by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 13th November 2007
Proponents of a high-tech and strategically focused military have long complained that the Indian Army is so preoccupied with its commitments in J&K and on the China border that it fails to consider seriously the challenges of the future. If one were to go by the ongoing uncertainty in the army-affiliated brains trust ---- the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) --- the army would appear better at running tanks than think tanks.
CLAWS, inaugurated in 2004, was to be the army’s forum for contemplating the battlefield of the future. This, it has failed to do. Funded through a Rs 5 crores corpus from the defence budget, and headed by a retired three-star general, Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, the seminars and studies that CLAWS conducted have never been translated into doctrine, strategy or plans. Now, in a terse letter, Lt Gen Oberoi has resigned “on account of irreconcilable differences with the establishment.” Tuesday was his last day in office.
Senior army sources complain that the absence of quality research or tactical papers on subjects directly related to land warfare, CLAWS’ core mandate, was due to the think tank’s preoccupation with high-profile seminars. In November 2006, at a well-attended seminar, CLAWS presented proposals for salary hikes for the military by the 6th Pay Commission. In February 2007, it conducted an international seminar on “The Emerging World Order”. The most recent seminar on “Disaster Management” deviated even further from the study of land warfare.
For all this, CLAWS has utilised approximately Rs 40 lakhs each year, in addition to getting most of its infrastructure --- office space, office equipment, clerks, and posted officers --- from the army. In contrast, the air force and navy think tanks, the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS) and the National Maritime Foundation (NMF), have stuck to their mandate and played roles in evolving operational concepts for the air force and the navy.
Lt Gen Oberoi’s departure comes in the wake of hard questions finally being asked by CLAWS’ oversight body, an Executive Council, headed by the army’s deputy chief. Senior army sources say that the long rope granted to Lt Gen Oberoi was due as much to his personal stature as to the fact that he had close regimental and personal linkages with the previous army chief, Gen JJ Singh, who was also the ex-officio Patron of CLAWS. Just 22 days after Gen JJ Singh retired, Lt Gen Oberoi submitted his resignation.
On Monday, the army interviewed a potential successor, Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal, but it will take time and effort for CLAWS to reorient itself towards genuine land warfare concerns of the future, such as the Naxal threat, electronic command and control systems, or cyber attacks on military electronics. Its current research scholars are engaged in dissertations on subjects like human resource development, defence economics and disaster management. Its next seminar is on the political turmoil in Pakistan. Land warfare is still nowhere on the horizon.