As India prepares to tackle the current contested times and an uncertain future in terms of defence preparedness, it can't be caught flat-footed by dogma, prejudices or obsolete theories. ‘Whole Ship’ approach needed to bolster Indian defence. We need to anticipate change in the colour and shape of warfare in future years. Swift and calibrated response like that in Balakot leads to significant gains. Need to forge interest based partnerships with allies and others as well. Information sharing and inter-operability can be key. Cyber domain the new theatre of war

by Akrita Reyar

“Safeguarding and promoting defence interests in these contested times would require ‘the whole ship approach’, wherein every arm of the government - be it finance, foreign policy, defence, trade, commerce or technology - all work in unison to keep India safe and secure.”This was stated by former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba while delivering 23rd Colonel Pyara Lal Memorial Lecture 2019 organised by the United Service Institution of India. He was speaking on the topic ‘Building Military Capability, Developing New Partnerships and Protecting National Interests in an Uncertain World Order’.“While each enabler supports national interest in myriad ways, secure internal and external security environment provided by the military and other agencies facilitate growth and development of the nation. Be it on land, in the air or the maritime theatre, benign environment is a catalyst for national progress. Speaking in purely military terms, this will require building deterrence for both conventional and nuclear wars, protecting our sovereignty in all domains as well maintaining a credible presence in all the areas of interest,” he said.

Future Is Not Like The Past – Changing Dimensions of Warfare

On how the future looked like, the former Navy Chief said that the foremost requirement to understand what has changed. “Firstly, it would be important for us to anticipate change and we will need to do it well. Change in the colour and shape of warfare will have to be acutely anticipated along with response mechanisms. It can be safely assumed that the time ahead is going to be different from the past. The rapidity with which events may escalate into full-blown conflicts cannot be avoided. As we have seen during the Balakot strike earlier this year a decisive, swift and calibrated response can lead to significant strategic gains. Therefore, an institutional capacity to anticipate change across theatres would need to be of a very high order.”Admiral Lanba felt that these require a relook at structures and processes followed by the corresponding re-calibration to keep pace with changing times: “Secondly, we also need to have an over the horizon approach for military capability building. By this I mean the investing and developing of futuristic technologies; achieving self-reliance in defence production would be high on the order of priority list. While a lot has been achieved in the past few years, sustained development of all stakeholders including government, military, the public sector, R&D organisations and most importantly private sector including the MSMEs, would be essential to pursue this line of effort.”

Future Weapons Technology

He felt that achieving self-reliance in defence production, potently in the field of niche technology should be a national ambition. “As we progress along with this vision, partnering with like-minded countries would also play a key role in both the aspects which I just highlighted. That of adopting changes and capability building would prosper well when followed through a collaborated route.”

Leveraging Partnerships To Promote Self-Interest

Most of all Admiral Sunil Lanba highlighted the need to leverage partnerships. “I am of the firm belief that the most important lesson for us - in this era of multi-polarity - is the growing relevance of regional balance and constellations. In this era, issue-based convergence seems to be the new law in order to balance, converging and conflicting interest. This means differences with partners and on certain issues should not abate the scope for mutual co-operation in other aspects…“We cannot afford to be caught flat-footed by dogma, prejudices and obsolete theories. When you look at the world, you have an open-minded approach that allows you to pursue different approaches with different partners. For example, we may increase the tempo of our engagement with certain long-cherished partners, but we may also need to manage our relationships with others simultaneously. At the same time, you also need to took cultivate and enthuse new partners. And therefore, one size fits all approach will not serve a purpose in the coming years. It is important that every partnership, both existing as well as those optimally leveraged for mutual growth.”“Distilling these thoughts into the military aspects, I see several opportunities for India to engage with the world particularly in the aspects of capability and capacity building. With the robust defence structure supported by credible multi-domain proficiency, we are well placed to play a central role in pursuing government foreign policy initiative for the military to military engagement. And here I must add several policy initiatives that have been introduced in the past few years. It’s a collectively enabled, greater military interaction with our partner states. In this era of inter-twined interests and challenges, it is imperative that we look at leveraging military partnership as well as be the essential enabler of pursuing and promoting our national security objectives. And these partnerships not only offer an array of tangible benefits, ranging from operational to capability building but most importantly they allow us to hedge against diverse security concerns which pose serious challenges to the collective security.”communication encryption

The former Navy Chief then gave examples of security agreements to press the point. “The Foundation Securities Agreements have enabled sharing of resources and information in pursuance of national security interest. For example, the landmark conclusion of Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) last year allows utilisation of US-based encryption technology for communication. This allows means of communication, sharing of information, having a common picture available across the areas of interest. Similarly, dedicated logistics sharing agreements like Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMA) allow us to mutually benefit for optimal utilisation of each other’s logistics facility covered on the provision of such agreements. For example, you can fuel with US tankers anywhere in the world and the end of the year you settle your bills. If our tankers are available, their ships can fuel from our tankers. Our naval ships have fuelled in the Pacific in the Gulf of Eden. Another example is the Helicopter Operations from Ships other Than Aircraft Carriers (HOSTAC) – an agreement that the navy signed last year. It enables Indian naval helicopters to land on the deck of ships of all navies and coast guard, significantly enhancing inter-operability between countries. Military engagements can also contribute towards a new capacity-building initiative.”He further added, “Another important contribution of military partnership is its role in enhancing regional security environment. Here I can think of no better example than the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, an initiative of the Indian Navy. Started by the regional maritime security initiative as one of its aims, the organisation has in a short span of a decade evolved into one of the leading maritime organisations of the Indian Ocean Region with 24 members and 8 observer states. In fact today it not only addresses regional and even sub-regional issues, but also focuses on important security disciplines such as maritime security, information sharing and inter-operability. And it has moved on from just talks to actual exercises on ground and sea.”cyber security

Admiral Lanba concluded by saying, “Lastly, the emergence of cyber domain as the fifth theatre of war needs serious thought and focus. Cyber domains today have transcended national boundaries, acquiring a hybrid and transnational character. It causes serious security challenges to law enforcement agencies including those of legal jurisdiction, authority and penalties. The effective mechanism to monitor this domain would warrant the multi-level initiative for further mandating the need for trusted partnerships.”