Self-reliance in defence crucial to winning wars - Hindustan Times

Self-reliance in defence crucial to winning wars

Feb 22, 2024 08:44 PM IST

Glaring inadequacies in military-industrial complexes of developed nations are being exposed amid conflicts

Even as conflicts simmer in Ukraine, West Asia, and, prospectively, in the Pacific, glaring inadequacies have come to light in the military-industrial complexes (MICs) of several developed nations. Readiness is being reviewed with renewed urgency.

A comprehensive status audit of our ecosystem in terms of readiness, stockpiles, inventory variety and depth, digital capacities, supply-chain autonomy and critical chokepoints needs to be carried out (AP) PREMIUM
A comprehensive status audit of our ecosystem in terms of readiness, stockpiles, inventory variety and depth, digital capacities, supply-chain autonomy and critical chokepoints needs to be carried out (AP)

That the West is unable to respond to the challenges of war nimbly should worry us. The arsenal of the West (the United States and 50-odd nations) seems to be losing to the arsenal of the East (China and around 25 partners, including Russia, Iran, and North Korea). North Korea has produced and transferred more artillery ammunition to Russia than the West has been able to supply to Ukraine. Combat consumption vastly exceeds supplies: In the first six months of the Ukraine war, the number of Javelin missiles fired was equivalent to what the American industrial base would take seven years to produce. The monthly consumption of Patriot air defence interceptors by Ukraine is what the US can produce in a full year. The Americans have pledged to ramp up production of artillery munitions to 100,000 rounds per month by end-2025, but the Russians are already producing 500,000. The capacity of a nation’s MIC is crucial for its national security prowess.

So, what must India do? The initiatives under atmanirbharta in defence (AID) have been transformational. Given the lessons of recent conflicts, however, India needs to reimagine the AID framework.

First, Delhi needs to become alive to the new strains in geopolitics — the decisive tilt towards hard power, the steady gravitation of the arc of conflict to the Indo-Pacific, and the significant prospect of a Sino-Indian conflagration. We must quickly upgrade our AID enterprise to meet the needs of war. We must remember that while deterrence may be costly, wars are costlier.

Two, the myth of “short, swift, wars” has turned into a strategic folly. For the foreseeable future, conflicts will be long (or at least unpredictable in length), industrial in nature, and with an ever-large digital component. Thus, a vibrant, technologically enabled, innovation-driven industrial base is a prerequisite to winning wars.

Three, a comprehensive status audit of our ecosystem in terms of readiness, stockpiles, inventory variety and depth, digital capacities, supply-chain autonomy and critical chokepoints — both in terms of deterrence radiation as also the capacity for high-intensity combat – needs to be carried out. The consequences of such an audit may be revealing. While our MIC may be currently adequate to meet contingencies arising in the RSOW (Responses Short of War) domain, it would need significant resources to meet the challenges of high-intensity combat.

Four, initiate responses on a war footing. American estimates suggest that the Chinese production and procurement enterprise is five to six times more efficient and faster than that of the Americans. The Indian ecosystem will have to pick up speed and scale accordingly. Do we need to build an A2AD (anti-access/area denial) system in the Indian Ocean region to deter potential Chinese naval ingress? Given the success of Ukrainian missile-drone combos against the Russian Black Sea Fleet, do we need to hybridise our air and naval fleets in far greater numbers? A comprehensive review is, therefore, called for.

Five, since AID is dependent greatly on the private sector, we need to appreciate that capital and personnel investments in defence are long-term and large that without a consistent demand signal and a firm financial commitment from the government, such business propositions are unlikely to flourish. Private companies will not invest unless there is a reasonable guarantee of orders. We need to embrace a culture of talent identification/ maximisation.

Six, when it comes to many of the defence systems, missiles, munitions and machine tools of tomorrow, the monopoly, unfortunately, is that of China. In cast & forged products, advanced battery supply chains and other critical components, China leads. We will have to step up the game in sourcing cobalt, copper, lithium, nickel, anodes, separators and electrolytes if we are to become a player of consequence in the 59 materials that are deemed to be critical in the strategic-military sense.

Seven, a transition to digital combat is critical. We need to treat data as a weapons system and align the orientation of AID to digitise our combat philosophy and systems: We need to manage, secure and use data for superior operational effect.

Eight, AI and deep tech are transforming conflict in unprecedented ways. AID will have to gear up for the new reality. It must assist the defence services in growing such power, in unlocking their data and using these data sets to train defence-specific large language models. Creating intellectual property in defence is a must.

Nine, in the long-term, AID will help India grow into a defence powerhouse. As seven Chinese defence majors rank in the top 20 defence entities in the world. India needs to be similarly competitive.

Lieutenant General Raj Shukla is member, UPSC. The views expressed are personal

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