BOOK REVIEW : Even If It Ain’t Broke Yet, Do Fix It: Enhancing Effectiveness Through Military Change

Militaries the world over are known to be averse to change. In fact, they have often been accused of preparing to fight the last war. Liddell Hart, the Captain who taught Generals, had said in his inimitable style almost a century ago, "The only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out.” In his remarkable new book, “Even If It Ain’t Broke Yet, Do Fix It: Enhancing Effectiveness Through Military Change” (New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2017), Col Vivek Chadha (Retd), analyses how the Indian Army has adapted to and dealt with military change.

Col Chadha defines military change as representing “an attempt at developing a significantly more effective approach to existing or future military challenges.” Over a period of time and, based on their experience during conventional and sub-conventional conflict, all armies reviewtheir doctrine, strategy and organisational structures and make changes to these – sometimes substantive and at other times tentative or experimental. Advances in weapons technology are also a key driver of change, but primarily at the tactical and operational levels – with the exception of the development of nuclear weapons, which are strategic-level munitions with a geo-strategic impact. The advent of aircraft – with the potential to destroy important targets deep inside the adversary’s heartland – and submarines and the huge difference these make to the capacity for sea denial, also qualify as technology-driven changes at the strategic level.

The authorbegins by taking stock of the writings of various scholarson military change. He quotes Prof Theo Farrell of King’s College, London as having stated that there are three pathways to military change: innovation, adaptation and emulation. There is merit in this postulation.Innovation, that is applicable across an army, could be in respect of the concept of operations, e.g. the German blitzkrieg; or, it could be technological in nature. Adaptation is related to changes in strategy, force levels, equipment, training and plans for operations in the context of aknown adversary and an underlying cause for conflict. The character of conflict is changing from predominantly state versus state conflict to that with non-state actors and this change compels adaptation.

While innovation and adaptation are relatively easier toweave into tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) at all levels, emulation needs an institutionalised approach. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China studied the Gulf War (1991) and the Iraq War (2003) very carefully and decided to emulate the doctrine and the TTPs and based its modernisation drive with the US Army as a role model. Though it had missed the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), much like the Indian Army missed it, the PLA leapfrogged to its ongoing transformation that will enable it to undertake effects-based operations (EBOs) in a network-centric environment. Similarly, the Indian Army decided to raise artillery divisions decades after many other armies had already done so.

In a section on conventional conflict, Chadha assesses the impact of change in the organisational structure of the Indian Army and changes in its military strategy in the wake of the war with China in 1962 and that with Pakistan in 1971. After the 1962 debacle, the government sanctioned a modernisation plan for the army, the raising of HQ Central Command, substantial increase in the total number of personnel authorized to the army and several new mountain divisions to beef up the defences on the Line of Actual Control (LoC). The defence budget as a ratio of the GDP went up from 2.5 to 3.5 per cent (this year it is down to less than 1.6 per cent of the projected GDP). The General Krishna Rao committee appointed in 1975 made many far reaching recommendations, including the raising of mechanised infantrybattalions. It also drew up the army’sfirst long-term (15-year) perspective plan.

A decade later, General K Sundarji, who was a member of the Krishna Rao committee, was instrumental in effecting a doctrinal shift from reliance on a ‘strategic defensive’ strategy,  with operations based on static, obstacle-based defences to a pro-active, offensive operations doctrine that laid emphasis on mobile operations dominated by mechanised forces. He obtained government approval for an army aviation corps, designated one infantry division as an air assault division for the well-known exercise Brass Tacks IV and sowed the seeds for the raising of Reorganized Army Plains Infantry Divisions (RAPIDs), many of which have since been raised. He also moved the deployment areas of some mountain brigades closer to the LAC to deter aggression and minimise the loss of territory in a future conflict with China.

Chadha also delves into the evolution of the army’s doctrine for conventional conflict, particularly the changes that became necessary after the acquisition of nuclear weapons. The Sundarji doctrine for offensive operations was predicated on deep manoeuvre by the Strike Corps to bring to battle and destroy Pakistan’s strategic reserves and inflict a comprehensive military defeat. However, nuclear weapons had not yet made their appearance on the Indian sub-continent. Under today’s nuclear overhang, if offensive operations are undertaken up to strategic depth, these are likely to threaten Pakistan’s nuclear red-lines. The army leadership concluded after a great deal of deliberation that there is space for limited conventional conflict below the nuclear threshold. This rationale enables India to gainfully exploit its superiority in conventional forces to punish Pakistan for its long-drawn war to wrest Kashmir through asymmetric means. It also enables the launching of military retaliation for a major incident of state-sponsored terrorism like the multiple terror attacks at Mumbai in November 2008 and, hence, furthers the cause of deterrence.

Based on anumber of wargames and the lessons learnt during Op Parakaram in 2001-02, the army evolved a new doctrine that is colloquially called ‘Cold Start’. The Cold Start doctrine has two major aims. The first is to overcome the limitation of the long mobilisation time of India’s three Strike Corps by enabling the corps deployed forward for defensive operations to launch limited offensive operations in an early time frame. The second aim is to plan to conduct limited offensive operations across the international boundary (IB) in such a manner that Pakistan’s nuclear red-lines were not threatened. The Cold Start doctrine, also called pro-active offensive operations doctrine, envisages several simultaneous offensive thrusts across the IB over a wide front, but to shallow depth by division/ division plus size integrated battle groups (IBGs). In conjunction with the air force, the doctrine is designed to engage and destroy large elements of Pakistan’s war machinery and, in the process, also capture some territory as a bargaining counter.

The author has identified five imperatives for dealing successfully with change in the domain of conventional conflict: periodically carrying out a long-term strategic assessment; wholesome support from the political establishment;visionary and committed military leadership; strong institutional structures; and, appropriate follow up action to ensure that changes are implemented effectively.All of these are unexceptionable. The only imperative that could be added is the regular upgradation of weapons technology so as to maintain an edge in combat capabilities.

In the second part of the book, Chadha analyses the success achieved by the army in dealing with change in the domain of sub-conventional conflict and counter-insurgency operations. With the help of case studies he examines the changes that have occurred in counter-insurgency doctrine, strategy, organisations and the conduct of operations since the mid-1950s when the army was first employed for internal security duties in aid to civil authority. He approves of the doctrine of ‘minimum force’ and efforts to minimise inconvenience to the local population so as to win hearts and minds (WHAM). The policy is known as that of an ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’. The army’s emphasis on safeguarding of human rights and exemplary punishment for violations and the inescapable need for the promulgation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) have been discussed at length and with a critical eye. One of the root causes of most insurgencies is the people’s sense ofalienation from the national mainstream and all of the factors mentioned above play a major role in either negating those feelings or accentuating them,

In organisational issues related to counter-insurgency operations the raising of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) as a specialised force for such operations and its efficacy over the last two decades have been well analysed. The RR force was raised in the early 1990s based on the experience gained from the erstwhile ‘I’ (insurgency)battalions that had been raised for employment in the north-eastern states and the Assam Rifles that was initially a border guarding force, comprising locally recruited soldiers, whose role was subsequently expanded to include counter-insurgency operations. There are now over 60 RR battalions and these have together helped to stabilise the security environment in Jammu and Kashmir while relieving regular infantry battalions from internal security duties so that the latter can devote their efforts towards their primary role of training for conventional conflict.

As counter-insurgency operations are conducted in aid of civil authorities, if the effectiveness of and the changes in the methodology of the army’s dealings with the state governments had also been examined, it would have been found that the present system of Unified Command – which is chaired by the Chief Minister, but the organisation of which varies from state to state – and Joint Intelligence Councils (JICs) leaves much to be desired. State-level politics and approaching elections have often coloured the judgement of state governments on when to ask for the army’s assistance and when to ask it to return to the barracks, as also which districts to declare disturbed and when to withdraw such a notification. Disagreements of this nature at the directional level undermine the successful conduct of counter-insurgency operations. Clearly, the present civil-military interface, in general, and the system of Unified Commands, in particular, needs to be overhauled.

In the concluding chapter, the author details the results of a survey conducted among serving officers and veterans regarding issues related to military change to validate his findings and conclusions. He recommends the formulation of national security strategy based on a strategic defence review, the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) –  an inevitability that has been hanging fire for far too long, better quality of national security decision making, informed debate on major national security issues and the raising of a Special Forces command.

An experienced soldier and an accomplished scholar, Col Vivek Chadha’s has written an excellent book on understanding military change and implementing it successfully – the first one of its kind in India. This extraordinary book on the Indian Army’s management of changemust be read by all armed forces officers, particularly thoseofhigher ranks. In fact, it should be prescribed reading at various schools of instruction in the armed forces and for competitive examinations. The decision makers and the policy community would also benefit immensely from this book, as would scholars and academics interested in national security.

The writer is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.