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DSA is as much yours, as it is ours! (January 2016)

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The most critical events in the world of defence and security revolve around the Islamic State, its territory and global efforts to wrest it back into freedom. Violence in Yemen, Nigeria, parts of North Africa and other hot spots pales in global importance when it comes to IS and its ghastly apocalyptic vision. So the world ranged against it conducts regular air strikes to beat it back, destroy its headquarters, takes out its key players through armed drones and tries to cripple it financially and economically. These efforts have been going on from sometime in late 2014 and yet the IS continues to sustain its terrorist campaign funded from the territory it controls.

So the world debates the moot point – when and by who will the ground campaign begin. For, after all, the IS is an entity that is run by humans, albeit of a type the world has rarely seen. So to neutralise such humans how much can machines do, even if they’re the most advanced and lethal in the world. The value and contribution of hi-tech machines is most apparent in small wars against irregular forces like the IS. Especially when it comes to surveillance and targeted strikes by drones. But at the same time the limitations of machines are also most apparent in these types of campaigns for at the end of the day there is a requirement for boots on the ground.

Which is why the Army has such tremendous value and contribution to national security. It is not for nothing that they’re called the sentinels of national sovereignty. For the Army is the ultimate statement of national power and prestige. Success by the Army is a source of immense national pride and achievement. And a failure, like in 1962, is a scar that doesn’t ever go away. More than 50 years later it hasn’t. For Army operations are the essence of military capability, national power, a statement of sovereignty and the final application of force. There is no option after that of the Army for a nation, any nation, including India. Which makes it all that more critical to understand its qualities, capabilities and it’s limitations.

The key to military power and application of force is the individual foot soldier with an automatic weapon. Ultimately combat operations will come to the skill and training that this individual possess in order to fulfil national military aims. For sure air strikes have a degrading effect, psychologically and military a powerful tool to employ against the foe. But for all their tremendous impact they cannot control the ground, which is where women and children need to live and feel safe, that being the final political goal for any military operation. Similarly no destroyer or submarine can substitute for the presence of a skilled soldier manning a picket in a vulnerable zone. He represents, in essence, the last mile connectivity of the state to its citizens in danger.

This is the current and future of military operations as the world lurches from terrorist danger to another and India confronts its many insurgencies. The requirement for clearing Raqqa of its IS nightmare is the same as is the case with the militants in Jammu and Kashmir, Naxals in the jungles, the same skilled trained foot soldier. For that soldier will reinforce the authority of the state. Without his final contribution the writ of the state cannot be applied in the crippled zone, within or outside of the country. He is, after all, the last application of military, diplomatic and political power of a nation.

So it makes sense to invest in that direction rather than keep pumping in valuable monies in big ticket items. Granted they have a role too, especially in preventing war. But then the focus generally has been to keep upgrading that aspect of military power and lesser so for the foot soldier, the one who is doing the most risky of operations for his country and which have the greatest current and future value. The foot soldier is the barometer of national military power and performance. Every evaluation begins from there, so it makes sense to pay greater attention at that, the most basic level. The effort thus far has been haphazard, lacklustre and without a clear vision. The Indian Army soldier, therefore, is not yet of the 21st cent. He needs to be, because he is going to occupy that strip of land with his boots on the ground.

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