Selling Change It’s time has come

Poonam I Kaushish
Change is the only constant in life. This adage encapsulates the path breaking and ambitious Agnipath scheme in armed forces recruitment of youths between 171/2 to 23 years only for four years with a provision to retain 25% for 15 more years alongside 10% reservation in paramilitary, coast guard, defence jobs, priority hiring of decommissioned agniveers in railways and other ministries and education and financial support on 14 June.
Predictably, the scheme has polorised the country with violence breaking out in some States vandalising railway stations, setting trains on fire, blocking roads and railway tracks. Adding fuel, trust Opposition Parties to fan the flames by stating it would hurt the forces combat capacity, is just another short-term contract shorn of the security of a permanent job and pension.
Certainly the violence is unjustifiable and cannot be treated with kid gloves. At the same time it underscores the unemployment crisis which is deepening. Also true States were caught unprepared and did not anticipate the level of resentment. Perhaps the Administration should have done more groundwork, thought-through the scheme keeping in mind the jobless numbers and taken Parties and States into confidence.
But it also showcases the scale of challenge in initiating reforms. Pertinently, those critical of Agnipath are groups that benefit from status-quo and are not considering our armed forces past experience. Till 1977 soldiers were enlisted for only 7 years which was later changed to 17. So all major wars — China 1962, Pakistan 1965 and 1971 were fought and won by soldiers on 7-years duty.
In fact many think protests are due not only to short tenure but also Agnipath is sans lifetime pension and medical cover. Think, a military which employs less than 0.5% workforce has a ballooning pension. It pension spend has increased from 19% of total defence expenses in 2010-11 to 26% in 2020-21 thereby squeezing out expenses on armaments. Thus making pension reform a no-brainer.
Worldwide militaries are being modernized by demobilizing officers like in US which enrolls personnel for four years, followed by a four-year reserve duty period where they can be recalled in case the need arises, in China service for conscripts is three years in Army and four years in Navy and Air Force. For volunteers it is 8 and no more than 12 years. Russia has one year then they are put into reserve. In France volunteers can sign a one-year contract, extended to 5 years. Israel has compulsory military service for 30 months.
However there is no gainsaying the reforms are transformational as it would harness and leverage technology along-with science thereby making the forces technological savvy which is essential as India’s security canvas is vast, complex and multifaceted. Our active borders and equally challenging internal security threats requires a very high level of operational preparedness, capability development, lower the average age of the fighting corp, boost youthful energy and puts a lid on the burgeoning pension bill.
Undoubtedly technology would enable defence forces to counter military threats and to overcome any advantages that adversaries might seek, helps to counter intelligence capabilities necessary to assess dangers the nation faces and special threats such as terrorism which cannot be met by conventional war fighting forces.
Importantly it also expands military options available to policy makers, including options other than warfare in pursuing the objectives of promoting stability and preventing conflict across a wide range of environments, helps reduce acquisition costs, nurture healthy technology infrastructure to spawn innovation and industrial capacity fundamental to India’s defence preparedness and response to evolving threats. Technology also makes advanced military systems more affordable through their entire life cycle.
Recall, the Air Force strike in Balakot was enabled by satellite imaging to locate Pakistan’s launching pad. Ditto, when US used superior technology to locate Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts in Abbotabad Pakistan and used drones to speedily nail and assassinate Iran’s security Chief.
Such high combat readiness demands superior investment decisions as emerging technologies are need of the hour alongside well qualified and motivated youth given realistic training, strategic mobility, adequate amounts of modern, well-maintained equipment and sufficient support and sustainment capabilities.
In the long run India needs to be adept in chemical and biological defense, electronic warfare and directed energy weapons, computing and software, simulation and sensors, human systems interface, command, control and communications etc which have the potential to dramatically improve all aspects of future military capabilities and significantly reduce combat losses in lives and equipment.
In a milieu where technologies have changed the battlefield by facilitating better performance of current platforms, weapons, sensors and people it is vital Opposition and aspirants keep an open mind. They need to stop playing politics on India’s defence instead they need to be flexible as electronics and software add capability to almost every complex military system. Army officers have developed long-range reconnaissance systems, technology for real-time tracking of patrols and indigenised artillery parts.
Troops depend on accurate and timely battlefield information. The ability to collect, integrate, analyze, and deliver this information efficiently and rapidly is critical to battlefield advantage. And because of the amount of tactical information available, a principal challenge is processing the data into meaningful forms for fast battlefield decision-making. Technology is also needed to help ensure that no enemy can disrupt the country’s information systems.
Besides, to counter terrorists who have the advantage of timing and choice of targets one needs development of new technologies and effective close day-to-day coordination with various agencies. The shortening of military tenure places a priority on the ability of the technology and scientific research community to identify and understand emerging threats so that policymakers and battle commanders can rapidly develop effective responses in a timely manner.
Asserted an army veteran, “Modern warfare needs to monitor at long distances and track movements and stockpiling of materials. For this one needs better sensors to detect and identify the attributes of chemical and biological agents when released in the atmosphere or water. Accurate radars and sensors to detect ballistic missile launch to target cruise and ballistic missiles. One needs to maintain near perfect real-time knowledge of the enemy and communicate that to all forces in near-real time.
Added a security analyst in modern warfare, “In the coming years as a result of global technology explosion, a country faces both threats and opportunities — threats resulting from the worldwide proliferation of information processing and communications technologies and opportunities from rapid advances in other technologies in the commercial marketplace.
Consequently, well-planned technology in space, cyber, electronic, AI technologies and science investments serve as force multipliers which will position a country to provide timely, comprehensive, and detailed intelligence support to its military whereby the performance of weapons platforms like tanks, artillery guns, aircrafts will be speedier and help military commanders to make accurate decisions.
The way forward lies in discussion and mutual consensus with all stakeholders. Tell all, Agnipath is not a short-term contract but a way to modernize India’s armed forces. The Government needs to take on board suggestions like raising length of service of Agniveers to 5 years. Implementation will be a long haul and the Administration will need to step-up to the challenge with sensitivity to build trust. Remember, sweat saves blood, blood saves lives but brains and technology save both! (INFA)