India’s Defence Perspective – 2030: General Bipin Rawat

General Bipin Rawat address on Manohar Parrikar Memorial Lecture

Following address was delivered by General Bipin Rawat (Chief of Defence Staff) on the occasion of First Shri Manohar Parrikar Memorial Lecture on December 14, 2019

Let me begin by saying that it is indeed a great pleasure to be here – at this event organised by the Forum for Integrated National Security – in my view, one of our most incisive and thoughtful Think Tanks – known for its rigorous and hard-nosed analysis of our security challenges as also for spreading awareness about National Security, amongst our common citizenry. The larger purpose, of course, is to create a polity that is alive to the nuances of national security and wise to the uses of military power – a key ingredient in our aspirational urge to become a Leading Power. My compliments for the wonderful work that FINS is doing and thank you very much, General Shekatkar for the invite.

I am even more privileged and honoured to be delivering the  First Memorial Lecture in honour of the Late Shri Manohar Parrikar, former Chief Minister of Goa as also our Raksha Mantri, with whom I was fortunate to work closely. Mr Parrikar, or the ‘Honourable RM’ as we addressed him, was a man of many attributes – political savvy was of course key – that explains his very successful career in politics; but there were other qualities that I would like to recall: outstanding qualities of head and heart, a very curious mind, a military – scientific temper, persistence, doggedness, great clarity of thought and above all a person of ENORMOUS SIMPLICITY and PRAGMATISM. A voracious reader, he would often quote from classics like ‘Victory On The Potomac’ (a book by a Pentagon insider, detailing the grim battles before the Goldwater – Nichols Act got promulgated in the USA) and Robert Greene’s ‘33 Strategies of War’ – any concept that he propounded in the military domain, was after careful and deep study of global developments and experiences. Above all, it was he who envisioned this uniquely, Indian Defence Ecosystem that we are in the midst of creating – a happy amalgam of the strengths of the DRDO, the Private Sector, MSMEs, Startups and DPSUs; these hubs of defence excellence which lie at the intersect of engineering, science, innovation and enterprise, A great proponent of indigenisation, he was the author of the IDDM – the Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured Model – that is today, propelling so many of our procurement schemes.

A Strong, Professional and Technologically Enabled Military, albeit one cast entirely in the Indian mould, was something that he dreamt of and toiled greatly to achieve – often through 16-18 hour workdays.

It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that the subject for this evening’s talk is ‘India’s Defence Perspective – 2030’. The trajectory of India’s Defence paradigm over the next decade will be shaped significantly by the vision of Shri Manohar Parrikar. So even as we salute this great Son of India, allow me to present a Perspective for Indian Defence in the stated time frame – 2030.

  • Such a perspective must be predicated on an incisive survey of the threats and opportunities that line India’s Security Path, the many strategic uncertainties that we will need to grapple with, an examination of the Strategic Context so to speak: so that will be my first port of call.
  • I shall then try and explore with you the Challenges that lie before Defence; all that we will need to do over the next decade (we are in fact, already doing much of this): in terms of doctrinal thought, structural reorganisation, optimisation, the creation of a sound defence eco-system, technological leadership, international engagements, etc, in order that we create the strategic – military capability that we need, to face the challenges over the next decade.
  • And finally, I shall outline a few reasons as to why I am rather bullish and optimistic about deliverance on our envisioned goals and objectives.
  • May I also add, that in the allotted time, it is not possible to do full justice to the topic – to deal with a subject as deep and broad as defence and that too in a distant timeline – I shall therefore only highlight some key issues and put across some random thoughts, for your consideration.

Strategic  Context

The principal challenge before Indian Defence is to secure our aspirational climb towards a five trillion dollar economy, as also the creation of an inclusive and equitous socio-economic order at home. We must make sure that our economic flight is calibrated with the span of our strategic stride ; we must temper our military ambitions with  the size of our economic/budgetary cloth. It needs great strategic dexterity, but may I assure you that we are actively engaged with the endeavour. Maintenance of strategic balance across domains – diplomacy, deterrence and warfighting through the convergence of cross-governmental capacities, is one of our key priorities.

It would also seem to me that the structure of the world order is undergoing a profound transformation – change is upon us like never before. Amongst the many trends that are sweeping the global landscape, let me pick on just a few of relevance, to the subject at hand. One is the finesse with which some of the old empires like Russia, Iran and Turkey are skillfully leveraging hard power to reclaim lost geostrategic space. We are doing likewise – meshing hard power into our statecraft with care and resolve so as to fortify our national security posture, as you would have seen in our recent responses to the provocations of our western neighbour. We shall continue to act and not react. Two, what determines the power and international standing today, is no longer the same – technology, connectivity and trade are at the heart of new contestations. Diplomacy and hard security are fusing like never before, necessitating a whole of government response to emerging challenges. Three, and most significantly, I wish to draw the attention of this gathering to some of the sweeping changes that are possibly occurring across the strategic – military landscape with major implications for the global security calculus. The manner in which we approach these challenges and fashion our responses will be critical. Over the last couple of years, we have seen some pointed evidence to suggest that the metrics of deterrence and warfighting have indeed moved on. Some thought leaders opine that the space for all-out conflict is narrowing and that we have entered an era of ‘non-war wars’ and ‘durable disorder’ – whereby the world may not collapse in anarchy but will simmer in perpetual conflict. In terms of ideational thought Sun Tzu, the fox they suggest – is steadily elbowing out Clausewitz, the lion. In the worldview of Clausewitz, cunning ruses are the weapons of the weak; for Sun Tzu they are legitimate weapons of choice. For Clausewitz, the big battlefield victories, big bang technologies and consequently billion-dollar budgets were everything; Sun Tzu posits that there are smarter ways to secure competitive advantage.

The concept of, utilitarian leveraging of force also needs to be re-visited in obtaining strategic context. Force has numerous stabilizing uses – hard and soft, in equal measure: it helps keep the peace, it gives the practice of diplomacy a robust veneer, it deters, it is a useful tool for politico-military signalling, it is a critical component for the protection/alteration of geostrategic spaces, a means of buying influence and influencing behaviour, a conduit for the delivery of humanitarian aid and when employed sagaciously and resolutely, a decisive arbiter in conflict. When wrapped in imaginative statecraft, its leverage as a metric in the resolute pursuit of national interest across the utility spectrum cannot be overemphasised. Strategic/foreign policy objectives, today, are being achieved through the smart leveraging of military pressure points, often, without a shot being fired. Force is being used increasingly to facilitate political settlements rather than fashion outright victory. We are examining as to how we in the Indian context, could leverage force more productively in this critical arena – what some observers call, ‘grey zone warfare’ and are chalking out an appropriate response strategy, duly resourced. Such an endeavour may I add, is without prejudice to our larger project of conventional preparedness.

Reinvigoration : Strategic Culture / Outlook

India is a country with a rich, homegrown and well-honed strategic culture embellished in our ancient texts: the Arthashastra and the Yudhakandam (Manual of War) which pronounce with great wisdom and strategic savvy on various aspects of our statecraft. Here are a few examples. “The radicalism of the Arthashastra,” in the words of Max Weber, “makes Machiavelli’s, ‘the Prince’ look harmless” It’s emphasis on playing the military hardball with skill will certainly give Kissinger’s realism a run for its money. Kautilya, Ladies and Gentlemen, reminds us with profound wisdom that without अर्थ (economic well being) and सुरक्षा (security) there can be no dharma (righteousness). The well-known dictum of साम (conciliation), दाम (incentives), दंड (punishment) and भेद (sowing discord in enemy ranks) in the strategic policy sense, urges us to pursue national interest with a single-mindedness of purpose and resolve, through means fair or foul. Our think thanks / military institutions must undertake a comprehensive,  in-depth  study of  these texts,  contextualise  them  to the needs of modern statecraft and propagate the consequential knowledge through structured programmes – the same will help us to transit from the relative placidity of the past to greater sophistication and robustness in our strategic outlook. Much of this is already happening – if we could possibly do more, it will be of great help in addressing the security challenges of the future.

Doctrinal  Calibration

We are also recasting our strategic aspirations and defence outlook in a more real, pragmatic and earthy frame through some creative doctrinal calibration, enabled by a two-stage exercise as under:-

National  Security  Strategy  (NSS). A whole of government exercise by the DPC, through an integrated examination of the strategic context,  threats,  opportunities  and  the state of the economy is underway with a view to arriving at plausible scenarios and specific commitments. It will identify a tiered, prioritised, matrix of national security challenges and risks that we must gear up for, based on likelihood and impact through a range of possibilities: Grey Zone Conflict, Out of Area Contingencies, Punitive and Asymmetric Deterrence of our Competitors and Adversaries, Long Term Balancing and the skilful leveraging of Emerging Domains (Space, EW, Cyber and AI) Strategic  Defence  Review  (SDR). Given the ordering of risks / threats, identified capability deficits and budgetary resources made available, it may be wise to carry out a follow-up Strategic Defence Review (SDR) that could examine the various force structuring options, before spelling out the specific combat capacities that it will resource. For those threats that cannot be addressed with combat force, non-kinetic, risk mitigation options need to be developed with equal clarity. HQ IDS may thereafter carry out further fine-tuning to produce two Integrated Perspective Plans for the Near (5 Years) and Long Term (10 Years) time horizons – a precise delivery schedule of combat capacities duly budgeted, to replace the LTIPP – which in the absence of firm budgetary commitment is of diminishing utility.

A  Unified  Approach  to  Warfighting

Integration. Efficient defence is a function of (amongst other factors) the right allocations for defence, financial rigour (best bang for the rupee) and a unified approach to warfighting. We are making a persuasive case for enhanced allocations for defence. The Indian Army for one, has done a great deal by way of bringing in financial rigour and initiating structural optimisation – General Shekatkar showed us the way; we followed suit. Through the mechanism of IBGs, we are transiting to lean, mean, agile and task-oriented structures. The prospective appointment of CDS will help infuse energy and life into a unified approach to warfighting. There is a dire need concurrently, for all stakeholders in National Security to align their thinking with modern sensibilities and subsume institutional interests in deference to the larger national purpose. The necessity of constant evolution in the Higher Defence Organisation (HDO) to keep pace with the challenges of modern warfighting cannot be overemphasised. The essential wisdom of unification lies in integrating the military with the apex decision-making mechanisms of national security as also amongst themselves, thus addressing both – the strategic challenges of defence policymaking and the tactical needs of modern warfighting. One must not be pursued at the cost of the other – both, are equally critical.

Jointness. Concurrently, through the metric of joint manship, there is much that we can do in the field to optimise capacities and costs. The Honourable PM has exhorted the armed forces to prepare for range and mobility to attend to our responsibilities that now extend beyond the borders and coastlines for the protection of our critical interests and Indian citizens across the world. The obvious military  inference  is for us to develop calibrated OOAC (Out of Area Contingencies) capabilities which must of necessity be integrated structurally and in terms of unity of command. It is also for consideration that lack of jointness in the field has led to duplication/ multiplication of assets in aviation, surveillance and communications with naturally large burdens on the exchequer. In an age where network centricity and domain convergence are the building blocks for operational optimisation, our focus on silo-based, single service driven, vertical expansion, consequent to which communication/surveillance networks of the three services cannot even talk to each other, is just one example of the grim challenges that lie before us. Wisdom demands that we integrate military capacities in the field structurally and with urgency because competence and delivery in dated structures are simply not possible. I am sanguine that the appointment of the CDS will trigger such reform.

Threat  Vis – A – Vis  Capability-Based  Restructuring

In terms of ‘first principles’ in capability building, we may consider the need to swivel from a purely threat-based approach to one driven by capabilities or at least a happy mix of the two approaches. The key flaw of a threat-based approach is that the scenarios on which force development plans are built are too narrow to capture the full range of likely future military engagements; the approach is often so heavily oriented towards known threats that it fails to adequately address the many strategic uncertainties (clashing visions, new faultlines, geopolitical flux, terror hotspots, vicissitudes in the global commons, etc) that lie in a nation’s path.  A capability-based approach advocates a broader range of plausible scenarios for force developers to work on. It is also somewhat of a misnomer to believe that capability-based planning is devoid of any threat assessment whatsoever – it does on the other hand address strategic uncertainties with greater vigour, predicated on flexibility, adaptiveness and robustness of capability to meet diverse threats and scenarios. A capability-based approach also takes into account the ‘known’ and ‘developable’ capabilities of ‘likely competitors’ in the near to long term periods as against their ‘known or assessed intent’, alone. It also assesses our current capability, identifies desired future capability (in the light of possible developable capabilities of competitors) and most valuable – delineates ‘capability deficits’ for planned, scientific address. This is a concept that we must engage with greater diligence.

Key  Metrics  –  Combat

ISR / Space. In the changing character of war, ISR and precisionary seem to be challenging fire and manoeuvre as operational attributes. Consequently we are investing greatly in ISR capacities and platforms ; the newly formed Defence Space Agency is also addressing a host of challenges from military-grade resolution for surveillance and targeting to revisit times, speedier downloading, electronic spoofing, etc.

Missilery. Missiles are one option to reinforce capacities in non-contact, long-range deterrence. We are however aggregating capabilities in terms of tandem and armed UAV systems, loiter munitions as also missiles with improved guidance and tracker technologies.

Techno  –  Centric  Combat:   A major weakness in recent times has been the sub-optimal leveraging of techno-centric combat through tools like Electronic Warfare (EW). Our exploitation of the EM Spectrum has not kept abreast with the pace of technological change and the scale of leveraging. We are addressing the infirmity with speed and resolve.

International  Engagements.  In its international engagements, the Indian state is gradually overcoming its ambiguity to power politics and has begun to skillfully integrate the instrument of force into its statecraft. While delivering the Keynote Address at the Shangrila Dialogue on     01 June 18, the Honourable PM, Shri Narendra Modi laid out the postulates for our global engagement in terms of a catchy fiver – the five Ss of – Samman (respect for all), Samvad (through dialogue), Shanti & Sahyog (in the spirit of peace and co-operation) and Samridhi (for our collective prosperity). The five levers must also be sheathed in the frame of a wider vision for defence and security. Our defence diplomacy, therefore, is working resolutely to complement our foreign policy initiatives. The respect, even admiration, that the Indian Armed Forces command amongst militaries worldwide, for their professionalism and domain expertise is being leveraged purposefully. Military officers from friendly foreign countries often make the point that they prefer to come to Indian military training institutions because of the quality of our curriculum and the depth of our training protocols. So great is the yearning for vacancies in Indian military training institutions that some countries have instituted a special entrance test for aspirants wishing to do courses in our institutions. Given the salience of militaries in the power structures in our neighbourhood, we need to energise military to military contacts significantly ; we are leveraging our network of DAs (31 officers in 44 countries) as also the Foreign Services Attaches (FSAs – 113 from 70 countries based in Delhi) to give a boost to defence trade, equipment cooperation, invigoration of military partnerships, enhancing peace and security through friendly exchanges, and in setting doctrinal/operational agendas through various forums like the RUSI, Shangrila Dialogue, Raisina Dialogue, et al – leveraging the softer attributes of the military will not only strengthen deterrence but also enhance our strategic footprint/orbit of influence.

Strategic  Communications  /  Information – Influence  Operations

A nation’s defence strategy must be bolstered by appropriate messaging in terms of ‘strategic communications’ and resolute action by way of ‘information operations / manoeuvre’:-

  • Strategic communications refer to the informational narrative that embellishes military operations, thus closing the gap between own actions and the messaging – it requires all media and communications to be co-ordinated and synchronised so that you send out a coherent message sans any contradictions which may violate the stated narrative. In today’s information age, mere action is not good enough – we must develop compelling counter-narratives to challenge and undermine the adversary’s pitch. A great deal of work is being done in this domain.
    • Information manoeuvre is the integration of modern informational capabilities such as cyber and digital media with other traditional forms of military activity to control the information sphere, enhance influence as also tackle the new WMD – words of mass disinformation: sophistry, fake news and post-truth in the digital age. The salience of the informational realm in modern military combat is exemplified by this nugget from Mosul: the turning point in the defeat of the Daesh was the conjoint ability of the Local Resistance and the West in mastering information warfare techniques to neutralise the Daesh’s mechanisms of social and informational control – the seminal contribution of Resistance experiments like Radio AI – Ghad and the targeting by $30 million F16s and hundred – thousand dollar missile systems not of Daesh tanks, trucks or mujahideen, but $50 Daesh media kiosks which controlled the informational narrative in Mosul. In the midst of our own right sizing/optimisation initiatives, therefore, we are laying great stress on information manoeuvre – we are creating specialists that are adept at using non-lethal means and unorthodoxy in the field, to attain ascendancy over adversary informational activity and to modify adversary behaviour.

The  Defence  Manufacturing  Eco  –  System

A number of initiatives have been taken to pump-prime the Defence Manufacturing Eco-System. The proposed Defence Corridors in Tamil Nadu and UP will help converge the procurement needs of the Defence services and the self-sufficiency objectives of development and employment generation while giving a boost to defence exports. These corridors will infuse cutting edge technologies and domain expertise in order that they service our defence needs in the manner of the Silicon Valley which is powering Artificial Intelligence (AI) initiatives in defence in the USA. We are also tapping into the energy and enterprise of MSMEs, R & D Labs, Academia and Military Start-Ups like General Aeronautics (co-founded by Mr K Harinarayana- the architect of India’s LCA) which is making a big push in drone technology. The Make Initiative which seeks to galvanise the indigenous defence manufacturing eco-system is doing some outstanding work in this regard.

Technology  Infusion

Technological change in the military realm is so rapid that necessity is no longer the mother of invention. Technology embrace in the military realm, however, has many facets. There are the big-ticket technologies, viz, those related to the next generation fighter, carrier aviation, hypersonic weapons, et al, – challenges that are being addressed through numerous DRDO projects. These obtain however a slew of technologies of the low hanging variety as also those with game-changing potential which we need to pursue with equal resolve. Such technology infusion is critical to the strengthening of our combat muscle and could be enabled as under:-

  • Low  Hanging  Technology.   There is considerable scope for leveraging low hanging technology for speedy induction into formations, through the Army Design Bureau. The simplified procedural regime that the ‘Make Initiative’ offers will help to facilitate the same. The Defence Services, in turn, will hand-hold these ventures if they are to acquire energy and momentum. Defence expertise in the public and private sectors will also need to converge.
    • Leap Frogging – Technologies of the Future.     Concurrently, we will need to embrace the elements of the fourth industrial revolution (materials, technologies and chips) which will drive combat at hyper speeds and fundamentally alter the nature of combat. It is not without reason that China has resolved to be the leader in AI by 2035 – the effort being spearheaded by initiatives like An bot robocop. The American Robotics Design Company, Boston Dynamics, after developing robots that can open doors and backflip is now focussed on mounting guns on them and making them sneak about the battlefield. The US Army has also managed to develop reconnaissance robots with remote intervention capacities – shooting from safe distances. We have embarked on a similar drive. AI solutions to linguistic challenges are being leveraged for instant translation of Mandarin intercepts. Software assisted analysis of social, electronic, print and digital media will be used to arrive at intelligent assessments of adversary intent; AI tools will also be leveraged to develop adversary intent assessment compendiums with wider applicability and greater sophistication across the combat spectrum. We are also pursuing AI projects in fire control, predictive maintenance and health diagnostics.

Military  Innovation

We live in an age of disruptions: the practice of disruptive leadership, as also technological, organizational and thought disruptions. The modern adage by way of response is that if ‘you don’t innovate you will evaporate’. We are determined to foster the spirit of innovation and improvisation to stay ahead in the strategic competition. Military innovation is about staying ahead of events, revisiting organizational ethos, thinking through challenges and competition through differentiated thinking in tactics, strategy, organization structures, technology adaption, etc. Modern militaries emphasise the need to develop military innovation as a discipline. Israel today is a technological superpower, particularly in the military domain, on account of its culture of innovation – its weapons are far more sophisticated, often a generation ahead of those used by its adversaries its technological advantage has profound implications on the modern battlefield. We are therefore encouraging and fostering the spirit of innovation with great vigour. One such innovation in bulletproofing has manifested in an IPR for the Indian Army – a significant achievement by all accounts.


As India transitions from a ‘balancing to a ‘leading’ power, the national security mind-space seems to be ready, more than ever before, for change and some decisive forward movement. In recent times, we have proved to ourselves that for far too long, we were perhaps punching below our weight. The responses to Uri and Pulwama were significantly more robust as against our inaction after 26/11. Having questioned many of our tardy assumptions of the past and substituted the same with purposeful action, I am sanguine that we are well poised now, to chart a new trajectory in national security. We are resolved to make India so strong that our people prosper and India rises to its place and promise in the world.

Jai Hind!

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