Army Today

Revolution in Military Affairs

BHARAT RAKSHAK MONITOR - Volume 6(1) Jul-Aug 2003

Feature Articles

Indian Experience in RMA

Air Commodore A K Tiwary 

"No civilisation was so little equipped to cope with the outside world; no country was so easily raided and plundered, and learned so little from its disasters."
VS Naipaul - "India - A Wounded Civilisation"

The world is abuzz with the acronym RMA. Everyone talks about RMA, and everyone wants to implement the RMA. The exciting promise of the RMA seems to convey to all and sundry that merely embracing the new technology will lead to victory against all kinds of threats. It is like the proverbial "distant mirage" now within easy reach, if only a nation could invest in the miracles of technology. The acronym RMA may be new, but the history of revolutions in military affairs began with the start of warfare itself. At periodic intervals, new discoveries and inventions have resulted in war fighting capability increasing by leaps and bounds. We too in India are excited about the possibilities RMA may usher in. More often than not, our expectations far outreach the realms of the possible. Why such an assertion - one can rightfully ask? It is because our past experience in relation to understanding and successfully implementing the technology for war fighting is not too successful.1 Hopefully, if we critically examine our past experience with RMAs, we might discern the pitfalls and thereby process properly in the future. Hence, this study of the Indian experience in RMA.

Before considering the Indian experience in RMA, we might as well define what RMA is and when it is said to occur? RMA has three main constituents.2 These are:

(a) Doctrine

(b) Technology

(c) Tactics & Training

Often, people consider that an RMA occurs only when new technologies emerge and are implemented. This is not entirely true. For example, Tipu Sultan was the first Indian military leader to use rockets in warfare. But this did not lead to a military revolution at least in India. Gunpowder was discovered in China. It did not create an RMA there. In recent times, nearly the same level of technology was available in the USA and the erstwhile Soviet Union. Indeed, the theoretical mention of RMA, started in the erstwhile Soviet Union in the early 1980s. It was called Military Technological Revolution (MTR).3 But RMA proper did not occur in the Russian state, thereafter. The way the Chechnya conflict has been fought underscores this assessment. Nearly the same technology was available to the Arabs and the Israelis in the Middle East in 1967. But the Israeli lightning victory against numerically highly superior forces certainly comes within the category of RMA.4 Therefore, one needs to remember that RMA has three major components. Amongst these, the Doctrine must be considered as the most important component. The word Doctrine is being used loosely here. It encompasses the essential ingredients of pure doctrine and in some measure strategy too.

Simply stated Doctrine means our beliefs about how we use the armed forces: purely defensively; purely offensively, or in a mix of defence and offence. Do we use the three services jointly, or individually which will inevitably result in a lack of coordination. Do we use the military jointly along with other instruments of national power, i.e. diplomacy, financial muscle and most important with the willing support of our citizens or otherwise? These doctrinal factors, therefore, need to be kept in mind when we examine the Indian experience in RMA. The next component of the RMA is Technology. Other factors being equal among the opposing forces, technology as a component of RMA can be considered as next in importance. The complexity of modern day technology has increased manifold. So acquiring technology is one thing. Understanding it and employing it most optimally is another. It requires years of training under realistic conditions. Tactics derive from a mix of doctrine, strategy and technology. Training refines or perfects our tactics. So, the tactics that we want to use during actual war need to be developed under realistic war conditions or conditions as close to actual war as possible. Naturally there is a great difference between war conditions and conditions for peace-time training.

As we simulate war conditions our chances of accidents and loss of lives and military equipment increase. So, then, how does one train to derive tactics that will work during war? This is one of the most difficult problems facing military commanders everywhere. It must, however, be acknowledged that technological advances are reducing the gap between simulation and reality. If we accept the doctrine, the technology and the tactics as the components of RMA, what then is meant by the term RMA? RMA is a new term and a western follow-on to MTR originating in the erstwhile USSR in the early '80s. RMAs have continued to occur throughout the 187 generations of mankind though in varying degrees and intensity.5 As other nations learnt and incorporated the new RMA occurring in the lead country, the RMA were again replaced by wars of attrition. Till another RMA came about to break the deadlock. RMA can be considered to occur when a combination of the three components of the RMA i.e. the Doctrine, Technology and Tactics, in varying degrees permit one side to achieve a quick and decisive victory over the other. Napoleon's RMA was a mix of the doctrine of massed troops in manoeuvre and associated training and logistics. The German Blitzkrieg was a combination of all the three. Whereas World War I saw the emergence of many new technologies like the Maxim Machine Gun, the Submarine, the Aircraft, and the Tank, it did not produce an RMA then and there. What actually transpired at the trenches was carnage on a scale never witnessed before.6 This carnage did, thereafter, act as the catalyst for the new RMA. 

However, when Americans today talk of RMA, there is one more element implicit in it. That is a quick victory achieved with the least loss of men and materiel. It is interesting to note that casualties during the US Civil War were close to 1 million. In one year’s participation during World War I, the US casualties were well below 100,000. During the four-year participation in World War II, their casualties remained below 100,000. In Korea and Vietnam these were closer to 50,000. Since then there has been a dramatic reduction. Similarly, when the Germans astounded the world by their Blitzkrieg, the Blitzkrieg itself was not without casualties. In the Polish Campaign the Germans lost 210 tanks (10 per cent of their strength), 564 aeroplanes, (about 25 per cent of the committed force), 11,000 killed and 30,000 / 34,000 wounded / missing. In the French campaign the German losses were 753 tanks (30 per cent of tanks) and 1,900 aeroplanes (roughly 50 per cent). The Israelis achieved one of the quickest and most devastating air and ground victories in 1967. However, for their victory they did pay a heavy price. Out of 800 tanks, the Israelis nearly lost 211 tanks as destroyed and many more damaged, but subsequently recovered and repaired. That is about 25-50 percent tanks were destroyed / damaged. The Israelis lost 50 aeroplanes, that is, about 25 per cent of their Air Force. They also had 778 killed and 2,586 wounded.8 This loss was by no means small except when compared to the tremendous victory.

However, since Gulf War '91, a new dimension in RMA has occurred. That is the dimension of complete victory with least losses to the victor. The MNF casualties were 4 Tanks and 8 AFVs, 73 aeroplanes, 147 killed, 75 missing and 513 wounded. In Bosnia in 1995, a 22-day air campaign achieved the political objective. The losses to peace enforcers were only one F-16. In Kosovo in 1999, the 78-day air campaign again achieved the political objective. Yet the losses were only two fighters and nil aircrew. The ongoing war against terrorism in Afghanistan since 7 October 2001 is too recent to warrant repetition. The above examples underscore the new dimension of the RMA. But we must be careful lest the chip and the microprocessor overshadow the doctrinal changes and changes in tactics, which have an equally important contribution in the American RMA. With this as the background, let us now examine the Indian experience in RMA.

Around 321 BC Chanakya provided the doctrinal framework to Chandragupta Maurya, a young prince aspiring to be a king. Chandragupta superimposed the available technology and tactics on this doctrinal framework, including the creation of a disciplined, salaried army. An army of 6,00,000 infantry, 30,000 horses, 9,000 elephants plus 8,000 chariots, all permanently employed and paid well.9 This concept of a salaried army would emerge much later in medieval Europe. The combination was akin to an RMA – for it led to the emergence of the consolidated Indian State. It led to the largest ever Indian nation state, from the Hindu Kush Mountains in the northwest including modern Afghanistan, Kashmir and Nepal to the east coast and towards the south right up to present day Chennai, leaving alone only a small portion of Southern India. The RMA led to almost two centuries of a stable and prosperous India, including 40 years under Ashoka the Great. From 184 BC, for the next 500 years or so, India again broke up into small states and came under attack from the northwest. It was only from 320 AD till 455 AD that the Gupta Dynasty regained the glory of a large united India. Not much is known about the military means employed by Samudra Gupta (335-376 AD) when he conquered most of India. Did he usher in an RMA to achieve the reconquest or was it pure brute strength? This is difficult to judge today. Yet, the only certain fact is that India was again united and a very prosperous nation as recounted by the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hien in his contemporary account of that period in India.           

The Indian experience in RMA could be considered under two parts. The larger part devoid of RMA and the smaller part with definite sparks of RMA. From 815 AD onwards, the Indian experience in RMA can be described as a "Period of little experience”. Considering India under the Mughals, there is no doubt that the Mughal Empire stretched far and wide. The Mughals had powerful armies and subordinate allies in India. But can we call this an Indian experience? It probably belongs more to the RMA of invading forces in consolidating their hold over existing Indian states. A result of RMA brought in from outside - the artillery by Babur, initiative and military craft by others. Apart from huge armies, ponderous in nature, and employing attrition as a central theme of war, one cannot discern much of RMA even during the Mughal period. During the 17th and 18th century – when India was the richest nation in the world, its military lacked two main ingredients for RMA, i.e., dynamic doctrine and modern tactics. Hence its defeat, time and again at the hands of opponents inferior both numerically and in firepower - but opponents equipped with RMA.

The RMA of extremely disciplined troops fighting as a coherent and well-drilled team versus multitudes of Indians, who would break into unorganised, chaotic, individual warfare of the centuries past. While analysing the Indian way of warfare, Philip Mason credits Indian soldiers with unmatched courage, superior horsemanship and skill at arms. But at the intellectual level he states, "Indians had not really given thought to the problem of war; no one had really cudgelled his brains as to how to concentrate the maximum possible fire on a given section of the enemy's line; no one had given attention to the point that practice for the crew could turn a gun that fired four rounds an hour into one that fired eight."10 The positive experience, apart from the Maurya and Gupta periods comes much later and in small parts. Southern India remained independent to a large extent from 10th to 12th century. The kingdoms of the Pallavas and the Cholas, in South India fluctuated in their size and fortune. However, history does not reveal much of RMA in their methods of warfare.

Shivaji definitely produced a gem of an RMA adapting his doctrine, strategy and tactics. From a small beginning, emanating from the isolated and dispersed forts of Maharashtra, the ensuing Maratha power was to execute powerful forays right up to Bengal and Punjab. Unfortunately, while this RMA was successful against the prevailing Indian military matrix – it would be blunted and overwhelmed by even newer RMA brought in by the British. The rock like infantry, the closely orchestrated firepower from muskets, the salaried sepoys and alongside logistics, all this led by leaders well versed with modern manoeuvre warfare then flowering in Europe was to overwhelm the Indians - Indian forces superior in numbers, artillery guns but with inferior training, tactics, and a military mind steeped in the past. The richest nation, with a large military would lose to a smaller force, supported by an inferior economy, operating thousands of miles away from its heartland and separated by vast oceans. Guru Gobind Singh, the transformer of the timid Hindu into a lion-like Khalsa to fight the injustice of Aurangzeb and other kings of the hill states of Punjab, also revealed sparks of RMA. But these started and finished with him.

Why did the Indians lack or fail in RMA? Doctrinally, we continued with military thoughts and traditions which were no more relevant in the modern times. We believed in misplaced notions of chivalry, courage, political craft, etc. In the entire history of mankind and warfare, it was only in India that Mahmud of Ghazni – an invader who forayed 17 times, was allowed to withdraw, recoup and re-attack because of internal rivalries between the kingdoms of Kannauj, Malwa and Ajmer. When Mahmud attacked the Somnath temple, 50,000 Hindus charged blindly to be massacred.11 Centuries later, Babur, another invader said “the Indian knew how to die, but not how to fight”.12 Babur with his 12,000 men had defeated an Indian army of 1,00,000. Philip Mason described the Indian Army as, "Vast crowds of undisciplined horseman surrounding a ponderous assembly of elephants".13 Similarly in 1191, Mohammed Ghori was defeated in battle with Prithvi Raj Chauhan. But he was allowed to get away. Next year he returned better prepared and defeated Prithvi Raj Chauhan. Similarly, about 15 centuries earlier the Hun King Mihirgula was spared by Baladitya the king of Magadha. Baladitya defeated Mihirgula in 528 BC. Mihirgula was a Hun ruling over northwest India. But instead of imprisoning him, Baladitya spared him his life and allowed him to return to his native place with full honour.14 This was nothing else but chivalry devoid of political craft.

Courage was another misplaced notion responsible for our failures. When defeat loomed large, our warriors encouraged their wives in to commit sati. Then they opened the main gates of the fort and charged headlong into the enemy – to be slaughtered. Dr Anjali Nirmal states that, “A Hindu warrior wielding a sword, spear or bow charged and fought in exactly the same manner (in 1500-1600 AD) as his predecessors had done three centuries before Christ”.15 If this was so, then where is the question of RMA? Is it a coincidence that similar thoughts have been ascribed by renowned author VS Naipaul. "Indians say that their gift is for synthesis. It might be said, rather, that for too long, as a conquered peoples, they have preserved their sanctuary of the instinctive, in creative life, converting that into a religious ideal; at a more worldly level, they have depended on others for ideas and institutions that make a country work."16 More recently Aditya Nehru described the Indian’s wars of the past as, "No leadership, no strategy, just greed for gold - individual bravery, heroics and chaos."

Let us now move on to modern India, post independence. There is no point repeating the well-known facts soon after independence. Like Nehru’s idea of defence and defence forces; Krishna Menon’s contempt for senior military leadership; idealism and naivety instead of the pragmatism of realpolitik in our foreign affairs. Former Defence Secretary Dr PVR Rao summed this up nicely, "In the circumstances in which the Indian leaders came to power, there was an essential antagonism between them and the organs of government - the civil administration, the police and the defence forces - which had been used by the British to suppress the nationalist movement... This was more pronounced with respect to the defence forces, as unlike their civilian counterparts, the services rarely came into contact with the political parties."17

But let us not forget the more mundane but enduring factors which motivate military men. Unless the men are highly motivated, all the three components of RMA i.e. the doctrine, the technology and the tactics cannot be exploited to produce the RMA. Patriotism is an ephemeral motivation. It blossoms at a particular moment but is soon fractured by the realities of everyday life. Pay and allowances have more lasting permanent influence. Perks and privileges motivate fighting men far more than the mere appeal of one-way duty to the nation. Why did the Indian sepoy serve his British master so loyally? Even abroad, when sailing overseas was considered sacrilegious to most - from the deserts of the Middle East to the jungles of Malay and Burma; in the trenches of Flanders and the rest of France; in both the World Wars. Even at home, whether against the Sikh Kingdom in 1845; or against the defenders of the first Indian freedom struggle of 1857-58, and once again against the Indian National Army in 1944 at Kohima?

The answer lies in what the sepoys got in return for their sacrifices and services. The British ensured attractive pay and allowances, (An MC winner received Rs 40/month, nearly 3 times his pay)18 priority in civil courts to deal with problems relating to land and related disputes, allotment of land for cultivation, either as a reward or at concessional rates, and lastly respect in the society and fair treatment from their officers, especially groomed for the role. These incentives provided "Izzat", an idea highly valued by the Indians. Whenever there was denial of one or more of the above considerations, dissatisfaction surfaced, sometimes leading to mutiny. Some of the examples being the revolt of 1857-58; the Punjab Rebellion of 1919; the Naval Mutiny of 1946; and the Sikh Revolt of 1984. One of the major causes for the revolt of 1857 was abolition of batta (the equivalent of the modern day travelling allowance), which the sepoy got when operating in areas away from his parent base. Once all of India came under the East India Company, their auditors suspended this allowance. The major causes for revolt of 1919 in Punjab was the failure of the British to honour the promises made to soldiers enrolled for World War I. That was the award of free agricultural land and adequate monetary compensation.

What has been our experience after Independence? Under the pressure of socialist philosophy and indifference to the needs of defence, the pay of a soldier was reduced from Rs 18/- per month to Rs 4/-. Of a Lieutenant General from Rs 4,500/- to Rs 2,500/- per month.19 Since Independence, there has been continuous downgrading of military ranks vis-à-vis civil bureaucracy in inter-se seniority. While democracy and equality are principles equally desirable to military men, the continued decline in status of services personnel in society, and in government offices, etc have further eroded the dignity and ethos which was associated with the services. General Slim's prescription for an excellent army was three-fold. On the spiritual plane the war must be, for a just cause. Intellectually, the troops must be convinced they can win. Materially, they must be given best equipment and looked after well.20

The reality, however, was contrary to this. George Tanham described the state of affairs thus, "In effect, the services have been down-graded in status, taken out of national security decision-making processes, and for the most part kept ignorant of nuclear developments, while the MoD civilian staff has grown in prestige and power and controls almost all military activities and programmes. At the same time, civilian and political leaders have been upgraded and their pay increased."21 The RMAs are essentially generated by proud and professional personnel highly motivated in their quest for excellence. How can then one expect the military to be always motivated when the Prime Minister ridicules his Commander-in-Chief? In 1951, General Cariappa forewarned about hostile Chinese intentions towards Tibet and India. Sardar Patel had also warned Nehru in 1950 about China. Nehru showed his disdain by saying, "It is not the business of the Commander-in-Chief to tell the Prime Minister who is going to attack us where. In fact, the Chinese will defend our eastern frontier. You mind only Kashmir and Pakistan".22 Similarly, General Thimayya was rebuked when he highlighted the Chinese Threat.

Currently, in the year 2003, the shortage of officers in the three armed services has crossed 14,000 in a total of 57,000 vacancies. Mr Fernandes, the Defence Minister attributed two major factors for the shortfall. First, although a good number of candidates pass through the written examination, they are unable to get through the Service Selection Board. Second, the relatively risky and hazardous career in the Army compared to other available options.20 As far as RMA post Independence, certain episodes from the 1947-48 operations in J&K do contain sparks of tactical revolution in military affairs. To recount some: landing of troops at the high altitude of Leh, without any precedent and perhaps outside the technical limits of the aircraft, which saved Ladakh from falling into Pakistani hands; bombing by Dakotas to lift the siege of Poonch and air landing artillery guns at a hastily prepared strip by night in Poonch. All this was done by the famous Baba Meher Singh.

Sound military doctrine and strategy do not originate in a vacuum. A nation does have its Grand Strategy, though often it may not be clearly articulated. To fulfil the Grand Strategy, the political leadership devises strategies for Diplomacy, Economy and Military. Therefore, military strategy is a part of national strategy and the national doctrinal thought impinges heavily on military doctrine. Like the doctrine of "offence being the best defence" in the case of Israel or “defence being the best defence” in Russian/Soviet belief to capitalize on its continental size and huge manpower. While intent can change overnight, the doctrine, the technology and the tactics cannot. The Standing Committee on Defence, Xth Lok Sabha, Fifth Report para 34 states, "Capabilities of a country take a long time to build up while the intentions of countries can change overnight. India cannot forget that a number of high or low intensity wars were imposed on her during the 50 years since Independence when she had to defend her territorial integrity."

Thus, our leader’s desire to put the Chinese in their proper place resulted in the blunders of 1962 in multiple stages. The blunder of Tibet's annexation and its legitimisation by us: from the Hindi-Chini slogan on one hand to the need to display a strong posture by forward posts in disputed areas. And this by ordering ill clad, ill equipped and ill prepared troops to evict the Chinese from the unfamiliar and hostile Himalayan heights. When faced with the Chinese threat in 1962, failing to use combat airpower because of the unprofessional advice and lack of proper military knowledge. To top it all, at the sight of the first signs of trouble because of the Chinese advance at Bomdilla, getting defeated mentally and accepting the inevitable loss of Assam well in advance.21 During this period, leading up to the 1962 Sino-Indo War, Indian airpower was ahead of Chinese airpower in all the three departments of Doctrine, Technology and Tactics. It was the only instrument of military power that could have turned the tables on the Chinese advance.22

Did we learn from the war of 1962 and thus perform better in 1965? Yes we did perform better. But was it good enough? In most departments at national, strategic and operational levels we still needed to perform better. Fortunately in 1971, as war seemed to be the inevitable extension of our diplomatic efforts to solve the East Pakistani refugee problem, we fared much better - thanks to clear leadership goals at national level and uncompromising military strategy. In fact the victorious march of our forces into the capital of East Pakistan, Dhaka, in a matter of only two weeks was nothing short of an RMA. We fought a manoeuvre war on ground avoiding bastions of forward defence. The three services co-ordinated smoothly, planned jointly and executed harmoniously.

That was the reason that General Niazi and 93,000 Pakistani's surrendered meekly. That this victory could not be translated into political advantage is another story demanding a revolution in political processing. After this glorious victory we have been lulled to sleep – or so it would seem. A long stretch of peace has dulled our realisation that modern technology can allow yet another RMA if it is married to correct Doctrine and Tactics. Despite this being proved repeatedly in the Gulf War in 1991; in Bosnia in 1995; in Kosovo in 1999 and more recently in Afghanistan. Otherwise, how can one justify the statement of Farook Abdullah, Ex-Chief Minister of J&K "PM Sahib we have suffered for 12 years – please do something" . Why is it that after so many years of fire fighting in J&K we see no light at the end of the tunnel?

Suggestions for Exploiting RMA

A review of the past must enable us to select a correct mix of doctrine and strategy and appropriate force structure for the future. To exploit RMA we will have to address all the three components of the RMA. That is, doctrinally we must decide to use our Armed Forces in an optimum mix of defence and offence. Defence at minimum level to guard against likely threat in addition to sufficient offensive capability to deter war and win when forced into one. We cannot afford liberal doses of both defence and offence even when we are much better off economically. The easy choice is to have a bit of each Service and its components. The smart choice would be to tackle the difficult question of which service/component to have priority over the other. We could also decide to postpone deterrence capability for some years till we are better off economically, as has been done so deliberately by China with its four point modernisation starting in 1978. This requires debate and deliberation at the highest as well as widest level.

Technologically, we need to master all the disciplines to contemporary cutting edge standards. But it must be noted that, even if we had the requisite brainpower, it would have to be supported by tremendous amounts of R&D. This R&D too, needs to be focussed and accountable to end users. It cannot be left to the scientist alone. We need to select technologies which will be essential in tomorrow's wars. And we need to adapt the technologies that we are good in to the needs of warfare. Today, software is at the heart of all marvels of science and technology. Can we utilise this expertise in software for our military needs? This would require a national effort. Good tactics can only evolve from realistic training. We need to do a critical examination of how we train. We need to move away from the tactics of attrition warfare to tactics with least attrition and yet enabling military objectives. This is most applicable in air warfare. In air war, each combat sortie is akin to a battle on the ground. While in short wars, a few surface units indulge in more than one battle, in air war each aircraft and pilot fights many battles each day. If he loses a battle, he is virtually ruled out for the rest of the war.

I would prioritise sensors, processors and their communication network as one important field. These form the heart of aircraft, UAVs, space vehicles and other networks of warfare. Their integration demands most complex software. Ability to secure them along with the ability to attack the adversaries’ system is again a function of software – though of a specialist kind. As we march into the millennium, India is well placed to harness the three components of RMA to realise its dream of great power status. Whether it translates this dream into reality shall depend squarely on the shoulders of our leadership at all levels.

What a society gets in its armed services is exactly what it asks for, no more and no less. What it asks for tends to be a reflection of what it is.

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