Ever since the PM addressed the Combined Commanders Conference in Kevadia on 06 March 2021 the media has been picking up bits and pieces of his address and pitching it as ‘stand-alone agendas’ complete with all the semantics aimed to sensationalise something that ought not to be.

This article attempts to paint the ‘big picture’ which puts the PM’s call in the larger perspective and brings out its full purport.

By V K Saxena

PM’s Statement in Context

Out of the PM’s statement one issue that caught the media fancy was Indigenous Military Doctrine. One heard the breaking news(s) –PM announces the need for Indigenous Military Doctrine… Army Staff College cannot continue to teach US doctrine.

A lot of debate was generated making us believe that the PM had taken out a new cat from the bag by stating something new and unprecedented. That India must have its own war fighting doctrine and not fight Indian wars on borrowed concepts! This debate is at best misplaced as will be seen later.

Actually, what the PM said was that there was a need to enhance indigenisation in the ‘national security system. Elaborating further he explained that such an indigenisation need not only be restricted to procuring weapons and equipment, but also, must embrace the doctrines, procedures and customs in the defence forces.

This is a very visionary statement. To understand its full purport each part of what he said needs to be seen in the larger perspective of ‘what was’, ‘what is’ and what is likely to be’ in times to come’. This is attempted.

Weapons and Equipment

What was?

What was and is not far to reach and nothing to be really proud of. A brief glimpse:-

Holding the infamous flag of the second largest arms importer in the world with a share of 9.5% of all the world’s arms import, there was a period till about 2010 or thereabouts, when nearly anything and everything in the category of current, modern hi–tech etc was imported ( more than 70% of all inventory was imported).

Leaving aside a few bright sparks ( Missiles – BrahMos, Akash, Prithvi, Agni, some radar platforms, a few basic communication systems, some electronic warfare (EW) systems, some naval platforms and munitions etc.), everything from small arms to guns/howitzers, rocket launchers, air defence guns and missiles, aircrafts, attack helicopters, bridging equipment, munitions and more, was ex import. Russia had a lion’s share (more than 49% of all inventory) followed by France, Israel and US.

The Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) as well as the Defence Research and Development Organisation ( DRDO) were identified with their typical signatures –huge time and cost overruns – Tejas, Trishul, Nag, Akash, Main Battle Tank, INSAS (Infantry soldier as a system), carbine, the list can just go on and on.

The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) not only showed shortfall in target production year-on-year there were huge quality issues in ammunition resulting in a large number of accidents.

The Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) presented a highly circuitous procurement route to the stakeholders. The same was riddled with so many layers of evaluations and approvals that hardly anything ever got through before 7-10 years of processing time.

For many, many years starting Jan 2002, when the Govt opened defence production to private sector5 the private sector existed only in the name. Nearly all defence production remained with the public sector.

There was a time when the foreign vendors refused to accept private players as Indian Offset partners on the plea that these are not technologically mature to discharge the offsets being offered. Micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) remained little a more than an acronym.

How the Thaw came about?

Salient points are stated to build a chronicle:-

It was 25 Sep 2014 when the newly elected Govt announced, the Make-in-India initiative. It covered 25 sectors of the economy and aimed at a target of 25% contribution to the GDP by the manufacturing sector by 2025. This initiative marked the beginning of a thaw in the Indian defence manufacturing sector.
As time passed, the Make-in-India gave an unambiguous message to the entire army of foreign investors/original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). They gradually realised that the only way to operate in the Indian market was to set up shop here and work through such arrangements as Joint Ventures (JVs) based on joint development and co-production, Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) etc.

That notwithstanding, the initial 3-4 years of Make-in-India were a total wash out for the Indian Private sector, per se because nothing more than ‘sloganeering’ came their way. While there were promises and assurances of hand-holding by MoD, the order books drew a near blank. Sample this – FY 2015-16; DRDO 78 Projects amounting to 70% of all the Projects sanctioned (3723Crs), total share of the private sector was less than 5%.

Pursuant to a constant hue-and-cry by the Public Sector, the MoD over the years started to get serious. It started to address the initial confusions and anomalies in the Make 2 procedures (‘relaxed criteria’, suo moto proposals, fore-closure etc.), revised the offset guidelines started to address the many issues in the Strategic Partnership Model (SPM).
As years rolled, some industry-friendly rules of reserving contracts upto certain value (initially 100 Crs, now 200 Crs) for the domestic sector started to arrive and the MoD finally began to walk the talk on its multiple assurances to MSME.

Initial successes to current status

By FY 2017-18 and beyond, things started turning for the public sector.
Initial dent was in the vehicles sector (L&T-vehicle platforms for Grad BM 21 rocket launcher for 90.89Crs, Tata Motors 1239 of 6×6 HMVs with cranes at 914 Crs, and Ashok Leyland 6×6 and 8×8 HMVs at 355 Crs).

The entire domestic sector started to rise slowly but steadily. In FY 2018-19, the share of private sector touched a figure of 15000 Crs as compared to the public sector share of 63208 Crs.

In 2018 Innovation for Defence Excellence (iDEX) was launched by MoD. Sole aim was to enhance innovation and technology by engaging the private sector, big players, start-ups, individual innovators or academia. This became a success story.

In 2019, DRDO pitched in with its ‘DRDO-Industry Partnership: Synergy and Growth, initiative’. Aim was to sign ToT contracts with Indian companies that included companies in the start-up mode. This programme also registered a lot of successes over time.

By this time successes had started to show their face (K9 Vajra contract valued at Rs 4366 Crs bagged by L&T11, 145 M777, 39 calibre 155mm howitzers from M/s BAE Systems 5070 Crs bagged by Mahindra Defence12, PPP Project for the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System 3364.78 Crs by OFB+3 private sector players13, TATA Power SED 23 ship-borne air surveillance radars for Navy 1200 Crs)14 … the list can go on.

Then 2020, MoD came out with two solid policy documents that set the pace for all future defence acquisitions. These are Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy (DPEP 2020) and Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020. Some points about these documents:- 1516

Set out a Negative import list of 101 items which were banned for import progressively from the period 2020-2025.

Setting out an ambitious goal of $25Bn in defence manufacturing turnover and $ 5 Bn in export turn over by 2025.

Identifying 8 specific thrust areas to push indigenisation and self reliance in defence and aerospace sector and putting in place multiple strategies to implement each one of them. These areas included:-

Bring in multiple procurement reforms.

Increase hand holding and indigenisation support to MSMEs.
Optimise resource allocation to defence under a separate budget head.
Investment promotion through FDI and further increase Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) index- 2014-142/190; 2019-63/190; aim is to get it under 50/190.v
Encourage R&D and reward innovation.
Corporatisation of OFB (being resisted tooth-and-nail by the status quo brigade) and phased disinvestment of DPSUs and bringing them up to Industry standard 4.0.
Bringing in a slew of reforms in the areas of Quality Assurance and Testing.
Taking a slew of measures for export promotion.

All the above on-going efforts got a shot-in-the-arm support with the announcement of Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan in May 202018. For the defence and aerospace sector it had a clear message – ‘Boost domestic and aerospace manufacturing capability’ to achieve the targets set out in DPEPP 2020.

The MoD walked the talk as under:-

Fulfilled (albeit partially) its election promise of setting up two Defence Industrial Corridors (DICs), one each in UP and Tamil Nadu at costs of 3732 and 3038 Crs respectively (work in progress).
Put in some 400 Crs in setting 8 green field ranges for testing and certification of a large range of combat equipment (guns, SAMs, sensors, UAVs, EW equipment, software testing , blast testing of warheads etc.) 21.
Purport of the PM’s Message brought home
The reader will now be able to see the purport of the PM’s message quoted ab-initio. In that when he gives a call to indigenise the weapon and equipment procurement for the defence Services- he means to carry forward the momentum described above. His clarion call is contained in meeting the twin targets of 25Bn $ in defence manufacturing turnover and 5 Bn $ in defence exports by 2025. He wants the stakeholders to walk the talk done in DPEPP and DAP 2020.

Not all is hunky-dory

While it may be a music to the ears when some SIPRI report announces that Indian arms import have fallen by some 33% between 2011-15 to 2016-2022 and its global share of arms exports have gone up from 0.1% to 0.2% all is not so rosy as painted above. On the flip side following must be noted:-

The Make II and the SPM models though perceived by MoD as harbingers of the Make-in- India revolution, are still, according to many domain experts– ‘stillborns struggling to come to life’. Implying that though there is forward movement, a lot of ground is yet to be covered.

While the private sector has started to make some initial progress, the big ticket orders are still very finite. This needs to become the norm.

Many a new provisions are yet to run their full cycle to show full impact (negative import list, new provisions of DAP 2020, measures to enhance FDI or increase EoDB etc.)

While there is much talk of the level playing field between the public and the private sector, the ‘muscle memory’ of public sector primacy will take time to fade with MoD.

The targets of 25Bn $ of manufacturing turnover and 5 Bn $ of export is too steep on a time curve of just 4 years (2025). It is a tall order indeed.
Keeping the above ‘reality check’ in focus and addressing it will help in achieving the purport of the PM’s vision.

Indigenous Military Doctrine

Now a word on the PM’s call for the Indigenous Military Doctrine (IMD); as stated, it is nothing new or unprecedented as the media would like us to believe. We already have our own doctrine. What the PM has said that it needs to be kept revamped to the Indian sensibilities and threat perceptions. Following points are stated about the Indian doctrinal journey to put the IMD in the correct perspective.

Over the decades, the Indian apex political and military leadership has been faulted for a lack of strategic culture. In the doctrinal sense, this void gets related to the absence of a well-defined National Security Strategy or the National Security Policy. What probably is in place for decades is the Raksha Mantri’s Operational Directive, from which the three Services draw out their Operational Plans and hopefully Joint plans under HQ IDS (and now the CDS).

Historically, up to around the seventies and even post 1971, while there was no formal document called the Military Doctrine as such, the Indian mind-set for the prosecution of war was mainly defensive.

During the eighties with both India and Pakistan achieving a neo-nuclear capability, the perception of war fighting started to have a change of shade as the concept of conducting conventional operations under the conditions of perceived nuclear asymmetry started to find place in the Indian mind-set. Several different formats of possible war-fighting were developed under these.

Of these the significant one was the Cold Start Doctrine enunciated by Gen Sunderji in 1981. It was based on the perception that since the wars under the nuclear overhang were likely to be short and intense and remaining short of the nuclear thresholds, time was the biggest game-changer. This doctrine envisaged that the Indian Strike forces would mobilise from ‘cold start’ (implying minimal or nil warning) and undertake swift offensive action into the enemy territory. The surprise so achieved would help in inflicting sudden and severe attrition on an unsuspecting /unprepared enemy, capturing real estate quickly as a tool for post-war bargaining yet remaining below the nuclear threshold.

Around the eighties, nineties and the turn of the millennium certain significant events took place that had a paradigm change on perceived doctrinal thinking on war fighting; 1987-90 – IPKF Sri Lanka, 1989 onwards insurgency started to peak in J&K , 1999 – Kargil war. The turning point was the attack on Parliament on 13 Dec 200124, post which was launched Operation Parakram.

Keeping all the above in mind HQ Army Training Command issued a seminal document in Oct 2004 called the Indian Army Doctrine, also referred to as the India’s Limited War doctrine. It was based on building a dissuasive capability through a credible deterrence coupled with a limited counter offensive capability. It laid down guidelines for the conduct of offensive and defensive operations, special force operations, joint operations and operations other than war (OOTW). This document, (to be issued every ten years) remained a base reference document for years.

The closest we ever came to a Joint Warfare Doctrine was in 2017 when a seminal document titled Joint Doctrine for the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) was issued by HQ IDS in Jun 2017.

Probably for the first time, a comprehensive doctrinal document dealt with such issues as ‘National Values’, ‘National Aim’, and ‘National Security Objectives’. It called for building a ‘Credible Deterrent Capability’ to safeguard national interests. JDIAF laid down the guidelines for ensuring the defence of national territory, national airspace, maritime zone and cyber space. It brought out the need for establishing a secure internal environment by guarding against the threats to internal security and the need for ‘Constructive Engagement’ with the comity of nations aiming for global peace and international stability. Such a vast expanse has been skilfully covered by JDIAF 2017.

On the heels of JDIAF 2017 came the Indian Army Land Warfare Doctrine 2018 which needs to be read in conjunction with JDIAF. This document is a result of one of the four Study Groups ordered by the then Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat for restructuring of the armed forces. Among other things, this document enunciated the concept of Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs). The IBGs are envisaged to be brigade sized forces composed of all arms. These are self-sufficient combat formations capable of taking swift offensive action against the adversary by either inflicting a quick punitive blow or standing in for an offensive defence posture. The concept, duly approved by the Raksha Mantri in Aug 2019 has already been test-bedded in various Army Commands on the western and northern borders and will mature over time.

This is the doctrinal landscape of the armed forces as on date. Where does the PM’s call of an Indigenous Military Doctrine find place in such a landscape? Following points are stated in response:-

The ‘Indigenous Military Doctrine’ is nothing new. It is something which already exists as a document per se. The purport of PM’s call is merely indicative of the need to have the ‘Indian solution’ for fighting ‘India’s wars’ in times to come.

Where is the doubt, that the next version of the JDIAF will further strengthen its grip on ‘indigenous’ content of war-fighting strategies.

Such strategies would probably be built around the following:-

A closer look at the national security perspective.

Analysing the ‘spectrum of conflict’ from Indian sensibilities.

Building Military as an instrument of power both by way of ‘force’ and ‘diplomacy’.

Higher defence organisations to drive the military machine.

Integrated and joint structures required for the conduct of a seamless battle cutting across Service turfs.

Technological prowess and capability development over time.

This is the big picture.

This article first appeared in www.vifindia.org and it belongs to them.