By Major General Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retired)
Gen. Manoj Pande, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, ADC has taken over as the 29th COAS and is effective today, 1 May 22. He is the first officer in the Corps of Engineers to achieve this top position and has many firsts to its credit. Since he held the VCOAS appointment prior to this appointment, he is well aware of the challenges ahead of him, however, he must now embark on a course to meet these challenges and steer the Indian Army to a position not only to protect its borders. but also to facilitate the country obtaining its rightful place in the concert of nations, in particular in the changing world order which has taken a turn due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.
There are multiple challenges as well as opportunities that need to be addressed to focus on building strengths for capacity building. Current times pose complex challenges and the majority of problems do not have simplistic solutions. Some of the challenges are covered in the following paragraphs.
China continues to be an existing and future threat despite improving trade figures. It is to be kept in the Indian Army’s Central Calculus. COAS needs to address some of the following issues together with other stakeholders:
Infrastructure built throughout the CLA to improve axial and lateral connectivities. Although the government has allocated an increased budget for BRO in the current year’s budget, more needs to be done. Blocked authorizations in various ministries will have to be expedited in a one-stop mode so that there is no cost and time overrun. All-weather connectivities will not only ensure a reduction in logistical living costs, but will also facilitate the mobilization of forces and resources in an efficient manner.
China’s adoption of the New Land Boundary Act as well as the establishment of 624 model villages and renaming of places in Arunachal Pradesh must be countered effectively. A convincing strategy must be unveiled by the COAS.
China has changed its ground position on the LAC from what existed on April 20. Fifteen rounds of Corps Commander-level talks may have cleared up some of the issues, but none of them yet have the potential for full-fledged conflict. While negotiations at all levels are the way forward, capacity building is essential. Instead of just raising our objections related to ALC incursions, we should also raise objections to Chinese activities in areas we consider ours. The new COAS will have to develop a policy in line with the political guidance on this issue.
China is making huge technological leaps and closing the gap with the United States. In fact, it is making progress in some areas. While remaining focused on “Aatmanirbhar Bharat”, COAS will need to evolve processes so that critical technologies are timely available to the forces as they require time to develop. While the government has increased the R&D budget and created an enabling environment, the technology push needs more calibration. A dedicated team will have to be created by the COAS so that the delays do not affect our preparation for war.
China has increased its defense spending while in our case there is hardly any increase. In fact, there is a reduction in military capital spending in the current year’s budget. This issue must be addressed as a priority by the new COAS, because the Russian-Ukrainian war has exploded multiple myths, including those of short and quick wars. This was covered extensively by the outgoing COAS during the Raisina dialogue recently. Such a situation requires the army to be equipped for long-term wars on both fronts together.
While the ceasefire holds on the Line of Control (LOC) with Pakistan, terrorist activities continue at J&K. The change of government and the upcoming elections in Pakistan could lead to an anti-Indian agenda. This, combined with some US equipment found in the valley from Afghanistan, will continue to pose new security challenges.
Once the demarcation process is completed, elections held and J&K statehood restored, a new security dynamic will emerge for which proactive measures must be taken by COAS.
With some positive changes within AFSPA in the North East, such aspirations are also increasing at J&K. COAS must be ready with a new strategy designed to meet the ever-changing challenges.
OTHER NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES
Our neighboring countries are also under great pressure. Myanmar’s military government poses a new challenge. The COAS must balance this relationship because the relationship between the armies has been good. A balanced and engaging strategy should be adopted. The refugee fallout in the North Eastern states will also pose a challenge.
Other neighboring countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan are in serious financial difficulties. Humanitarian assistance may be required for which contingency planning by COAS is essential.
There are also many, many other challenges which have been briefly discussed as below:
THEATERIZATION: There are great challenges related to its current format, the need for greater collaboration and integration between the three services. It will not be out of place to say that the new COAS must look at it with fresh eyes and embrace it in a way that suits the nation.
TOD CONCEPT: A message is circulating in the environment regarding the adoption of the Tour of Duty concept which has not yet been officially announced. Many criticisms and suggestions have been raised in the open field. It will be good for COAS to consider these issues with proper analysis so that its adoption becomes an organizational strength.
AATMANIR BHAR BHARAT
TECHNOLOGY GAP: Although Aatmanirbhar Bharat is a very good initiative, the current negative list approach may not facilitate obtaining the required technologies in time. COAS needs to build a technologically competent team to create a win-win situation for our country.
EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES: China is advancing in this area at an unprecedented rate. The COAS must also have a particular desire to train all ranks so that they are aware of and competent in these technologies. Some adjustments in intakes may also be necessary.
WOMEN: There is an increasing role for women both as officers and soldiers. This will continue to increase in the days to come. While we have reasonable experience in their training and employment, new COAS will also need to address this issue so that forces remain united and no fault lines develop.
Then there are many ongoing issues to include OROP, ECHS, promotion prospects and others. A proactive approach will be the need of the hour and perhaps the conceptualization of a “veteran corps” and its operationalization can relieve many active duty combatants, including the need to create “divisions of veterans”. ‘friendship’ for our neighboring countries. The new COAS will also have to remain vigilant to ensure that the social and religious fabric of the army is still maintained.
The country is now facing its most difficult times and it is ready to give greater responsibilities to the army given its apolitical and equitable nature. A cautious role of enhanced military diplomacy and engagement with multiple countries could be the way forward. The present is a watershed moment in the history of the Indian Army and it will shape its future for times to come.
(The author is a Kargil war veteran and defense analyst. He is a guest member of CLAWS and specializes in neighboring countries with a particular focus on China. He tweets @chanakyaoracle Email: [email protected] gmail.comThe views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online (reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited).