More bang for the buck

Rhetoric is no substitute for facts, to get carried away by it is to invite disaster, particularly in the area of defence and national security. Unfortunately we have become so good at presentations and the images/perceptions they create that we are quite divorced from ground reality. Our spectacular achievements in non-conventional weapons notwithstanding, commensurate achievement in indigenisation in conventional weapons and equipment is lacking. Of particular concern is why caliber 7.62 mm has not already been brought down to 5.56 mm or even lower (4.7 mm) for the basic weapon of the soldier. The firepower and logistics thereof difference being almost double, what stopped us from going for the changeover more than a decade ago? What was the motivation for POF to keep producing the very much obsolete Heckler and Koch Rifle G3? If our basic infantryman is not equipped to deal on equal terms with the enemy, who are we fooling?

We need standardization across the board in weapons and equipment. Even an infantry section needs at least three types of ammunition, whereas there should be same caliber for rifle, sub-machine gun and light machine gun. There is growing adverse teeth-to-tail ratio of the ground forces with no sign of re-organization into smaller, more mobile, IT-intensive units to reflect 21st century realities. Because of our political compulsions imposed on our military mind, the focus on purely military matters is missing. Involvement in Civil governance has meant we are less professional than we were a decade ago. For the present and future we are frozen in World War 2 concepts. A beginning of sorts has been made in this mind-block by getting rid of the batman of imperial times, how the system evolves in practice will be the acid test of intention. The fighting units are presently denuded of personnel because of demands of various HQs up the line for non-combat duties during peace, adversely affecting their training cycle and thus cutting into their effectiveness. There are macro-issues and micro-ones to be addressed, this article will only address only macro-issues.

It is time to do away with the Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs). For many reasons this category of second grade officer needs to be eliminated, not only they are a luxury that we cannot afford, it keeps commissioned officers from doing the job they are paid for. Every infantry platoon and armour troop must be commanded by a young officer. Motivated and outstanding NCOs must be given necessary incentive to become officers while they are still young. To prevent heartburning among the serving JCOs, make them second lieutenants and lieutenants and retire them early. The NCOs selected as “officer candidates” must first spend a year in a “finishing school” before undergoing a short course in the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) for a year. Other than the reduction in the Army because of 50000 non-combatant batmen, the Army will reduce by about 60000-70000 personnel (including their authorized batmen) if we eliminate JCOs from our personnel inventory while ensuring that every sub-unit is commanded by a commissioned officer.

Operationally the combat Brigade concept should supersede (and eliminate) many Divisional HQs. For example Lahore and Sialkot do not need Divisional HQs, Defence Housing Authority (DHA) real-estate manipulations and “Horse and Cattle” shows should not be the domain of active units and formations, it is not only degrading for soldiers, it is disgusting. Lahore and Sialkot should be administratively and operationally the domain of Corps HQs. Corps must have a Deputy Corps Commander of Maj Gens rank alongwith necessarily elements for a Task Force HQ for operational purposes with another Maj Gen as Chief of Staff (COS). Similarly the Div HQs of the Armour Division that have to work together operationally and Infantry Divisions have to be done away with and their combat Brigades directly controlled by Corps HQ. For better command and control instead of one large Corps and Div HQs in the AK Area we can have two Corps HQ, adding more Div HQs to give better operational balance in the difficult mountainous terrorism. It is a dire necessity to cover Pakistan’s soft underbelly by adding a Corps HQ (at Pano Aqil) in the Sukkur-Rahimyar Khan area and move HQ 5 Corps from Karachi to Hyderabad closer to their operational area (which should have three additional combat brigades) while doing away with the Div HQ there. Conversely the defence of Karachi can be entrusted separately to HQ 5 Corps in an all-Service affair integrating the Sindh Rangers, and a new Corps HQ set up for Hyderabad for the area from Chor to Rann of Kutch. At the most we need 4-5 Div HQs for Divisions which have specialized tasks including additional Brigades. The savings in the number of Div HQs (after catering for three new Corps HQ) would be enormous, allowing us to distribute personnel, weapon and equipment to overcome shortages. Basically an offensive Corps can consist of 6 motorized infantry brigades, 3 armour brigades, each brigade with an integral artillery regiment. After adjusting for deficiencies one expects to reduce as much as 50000 in manpower, with a fairly high percentage of officers presently serving in HQs now available for service with combat units.

If we look at the organizational structure of our fighting arms, we find that these are based on units/sub-units of three. Why do we have a fourth rifle company in an infantry battalion where we have three squadrons in an armour regiment and three battalions in an artillery regiment? Three rifle companies are maximum for control by a battalion commander. With three rifle companies in a battalion and a saving of an infantry company each in each battalion of a Brigade, we can have a entire infantry battalion per Brigade i.e. one extra brigade from every present infantry division. On that count we can have roughly a little less than two dozen more combat brigades available as operational reserves in each sector of operations, for use both for offensive and defence purposes. We will thus have greater number of fighting units (teeth) with a far lesser administrative tail.

HMC Taxila has done exceedingly well in retrofitting/modernization of a wide number of armoured vehicles as well as production of tanks with firepower and mobility suited to our battle environment. Where we have failed is a rationalization/standardization of our soft vehicle fleet, this is a logistics and maintenance nightmare. Given the experience of the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War, and looking at the plight of the US “Humvees” in Iraq, what we need is fast economical cross-country un-armoured “battle taxis”. The Japanese Toyota and Nissan 4×4 pick-ups are proven quantities, most self-respecting smugglers swear by them. These pick-ups can each easily carry a rifle section, which means five vehicles to a platoon (three sections, the platoon HQ and first-line ammunition). The Humvee has been an expensive failure in Iraq, why not a modified 4×4 pick-up as a command post/cross country vehicle for commanders down the line? Compare the cost of a truck, its fuel consumption and maintenance, and we can bring in economical effectiveness with far greater mobility and flexibility. The existing truck fleet should be pooled for logistics purposes, wherever possible the jeep should also be sent into retirement. It is not feasible for cross country mobility and flexibility in the 21st century to have troop-carrying trucks, trucks should only carry second-line ammunition and supplies. An easy estimate is that a rifle company would need 20 pick-ups and adding another 5 for Bn HQ and 15 for HQ Company, this would come about to 105 pick-ups for an infantry battalion for troop carrying and first line ammunition (If one company is taken out as recommended this will reduce by 20 to 80).

Rationalization will result in drastic reduction of our supply corps, electrical and mechanical engineers, ordnance and medical corps, etc presently bloated beyond recognition. Separation between medical cover for serving and retired personnel is necessary, for the latter Veteran’s Hospitals maybe put in place. Because of direct involvement in civil contracts, our Engineer Corps needs to be re-organized along military and civil functions, officers who have served in Military Engineering Services (MES) are seldom good for combat engineer battalions. Commercial and civil functions must not be performed by uniformed personnel except as exceptions. With the number of military personnel now doing MBA’s and similar degrees, expert consultation is readily available. The greatest gift General Musharraf can give the country and its Armed Forces is to set in motion a comprehensive process to achieve the professionalism that is necessary to fight 21st century battles.