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A Lean, Mean and Nimble Army: Prakash Nanda’s Blog

Prakash Nanda’s Blog : A Lean, Mean and Nimble Army
The 1.2-million strong Indian Army is on the course of becoming leaner by cutting flab in non-combat areas. Army chief General Dalbir Singh has asked one of his senior most generals to study and determine by August how the force can be “right sized”, it is said.
The Army Chief’s decision is not surprising, given the fact that in 2015 in an interview to the Times of India, Defence minister Manohar Parrikar had said that there was “an urgent need for some downsizing in areas which are not of operational importance” due to budgetary constraints.
“The flab will be reviewed and removed… there is a requirement to re-think all aspects for a drawdown. The money saved can go towards the new mountain strike corps (MSC),” said Parrikar while explaining why the government had temporarily frozen the raising of 17 Mountain Striking Corps with 90,274 soldiers at the cost of Rs 64,678 crore over 7 years. “Manpower costs are also eating into the capital allocation of the armed forces to cover revenue demand,” he had lamented.

Parrikkar has been advocating for a leaner Indian military. But he wants that the exercise of trimming should begin with the Army, the largest of our three forces. “Flab in the military has to be cut, it could start with the Army. I have asked the Army to identify the areas, it will take time and cannot be done overnight,” Parrikar had said.

Budget Constraints

Budgetary constraints happen to be a major factor for this decision. With Indian GDP growing at about 7% in 2015 and given the global recession, no government, let alone the one led by Narendra Modi, will find it easy for a substantial hike in military expenditure. No wonder India’s proposed military spending in this year’s budget has not been in keeping with the requirements of the armed forces. The budget allocated only Rs 2.58 lakh crore on defence, a marginal hike of 9.7% over last year’s revised estimates.
In fact, the amount has been quite short of the expectations of the armed forces, particularly when the inflation for military equipment in the global market every year is 12 to 15% and there is a sharp fall in the value of the rupee against dollar.
Lesser allocations for the defence mean that there is fewer money available for modernisation including badly needed new platforms and weapon systems. Because, most of the budgetary resources will go towards what is called “the revenue side” for meeting the salaries, perks and establishment charges. For instance, revenue head for the Army in this year’s budget stands at Rs 1,02,788.84 crore, out of which as much as Rs 67,721.78 crore (about 75%) will be spent on pay and allowances only.
Then there are the ever increasing pensions. Expenditures on all these headings are about to sharply shoot up with the implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission.
In other words, with the bulk of the budget being spent on the manpower, the military in general and the Army in particular simply does not have enough resources to purchase or build sophisticated but vital arms and ammunitions to win wars. What then is the solution?
India will continue to have the resource crunch to procure sophisticated weapons, unless the government hikes the defence budget considerably, an unlikely scenario. However, there are long term remedial measures. One of these measures is to reduce the manpower.
May be this will sound unpopular, but the bitter truth is that the Indian military just cannot afford to have such a huge manpower; it must be trimmed.

Worldwide Phenomena

In the last 20 years, all major armed forces of the world have made deep cuts in manpower. Way back in 2003, China decided to trim down its then 2.5 million-strong force. In fact, President Xi Jinping has recently announced a key reorganisation of China’s military to create a leaner army by 2020.
“A new structure will be established, in which the Central Military Commission (CMC) takes charge of the overall administration of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Chinese People’s Armed Police and the militia and reserve forces,” Xi was quoted by Xinhua as saying at the end of a three-day meeting attended by about 200 top military officials in November 2015.
With an annual budget of more than $200 billion, China is the world’s second largest military spender after the United States. But then, hit by the global recession, the Chinese economy finds now its ever increasing military budget unsustainable.
In 2012, Great Britain announced a 20% cut, reducing its strength of the Army to 82,000 combatants by the end of the decade. Under President Vladimir Putin, a once-moribund Russian military has been turning into a lean and quick-strike force.
Now-a-days, Russian soldiers fight out of brigades, not large divisions.
Similarly, the United States has decided to have smaller and leaner armed forces, given the financial constraints that the country is facing right now. The Pentagon has been asked to massively cut its budget running into several hundred billion dollars, and this, in turn, has forced the Department of Defence to come out with a new strategic review document that would shape its defence policy with smaller and leaner forces for the years to come.
The Americans are talking of reducing the US forces to just 440,000 and equipping them to fight just one conventional war rather than two simultaneously.
Significantly, the countries that I have mentioned above happen to be the world’s four foremost military powers, though not in the same order. Should India, another elite military power avoid the trend of having a leaner and meaner force? No.
It may be mentioned here that military trimming is mostly being done in the Armies in China, the US, Russia and Britain. In my considered view, the same should be done in case of the Indian Army, as the Navy and the Air Force do have optimal manpower.

Lean and Mean

As it is, Indian Army is the second largest in the World with over 38000 officers (sanctioned strength is 49,631 officers) and 11.38 lakh soldiers. A detailed review, both in terms of manpower as well as infrastructure, to ensure a cost-effective and leaner Army is therefore overdue.
It must be mentioned that a leaner Army does not mean a weaker Army. The reduced manpower will leave more resources for the capital expenditure so as to have new technologies and smarter systems such as ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) and unmanned systems, in space and, in particular, in cyberspace capabilities.
With better hardware, the Army can be more agile, flexible, lethal, innovative and creative. Its extended technological edge can be more lethal for the enemies than the numerical strength.
Similarly, restructuring the Army does not mean weakening it. Fine-tuning the ratio between the fighting units and those playing the logistics role will not put the army at a disadvantage. There are no reasons why nonessential functions such as military farms and Army postal service cannot be outsourced.
There are no reasons why medical, intelligence, pay & accounts and supplies personnel in our three Services should not be merged. There are no reasons why we should not induct more short service recruits (say 5 years), thus reducing the pension bill. All this will make our armed forces stronger, not otherwise.