ‘VICTORY’ in the Kargil Operation, I do sincerely hope that my young colleagues in uniform, sitting today in war rooms at various levels evolving future strategies and drawing up operational plans, as also working on organisational re-structuring, equipping parameters for the future, and so on, are doing so within a realistic perspective of what exactly our past operations were about – without being swayed by all the chest-thumping, bluster and rhetoric that appear in the public domain. 

Compiled by Col Vinay B. Dalvi (Retd) (from August 2019 issue)

Twenty years after Kargil India’s military modernization and restructuring of the higher defence management have yet to begin. The Shekatkar report believes a future war will be confined to the mountains. But 20 years on, key technologies to fight a mountain war are yet to be inducted. Five major reforms common to three defence committees over the past 20 years and they still haven’t been implemented.

The comments by the heads of Kargil Review Committee (K. Subrahmanyam), Naresh Chandra Committee and Shekatkar Committee, indicate that the five under mentioned MoD reforms haven’t been implemented even after two decades of the Kargil War:

 National Security Strategy –A vision document from which the military security strategy and force planning will flow; Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) – Single point military advisor to the government to oversee integration of the three services; Theatre Commands-Joint commands of the air force, army and navy to replace the 17 separate single service commands and integration of the MoD with the Service HQs; Revamp of weapons acquisition procedures.


Lt Gen Satish Nambiar, former DGMO and Director USI 

While following various reports in recent days on the 20th Anniversary of the Kargil Operations I felt somewhat provoked into emerging from the self-imposed reticence that being an ‘Extinguished Fellow’ confers, and share a few thoughts on the importance of placing past events and experiences in the right perspective when looking ahead and planning for the future.

Before proceeding further, fully conscious of the fact that what I have to say, will ruffle some feathers, permit me make a couple of points that I think are pertinent. I say without fear of any contradiction (from anywhere in the world) that the performance of the junior leadership and men of the units that took part in the operation was absolutely outstanding. No other Army in the world would have displayed the determination, grit, spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty that our youngsters did. And I say this with some feeling and conviction borne out of experience with other forces across the globe.

Success in evicting the Pakistani intrusion in the Kargil Sector was achieved through great feats of bravery and commitment, aided in no small measure, by the performance of our gunners using the much maligned Bofors, and by our young ‘Air Warriors’ once they were cleared to get into action. With a couple of honourable exceptions, there was hardly any ‘generalship’ involved. Nor was there any display of ‘strategy’ or ‘operational art’. In that, as articulated by me even at the time when invited to discussion on TV channels, we did not take the battle to the Pakistanis by hitting them hard in the depth areas where it would have “hurt”. Or by opening up on other fronts, as was done by then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in September 1965.

It is all very well to now pretend to take satisfaction in the praise conferred on us by our self-styled well-wishers at displaying restraint as it was. My own impressions in inter-actions and discussions in later years, has been that while our interlocutors commended us at our faces for the restraint displayed, they actually did not think much of our capacity for political decision making and assertive action in the pursuit of strategic objectives in national interests.

There is no gainsaying the fact that it is most appropriate that we commemorate the valour and bravery of those who laid down their lives in achieving success in the Kargil operation. As mentioned earlier, their performance was indeed quite incomparable. It is equally appropriate that we also adequately acknowledge the contribution of those who fought in that operation and are still amongst us, whether in service or otherwise. Their performance is no less praiseworthy. It was my privilege to be the Chairman of the Kargil Battle Honours Committee. To that extent, I can claim to have a better idea of what the operation was about than many of my generation.

However, while it may be all very well for our political leadership and senior military leadership of the time to make a big ‘song and dance’ about the ‘VICTORY’ in the Kargil Operation, I do sincerely hope that my young colleagues in uniform, sitting today in war rooms at various levels evolving future strategies and drawing up operational plans, as also working on organisational re-structuring, equipping parameters for the future, and so on, are doing so within a realistic perspective of what exactly our past operations were about – without being swayed by all the chest-thumping, bluster and rhetoric that appear in the public domain. And here, let me go back in time before returning to Kargil.

The operations in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947-48 were forced upon us by the tribal invasion of October 1947, followed by active participation of the Pakistan Armed Forces, and were brought to a close with the 1st January 1949 UN imposed Cease Fire Agreement; apparently when our forces were at the outskirts of Muzaffarabad. Whatever we may claim, the fact is, the operations were stalled with a large chunk of Jammu and Kashmir still in Pakistani hands. And we continue to pay the price. Can we claim it as a ‘victory’? The 1962 conflict with China merits no discussion in context of this piece. Except to state that it was no ‘trauma’ for our generation. Because we are aware that in the overall context, our colleagues and men fought well, and gave a good account of themselves, notwithstanding the outdated clothing, weapons and equipment we were provided with, and the questionable political and senior military leadership of the time.

In 1965, for all the gallant actions and efforts, when the cease fire came into effect, it was little better than a stalemate. Before going on to 1971, let me revert briefly to Kargil. To reiterate that, for all the outstanding actions, what we really achieved in military terms was to recapture what the Pakistanis had intruded upon. And at what a cost! Let us be quite clear. The 1971 operations in the Eastern theatre have been the only real victory our Armed Forces have achieved since independence.

In the Western theatre, it was a well-executed replay of 1965. But in the Eastern theatre: a new country was born; all Pakistani forces surrendered unconditionally; and about 93,000 prisoners of war were in our custody. That these prisoners were repatriated without securing a permanent solution to the stand-off with Pakistan, is another matter altogether.

It is unlikely that in the foreseeable future, we will secure such a victory again. However, in the evolution of operational strategies and proposed execution of operational plans, it is imperative that we factor in capacities that enable us to pre-empt our potential adversaries if we can, and/or respond to an aggression in such a manner as to make him/them recoil, and seek termination of hostilities on our terms. My plea to our colleagues in uniform is – do not put our youngsters through another Kargil like operation. By more effective use of political, diplomatic and military options, make sure that, unlike in Kargil, they are given at least an even chance in their efforts at dealing with the adversary.

The crowning and troubling irony however, in portraying achievements within the framework of a false perspective is that serious recommendations as those made by the Kargil Review Committee and endorsed by the Report of the Group of Ministers, remain in cold storage.

Lt Gen DB Shekatkar (Chairman – Shekatkar Committee) 

Keep blessing the committee of experts and force the government to implement all the recommendations even if some bureaucrats and MoD officials do not like due to fear of losing their uncontrolled powers with no accountability and answerability to anyone. Even to the PM, RM, RRM, HM and others. They are in a world of their own.

This aspect has been mentioned by the ‘Shekatkar Committee’. Though harsh, it is under my signature as Chairman. Navy and Air force members were keen to dilute my remarks. Notwithstanding, I have stated that since I have mentioned these remarks in Chairman’s Remarks, I accept full responsibility for the same.

Maj Gen Anil Sengar, ex-ADGMF, GOC Inf Div 

All these points are very relevant and must be implemented. However, as far as national security strategy is concerned, a detailed paper need not be necessary, but identify and specifying benchmarks on all important aspects of national strategy including capability development and India 2030 must be laid out. I believe that it must be classified document since you do not want to tell your neighbours your long-term concerns and goals. Must be shared strictly on need to know basis. Tri service command must be done even if it means sacrificing some higher ranks. All other aspects must be implemented but protect the career interests of officers posted in MoD as regards ACR channels are concerned.

Brig IS Gakhal, ex-Sector Cdr RR 

“Men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.” It’s true for the military set up in India too. Governments may come and go but the military will go on forever. However, the moot point is if you keep ignoring the up gradation needs of the military, we will again be found wanting as in 1962. Post Kargil little has changed. The urgency and detailed reports after the Kargil war lie buried under bureaucratic apathy and political ignorance. Lip service and ‘Jai Hind’ can’t run military operations in the current times with three decade old weapon technology. All aspects of the three committees need to be implemented. The current government, with its overwhelming mandate must swallow the hard pill with following executive directives:

Give a written directive on National security directive; Appoint a CDS and a capable one, not a pliant one; Reorganization to practical all service integrated commands; Get the deficiencies eradicated and smoothen the acquisition process. The government must show its willingness to go that extra mile by trusting its military commanders. There will never be a military coup, so don’t worry. India after all is not Pakistan!

Cdr Mukund Yeolekar, ex-Instr INS Shivaji 

Present Strategic and Geo-Political Situation: It is well known that there have been drastic developments in the South Asian and Indian Ocean Region during the last two decades. Now China’s footprint has become prominent with CPEC, Djibouti, Yemen, Gwadar Port, Hambantota (Sri Lanka) and territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh. Its offensive posturing at Doklam in 2017 keeps India on tenterhooks and braced for military action. Further, China has been aggressive in claiming the entire South China Sea as its own, and has disputes with all littoral states over sharing of marine resources.

China also has trade war with US and has close relations with Iran, much to the consternation of Western powers. China has put Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Djibouti and Yemen in severe debt trap, making them vulnerable and compliant with debtor’s diktats. It has also tried to influence Nepal and Bangladesh against India. All this bodes ill for India and it would be naïve to think that future conflict will be only in the mountains. Since 90% of India’s trade is by sea and about 80% of its oil comes from the Persian Gulf, we cannot afford to be complacent on the ‘Seafront’. Pakistan will continue with its policy of proxy war irrespective of the political party in power as its military has a tight grip over the nation. Surely India will continue to display its ability to retaliate as done in Uri and Balakot.

Military Preparedness: Military modernization and indigenous development are a continual process. In the last two decades, there have been significant developments in India’s military capabilities. The Air Force has acquired heavy lift capability with C-17 Globe Master aircraft, the Rafael fighters and Chinook helicopters are in the pipeline and Sukhois have added punch. The Navy enhanced its strike capability with acquisition of an aircraft carrier, long range reconnaissance capability with Boing P8I aircraft. Indigenous production has been boosted with the Kolkata class destroyers, Shivalik Class stealth frigates and Scorpene subs. The LRSAMs are a formidable deterrent to enemy aircraft/anti-ship missiles.

The indigenous content of naval weapons and sensors is steadily increasing. The Army too has its share of new hardware like cruise/short-range ballistic missiles, Dhanush/M777 Howitzers, T-90 Main Battle Tanks, Air-launched and surface launched anti-tank missiles besides enhanced infrastructure of roads and communications in the forward areas. All these acquisitions are not the end of procurement and development. This will be dictated by emerging challenges, costs, technology available and capabilities achieved by our adversaries.

Destructive Technologies: Artificial Intelligence and blockchain technology have caused a paradigm shift in defence and strategic thought processes. Besides cutting costs, they have enhanced reliability, accuracy and ability in decision making. Similarly, use of UAVs (with Data links) from aircraft carriers and from forward smaller bases improves surveillance without risk to humans. Our satellite-based surveillance is a great force multiplier which covers large swathes of territory in the Indian Ocean Region. This and network centric inputs available to the battlefield commander demand quick comprehension, decision making and facilitate effective deployment of forces/weapons.

Defence Administrative Mechanism: Deep knowledge of Armed forces’ history, their ethos, appreciation of their capabilities and their limitations are essential for the political leadership to take right unambiguous decisions in the event of conflict. For the political leadership, assisted by bureaucracy, the concept of military conflict, close logistic support of Armed Forces, civilian casualties, political and economic fallout all have to be well understood and estimated so that a holistic approach is adopted. This understanding of military conflict by civilian leadership (unlike 1962) is the lynchpin for success in war.


Air Mshl Narayan Menon, ex-Chief of Air Ops (Kargil War) 

Without doubt an unfinished agenda is on our hands. But I would like to digress slightly from the usual complaints of not having complied with what many committees have recommended over the past twenty years. During the Kargil war we had to fight, as Gen Ved Malik rightly put it – with what we had. And the problems remain unchanged till date. China has pulled away from us in all aspects related to military power. They are self-sufficient in military hardware and their military-industrial complex vies with super power USA. Pakistan rides piggy-back on Chinese shoulders despite severe financial problems.

But India carries on at 1.7% of GDP rate to keep our military going. We do not have sufficient guns, ships or aircraft. Modernisation has been neglected by a combination of ignorance on the part of politicians and indifference on the part of bureaucracy. The occasional addition of a ship or a Rafale to our inventory becomes an occasion to thump our chests without substantially addressing our core problems. The three services have agreed to a ‘permanent chairman to the COSC’ but even this has not been implemented. Let us make a beginning with a PCCOSC and focus on ‘threat evaluation’ based on national interests and take the first steps towards a joint procurement process.

As regards ‘theatre commands’, my view has been that it is a concept completely unsuitable to the environment that prevails in our neighbourhood. Let the three services first discuss among themselves and then present a viable and practical home-grown military strategy to our political class.

Col Pradeep B. Dalvi, ex-Instr AWC 

National Security Strategy (NSS): Does NSS really exists in India? When was it formulated last time in 72 years of our Independence? If such document was prepared after our independence, we would not have got rolled over by Chinese in 1962 or surprised in 1965. The only time we gave impression of some NSS in place was in 1971, thanks to SAM and Indira Gandhi. In spite of thumping victory in 1971 and liberation of Bangladesh, we as nation failed to achieve our national interest and goals by frittering away a golden  opportunity  to settle Kashmir issue and LoC with Pakistan.

This was due to lack of vision and none formulating of NSS document. On other hand our adversaries on the western border correctly formulated their art of war in fighting India through terrorism as state policy, which has troubled India for last 30 years. Lack of coordination and strategy amongst the intelligence agencies and Armed Forces led to Kargil War. Thanks to our brave young officers and men who fought with their blood and sweat to rest the initiative from the Pakistanis and dislodge them from the lofty heights of Himalayas. We, the senior hierarchy of the Armed forces and intelligence agencies would have been the laughing stock of the world.

Where was the NSS formulated at the top level in avoiding such intrusion and adventure by our adversaries? Even after various reports by committees and Gen Shekatkar report we are still dragging our feet in wilderness. With that as backdrop, NSS document covering external and internal threats (terrorism, Maoism, infiltration, migration, etc.) be formulated for the next twenty years as ‘vision document 2040’.

CDS: The need for a CDS is being felt for the last 20 years, but for some unknown reason, the politicians and bureaucrats are deliberately not putting in place CDS for fear of running parallel power structure to the MoD. This mindset has to be removed fast and all military agencies to be placed under CDS for better utilization of resources.

Theater Command: Restructuring of existing 17 commands in area specific theater command (TC) will make coordination and maximization of utilization of resources easier and interoperability smooth in war and peace. Highly recommended.

Integration of MoD: Downsizing of civilians in MoD to be done at once. The decision makers (bureaucrats) have limited and bookish knowledge of military art and processes leading to lack of understanding of requirement of the forces. Armed Forces officers must be posted at the MoD to interface between the civilians, bureaucrats and politicians in all decision making processes.

Weapon Acquisition Procedures: We are yet to equip our infantryman with the latest rifles and are carrying on with INSAS. It’s time that we simplify procedures for acquisition of latest weapon systems from abroad or make in India. Latest technological inputs should be kept in mind while updating out weapon system.

Compiler’s Email: col.vinay.dalvi@gmail.com