The big military challenge

PM has a bold vision for defence reform. Can his defence minister deliver?

Written by Anit Mukherjee | Updated: January 25, 2016 2:54 pm
pathankot attack, indian army, india military, military in india, india news, modi, parrikar, narendra modi, manohar parrikar, editorials today Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.

The terrorist attacks on Pathankot Air Force Base revealed weaknesses in our intelligence, police and security procedures. While all of them need to be addressed, however there are larger issues—which can have far more disastrous consequences for India’s national security, which need attention. This is the issue of defence reforms—initiated in the aftermath of the 1999 Kargil war (which followed from a previous Lahore yatra by a BJP Prime Minister to meet Nawaz Sharif), virtually ignored by the two UPA governments and brought to life by the current government. Indeed, in an important speech, while addressing the Combined Commanders Conference last month Prime Minister Modi challenged his defence minister and senior military commanders to reform their “beliefs, doctrines, objectives and strategies.” This is nothing less than appealing for a paradigm shift, on a number of different fronts, echoing the sentiments of generations of military reformers. The Defence Minister, who has publicly supported defence reform, has his task cut out for him. Unfortunately he should not count on support from civilian bureaucrats in his Ministry. In turn, it is far from assured whether the current generation of senior military officers are up to this task. In short, while the prime minister’s vision is bold, its implementation faces formidable obstacles. The attacks in Pathankot should remind him—and his security managers, that India lives in a dangerous neighbourhood and it should therefore focus on strengthening our military.

It is an open secret that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was keen to undertake some form of defence reforms. His office was the driving force behind the Naresh Chandra Committee, established in 2011, ostensibly to revisit the defence reforms process. This committee recommended the creation of a Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee—a less than perfect nomenclature for the Chief of Defence Staff. For the first time ever all three service chiefs supported creating such a post. However, Defence Minister A.K. Anthony, for reasons not entirely clear, was not that enthusiastic. Civilian bureaucrats in his ministry also shared his scepticism. Later, numerous controversies surrounding General V.K. Singh put paid to any talk of defence reforms.

Prime Minister Modi identified six broad areas for reforms—in defence planning, enhancing jointness (the ability of the army, navy and air force to operate together), urging manpower rationalization (smaller tooth to tail ratio), emphasizing professional military education, restructuring higher defence management and in the defence procurement process. His analysis of problems in each of these sectors challenged the assumptions, and world-view, of India’s senior military commanders. For instance, India is probably the only country in the world which is expanding its military manpower which, by definition, curtails resources for military modernization (China recently announced cuts of up to 300,000 troops). The Indian military is among the least ‘joint’ major militaries in the world and its system of professional military education emphasizes training over education. However, like with so many of the prime minister’s project, the most important issue is that of implementation. If this initiative is left to the bureaucracies—civilian or military, then reforms are unlikely to succeed.
Conventional wisdom would have the government announcing reform measures and leaving it to the military and the defence ministry to implement them. Doing so will likely subvert the reforms, as has happened in the past. In 1986, Arun Singh was instrumental in creating a tri-services and joint civil-military institution called the Defence Planning Staff (DPS) in an attempt to rationalise defence planning. It quickly lost its relevance as the services opposed this initiative. More recently, the Ajai Vikram Singh Committee was tasked to find way to lower the age of combatant commanders. However, the implementation of the committee report was left to the services. In the army this created a major controversy—which is currently being battled in the courts. The Andaman and Nicobar Joint Command, which was founded to be an experiment in jointness has, in practice, been “subverted” by a non-cooperative attitude from the services. Finally, there is a variance between the report submitted by the late K. Subrahmanyam (under the aegis of the Committee on National Defence University) on India’s Defence University and how it is currently being implemented by the military. In sum, reforms will not succeed if its implementation is not closely monitored.

There are three significant obstacles to defence reforms. First, it is not clear if, and how, will the Chiefs of the three services give up powers for the proposed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). If the restructuring of higher defence management results in an institutionally weak CDS then it defeats the purpose. Second, it is not clear how the government will create more joint commands, especially since this is opposed by the military. Their opposition, shorn of its elegance, is primarily because it curtails the number of posts available for their upward mobility. It is not surprising therefore that they will advocate for more joint commands—Cyber, Space, Special Forces for instance, but will be unwilling to integrate existing commands. Effectiveness and efficiency is therefore sacrificed to the logic of bureaucratic expansion and increased promotion pathways. Third, there is opposition, usually in private, from civilian bureaucrats who do not want to change the status quo. They prefer the existing arrangement which gives them considerable powers with little accountability.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar—responsible for implementing the prime minister’s vision, has claimed that he has read the Goldwater Nichols Act, which transformed the U.S. military. However, this initiative did not occur overnight and was preceded by a public debate and, perhaps more importantly, required a civil-military partnership consisting of reform minded individuals. As he faces obstacles from his own officials perhaps Mr. Parrikar should consider forming a Defence Reforms Unit comprising politicians, former officials and technocrats all sharing the vision for defence reforms. This could thereby monitor the progress of different reform measures.

The media is fond of comparing the leadership styles of President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi. It is surely a coincidence that both have publicly come out with statements calling for reforming their militaries. We therefore have the unique opportunity to compare two different institutional and leadership styles. It would be India’s loss if, after a year, defence reforms remains an aspiration.

Anit Mukherjee is an Assistant Professor in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), NTU in Singapore.

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First Published on: January 25, 2016 12:04 am
  1. F
    FekuSarkar
    Jan 25, 2016 at 6:56 am
    Feku Vision, Flight Mode PM
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    1. F
      FekuSarkar
      Jan 25, 2016 at 8:14 am
      Hey Feku, band kar lol... Kitna fenkega??? Feku Flight Mode PM, no network no call
      Reply
      1. F
        FekuSarkar
        Jan 25, 2016 at 8:15 am
        Then wht did Feku went to salute uninvited in Pak?? Dal me kuch to kala he!!
        Reply
        1. S
          Satendra kumar
          Jan 25, 2016 at 2:35 am
          Not only the Modi government the entire country made the initiative for the logo make in India for defence products and digital India with smart cities making one of the countries top agenda also making initiative for countries defence needs for country 's security for own people also looking ways for defence export to friendly countries for thier own defences.
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          1. M
            Major
            Jan 25, 2016 at 7:34 am
            The defence reforms can be formulated only by a strong government headed by a visionary PM. In the present context Mr Modi cannot stand a chance as he is a tool to his colleagues and the hotheaded bureaucracy. Cohesiveness of the three forces can be achieved by a senior Armed Forces Chief, sat the CDS. But as on date a civilian is unofficially holding the post and commanding the Army, Airforce and the Navy, a fact which was seen practically in the Pathankot episode, Doval acted as the top authority in there. Parrikar is on his way out and the new proposed one Jeitley is totally uninterested, with this w exercise of reforms will come to a naught. The three Chiefs being "yes men" will retire like their predecessors with an attractive post retirement bonanza.
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              Praful Vora
              Jan 25, 2016 at 4:56 am
              You need involved defense minister and who make decisions faster and visit all defense facilities and see why they are not producing enough ammunition are they lazy then change them and have new ordinance factory
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                Anil Tandale
                Jan 25, 2016 at 2:52 am
                For judging the calibre, capacity and commitment of Defence Minister and Armed forces chiefs, the only bench mark is that of Krishna Menon and General PN Thapar. Whether Mr. Parrikar ranks higher or lower than Krishna Menon? Whether successive service chiefs are more incompetent than PN Thapar? This should be ready reckoner for any writer, author or commentator.
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                1. A
                  arc
                  Jan 25, 2016 at 4:52 pm
                  @Rajesh. Where did you learn that language? At the feet of modi?
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                  1. A
                    arc
                    Jan 25, 2016 at 8:59 am
                    Modi's stani agent in davos? Modi is antinational.
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                      Rajesh
                      Jan 25, 2016 at 7:14 am
                      "The issue is defence reforms, initiated in the aftermath of the 1999 Kargil War, ignored by the two UPA administrations and again brought to life by the current government." ....... LOL, and the "secular" dogs actually ask why they are considered anti-nationals ??
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                      1. R
                        Rajesh
                        Jan 25, 2016 at 8:25 am
                        Mirror pe dekho ji, kitna ch..tiya comment dalega? We got it, Modi being the PM sets your a** on fire, but learn to deal with it.
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                        1. R
                          Rajesh
                          Jan 25, 2016 at 7:15 am
                          Mullah pig upset that they military will be frying a lot of jihadis soon.
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                          1. K
                            Karunakaran
                            Jan 25, 2016 at 3:31 am
                            Everything that the crouching, dokhlabhai does is BOLD. But he can't speak in the parliament. He shows he an speak by sending photos to the media. But he can't speak in the parliament. It is time India starts preparing for Mr Nitish Kumar's entry as the next PM. It will be a great relief.
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                              G M
                              Jan 25, 2016 at 5:22 am
                              First of all Anti failed to convince what is Modi's reform and what is Modi's vision in defence ( O.R.O.P. ) and how this ficious so called vision amounts to be pronounced as bold. umption that bureaucrats prefer status co is nonsense as senior bureaucrats lose nothing . They are already overwhelmed by the authority which is ociated by them by the time they reach position which has significant say in defence subject. Technocrats, former officials can never be subsute of bureaucrats as they are expert in extracting beast out of specialists be it technocrat or a person with defence know how. A idea of head super chief commanding all three army, nevy and air force is not something which can path breaking and revolutionize w set up. Naturally India is encircled by adversaries like stan and China. So we have to evolve a defense culture where every citizen has to give compulsory service in defence. Unified command is not enough to frighten adversaries unless we match them in equipment especially after a new scenario where stan has became atomic power.
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                                G B
                                Jan 25, 2016 at 2:20 am
                                What is needed at least now is total reforms; not what has been recommended in the past. The highlight of the article needs to be viewed in the true perspective underlying it - modernization through restructuring by downsizing, joint operability and technology 4 plus and 5 combat systems. The senior loggerheads of not only the civilian bureaucracy but also the 'armed forces br' at the top would oppose it tooth and nail. The point made in the article is correct - only Indian Armed forces are adding numbers. What about Central Para Military Forces? Integrate and reduce all HQs. Almost 35 HQs at Command/regional levels. Sheer waste of resources and manpower. What about over 5 lakhs defence civilians manning British colonial logistical structures of bygone era.
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                                  JKG
                                  Jan 25, 2016 at 4:45 am
                                  Defence Minister will definitely meet the challenge...
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                                    Mukund
                                    Jan 25, 2016 at 4:47 am
                                    The writer seems to know only keralas viewpoint. He seems to be unaware about the happenings around or he is trying to be ignorant. Even in his state thats relevent. One may have grudge against a person but not against the country. It seems he wants Mr.Modi to go the border and fight enemies.
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                                      Muthu
                                      Jan 25, 2016 at 2:08 am
                                      The issue is defence reforms, initiated in the aftermath of the 1999 Kargil War, ignored by the two UPA administrations and again brought to life by the current government. This line tells, how the Modi and his govt is working for Country's Security and development..
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                                        Pulak Mukherjee
                                        Jan 25, 2016 at 4:30 am
                                        But the solution eludes me. How does Modi implement all these reforms while he is saddled by the reluctant agents of this change e.g. the Defense Minister, the bureaucracy and even the service top br!
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                                          Krishnan
                                          Jan 25, 2016 at 3:12 am
                                          Krishna Menon slept and we lost 10,000 square miles to China in 1962. He was involved in Mundhra jeep scam. General Thimmaiah, Army General complained to Nehru about this crook and later died mysteriously.
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                                            Ramakrishnan
                                            Jan 25, 2016 at 6:52 am
                                            There is no doubt there is an urgent requirement for radical reforms in defence. I, having served for 34 years in Army and closely following happenings in defence sector thereafter, am convinced there are requirements for radical reforms in three areas urgently. First - flab cutting. Mere numbers in troop strength is not going to give us the needed strength. By increasing the resources for electronic monitoring of the border/LC/LAC and ensuring quick mobility coupled with immediate support by means of attack heptrs/ground attack aircraft it is possible to reduce the actual numbers deplo. With this change and by reducing the logistical tail by making use of existing logistical facilities available in the proximity of border/LC/LAC it is possible to reduce the numbers by by about 30%. Finances saved thus can be used to increase the weapon capability, infrastructure upgradation and provision of mobility. Second - Integration of the three services at Command level. Army and Air Commands should be integrated at a suitable location, that of the existing Army or Air Command, whichever is operationally suitable, and dismantling the other one. There should be a joint commander, who should be on rotation from either service, who himself coming under the Chief of Combined Defence Staff, who shouild also be by rotation from the three services. The Navy commands should be integrated with air and army elements on as required basis, with resources being conveniently located and made available on as required basis (their basic role being with the other Army/Air joint commands). Third - the bureaucracy should be restricted to mere secretarial work. The Defence Minister should have direct access to the Commanders with out mediation of the bureaucracy. He should be isted by an advisory committee consisting of reputed senior defence officers, security experts and senior politicians who had handled defence in their career. No one else can bring in these reforms other than the PM himself. There will be lot of opposition to it. A great amount of bull dozing will be required and flexibility in thinking to make modifications as the reforms are brought on ground, based on actual experience post reforms. PM Modi should take on this responsibilty personally with out wasting time. He has a well meaning Defence Minister currently who can be depended upon to carry out the reforms on ground.
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