Context:  The drawbacks of India’s defence set-up must be addressed  for the nation to be prepared militarily.

What is Swiss cheese model?

  • The Swiss cheese model is associated with accident investigation in an organisation or a system. A system consists of multiple domains or layers, each having some shortcomings. 
  • These layers are visualised in the model as slices of Swiss cheese, with the holes in them being the imperfections. 
  • Normally, weaknesses get nullified, other than when, at some point, the holes in every slice align to let a hazard pass through and cause an accident.

Three slices in defence set-up

  • When applied to a nation’s defence preparedness, the Swiss cheese model, in its simplest form, works the reverse way. 
  • The slices represent the major constituents in a nation’s war-making potential, while the holes are pathways through which the domains interact. 
  • At the macro level, there are only three slices with holes in each.
    • These must align to ensure that a nation’s defence posture is in tune with its political objectives; any mismatch may turn out to be detrimental to the nation’s self-respect when the balloon goes up.

 Indian defence set-up, the three slices are:

  1. One, the policymaking apparatus comprising the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) and Ministry of Defence (MoD).
  2. Two, the defence research and development (R&D) establishment and domestic manufacturing industry and
  3. three, the three services. 

Previous defence setup: When the MoD alone existed, a certain relationship between the three layers saw India prosecute four major wars since independence. The holes in the three slices were aligned to different degrees and hence the results were varied in each conflict.

Need of overhauling India’s defence setup:

  • Parallel Warfare: With technology progressing exponentially, a single service prosecution of war is no longer tenable, because the advent of smart munitions, computer processing, networking capabilities and the skyrocketing cost of equipment brought in the concept of parallel warfare.
  • Two adversaries and the need for capability accretion of the three services : Terrorist activities have not reduced in Jammu and Kashmir, ongoing incidents along the northern border with China do not foretell a peaceful future, and the China-Pakistan nexus can only be expected to get stronger and portentous. 

Way ahead:

  • Need right equipment: Wars cannot be fought and won on well-meaning policy intentions and nationalist rhetoric; wars are won when war fighters have access to the right equipment to prosecute them.
  • Creating theatre commands: it strikes at the very foundation of the war-fighting structure of the services. The Chinese announced their ‘theaterisation’ concept in 2015; it is still work in progress. The U.S. had a bruising debate for decades before the Goldwater-Nichols Act came into force in 1986. Turf wars are not a patent of any one nation. 
    • Under the Goldwater–Nichols Act, military advice was centralized in the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as opposed to the service chiefs. It increased the ability of the chairman to direct overall strategy, but provided greater command authority to "unified" and "specified" field commanders.
  • Synergised application of tools of national power is  an imperative: it became essential for militaries to be joint to apply violence in an economical way — economical in terms of time, casualties, costs incurred, and political gains achieved.
    • The setting up of the DMA(Department of Military Affairs) and the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to achieve synergy are the most fundamental changes; as further modifications and tweaking take place in the way the services prepare to go to war, it is imperative that the transformation be thought through with clinical analysis, without any external, emotional, political or rhetorical pressure.


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