14. Trust on China. “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” was the one of the most recognised diplomatic line that led to a blind faith of the state machinery, for more than a decade before the commencement of the war. It could only be described as mere irrationality on the part of India and a trap which was successfully set by China. It was this trust and the friendly outlook of India towards China that signified doom for us in the near future. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attacked India simultaneously on multiple locations, encircling us in well-planned ploy. This was at the time when Indian political leadership was in Delhi debating futile policies. The attack caught us unaware and too surprised to react on time. It was an attack on all fronts when it was not expected at all. The military leadership, in the absence of a common face at the appropriate level, was to a great extent accused of playing down and disregarding the situation for a long time.
15. Minimal Operational Role of IAF. It needs a full capability comprehension of all available services to respond effectively to an attack on the nation. It was surprising that the Indian Air Force (IAF) was not allowed to carry out an attack on the enemy. Their function was only limited to dropping food supplies to the Indian Army. However, had IAF been employed for a more operational role, the situation could have been vastly different, considering the fact that our Air Force was superior to China’s at the time and CIA later revealed that at that time the Chinese had neither the fuel nor runways long enough for using their Air Force effectively in Tibet. A complete Joint Service understanding by a single military head would have beyond doubt seen this opportunity and planned for a united front against the enemy. It was the leverage that the airpower could have provided, which may have resulted in a favorable outcome.
16. Lumbering Intelligence. The Kargil dispute was the outcome of intelligence slip-ups. The army was caught off guard, as we did not know about the presence of the invaders in Kargil, till May 1999. Regardless of India’s well-organised intelligence set-up, Pakistan shocked us in the 1999 Himalayan violation. It was an absolute intelligence failure. We did not know of their identity, dispositions and actual numbers inside the Indian Territory. The Indian situation is characteristic of a highly politicised external control of the intelligence agencies. There are instances of intelligence failures of such magnitude in the developed nations also. However, they have all been thoroughly enquired into, responsibilities fixed and remedial measures are taken. This has affected the armed forces too in a number of ways. An unpleasant competitiveness between two of nations leading intelligence organisations, Research and Analysis Wing and Military Intelligence, has led to major lapses and thus many casualties in the Indian Army.
17. The coordination of military intelligence has also been insufficient in terms of producing effective and timely output. For example, during Kargil, the aircraft which was meant to remain stationed and gather information was deputed on a separate tasking. It was the ‘Bakerwals’ who gave the information that armed men were sitting on the top. Indian officials and security experts are of the opinion that if a structural change, ensuring the correct representation of the armed forces at the apex level existed, the weakness of the security apparatus could have been overcome. Further, attitudinal changes in the Indian polity, especially military, are also required to avoid future surprises like Kargil.
18. The terrorist attack on Mumbai was also a glaring example of poor decision-making of Indian political and also to an extent military leadership. Nearly 200 people lost their lives and the nation was humiliated. The mistakes were all similar and again only a repetition of what we failed to learn from the past.
19. Disregard to Intelligence Warning. In the months leading up to the terrorist attacks that struck Mumbai, the signs of looming catastrophe were unmistakable. The Mumbai police had learned of warnings of planned attacks on the city’s major landmarks, including its high-end hotels and passed the information to Indian intelligence. The CIA was a primary source of these tip-offs and had a source inside Lashkar-e-Taiba. According to intelligence provided, Mumbai’s attackers were likely to arrive by sea. Yet when the DPC was approached for a relevant port security strengthening, it was indicated that funding was lacking. The Mumbai Police Commissioner also wrote to the Commandant Coast Guard, identifying obvious vulnerabilities . Nevertheless, despite all intelligence there were no concrete steps taken to thwart this attack. Ten terrorists crossed the Arabian Sea from Karachi to Mumbai on 26 November 2008. They confidently executed the one of the worst terrorist attacks in India’s history. A coordinated and deliberate debate regarding the threat, ordered by an appropriate service head may have prevented the attack at a preliminary stage. Even a repeated notice by the IHQ to the Home Ministry may have resulted in actions to avert the attack.
20. Uncoordinated Assets. Even after the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) had managed to intercept the phone conversations between the fidayeen and their handlers, the apprehending of the terrorists was hampered by poor planning, and complete unpreparedness. The National Security Guard, whose members are trained for rescuing hostages, could only reach the attack site of the Taj Mahal hotel after a wait of 12 hours. The unit was not even given the signal to mobilise for the first few hours which wasted precious reaction time to transport them from Delhi. They were also handicapped by lack of personal protective gear and faulty equipment. The decision to send the MARCOS, who were much closer to the location of the attack, was being debated fearing that they were ‘the wrong dog for the fight’. Eventually, it was only by the next day that fewer than twenty MARCOS were deployed after deliberation and specifics orders to try and restrict the terrorist in their present locations. A singular apex authority to decide and further direct the available forces, including issues of transportation etc, would have ensured a better response.
PRESENT STATE OF AFFAIRS
21. Higher Defence Organisation Reforms in India have been recommended by various groups, committees and eminent strategists from time to time. The perceived average performance of our defence and security machinery can be invariably attributed to a lack of these reforms. In 2001, the Kargil Review Committee while examining the pitfalls was of the view that the “political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appear to have developed a vested interest in the status quo.” It recommended the creation of the appointment of a Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). The CDS concept is understood to have worked well in most modern armed forces. Given India’s need to overcome lack of inter-service coherence, have single point advice, coordinate joint planning, carry out joint training and streamline the procurement process, there is obviously a strong case for a CDS. However, there is a need but a greater reluctance as well, maybe that is the reason why even after a decade of deliberation we have not executed the obvious ‘YES’. The ignorance of the recommendations of these committees has become a norm.
22. The point that defence related issues are of confidential nature and the limited freedom of speech to the armed force personnel are excuses for avoiding the relevant issues of professional nature and pushing them under the carpet, and in turn, jeopardising the national interests. The Daulat Beg Oldie incident exposed the dilemma of the Ministry of Defence. MoD panicked and handed over the situation to the China Study Group (CSG), when 30 Chinese soldiers came into our territory, pitched up tents and decided to stay on. The reluctance is partially from the military’s side as well, based upon the confusion regarding the nature of the role of the CDS. It is uncertain what role the three Services themselves wish to assign to a future CDS. India hopefully is nearing the end of this dilemma. Imminent defence reforms ushered in by the government initiatives will surely head towards a clear and goal oriented direction.
23. Till now having three equally ranked Service Chiefs and each service has its own set of commands, which are not even co-located, may have been a compulsion considering the geography/ terrain, peculiarities of borders, conventional and sub conventional challenges. In the future with the extension of the domain of warfare, there is a need to objectively look at the reorganisation of top military hierarchy.
24. It is somehow clear that coordination is not our strength. One way or the other we have to be marshalled towards a common good rather than having the individual shortsightedness. We have to possess synergised planning and have a seamless coordination amongst our services. A CDS beyond doubt will streamline not only our existing resources but also the planning in terms of future acquisitions would be unbiased and fair. Armed forces do not fight wars every day and neither are they involved in crisis so frequently, it is the preparation for a crisis that is as critical. Thus we have to think beyond a single service and start executing decisions at a country level. Even if we do change and implement a meaningful reform today, it will take a long time for the idea to be accepted at all levels, (junior leaders, commanders and troops) thus it is in our best interest that we take that step sooner rather than later. In fact, it will be of national interest to bring about this change at the earliest.
“Act as if it is impossible to fail.”
– Carl Jung
25. Structural reform of our armed forces is a necessity. Our basic structure, with the exception of a few basic changes, remains what we inherited from the British close to 70 years ago. Turf protection and sharing or reduction of power are alien to any military force and the Indian Armed Forces are no exception. At the same time, major changes largely occur due to political acceptance of the necessity for reform for improved performance in the national security requirements. The Goldwater Nichols Department of Defence Reorganization Act of 1986 was enacted primarily to improve the ability of U.S. armed forces to conduct joint and combined operations in the field, and secondarily to improve the DoD budget process. The Navy and Marine Corps had vehemently objected to this reform but the act was deemed necessary for cohesion and was thus passed .
26. On the same lines, it is now time that the present political leadership takes a firm decision to start certain steps towards the change of our military leadership. This may be executed even at the cost of limited or no political consensus. The issue is pertaining to that of national security and needs to be pushed through without any delay. There is a definite requirement of synergy, which will be achieved only by having a single head for the armed forces. The coordination and integration achieved will prove invaluable even for the decision making by the political leadership.