Military Reform in India


Indian needs a major military reform to combat new challenges


After independence, the Higher Defence Organization (HDO) handed down by Britishers remained almost completely unchanged until India-China war in 1962, when need to defence reforms aroused.

  • First Defence Plan (1964-69) instituted to assess defence requirements.
  •  A Planning Cell was established in 1965 in the Ministry of Defence.
  •  The Second Defence Plan (1969-74) was instituted on a ‘roll-on’ basis.
  •  In 1974, an Apex Group under the Union Minister for Planning suggested, long-term defence plan is more effective and economically viable than fluctuating allocations.
  •  Till 1990, national security issues were being handled by the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA)
  •  Formation of Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in the mid-1990s.

Need for military reform

  1. strategic challenges in South Asia:
  • conflict in Afghanistan and the Af-Pak border
  • unresolved territorial disputes between India and China
  • Cross border terrorism and boundary dispute with Pakistan
  • Sweeping radical extremism
  • The rising tide of Left-Wing Extremism (LWE).
  • Growing urban terrorism.
  • Complex Nuclear threat from hostile neighbors.
  1. War Plan
  • The absence of a clearly enunciated National Security Strategy (NSS).
  • India does not have a combined tri-service structure trained to handle an integrated war and joint theatre commands for efficacious battlefield management.
    • Currently, the Army’s Eastern Command is headquartered in Kolkata, the Air Force’s command in Shillong and that of the Navy in distant Vishakhapatnam.
  1. Civil military relation
  • lack of an adequate institutional mechanism for dialogue between the civilian and military leadership is an important concern
  • In contrast US and Britain civil and defence officers work together and share opinion at all levels before concrete proposals are drafted for decision by elected representatives.

Centralization Vs. Decentralization

  • In the UK, the Secretary of Defence has been made responsible for policy formulation, decision making and oversight functions.
  • These functions are undertaken with the assistance Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
  • In India on the other hand, final authority lies with the Defence Minister who functions from the MoD along with defence secretary.
  • The three service chiefs – function at a level lower than the MoD leading to unclear delegation and accountability.

In India, prevalent fear is that greater unification of the services under one military officer will possibly diminish the control of the elected representatives

  1. Military capacity
  • Low teeth-tail ratio, unfulfilled vacancies, etc. deters the credible military capacity
  • The present Sahayak system erodes the dignity and prestige of jawans. An estimated 50,000 sahayaks serve in the Indian Army.
  1. Decreasing budgetary allocations
  • Defence Budget is 1.57 per cent of GDP compared to the lowest ever 1.49 in the 1950s.
  • Capital expenditure on defence is 30 per cent while in Uk it is 65-70 %
  • Defence spending, as a percentage of GDP is highest in Saudi Arabia (10 %) Russia (5.3 %) the US (3.3 %) the UK (2%) and India $62.8 (1.5 %). China is big spender but reliable figures are seldom available.
  1. War Equipment
  • The obsolete and outdated equipment’s have severely eroded Indian defence forces capabilities to fight a war. Example: Army has stated on record that 68% of its war fighting equipment is obsolete.
  1. Procurement issue
  • The antiquated procurement procedures of military equipment’s amounts to immense loss of morals of soldiers as well as their lives. Example: Procurement of M777 Howitzers from USA, S-400 from Russia, Spike ATGM’s from Israel and MMCRA fighter planes is still in limbo.
  1. Outdated Ordnance factories
  2. Lack of FDI in Defense industrial policy
  3. Lack of directions and sense of purpose in R&D

Recommendations of Kargil Review Committee

  • development of India’s nuclear deterrence
  • management of national security
  • Intelligence reforms
  • Border management
  • Defence budget
  • Use of air power
  • Counter-insurgency operations
  • Defence research and development (R&D)
  • Even media relations

NOTE: The CCS accepted its recommendations except the creation of the post of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)

The tasks of the CDS would include:

  • Single-point military advice to the government.
  • Inter-services prioritization of defence plans.
  • Propose improvement in coordination among the three services.

NOTE: A CDS is yet to be appointed because political consensus has been hard to achieve and there are differences among the three services regarding whether or not a CDS is necessary

Naresh Chandra committee recommendation

  • Appointment of another four-star post, a permanent Chairman of the present COSC (Chief of
  • Staff Committee)
  • COSC to provide single-point advice to the CCS on military matters.
  • For operational requirement – appointment of CDS and simultaneously creating Integrated

Theatre commands for joint warfare in future conflicts.

  • Creation of three new tri-service commands:
  1. Special Operations Command
  2. Aerospace Command and
  3. Cyber Command

Theatre command

  • It is a joint command which unified and places the resources of all forces i.e. from the IAF, the Army and the Navy at the command of single senior military commander.
  • In joint command all services work together and maintain their independent identity while in Integrated command each service seek to merge individual Service identities to achieve a composite and cohesive whole
  • These ‘unified combat commands’ are organized either on geographical basis with a defined mission in a specific ‘area of responsibility’ somewhere on the globe or on a ‘functional’ basis.
  • DB Shekatkar committee has recommended the creation of 3 integrated theatre commands — northern for the China border, western for the Pakistan border and southern for the maritime role.

Need for a theatre command

  • Major military powers like the US and China operates via theatre commands. China restructured its military in 2015 to come up with six theatre commands, whereas America’s theatres – the Unified Combatant Commands – are global in scope
  • India has 19 commands (14 geographic commands, 3 functional and 2 joints). Indian armed forces will face in fighting jointly can be gauged from the astonishing fact that of the 17 single service commands,no two are headquartered in the same location
  • Theatre commands are seen as better for pooling resources and improving efficiency.
    • Air force doesn’t have enough resources — fighter squadrons, mid-air refuelers and AWACS — to allocate them dedicatedly to different theatre commanders.
  • In the heat of the battle, differences between the two services will inevitably crop up and that can very seriously affect our effectiveness. Hence, a theatre command with one commander is the need of the hour.


  • Critiques argue that India’s existing separate “Command Headquarters” for the Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force stand operationally time-tested by India’s wars with China and Pakistan. There is no need for theater command
  • Each command has specific strength according to their geographical need.
    • The Northern Command has a vast mountainous terrain of the Kashmir region and the glacial and high-altitude mountains of the Ladakh region. Theatre command may lead to compromise in specific strength
  • Theatre Military Commands would need dedicated allocation of combat assets to each Theatre Military Command. This may create a tussle over scare resources
  • During the recent Air Force wargame Exercise Gaganshakti showcased that its assets can shift from one theatre to the other within no time and putting them under a dedicated theatre would not be of much use in country with limited resources


Steps taken

  1. Adopt major recommendation of Shekatkar Committeefor enhancing combat capability and rebalancing defence expenditure of the armed forces.

2. Adopt major recommendations of Kargil Review Committee

  • The HQ Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS) has been created to enhance jointness and build synergy amongst the Armed Forces, including in the areas of Long Term Plans, force capabilities, joint training, intelligence, capital acquisition, joint doctrines, etc.
  • The Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC) has been created to exercise command and control over tri-Service and Coast Guard assets deployed in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
  • Joint exercises/operations are carried out from time to time
  1. New defence procurement policy has been mooted to give a boost to Make in India campaign.A new category of procurement “Buy Indian-IDDM (Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured)” has been introduced.

Way forward

  • Formulate a comprehensive National Security Strategy (NSS).
  • Establishment of chief of defence staff post as recommended by Naresh Chandra committee for administrative purpose should be taken seriously
  • Enhance defence budget to 3.0 per cent of the GDP for defence modernisation. Priorities long-pending defence procurement plans, such as C4I2SR, artillery modernisation, acquisition of modern fighter aircraft and aircraft carriers and submarines.
  • Use of artificial Intelligence to combat modern warfare.
    • Government has established a task force under N Chandrasekhar committee
  • Optimizing military performance in joint operations
  • Resolve imbalances created by the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Pay Commissions that have led to a civil-military divide including the ex-servicemen’s demand for OROP.
  • Construct a National War Memorial-cum-Military museum to honor sacrificed lives.
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