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Getting aggressive on defence

How to recover from UPA’s record on military modernisation and national security.

Written by Gurmeet Kanwal | Updated: May 26, 2014 8:28 am

While the new government will have its hands full dealing with socio-economic and governance issues, one of its key priorities will be to manage India’s multiple external and internal security threats and challenges better than the UPA 2, whose performance in this regard was often sub-optimal and given to knee-jerk reactions.

All high-priority acquisitions will require extensive budgetary support. ( Source: Reuters ) All high-priority acquisitions will require extensive budgetary support. ( Source: Reuters )

By: Gurmeet Kanwal

The management of border violations on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and ceasefire violations on the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan was marked by the lack of inter-ministerial and inter-departmental coordination. Long-term defence planning failed to get the attention it deserves. The defence budget fell to its lowest level since the 1962 debacle. Military modernisation stagnated as major procurement projects were delayed due to bureaucratic red tape and the blacklisting of almost a dozen defence MNCs.

The first and foremost item on the new government’s defence and national security reforms agenda should be the formulation of a comprehensive National Security Strategy (NSS), including that for internal security. The NSS should be formulated after carrying out an inter-departmental, inter-agency, multi-disciplinary strategic defence review. Such a review must take the public into confidence and not be conducted behind closed doors.

The armed forces are now in the third year of the 12th Defence Plan (2012-17), and it has not yet been formally approved with full financial backing by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). The CCS has also not formally approved the long-term integrated perspective plan (LTIPP 2007-22) formulated by HQ Integrated Defence Staff.

Without these essential approvals, defence procurement is being undertaken through ad hoc annual procurement plans, rather than being based on duly prioritised long-term plans that are designed to systematically enhance India’s combat potential. These are serious lacunae as effective defence planning cannot be undertaken in a policy void. For this to happen, the dormant National Security Council must be revived.

The inability to speedily conclude major defence contracts to enhance national security preparedness, in the face of growing threats and challenges, exemplifies the government’s difficulties in grappling with systemic flaws in the procurement procedures and processes. Despite having formulated the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) and the Defence Production Policy (DPrP), the government has been unable to reduce bureaucratic red tape and defence modernisation continues to stagnate.

It is difficult to understand why the budgetary allocations earmarked on the capital account for the modernisation of the armed forces should continue to be surrendered year after year with complete lack of accountability. It was only during the year 2010-11 that the ministry of defence (MoD) managed to fully utilise all the funds allocated on the capital account.

While internal security challenges are gradually gaining prominence, preparations for conventional conflict must not be neglected. Major defence procurement decisions must be made quickly. The army is still without towed and self-propelled 155mm howitzers for the plains and the mountains and urgently needs new utility helicopters, anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) as also weapons and equipment for counter-insurgency operations.

The navy waited for long for the INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) aircraft carrier, refurbished in a Russian shipyard at an exorbitant cost and with operationally unacceptable time overruns. Construction of the indigenous air defence ship has also been delayed.

The air force’s plans of acquiring 126 multi-mission, medium-range combat aircraft (MMRCA), in order to maintain its edge over the regional air forces, are stuck in the procurement quagmire, even as the indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) project continues to lag inordinately behind schedule. All three services need a large number of light and medium lift helicopters. India’s nuclear forces require the Agni-IV and V missiles and nuclear-powered submarines with suitable ballistic missiles (SLBMs) to acquire genuine deterrent capability, particularly against China.

The armed forces do not have a truly integrated C4I2SR (command and control) system for network-centric warfare, which will allow them to synergise their combat capabilities and defend against cyber-attacks. The approach followed is still a platform-centric one, despite the demonstrated advantages of switching to a network-centric approach.

All of these high-priority acquisitions will require extensive budgetary support. With the defence budget languishing at less than 2 per cent of India’s GDP — the interim budget for 2014-15 is pegged at 1.74 per cent of the projected GDP — it will not be possible for the armed forces to undertake any meaningful modernisation.

The funds available on the capital account at present will not suffice even for the replacement of obsolete weapons systems and obsolescent equipment, in service well beyond their useful life cycles. The Central armed police and para-military forces (CAPFs) also need to be modernised and better trained, as they are facing increasingly greater threats while continuing to be equipped with obsolescent weapons.

Though UPA 2 had appointed the Naresh Chandra Committee to take forward the process of long overdue defence reforms, it was unable to implement any of the recommendations of the committee. The incoming government must immediately appoint a chief of defence staff (CDS) to provide single-point advice to the CCS on military matters and to synergise operational plans as well as capital acquisitions.

The logical next step would be to constitute tri-service integrated theatre commands to synergise the capabilities of individual services. It is also necessary to sanction the raising of the aerospace, cyber and special forces commands to deal with emerging challenges.

Any further dithering on these key structural reforms in higher defence management on the grounds of a lack of political consensus and the inability of the armed forces to agree on the issue will be extremely detrimental to India’s national security interests in the light of the dangerous developments taking place in its neighbourhood. International experience shows that such reform has to be imposed from the top down and can never work if the government keeps waiting for it to come about from the bottom up.

The writer is former director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, Delhi

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