Strengthening defence
Himmat Singh Gill

Winning India’s Next War
by Group Captain T. D. Joseph VM. Pages 261. Rs 820.

Budgeting for Indian Defence
by Wing Commander V. N. Srinivas. Pages 230. Rs 720.
Both titles by K.W. Publishers and the Centre for Air Power Studies.

Reflections of an Air Warrior
by Group Captain Arjun Subramaniam. K.W. Publishers. Pages 150. Rs 460.

three senior serving officers of the Indian Air Force and the publishing house concerned have set a welcome trend by bringing out professional books that even a layman could read with considerable ease. Admittedly, all the books here pertain to service matters only, yet the time has come to open up all genres of writing for all those in uniform, endowed richly as they are, with plenty of experience and the propensity to call a spade a spade. It is people like Joseph, Srinivas and Subramaniam who will one day facilitate the wiping away of the cobwebs of secrecy and undue interference by our ‘babudom’, which often does not want the truth to see the light of day.

Winning India’s Next WarWinning India’s Next War is all about the nature of wars of the future, whether they would be "limited", as the author terms them, or sub-conventional in form like the ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’, where similarities with it and the messy war in Vietnam are already beginning to emerge as the Iraqi conflict drags on with no end in sight. Discussing the role of air power as a match-winning factor in a war, Joseph does reiterate the oft-repeated Air Force line that in the 1962 war with China the "non-use of the IAF in the offensive role against the invaders was an opportunity missed", without mentioning that the IAF then had hardly any assets on the ground in the northeast to be able to create such a capability.

In the Kargil war, the IAF did prove its mettle where the precision bombing along the LoC did save the Indian Army a good deal of unnecessary casualties. The modernisation of China’s PLA Air Force with its capability of "designing and producing the fourth-generation combat aircraft" with Russian assistance should be of considerable interest to Indian defence planners.

The Sino-Pakistan military collaboration, with specific reference to the development of the Gwadar port, providing the former with a "strategic footprint in the West Asian region by positioning itself close to the Strait of Hormuz", a worrying development of considerable military import for India, assumes added importance when examining a policy of strategic encirclement being resorted to by our powerful northern neighbour. Added to this is the disparity with China on the infrastructural development of the border road and communication network in Arunachal Pradesh, a matter referred to recently by the Indian Defence Minister. And all this definitely points to some serious catching up that we have to expeditiously achieve in our defence preparedness.

Budgeting for Indian DefenceBudgeting for Indian Defence discusses defence fiscal planning and allocation, indigenous arms production versus imports, trends in the military expenditure of China and Pakistan as best known to us, and the "cost of military manpower" as seen by Srinivas who is basically a man from the Accounts Department. He raises some pertinent points that the Defence Minister needs to take note of. For instance, "presently, the defence planning process is predominantly confined to Service HQs, with limited involvement of the MoD. In certain other democracies such as the US, UK and Australia, the planning process commences in the MoD." Another one of his observations is faultless, "While the nation’s R&D set-up has gained considerable expertise in designing and developing weapon systems, what has been achieved hitherto is far too short of meeting the nation’s defence requirements."

Unfortunately, for a number of years, the real worth of the R&D has not been openly commented upon. It is no secret that the users on the ground have not been overly impressed with this unwieldy organisation’s output—the much-hyped Arjun tank is one such example. In another recommendation, the author suggests a reduction in the military manpower expenditure by "outsourcing the non-core military functions". However, in any debate on the matter of manpower holdings, especially in the Indian Army, the teeth to tail ratio can only be disturbed at a very high operational cost. There is a need to enhance the country’s defence outlay if our modernisation is to keep pace and operational voids are to be avoided. Budgeting is a serious book about serious issues. In spite of all the figures, it makes for an interesting reading.

Reflections of an Air WarriorFighter pilot Subramaniam has penned a humorous, practical and useful booklet for budding air warriors. Quoting primary signs of fatigue like sleep deprivation, excessive weight loss and sudden tendencies to take shortcuts, he recommends a ditty which says it all: "If you are tired, mate—speak up/or else you may be fighting to/save your skin that/demands your superior skill./On the flip side mate/don’t make it a habit to say you are tired/coz that makes you a sissy and we don’t/need no sissies in cockpits."

He counsels wisely many of the over ambitious (you find these categories all over in any organisation) that, "Do not seek any personal glory; personal satisfaction—yes!" The author’s suggestions to the flying leaders to fly in marginal weather, and not to promise the moon but to deliver what is promised, are service truths that cannot be denied.

Empathy as a leader in feeling the pain of others is essential in today’ low-intensity conflicts, where a unit may often suffer grievous casualties. He quotes the Chinese system of engagement where all male citizens on reaching the age of 18 are eligible for conscription, a measure which I feel needs to be strictly enforced in India for the good of our own youth. There is little talk of women officers in the Chinese armed forces and the few women NCOs that there are only get one term of three years. India please note.

Cutting across the usually well-guarded individual Service turf, all the three books are of contemporary relevance in matters of security and should be of considerable interest to both those in uniform and those who never opted for this exceptional profession.