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Agnipath is part of a larger process of defence reform and modernisation

Manish Tewari writes: Agnipath and Agniveer recruitment reform must be seen alongside defence reforms that include appointment of a CDS, reorganisation of armed forces into theatre commands to promote jointness and synergy

The future of warfare entails a lighter human footprint, but soldiers equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry, supported by cutting-edge technology to fight a war in a highly informationised environment.

From the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 till the end of the First World War in 1918, military strategists had convinced themselves that once a general mobilisation for war was ordered it must culminate in a full-scale conflict. For, rolling back a fully marshalled army from going into battle had grave internal consequences including and not limited to regime change.

In May 1892, in a memorandum to the Russian Foreign Minister Nikolay Girs, the Adjutant General of the Russian Army Nikolai Orbuchev explained why the traditional method of determining casus belli of war had been overtaken by modern technology. What mattered most now was who mobilised first and not who fired the first shot. “The undertaking of mobilisation cannot be considered as a peaceful act. On the contrary, it represents the most decisive act of war,” he opined.

Bhupender Yadav writes: |A plan for Agniveers

Within a month of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, on June 28, 1914, the doomsday machine of general mobilisation unleashed itself. Once Austria-Hungary and Germany started to mobilise, other European powers followed suit and World War I commenced. By 1918, this Armageddon had left 17 million people dead.

The Second World War was triggered by the imperatives of the alliance system. In 1938, German troops annexed Austria before occupying Sudetenland, a part of German-speaking Czechoslovakia. However when the Nazis marched into Poland on September 1, 1939, Great Britain, according to the terms of the Anglo-Polish Pact, declared war on Germany on September 3. France followed suit and the war dominos were in full play. By the time it was all over in 1945, 85 million people were dead and large parts of the world lay in ruins.

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The alliance and mobilisation templates were carried forward into the Cold War till the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the calculation of war planners on both sides, the principal land battle in Europe would be fought on the northern German plains fit for attacks by mass concentrations of heavy armour. This again necessitated the deployment of large conventional armies. Added to this was the MAD doctrine – mutually assured destruction – inserted into the dynamic of war by nuclear weapons.

However, by 1975, US defence experts chastened by the checkmate in the Korean War and defeat in Vietnam, seriously started rethinking the structure and contours of a future armed force because they correctly anticipated that the landscape of warfare would rapidly transform itself given the swift technological advances taking place.

Moreover, nimble and mobile North Korean and Vietcong forces had effectively repulsed a conventionally superior US military power over long standoffs. The long-serving director of the office of Net Assessments in the Pentagon Andrew Marshall provided the intellectual heft to this process of restructuring.

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By the time Donald Rumsfeld assumed the mantle of US Defence Secretary again in the George W Bush administration, there had been a veritable revolution in military affairs encompassing a multitude of technological progressions in computing, communications, space know-how, and transformative changes that were unfolding even in the manufacturing domain. Coupled with the rise of transnational non-state actors, the nature of conflict and warfare was also evolving rapidly.

The US was the only country that saw the coming revolution in military affairs. Even Soviet military theorists, way back in the early 1970s, had started applying themselves to military-technical revolutions. By the mid-1990s, even China, fuelled by a decade of economic growth, had commenced a fundamental restructuring of both its force and command structures.

The trigger for the reforms in China were the twin projections of power by the US, namely the Gulf War of 1990 and the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995. The Chinese Communist Party leadership recognised that it lacked the technological prowess to wage a modern war that could proscribe foreign powers from intervening in the region. They adopted a three-pronged approach by exponentially ramping up defence spending. It involved investing in new weaponry, enhancing anti-access area denial tactics, and establishing programmes to boost the Chinese defence industry.

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However one of the fundamental changes they initiated was to develop an integrated fighting force with first-rate naval and air capabilities. As the other services expanded, the army was shrunk to around 9,75,000 from an approximate three million in the mid-70s and the higher defence management paradigm was reorganised into theatre commands by February 2016.

In the wake of the Kargil War in 1999, India also started seriously thinking of reforming and modernising its defence forces and command and control structures. Among a slew of reforms that the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) recommended, one pertained to the recruitment practices of the armed forces. It stated, “the Army must be young and fit at all times. Therefore, instead of the present practice of having 17 years of colour service (as has been the policy since 1976), it would be advisable to reduce the colour service to a period of seven to ten years and, thereafter, release these officers and men for service here”.

In 2000, a Group of Ministers (GOM) endorsed the KRC’s recommendation stating that, “in order to ensure that the armed forces are at their fighting best at all times, there is a need to ensure a younger profile of the services. However, this is a highly complex matter. While the army desires a younger age profile, so do the central paramilitary forces (CPMFs)”. The Naresh Chandra Task Force on National Security set up by the UPA government in 2011 also addressed this issue. Its report, however, is not public so far.

Thus the Agniveer recruitment reform must be contextualised in the backdrop of the larger canvas of defence reforms that include the appointment of a CDS, a reorganisation of the armed forces into theatre commands to promote jointness and synergy.

The future of warfare entails a lighter human footprint, but soldiers equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry, supported by cutting-edge technology to fight a war in a highly informationised environment. This recruitment reform would help in right sizing the armed forces provided it gets dovetailed into the imperatives of fifth generation warfare.

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The writer, a lawyer, is a Congress MP and former I&B Minister. Views are personal

First published on: 28-06-2022 at 19:18 IST
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