Kargil: Technology Inadequate

1999

In our third year at the National Defence Academy, we naval types branched off to learn celestial navigation and knots and splices, while our army colleagues, affectionately called Pongoes started their careers as infantrymen. While we good- naturedly chaffed their attempts to stick dummies with bayonets, none of us forgot the fierceness of the instructors, many of them wearing Burma stars and the Italian campaign medals who attempted to infuse in our colleagues the tenacity, fierceness and the will- to- win that are basic to an infantry soldier. Years later I heard and absorbed the concepts of 'moral dominance over the enemy' from the same soldiers. The Indian army has the finest traditions expected of any infantry. These qualities are being amply exhibited in Kargil. But what of technology?

A timely victory in Kargil requires that technology be married to the virtues of the Indian infantry. The electronic battle- field is not a toy. Digital maps of Delhi can be bought over the counter. When combined with the Global positioning system, enemy dispositions can be marked on such maps, to accuracies of 50 metres; Provided there is adequate surveillance, which again has shifted to the night; which again requires that right flying becomes routine. The inadequacies of technology in any service, which has not seen war for 28 years can be catastrophic. After all, the British navy, refused to adopt the torpedo, steam propulsion, the screw propellor the rifled gun, the submarine, the aircraft carrier and the anti-aircraft fire control system, when inventors offered them these innovations first. Horror stories abound in the services of all countries. The reason, as everyone knows is the culture and hierarchy of armed forces. Policy decisions to change the 'manner ' in which a service fights are taken at the top, a strata occupied by officers with too many memories of re-fighting the wars of their youth.

Technologically sensitive services like the US navy and air force use think tanks partially staffed by their officers with vast simulation capabilities to change a service's technology. What is infuriating about the inadequacy of technology of the army or air force in Kargil is not so much that its not these, but no individual can be found accountable for their absence. This is a clear indication that the services headquarters need social restructuring, before the correct technologies are inducted. This is exactly similar to the analogy that to curb over-population, one doesn't vascectomise unemployed youth, but one educates the female population. In many ways Kargil is a god send, for it's a small war, and the casualties, distressing though they are, could have been much worse in a larger adventure. It is true that the services are under funded, that bureaucratic delays to procurement are ridiculous. But the technologies that are lacking in Kargil - rnght flying pilot's goggles, rnght vision glasses, helo-borne and hand held laser designators, small laser guided bombs, forward looking infra-red, missile warning systems, artillery locating radars and high altitude clothing all constitute technologies of the eighties. In many cases, the equipment is to be carried by one service to enable another service to deliver ordnance for the benefit of the first service. Does inter-service coordination need to be investigated? The three armed forces have very high levels of accountability in command, but little or none in staff appointments, mostly because their duties are not clearly defined, there- by making it impossible to accuse them specifically of negligence. Even more distressing is the question of why a 550,000 man army constantly takes liberties with a 1,200,000 man army.

- Rear Admiral K. Raja Menon (Retd.) in New Delhi

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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