Business schools are adept at teaching change management because change is inevitable and brings turbulence in its wake. The tendency to stick to established ideas and thoughts is a human trait. While considering and then applying change is a challenging process in the business world, the sheer complexity of bringing change into as complex an organisation as a standing army is simply mind boggling.
The business world still has the comparative luxury of facing failure due to change and bouncing back with loss of profits and much heartburn. However, change in an army has to guarantee victory in the battlefield, the consequences of failure becoming existential in nature. The luxury of experimentation can be ill-afforded. That’s why it has to be a much more managed change to sustain and guarantee success.
The Indian Army has a history of change but also a history of sticking to basics. Every time situational challenges emerge, change has been effected but after very deep study and nuanced experiments over time. An interesting aspect is that there is a common complaint within its ranks that operations receive all the attention with logistics being given short shrift.
The pre-eminence of the general staff is an accepted norm but no army can ever achieve its operational aims without considering the logistical balance through an envisaged operation. That’s why it is important to build a cadre of officers with requisite expertise and experience in operations, training and logistics.
At the turn of the millennium, a couple of interesting things happened. First the US adopted transformation as a concept. It was already an ongoing phenomenon after Gulf War I but the idea started to enter into other armies. Greater digitialisation and information-based operations forced the adoption with transformation signifying all-out change to counter future adversaries. The second was the Indian Army’s complete change from response-based doctrine to a proactive one. The Army simultaneously adopted the US transformation model to re-examine its future war-fighting needs.
From 2004 to 2011, transformation study was the watchword. It was sensible; the economy was doing well and we had just got past the rigours of becoming an established nuclear weapon state. It was time to change but the Army’s recommendations as part of transformation found little traction. It could hardly be understood by the government which could not even perceive the changes in war-fighting doctrines. If anything came out of the recommendations of the transformation study it was the raising of the Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) which was finally sanctioned in 2013. Surprisingly with the continuing militancy in J&K and the stellar performance of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR), even the future of this force continued to remain in doubt.
In 2018 we are suddenly hit by a demand to downsize because the bureaucracy feels that digitalisation should have led to reduced need for manpower. If the Chinese PLA could do it, why not the Indian Army? It was also felt that the allotted budget could not cater for such large revenue expenditure. What will never be understood by the non-uniformed community is that force structuring is based on nature of threat, the terrain configuration and the actual effect of technology and its absorption.
Budget plays a role but it’s a question of optimisation. All of India’s disputed and quasi-disputed borders need to be manned, 365 days a year unlike the PLA. If the war has to be taken into the adversary’s territory, the flanks and beyond need to be effectively held, and not notionally to prevent riposte.
Digitalisation was supposed to see the success of various command, control and communication systems, test beds for which continue to remain in place for over 20 years without knowing what will finally be fielded. The question also arises whether the support organisations have served the purpose of their existence.
The Military Engineering Service (MES), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which eats into the budget without providing the optimum buck, not to speak of organisations such as the Armed Forces Headquarters Cadre (AFHQ) which somehow remain out of sync with the very people they are supposed to support and the Ordnance Factories Board which produces low grade ordnance stores at phenomenal costs. If optimisation is the watchword then the need for a non-uniformed specialised cyber and information force to back the Army’s non-existing information warfare capability isn’t even spoken of.
The unfortunate part of the restructuring effort is that the state of civil military relations appear to be reflecting in it with hurry for change without due consideration to the actuals which were very carefully built into the transformation study which took seven years and much of it continues to remain relevant today. The MSC has become the very first casualty with its raising held up half way to save money.
It is fine for analysts to pick holes in the restructuring effort. There will be matching arguments against each of the issues raised in this analysis and rightly so. However, what is important is to ensure that whatever change occurs is first validated through time-tested processes.
Hurriedly convened study groups and committees with limited interaction with stakeholders, reorganisation of key formations without war gaming and exercises with troops may not provide the quality inputs needed for effective change management. It needs to be re-emphasised that change is always welcome but in the Army only if it comes with higher reassurance of victory in battle. A second chance in this field is never available. Take your chances but then learn to live with the consequences. firstname.lastname@example.org