“It takes a war to make our people work together. Peace breaks them up into narrow sectional pieces. We must learn to rise above sectional interests and work for what is best for the country.”
These words by Air Chief Marshal P.C. Lal from his memoirs are as relevant today as they were when they were written 36 years ago. Air Chief Marshal Lal was the chief of air staff during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, the last conflict all three armed forces fought together.
Last year, the government instituted the most comprehensive and sweeping reform of the armed forces since Independence. The most significant shake-up of the Indian armed forces took place after the 1962 border war with China. A country dependent on food imports to feed its people had to ramp up military spending and make the difficult choice of building factories and shipyards to produce warships, tanks and fighter jets.
This time around, fortunately, it did not take a war to wake the government up. The appointment of the first chief of defence staff (CDS) in December 2019 precedes the creation of what could be a historic reshaping of the armed forces, changing them from 17 single-service commands to just five joint commands. It comes at a time when India, the world’s sixth nuclear weapons power, has enormous security challenges.
Since Independence, India has built itself the world’s second largest army, the fourth largest air force and seventh largest navy. A gigantic military industrial complex with ordnance factories, defence shipyards and aircraft assembly lines.