External intelligence needs upgrade
Intelligence agencies are the eyes and ears of a nation. They have to ensure that the nation is not surprised diplomatically or militarily. They are responsible for the collection of information, besides carrying out analysis and building a comprehensive picture of the thinking, intentions, capabilities (military, economic, industrial, political will etc.) and plans of adversaries.
Technical and signal intelligence have become major sources of intelligence. Collecting and analysing technical parameters of the adversary's electronic systems communications, computers, radars, satellites, missiles - are critical so that these can be intercepted and interfered with. Snooping devices can be ground/sea/air/space-based. Breaking codes of other nations (crypto analysis) is another key function which pays handsome dividends.
The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) handles technical intelligence. It should continuously update/upgrade its capabilities due to fast changes in technology. We need to exploit the potential of cyber warfare, for which the involvement of IT (information technology) companies is essential.
Human intelligence is also an important means of intelligence. The quality of information depends on training and commitment of spies. Intelligence agencies should pay higher remuneration to attract better talent; services rendered by spies need to be recognised by the nation. The families of those captured must be looked after.
Strategic intelligence covers areas such as political, diplomatic and military assessment of other nations. This requires penetration of higher echelons of their government and organisations. We should aim at getting to know speedily major decisions being taken in Beijing and Islamabad which affect our security. The political leadership should get more involved and critically examine intelligence assessments.
Military intelligence tries to obtain timely information about the adversary's plans, strengths, deployment, weapons, reserves of men, material, communications, morale, etc. so that our own plans and deployments are optimised. To lack military intelligence is like being in a boxing ring, blindfolded.
Military forces are deployed/positioned on the basis of threat analysis. Factors such as the adversary's political and military objectives, force levels and initial deployments are worked out to defend key areas. As intelligence is received, threatened areas are reinforced.
Operations against the Chinese and to some extent Pakistanis will be in high mountainous terrain.
Ammunition, mines, defence stores, rations and water have to be carried to the mountaintops. Soldiers also have to acclimatise to fight in such areas. Preparing strong defences in high mountains with overhead cover, mines, etc. requires a minimum of three to four weeks. Rushing troops to threatened points at a short notice can be problematic. In 1962, hastily sent reinforcements to Bomdila (Arunachal Pradesh), for example, could hardly offer any resistance as they had no prepared defences and suffered heavy casualties instead.
China can deploy much larger forces in Tibet. Unless Indian commanders get timely and accurate intelligence, it will not be possible to deploy our own forces optimally to successfully fight a two-front war.
Intelligence is the most potent force multiplier. But the operational side receives greater attention in the armed forces. The commanders need to get more involved in intelligence planning and assessment. Also, higher-grade officers should be assigned intelligence work.
Sadly, in all the wars since Independence, poor intelligence has persisted as a glaring weakness. The weakest part has been the leadership of external intelligence agencies, mostly by officers from the police. As a result, the nation has paid a very heavy price. Strategic/military intelligence is not a policeman's forte.
Dealing with strategic and military intelligence requires national security and military background. There is only one stream of officers dedicated to national security the armed forces. They are also trained in electronics and successfully man signal intelligence and electronic warfare branches. We have to just look across the border. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has proved to be a world-class intelligence agency. The reason is not difficult to fathom: it has had army officers at its helm and in key appointments.
Our area of interest and influence has enlarged from the Indian Ocean rim countries to the Western Pacific. As a result, the task of external intelligence agencies has increased manifold, including terrorism and nuclear warfare. They need to modernise and expand without delay. We should have intelligence-sharing agreements with countries such as Taiwan, Japan, Russia, US, Australia and ASEAN countries.
There can be no better example of positives of good strategic and military intelligence than Israel. It has held its own for more than six decades in a very hostile neighbourhood.
Intelligence is the mother of all diplomatic and military initiatives and actions. It can enable us to remain a few steps ahead of the adversary and retain the initiative. If we upgrade our intelligence, including bringing in leadership from the armed forces, it would be possible to reduce accretions to our military. It is the best investment the nation can make for preserving its security.