Can Indian Intelligence Cope With Future Wars?

1999

Most people in India are aware that when India was ruled by Britain the chief role of intelligence agencies, was to secure colonial rule within the country. Intelligence on threats emanating from outside, such as the 'great game' of thwarting Russian designs on Afghanistan was tackled by military intelligence. During the Second World War a number of listening posts in the high frequency bands, coupled to Japanese language interpreters and code-breakers were set up outside Delhi. They did valuable work. After independence, the work of these high-frequency listening posts degenerated into circulating meaningless reams of foreign broadcast transcripts. The internal intelligence agency, now named the IB came a cropper after the 1962 war with China. An assessment of the success or failures of intelligencein 1962, was carried out but never was published, although a new agency responsible for external intelligence called Research and Analysis Wing(RAW) was constituted in 1968, and was placed under the cabi.net secretariat. Military intelligence was to be reduced to the actual front and about 20 kms beyond it. The Navy and Air force intelligence have practically no funding. By 1970, external human intelligence was solely the responsibility of RAW, with the defence attaches giving specialised inputs from open literature sources to service headquarters.

Technology had however moved on and it soon became apparent that only the services had the resources to create listening assets in the very high , ultra high, and super high frequencies of the electro-magnetic spectrum(3 mega-hertz to 30 giga-hertz.) It also became apparent that interpretations of India's growing satellite surveillance capability required the inputs of military specialists, and an inter-services organisation was set up for the purpose, narrowly surviving an attempt by RAW to have it wound up. Today the responsibility for external intelligence is divided between RAW and the armed forces. The armed forces themselves are divided into military, naval and air intelligence and efforts to incorporate the three into a sensible arrangement like a Defence Intelligence Agency have been thwarted by both lack of inter-services coordination and by obstacles placed by the ministry of defence. These structural deficiencies will be made much worse in the next century as we shall see.

Every age sees its own evolution in military affairs. In some years the rate of growth of this evolution is speeded up, and then it becomes a revolution. Such a revolution is currently under way, caused by the chip, which has its effect on the following:

  • Miniaturisation of all sensors to unbelievable levels. A surveillance aircraft might well be only ten inches long.
  • Vast computing power enabling the movement of large amounts of information, both data and visual.
  • All ordnance delivery will be precision guided in some way.

The effect of these developments will be to change the nature of warfare, or the manner in which it will be fought. Those who attempt to fight the war in the earlier manner will be defeated no matter how much money they have invested in ordnance delivery platforms. Today therefore, when we read a military analysis that says one side has so many divisions, or so many tanks, or ships, or aircraft we get no idea of their combat potential. The ability to focus combat power in time and space requires enormous inputs into electronic intelligence gathering and dissemination. This aspect of intelligence is purely the responsibility of the armed forces and they are falling down badly in this job. Although many analyses have been carried out of operation Desert Storm where Saddam was beaten soundly, not many are perhaps aware that the USA used aircraft which where mostly 20 -25 years old(except for the F-117s), while Saddam's air force was only ten years old. The difference lay in the intelligence collecting armada whose cost was the same as the ordnance delivery armada.

Today the Indian armed forces are wrongly structured hierarchically, to be able to effect the change in acquiring different hardware. The priority for intelligence is poor. When RAW was set up, a military adivsory group was supposed to advise the head of RAW, but by constantly down grading this post, the armed forces shot themselves in the foot. Even today, officers qualifying at the top in the staff colleges are never tasked for intelligence, these posts being filled by the tail enders. The recent Kargil operations should act as a wake up call for the absence of any night flying helicopters and thermal imaging, resulting in greatly increased casualties. RAW will have to be continued to be relied upon for human intelligence; for collecting information on enemy intentions, objectives and perceptions. "Spying" as is known by laymen will continue to be a RAW function, but the armed forces have to get their act together if they are not to approach the twenty-first century with a force structure meant for the nineteen sixties. Technical intelligence will become more important at the expense of human intelligence, and government rules do not stand in the way of the armed forces collecting their own technical intelligence. They have to put better officers to manage this job and part with more money to achieve larger objectives.

Will this happen? In the normal course it is unlikely. The reasons are more sociological than technological. Just as it took policy makers decades to understand that population cannot be controlled without educating the girl child and creating a shift in the power base of society, so will it be in the armed forces too. The present operational heirarchy will have to be partly destroyed by a deliberate act, and replaced by an officer cadre that reflects the new realities of satellite management , electronic warfare , command information exchange, telecommunication, aerial reconnaissance and intelligence analysis. A bitter pill, but can the chiefs administer it?

- 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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