Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane addressed a seminar on the theme of national security organised by Vivekananda International Foundation on 24th February in New Delhi. Transcription of his full speech on the ‘’Role of Indian Army in Dealing with Contemporary National Security Challenges,” is reproduced below:
Transcription of General MM Naravane’s Speech
The broad theme of my talk today, shall be “The Role of Indian Army in dealing with Contemporary National Security Challenges”. However, rather than taking you through the entire journey, I have picked on few areas, that may incite greater interest. Like building blocks of a security mosaic, these impact the future role, and shape of the Indian Army, in National Security. I shall also touch upon the contribution of the IA, towards Nation Building, especially in the contemporary context.
The world at large is slowly recovering, from a year long fight with COVID. The disruptive powers of the pandemic, have been adequately demonstrated and acknowledged. We have come to accept, that many things as we knew them, will never be the same again.
The character of war too, has been rapidly evolving. Allow me to mention here, this small, but distinct difference between, the ‘nature’ and ‘character’ of war. The nature of war in terms of, the organised nature of violence, in terms of the blood and gore, in terms of the victor, imposing his will on the vanquished, is constant and unchanging. As to how wars will be fought in terms of, weapons, technology, and the strategic context however, changes rapidly. So, while the nature of war is constant, the character keeps evolving and changing.
Just as a new clock, cannot change the nature of time itself, the rapid and transformative advances in technology, will not change the nature of war itself. Since, the nature of war is unchanging, force and violence will not disappear. They will only manifest in newer forms.
Hard power will always be relevant. It will however, have to constantly discover newer ways of being utilitarian, and adapt to the changing strategic context.
These changes will however, greatly impact as to how wars will be fought, as we have been witnessing around us. We have seen how the very imaginative, and offensive use of drones in Idlib, and then in Armenia – Azerbaijan, challenged the traditional prima donnas; the tanks, the artillery and the dug in infantry. Large platforms, which were once the mainstay of the 20th century battlefield; the Main Battle Tanks, Fighter Aircrafts & Capital Ships, have been rendered relatively less significant, in the face of emerging battlefield challenges. We have also seen how disruptive technologies, are now driving doctrinal cycles like never before. It may not be inaccurate therefore, to infer that technology itself, is steadily emerging as a core combat capability.
The Role of the Indian Army, in the National Security construct, must be seen & understood, in the context of this evolving, and highly dynamic paradigm of, contemporary threats and challenges. I shall therefore, commence my talk this afternoon, on a subject that is, generating much interest and discussion, in strategic – military circles across the globe; Multi Domain Operations, acronynmed, MDO.
Multi Domain Operations
MDO is a fast evolving concept, riding on developments in niche technologies. We need to figure out the specific contours of its applicability, in the Indian context. I shall flag a few issues for you today.
Let us first look, at some of the key drivers, behind the concept of Multi-Domain Operations. Well, for years our adversaries, have studied the attributes, especially the shortcomings, of Western style militaries, in war-fighting, and have developed stratagems to exploit the same. The Indian Army too, has been schooled in many of those precepts. So, even as we focus on fine-tuning our operational preparedness in hard core kinetics, they, the other side, have focused their energies in the ambiguous grey zone; seeking to out-manoeuvre us in the competitive spaces, short of all out conflict. As we fixed our gaze on building core capacities, in land, sea and air, they took the battle to the newer domains of space, cyber, and informatics.
To put it more simply, I would like to draw an analogy, with a game of Football being played between two teams. Visualise, that on one side they are playing European style Soccer. An orderly game, where the rules are pretty stringent. Any physical contact earns you a red card. The other team though, is preparing for a totally different kind of Football, American style Rugby. The game, unlike the earlier one, is intensely physical & complex. To an onlooker, it’s often difficult to make out, who has the advantage in the ongoing tussle. Even the shape of the ball is different, as is the goal and the scoring system. In such a contest, there is little doubt as to who will win. Do I need to emphasize, that the first team better change- and change fast!
The concept of MDO therefore, is a structured attempt, to find answers to these new levers, of competition and combat. It is a given that combat is no longer confined, to the traditional domains, but is expanding steadily, to the newer domains, of Cyber, Space, the Electromagnetic Spectrum, and the Digital Spaces.
“In order to win Future Wars, mere mastery of the traditional domains of Land, Sea and Air will no longer suffice”.
Then, there is also the need to address, threats posed by new actors, both in the kinetic and non – kinetic spaces. Further, as the adversary expands the contest to the grey zone, there is a dire need for modern militaries, to be as proficient in this form of warfare, as in hard core kinetics. For that “we need to shed the classical war and peace disposition, and enhance cross governmental fusion. Concurrently, we need to address the growing challenges, posed by adversaries in stand-off deterrence.
Therefore, as an operational concept, MDO influences both Force Structuring and Capability Development. In order to effectively fulfill our role, in the National Security Construct, and meet these new challenges posed by Multi-Domain Operations, the organisational structure, of the Indian Army has to concurrently evolve. “The establishment of the Defence Cyber Agency and the Defence Space Agency, underscores our intent, to leverage the new domains of warfare”.
Some of you in the audience would recall, the swarm drone offensive striking multiple targets, showcased during the Army Day Parade, on 15th January to be more precise, at the Army Parade Ground in Delhi Cantonment. Such swarms can overwhelm, and effectively suppress the enemy’s Air Defence Capability, creating windows of opportunities for our strike elements. The kamakazi strikes displayed by these drones, against tanks and static targets, is a reality to be factored into our future plans. Moreover, it is no longer necessary to score a physical hit, to destroy a target. Offensive capabilities in the digital domain, can effectively neutralise satellites and networks, denying them at critical junctures, to decisively alter the course of the conflict. The swarm drone demonstration, was a message to our adversaries that;
“The Indian Army is steadily inducting niche capabilities to enhance our combat proficiencies for Future Wars.”
Concurrently, we are also working towards penetrating, the Anti – ccess Bubble of our adversaries, by investing in long range vectors, as also through the smart leveraging of our aircraft and aerial platforms.
The concept of MDO, is founded on integration and convergence. The CDS and DMA framework, is indeed a huge step forward. However, we still have a long way to go, in the domain of jointness and integration. Information Manoeuvre, is another essential attribute of MDO that we need to embrace.
Ongoing developments along our Northern Borders, should cause us to ponder over, yet another reality, i.e, the nature of our unsettled borders, and consequently, challenges with regard to the preservation, of our territorial integrity and sovereignty. Without doubt, there are newer threats on the horizon,
but the hard reality, is that legacy challenges, have not quite gone away. In fact, they have only grown, in scale and intensity.
“While the Indian Army will continue to prepare, and adapt to the future, the more proximate, real and present dangers, on our active borders cannot be ignored”.
As you would know, the Transition from a Manpower Intensive Army to a Technologically Oriented Army is already underway. However, in spite of these changes, the requirement of “Boots on Ground” will remain an operational imperative, that cannot be wished away.
One of the major challenges, before us today, is that of growing capability enhancements, in an era of finite budgets. There are no easy answers. I have come to believe that, “the future lies in becoming, agile, smart, fleet footed and innovative, in thought and action alike”.
No military however, can hope to transform and truly modernize, if it is dependent, on foreign technology and weapon systems. The Atmanirbhar Bharat call, of our Hon’ble Prime Minister, envisions creating such indigenous capabilities, as are required for preparing the Indian Armed Forces, for the future battlefield to that end.
“The Capability Development roadmap of the Indian Army, is aligned to the vision of Atmanirbharta”.
This brings me to the second part of my talk, an area that requires sustained effort and investment. I shall spend a few minutes, on the ongoing Capability Development in the Indian Army, to fulfill one of its foremost Roles, that of preserving the Sovereignty, and Territorial Integrity of the Nation.
There is a dynamic relationship between evolving security threats, and capability development, each trying to outsmart the other. Thus, to remain current and relevant, capability development must foresee future threats, and evolve accordingly.
The twin challenges of COVID, and the belligerence of our adversary on the Northern Borders, have brought to fore the vulnerability of global supply chains, underscoring the critical need for self-reliance.
Today, self-reliance in defence, has become a strategic necessity. It is imperative for us, to invest in building long term indigenous capabilities, for application across the entire spectrum of conflict. Niche technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), autonomous & unmanned systems, long range precision technology, Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, Quantum Computing, Directed Energy Systems, to name a few, will certainly need to be acquired, infused and absorbed, as part of a deliberate and continuous process. It is a vital facet of our operational needs, at Strategic, Operational and even Tactical level, and must be addressed in an acceptable timeframe.
However, it must be appreciated, that the dual requirement of fast-tracking modernization, and simultaneously promoting self-reliance, are indeed challenging objectives, for a developing nation like India. Considering the quick pace of defence modernization, being undertaken by our adversaries, we cannot afford to be lagging behind. Towards meeting modern day defence requirements, I would like to dwell upon, what we are doing, while contributing towards, a secure and self-reliant India.
What Are We Doing?
We are aware, that the indigenous defence industry, is a big enabler for self-reliance, in capability building, and a pre-requisite to maintaining strategic influence, and freedom of action. Our external dependence for weapons and ammunition, creates vulnerabilities during military crises. However, in the last few years, we have tried to reverse this trend, by boosting indigenization, and focusing on dual purpose, high end technology. This approach, will not only ensure self-reliance, but will also hold good, during times of emergency.
The Indian Army remains committed, towards all-out support, to enable our industry, especially in the domain of R&D, which will afford cutting edge technology, to win the wars of tomorrow. We are committed to procuring indigenous equipment, and weapon systems, as nothing could be more motivating for any Army, than to fight and win its wars, with indigenous technologies and weapons. It may be noted, that 75% of Priority 1 projects of 13th Army Plan, costing over ₹ 1,50,000 crore, are supporting our efforts, towards indigenization.
For the Indian Army, the percentage of global schemes contracted, has been going down over the past two years. There are a number of schemes in the pipe line, which have a wholly indigenous content, whether it be the 10m short span, modular bridge or the ATAGS. The Government is also focusing, on increasing the indigenous content, in equipment under manufacture in the country, with ToT, in order to assist MSMEs. I was at the Hazira plant of L&T last week, to roll out the 100th K9Vajra Gun for the Indian Army. The Army has recently ordered M4 QRF vehicles, for protected mobility, along northern borders, from the Pune based, Bharat Forge Company, of the Kalyani Group. We can justifiably be proud of these efforts, which are being put in by the industry, to realise the vision of Atmanirbharta.
However, an important issue that one needs to keep in mind, is that indigenous development alone, cannot fill the existing and envisaged operational voids, due to lack of niche technologies and manufacturing capabilities. Hence, the inescapable requirement, on a certain percentage of imports.
“One cannot afford to have an operational void, when the enemy is at the gates”
This Army-Industry partnership, is critical towards meeting the contemporary threats, and challenges while concurrently realizing, the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat. Let me briefly spell out few initiatives, being taken to give a boost to our industry.
The Army Design Bureau, since inception in 2017, is harnessing the potential of local industry, and academia for addressing the requirements of the Indian Army. It has undertaken, pan-India mapping of institutions including IITs. Hand holding of Industry, by providing Firing Ranges, Testing Facilities, Equipment and Weapon System, Innovation Competitions, ‘Def-Expo’ etc, have resulted in coherent development of capabilities, aligned to the requirements of the Indian Army.
The outreach to Industry by the Indian Army, has enabled local players & start-ups, to showcase their equipment. Many of these have been demonstrated, and evaluated in actual operational areas. The contract for 120 Tactical UAVs with Idea Forge, which is one of the promising Defence Start-Ups, has been recently concluded for ₹ 124 cr. Evaluation of a number of indigenous defence equipment, offered by MSMEs and Start-Ups is underway. These contracts, infuse new hope and energy, into these nascent start-ups, and give them confidence, that even they can pitch their products, alongside the big players. The Indian Army has also filed for 15 IPRs this year, and few more are in the pipeline. Further, we have already initiated 15 projects, as a follow up of Suo-Moto Proposals, received from the Industry. This has generated enthusiasm and confidence, in the local industry.
We have also brought about, major structural changes in our organisation, by aligning both the revenue, and capital routes of procurement, under the Deputy Chief of Army Staff (Capability Development and Sustenance). The huge potential of technological research, offered by Indian Institutes of Technology, and Start-up Incubation Centres, established by these Institutes, is being tapped for progressing, indigenous development of niche technologies.
The iDEX platform provides, an opportunity to young innovators and Start-ups, to come up and provide solutions, to the challenges thrown out under this scheme. Presently under the iDEX – Defence India Start-up Challenge (DISC) scheme, we have four ongoing projects, with 14 Start-ups that are being funded by the Indian Army.
Evolving Security Challenges in the North East & Way Forward
I have spoken on the Shape of Future Wars, and our ongoing endeavor, towards Capability Development, to effectively play our mandated Role, in meeting the contemporary threats. I would now stretch my talk, to the domain of Internal Security, a domain that commits large resources, and requires sustained commitment. I shall talk about the Internal Security situation, in a region, that has been extensively debated, and forms the cornerstone of our aspirational drive, towards a 5 trillion economy in the near future.
Yes, I am referring to the Security Challenges that confront the North East. Having spent much time there, in various capacities and appointments, the North East occupies a special place in my heart. The Indian Army is playing a pivotal role, in the transformation that is taking place, in the Security environment, setting the stage for other stakeholders, to play their role in the development of the NER.
India’s North East Region, is extraordinarily diverse and colourful. The nine states, including West Bengal & Sikkim, that comprise the region, share almost 98% of their borders with five countries. It is the Centre of Gravity, for sub-regional connectivity, and thus remains, the launch pad for Act East initiatives.
The internal dynamics in the North East, is intricately linked, to the Regional Security Construct. This is characterized by rising Chinese belligerence in the Indo-Pacific, its hostility towards weaker nations, and relentless drive to create regional dependencies, through debt traps like the BRI. The resultant Sino-US rivalry, has created regional imbalances & instability. The increasing footprints of China, in India’s neighbourhood, and its attempts to unilaterally alter the status-quo, along our disputed borders, have created an environment, of confrontation & mutual distrust.
Another factor that is acutely linked to security is regional & internal connectivity. With failure to deliver on promises, Delivery Deficit has plagued our efforts, at improving regional connectivity. On the internal front also, infrastructure development has been marred, by numerous challenges. Multi-agency involvement, and varied source of funds, coupled with environmental factors, remain major stumbling blocks.
However, there have been encouraging developments too. There has been significant improvement, in the Internal Security situation. As you would know, the states of Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, and large parts of Assam, are practically free from insurgency. The violence levels, have also gradually gone down, over the years. While relentless operations, by the Security Forces, and proactive Govt policies have laid the foundation, favourable external environment, with Myanmar and Bangladesh, has struck at the roots, of various insurgent organisations.
Realignment of the CI/ CT Strategy
With the improving situation, realignment of the CI/ CT Strategy by the Indian Army has been underway in the North East. Force Calibration, with gradual disengagement from CI/CT operations, has resulted in greater focus towards Northern Borders & the IMB. This has already resulted, in the disengagement of 14 Infantry Battalions. Two Division Headquarters, earlier part of the CI grid, are now solely focusing on their operational role, along the Northern Borders. This has been a significant achievement. The operational responsibility of these areas, has now been taken over by the Assam Rifles, under the operational control of the Indian Army.
The Realigned CI Strategy, seeks to establish effective inter-state linkages. Resultantly, a detailed Army study has proposed an umbrella organization, coined the North East Integrated Security Council, to galvanise the strategy, efforts & resources, amongst all stakeholders. Let me spend a few minutes on this proposed model, as it seeks to create multi-agency coordination, so critical for taking the region forward.
Multi-Agency Coordination: Establishment of NE Integrated Security Council
A common thread that runs along the North East States, is a lack of coordination, amongst various agencies. The Policy Disconnect, further accentuated by the feeling that affairs of NER are being run from Delhi. Most of the CAPF and Central Agencies, are headquartered at Delhi. National priorities, political compulsions of the States, & local aspirations are seldom aligned, creating dissonance in execution.
To set the score right, and unleash the tremendous potential of the NE, there is therefore the need, for establishing an organization that can synergise multi-agency coordination, and optimise resource & effort. The Realigned Strategy for the North East, proposes a robust and effective, NE Integrated Security Council.
With the Minister of State for Home, as the Chairman at the apex level, the organisation seeks to galvanise, the efforts of all stakeholders, which includes policymakers, as well as the authorities responsible, to execute these policies. The Army with its wide footprint across the Region, is ideally suited to play the role of regional coordinator. The organisation includes, the Dy NSA for inter-ministerial coordination at Delhi, while Regional Coordination could be under the Army Commander Eastern Command, at Kolkata. With the inclusion of State Chief Secretaries, and DGPs as well as DGs of CAPF, the proposed organization, will address operational and strategic issues, and ensure coordinated multipronged response, at the regional level. I had earlier mentioned, about the need for inter-government fusion, and working across silos. These efforts are in line with our mandated Role, and underscore our commitment, to contribute to the Whole of Government effort, alongside other stakeholders, to National Security.
While I have spoken on the Role of the Indian Army, in dealing with the contemporary threats, and challenges to National Security, an equally important facet, is our contribution to Nation Building. The operational challenges, along our Western and Northern Borders, have been further exacerbated, due to the impact of the COVID pandemic, over the past one year. With its wide footprint across the country, the Army was able to considerably augment, the National effort. Timely and crucial aid, rendered to our citizens, and to Friendly Foreign Countries, in the initial months of 2020, when we ourselves were gearing up, to combat the pandemic needs special mention.
A medical team of IA doctors, and Nursing staff was placed, at the Narela Quarantine Facility, where Indian Nationals were being evacuated, under the Vande Bharat Mission. A central quarantine facility, was est at Chennai for Indian Nationals, being deported from Oman. Medical Teams were also deployed, for the COVID medical facility, on wheels at Shakurbasti, and at Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel COVID care facility.
As part of the National Effort, the Indian Army has set up quarantine facilities, at 12 locations across the country, for civilian evacuees from various foreign countries. Military Hospitals have also extended, their services to civilians. 15 ambulances of Indian Army, were provided to the Delhi Government.
We are equally conscious, of our responsibility towards our neighbours. The Indian Army was proactive, in providing medical support to our neighbours, in these challenging times, prominent being the medical assistance, to Nepal, Maldives and Kuwait.
Even while this fight against COVID, was at its peak, the Indian Army, was reaching out to render timely assistance, to the civil authorities in areas of natural disaster, and national contingencies.
Disaster struck Baghjan oil fields in Assam, in June last year, when due to a fire accident during maintenance, the fire spread to the oil well. Army columns were mobilized, to not only contain the fire, but also relocate villagers to safety of relief camps. A major task was the construction, of 150m Pontoon Bridge, in temperatures rising above 75 degrees, to contain the fire, and provide a safe passage to the fire fighters. Relocation of more than 7000 villagers, to safety under challenging conditions, capped the herculean effort.
Conduct of Flood Relief Operations, in Karnataka and Telangana in October last year, aid to civil authorities during Cyclone NIVAR, in Puducherry in November, and assistance in controlling the Forest Fires, in the Dzakou Valley in Nagaland, in Jan this year have been, some of our notable contributions, besides a large number of assistance at the local level.
In fact, the most recent contribution, has been in the assistance provided, in the aftermath of the Flash Floods in Chamoli region, of Uttarakhand earlier this month. Four infantry columns, two Engineer Task forces and medical resources, in addition to aviation assets, were immediately pressed into service. Clearance of the tunnel, is still in progress and the Indian Army, is providing all possible assistance, to the joint efforts underway.
Towards the end, would like to conclude by saying that the challenges to National Security, will continue to evolve, and test our ability to adapt to change. I have made an attempt, to touch upon a few facets of National Security, and the Role of the Indian Army, in meeting the contemporary challenges, as also our ongoing contribution to Nation Building. Integration, resource optimization, cross-government fusion and sustained investment in niche capabilities, to keep ahead of our adversaries, remain stepping stones, towards the larger objectives of National Security.
The Indian Army is undergoing a silent transformation to remain a potent and capable instrument of the Nation to face future challenges. Rebalancing of Forces, Organisational Restructuring and Capability Development in new domains of warfare, are concurrently taking place.
I wish to thank once again, the Vivekananda International Foundation, for giving me this opportunity to share my views. I wish the Institution, continued success in its efforts, towards initiating and nurturing Indian strategic thought.