Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Mar 16, 2023
IA needs a real transformation and not incremental improvement if it is to effectively take on the PRC forces
Matching resources to strategic priorities: The US Marine Corps’ and Indian Army’s concerns The United States Marine Corps (USMC) is in the midst of a transformation or at least on the cusp of initiating a significant change that will bring about a sea change in the composition and force structure of the Marine Corps. The USMC calls it Force Design 2030. The Marine Corps is an expeditionary force, which is a part of the United States Navy (USN) and America’s first responder to crisis and military contingencies. The USMC foresees threats in several specific areas: sensor technologies, signal processing, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its variant Machine Learning (ML), robotic applications of AI and ML, cheap drones performing loitering functions in the form of munitions delivery and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions. In addition, the USMC sees the air, maritime, space, and cyberspace or more generally the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) integrated with “…ground-based, long range, precision anti-surface and air defence” capabilities bequeathing great lethality and firepower to near peer states through an Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2AD) strategy. Assuming an adversary or adversaries penetrate the anti-access strategy, the state pursuing the A2AD can resort to the employment and launch of concentrated long range precision fires against traditional massed land formations, their manoeuvre elements and logistics support nodes. It goes without saying, it is China that the USMC have in mind, but the latter also assess that a few non-peer states will have access to some anti-access capabilities. Currently, where the USMC is heavily invested, but faces a liability is in the areas of armour heavy formations or battle tanks, which are also logistics intensive, short-range low endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), towed cannon artillery, a good number of helicopter squadrons, and some infantry battalions. Consequently, the USMC wants to pursue a divestiture of these legacy platforms and capabilities. As their replacement, the key constituents of this newly envisioned USMC force include: long-range artillery rockets and Air Defence Systems (ADS), long-range missiles, UAVs with high endurance performing both attack as well as ISR missions integrated with space, cyberspace and Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities, which force planners for the Corps intend to pursue not by way of incremental change, but by way of significant transformation. All changes are being attempted with the view that warfare in the future is expected to be conducted from considerable distance.
It is China that the USMC have in mind, but the latter also assesses that few non-peer states will have access to some anti-access capabilities.

Implications especially for the India Army: Make the Agniveer Scheme Count

As the USMC Commandant, General David Berger observed about the design of USMC force in the future: “Operating under the assumption that we will not receive additional resources, we must divest certain existing capabilities and capacities to free resources for essential new capabilities.”  Indeed, the government and the Indian Army have proceeded under a similar, if not an identical assumption that resources will not be available for the IA at least in the near to medium term future and until the point the IA gets more money for force modernisation, the choice will be in restructuring the force of the IA, in order to equip it with better capabilities. For the IA, like the USMC the burden is heavy manpower and a large cohort of veterans whose salaries and pensions consume most of the IA’s annual budget, depressing the availability of resources for a more capable long-range precision firepower intensive fighting force. Indeed, what the IA needs is not incremental improvement, but a real transformation if it is to effectively tackle, especially the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) along India’s extended and contested land frontier with the PRC.  There are three key areas where the IA needs greater investment: long range artillery, missiles and drones. In this context, the Agniveer scheme is crucial because it helps the government cutback or limit manpower costs to funnel the savings accruing from the scheme towards the modernisation of the IA. It helps save on salaries and pensions by both restricting the service stint of new recruits to four years including basic training. The accretion in savings from a cutback in manpower will help finance the acquisition of long range artillery, missiles and high endurance drones. It could also pave the way for the digitisation of the IA. The IA needs to become a more cyber and space enabled force integrated with long-range Air Defence Systems (ADS), artillery rockets, missiles and armed drones, which the force is testing such as the PALM 500 Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs) geared for anti-tank missions. The service also requires ballistic missiles for battlefield use, which thankfully, it is getting such as the Pralay surface to surface missile with a range of 150-500 kilometres (kms). Yet inexplicably, as some reports suggest, the IA will only get 120 Pralay missiles – a pitifully low number, especially given the high number of comparable missiles, the Chinese and Pakistanis are likely to field against India. At the least, the IA must deploy these projectiles in the high hundreds. Additionally, the IA must consider the acquisition of the US-origin truck launched three-person operated High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) that have a proven range of 300 kms, which could be extended to almost 500 kms following the development of a range of munitions. The Ukrainian military has used them with considerable effectiveness and lethality against the Russians. Several countries already deploy the HIMARS such as Jordan, Poland, Singapore, Romania, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The HIMARs are easily transportable by C-130s, which the Indian Air Force (IAF) operates.
The Agniveer scheme is crucial because it helps the government cut back or limit manpower costs to funnel the savings accruing from the scheme towards the modernisation of the IA.
As opposed to the USMC’ efforts to restructure its forces, India cannot dispense with tanks, yet. Indeed, terrain along the Sino-Indian boundary, especially in Ladakh, let alone in the plains of Punjab and the desert of Rajasthan necessitate and afford opportunities for the employment of armour. If anything, India is investing in the development of a light tank for operational use against China – a capability that the Peoples Liberation Army’ (PLA) 75th Group Army (GA) already deploys in the form of the Type-15 light tanks against the IA. Furthermore, neither the Chinese nor Pakistanis are showing any visible indications of divesting tanks from their forces. Being a manpower intensive service, the most crucial cutbacks envisioned by the IA is with the regular infantry. However, the path to developing or acquiring precision long-range firepower intensive projectiles such as HIMARs and ballistic missiles, high endurance drones integrated with space, cyberspace, Electronic Warfare (EW) and AI capabilities that will bring about change synonymous with major transformation will not be easy. Already the Agniveer scheme has come under some sharp criticism as well as resistance and is being refined leaving open the possibility of the scheme not generating the kind of savings that is necessary for the IA to become the well-armed integrated fighting force to take on the PRC. To borrow a phrase of one British defence expert: “It’s the age-old problem of matching strategic priorities to resources.”  
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Kartik Bommakanti

Kartik Bommakanti

Kartik Bommakanti is a Senior Fellow with the Strategic Studies Programme. Kartik specialises in space military issues and his research is primarily centred on the ...

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