The Indian Army and particular, its current Chief, Gen VK Singh has been in the news for various reasons of late: some have called him a loose cannon, a loud mouth; others see him as a crusader, a man with unimpeachable military service. Whatever be the views, one thing is certain. The General has been flagging several issues consistently–internal health of the Army, modernisation, transformation and procurement–to name just a few. I have done three interviews with him over the past two years, the first on his first day in office on April 1, 2010 and the last on 12th January this year.Have pasted the links to the full video interviews but have excerpted some of the key issues in the text below.
Read on and make your own judgement.
Ist Interview, April 1, 2010
Nitin: Let me first ask you straight away what are the challenges that you have envisaged in the tenure that you are going to have?
Gen VK Singh: Our biggest challenge is how to remove our hollowness in terms of deficiencies in various fields and the second one is modernization. Both need to be addressed on priority so that whatever the army requires which makes it battle-worthy is there.
Nitin: What do you mean by hollowness in the….
Gen VK Singh: See when I talk of hollowness… you are authorised something, it may not be there because over a period of time the procurement procedures … the other things that keep coming… some things get obsolete so it creates some amount of deficiency and void, specially the combat units. So that is where the priority is. A man who is going to fight must have everything that he needs.
Nitin: That’s right and you also… in the past spoken about the transformation of the Indian army to meet the challenges of the modern warfare. Now what are the focus areas… you just mentioned some of these but a little bit more …
Gen VK Singh: See when we talk of transformation it is the process that we want to start and this transformation is to make the army more lethal, more agile and more responsive. We have had a study on this and the study has been finalised and there are a lot of things that have some come out as part of our transformation. Ultimately we are looking at working as a network force in a joint service environment where we are able to cope up with the future challenges. Now transformation is not something which you can do in a day. It will take… it will be a gradual process and we want to start it and it will be started by certain test beds on which we want to look at these transformation concepts that we have worked out.
Nitin: In the morning you spoke about trying to set right the internal health. Can you explain more about that…
Gen VK Singh: See what I meant about the internal health was that we have certain core values, we have certain traditions. There are certain norms that the army follows and what I want to emphasize here is that we keep hearing that in the civil society the norms are like this and our intake is from the civil society and therefore degeneration is taking place. I think that’s a myth that we have got to discard. The norms that the civil society has, they are one set, but so far as the armed forces are concerned, we have got to have our own sets of integrity and probity and that is what I mean by internal health.
IInd interview July 11, 2010
Nitin: This brings me to the next question , the health of the armed forces, especially the army that you were leading. There have been delays in acquisitions, teething problems, obsolete equipment… Does that affect your preparedness one, and is modernization on track for something you will face in the coming years, two?
Gen VK Singh: Modernization is a long drawn process. We have made our plans holistically for how we should act in a particular year. Our procurement procedures take their own time . There are procedures, you want to be absolutely transparent. You don’t want things to be said against…you know… the procurement itself. So things move at a particular pace. And that is why things do get delayed. I think a lot of effort is being made in the ministry of defence and by the raksha mantri to ensure that things are speeded up. We should see acquisitions coming in better time. I would say that as of now we are prepared, things come in, we will be better prepared. Its not like that you are absolutely hollow. Hollowness is what you asked for in a particular time frame and it has not come, so that is how the situation is.
Nitin: So things are ok ?
Gen VK Singh: Things are ok, they can be better. If Iam looking for a better quality cloth and if it comes in today, I will feel better about it, that is how it is.
Nitin: You had spoken on the day one when you had taken over about setting the internal health of the army right. Three months into your tenure now, how has been your strategy on that front?
Gen VK Singh: See when I took over it was from the bottom of my heart that I felt that we needed to improve our internal health, be it our core values, our traditions, the way we are seen by others and the way we go about doing things. And as a starter it needed a message to go to people. Now that message has gone to people, where ever I go I speak, I interact. I tell people that look here, this is what is important to us. As an organizations these are our strengths and this is what we must revive. Revival takes a bit of time but it has started with building that confidence that people should have in the senior leadership. It started by having confidence in themselves without that if they do things right their hands will be held and we have been telling them that look here if there is an error of judgment, yes you will be shouted at, you will get a kick. But that you won’t be harmed. If if it is an error of intention, then nobody is going to leave you. It is this process that has been initiated and I think that process has started. It will take a little time but I am very confident that we will revive our values and stick to them. Overall as an army we will be happy now .
Nitin: One final question on the army’s medium term forecast in the next four to five years. Is it going to be a modern, let’s say technically savvy, army which will be able to meet all kinds of challenges?
Gen VK Singh: See our transformation process has started and the transformation is to make the army more lethal, agile and make it a networked force which can function in the entire spectrum security threats. It requires a fair amount of technical skills which will happen, it requires upgradation of weapons and equipment which will happen and it requires changes in our force structure which will help us graduate from a threat based force to a threat-cum-capability based force and finally as a capability-based force. So this will take not four-five years but more time because there are old mindsets, organizations which have to be tinkered with. We want to try out things first, test them before we implement them. That takes a little time.
IIIrd Interview (recorded on 3rd January, full telecast on 12 January 2012)
Nitin: You had initiated the process of transformation in the Indian army, you had done that study yourself and now you are trying to implement it, how far have you come in that process?
Gen VK Singh: See, our aim was to make the army more agile, more lethal, more responsive, and networked army that is able to meet with the future threats. To that extent certain steps were laid down. One of the things we looked at was restructuring of our organizations into groupings that will take place in battle. So, we have validated these. Certain changes have come about because of our validation in test bedding. These are coming into effect. We also looked at theaterization of our combat and combat support as well as logistic support elements. This, the test bedding has taken place, it will come into effect. Certain things out of this, because it concerns legacy organizations carrying on for years, will take a little time till mentally people get prepared to handle them. We also had the issue of ensuring that our headquarters become more responsive, because over a period of time in the old headquarters we kept adding people. It added onto the chains of decision making. We’re trying to sort that out. Certain things in the army headquarters have been implemented. More things are in the pipeline, and it will go down to the other formation headquarters.
Nitin: You have said before and when we had talked earlier that capability building of the Indian army is not adversary specific but capability based, now does that still stand given the kind of constant needling that happens along the line of actual control and also the possible projection that there could be skirmishes along the China frontier. How do you see those threats?
Gen VK Singh: See, what I’d said was that at the moment we’re a threat-based organization. We’re moving towards a threat-cum-capability based one. And as the years go by, we will become a totally capability-based force. It has various implications like what kind of equipping norms you have, what kind of training that you do, what kind of resources you have to rapidly deploy to various places. So, these are things that are being put into effect now and by the time we see the result, it will take some time. It is not that overnight we can change something. What you talked of, needling, I don’t find any thing of this kind.Yes so far as we’re concerned, we’re prepared to meet various types of threats that will emanate. And to that extent, I feel satisfied that we’ve done a fair amount of work. We have our preparedness that will be able to meet the requirements of the time.
Nitin: Gen Singh the two years that you have been more or less in the chair now and the day you took over you talked about setting the internal health of the army right. How far have you come in that endeavor and how do you see it panning out in next couple of years?
Gen VK Singh: See I had stated a reality and we embarked on various things. I can say today, that within our own structures, we’ve become more transparent. Secondly, we’ve also sent a clear message that certain things will not be tolerated, come what may. And to that extent, you’re aware of some high profile cases that have been tackled in typical army disciplined way. We’ve not shied away. And this was a part of this message we wanted to give to people and tell people, look here, if you are honest, you are upright, carry on. But if you are deviant towards what the army lays down in terms of ethos and values, there can be problems. And I think once this message is given, within the army, some kind of internal reform, confidence building is taking place and to that extent, at the moment, I’m satisfied that we have been able to start things, where people say wrong is wrong, and right is right.
Nitin: You spoke earlier about making the Indian army lean and agile and capable of handling any threat in the future. What about, let me say modernisation and the procurement process, because even you have plans in place for transformation, if it is not backed by adequate modernisation and speedier procurement, how do you tackle that problem that is there?
Gen VK Singh: See modernization and procurements have been a problem over a period of time. Couple of reasons have been that our own indigenous and technology base in defense-related industries is limited. So you have to go outside to procure and therefore to ensure transparency, credibility of the system etc , there is a laid-down procedure. Yes, it is time consuming and therefore, things get delayed. We also have a problem where one complaint or one letter, you know, can put everything to a stop. That has to be examined, you also have a problem where some firms because they’ve taken a particular action, they get either blacklisted or a black mark comes against them and therefore, the whole process gets delayed. We’ve given our points of view to the ministry they’re working at it and I’m sure, between the forces and the ministry we will be able to find solutions that will hasten this up. And this is also one of the areas where the task-force that has been set up under Mr. Naresh Chandra is also looking at it because this is a concern for everybody.
Nitin: But is there then a proposal or a wish, if not a proposal to integrate in real terms to have your people in uniform to be attached or working as cross postings, with the ministry officials, is there a proposal to do that?
Gen VK Singh: See they are there…there’s one area already there which is the acquisition wing of the ministry. We have people from all the three services who are there, who go through the force’s proposals. And they are an interface between us and the ministry officials; they work in conjunction with them. This is already there. Rest has been left to the task force as to how they look at the entire structure.
Nitin: But is the wish there to be a part of decision making?
Gen VK Singh: It’ll make things better, I mean, that was one of the recommendations made by the Kargil committee also. I think ultimately we must look at organizations that will contribute in a much better manner.
Nitin: Decision making also…you need to be part of the decision making at the highest level…. is that a problem at the moment, that you send a proposal then it comes back?
Gen VK Singh: See certain lacunae were found by the Kargil committee. Now those are being examined by the task-force. The services have all given their own input into this. I think they will take an overall macro view as to how to ensure better integration.
Nitin: Let me come back to the infrastructure problem, I mean again we have spoken about this before, along the northern borders and the China frontier specially, how slow or how fast has it been in the past year and a half or so?
Gen VK Singh: It has got two factors. One is, what is that proposal, which state it is in, and second is the type of environmental laws that we have. Lot of work has been done. Lot of areas where the environmental ministry has cleared our projects. We have a problem at times at the state levels, where the land has, you know, been claimed as forest land, and therefore, various rules apply to it and that is where things do get delayed. We’re trying to find a methodology. I think both the services and the ministry are seized of it because we cannot allow infrastructure, development timelines to go beyond a certain time. I’m quite hopeful that the way that the impetus is being given, we will be able to meet most of our timelines, most of our timelines. There will still be some areas where it will be declared some sort of sanctuary or something. Now you have to find a way out of it. And I think it will require will on the part of the state concerned, the ministry of environment to come to some sort of a system, where we can look at the nation’s security needs.
Nitin:Do you think, very often the national security interest if I can use that expression is overlooked in decision making, for instance, the critical shortages in artillery… everybody knows for last 20 years we haven’t or more than 20 years we haven’t acquired any guns? Why is it stuck where it is stuck right now?
Gen VK Singh: Firstly let me correct an impression. There is no critical shortage. There is a problem with modernization. You know, sometimes it gets coupled into saying that for the last 20 years nothing has happened therefore, we’re woefully inadequate, we are not. We’re not woefully inadequate. Yes, if we modernize, it will be better. See like I said, the procedural aspects are such and I’ve always said this, there are a lot of faults that the services themselves have committed faults and to that extent, the army has committed. I mean we took a decision at one point of time; we’ll have a particular caliber. But after few years we changed that caliber. Now, obviously then, the whole procedure goes haywire. Similarly, you can’t make QRs only for one particular system. You’ve got to have a level playing field for everybody. So these are some of the areas where you get bogged down. We have worked out a philosophy for our artillery system. I’m very positive that this will succeed. Lot of thought has gone into it, it has been presented to the Defense minister and we have his support in this to go ahead and it will combine both, indigenous work as well as what we procure from outside.
Nitin: What about armour, because there is also a problem of, I mean at least one hears about it that the army is not very keen on getting the Arjun tank into the army?
Gen VK Singh: No it is not that. We have worked out the way the tank is, how it fits into our operational plans as per its capability. So accordingly we have pegged a particular number which is going to happen. Yes, there are certain lacunae in what came in which are being improved. After all everybody wants a better thing. So now it’s becoming Mark II, certain things will come out with Mark III which would probably be the ultimate. So that is not an issue. Some of the problems actually that because you can say a certain amount of concern is the type of quality control regime and accountability that we have. This is something that we’re pushing for. That look here, if let’s say a particular barrel, it goes off, we must hold someone accountable. Don’t we do that with private industries? You can’t shield people. Now that is something we’re trying to ask someone to do. Let’s hold people accountable so that our quality control mechanism becomes better which transcends into a better product that comes to the army.