Indian Army Vision 2020

Harper Collins India, New Delhi, 2008, 342 pages, Rs 495
Calm, methodical and clear in tone, detail and argument, Gurmeet Kanwal lays out a vision for an Indian Army of the future, constrained only perhaps by a lingering, but never articulated, pessimism that the gap between reality and the ideal may remain large.
The book is the product of a research project at the Observer Research Foundation, and its only flaw, perhaps, is that it does not escape the predictableness of a think tank product. Brigadier (retd) Kanwal is too clear to be laboured however, and bolstered by a deep understanding of his subject and what is required to transform the Army, he has produced a volume that will interest both the student and the practitioner.
In three parts, Kanwal evaluates the operational commitments that the Army faces, offers comparative studies of other land forces, including those of China and Western countries, and finally, zeroes in on recommendations and requirements for a true modernisation of the Indian Army.
Of particular interest is his analysis of border/counter insurgency (CI) operations, the modernisation of the artillery and the role of ‘special forces."
The sheer size of the force maintained for CI ops is itself testimony to the importance of the subject. At 1,19,000 army personnel (the figure supplied to Parliament by the Defence Minister in 1998), including 60 battalions of Rashtriya Rifles, and other battalions of forces like the Assam Rifles, India has about 170 battalions in constant deployment. (A battalion is roughly 900 personnel).
"The Indian artillery will increasingly play a leading role in the successful execution of integrated AirLand operations on the modern battlefield," he writes. Sadly though, the pace of artillery modernisation leaves much to be desired.
Kanwal offers several insightful observations about the strike corps, but they only whet the appetite – he would have done well to dwell more on strike capabilities.
After all, as he himself notes, it has become a clich`E9 to note that given the wide spectrum of threats, many unpredictable, it has become necessary to focus more on capabilities. A broad range spectrum of capabilities will ensure that the Army can respond to any threat.
Special forces (SF) capabilities are a critical component in such a spectrum. As he writes, SF components are "force multipliers in times of both war and peace." India has five battalions of special forces and there are many reports of this eventually being raised to 10 or even 13 by 2010. As he stresses, quality control for such a large force will be crucial, but this a capability that simply cannot be compromised on.
At the end of the day, an Army of the future has to be ‘light, lethal and wired’, the last a pointer to the way information technologies have revolutionised warfare, enabling real time sensor-to-shooter links, more accurate information, and the ability to deliver precision munitions at stand-off range – network centric warfare.
It is also increasingly clear though that ‘jointness’ – seamless, integrated operations with naval and air forces – will be the way to go in the future. While such individual force studies are important, they can only form a basis for joint doctrines and a vision of a joint defence force for the country.
Kanwal wants a National Military Commission to go into the whole issue of restructuring and modernising the Armed forces. But the direction is already clear, and there are many reports of ministerial groups and commissions that provide a good platform. Ultimately, it is the "political courage, military astuteness, a non-parochial approach and a singularity of purpose” that Kanwal mentions, that will make the difference.