At an interaction at The Indian Express office,Air Chief Marshal PV Naik airs his views about the PM,praises the Defence Minister,elaborates on issues concerning Armed Forces and says he is unhappy about the fact that average Indian knows little about Armed Forces
Manoj More: How has your journey been since you joined. What has changed in the IAF over the years and have MiG 21s outlived their utility?
I have been lucky to fly almost all the aircraft of the IAF as well as the F-15s and the F-16s abroad. I consider Mig-21s to be the best of its times. It did not have most of the features that today’s aircraft have. But a lot of change has happened ever since. I cannot say that the aircraft has outlived so I put it down. We need to have a certain number of equipment,aircraft to face the enemy which is there constantly. Therefore,we take it up in a phased manner. I want to reassure everyone that any aircraft that takes off is serviceable. The average life of an aircraft is about 30-40 years after which you go in the realms of unknown. The Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) is not known because no one has flown it beyond 40 years. So what may be serviceable today may pack up two minutes later.
Pranav Kulkarni: What was your priority when you took over as the Air Force chief and how far have you succeeded in passing on your views to your successor?
When I took over,I had three points in mind. The first one was operationalisation. The second one was acquisition of new equipment. We should have started the process 10 years ago,but we couldn’t because the country did not have money. So we missed that window. So the strength depleted. We were down to 34 squadrons. My aim was to increase the capabilities of the IAF. The third aspect was human resources — a lot of policies and aspects needed tweaking or improvement. Networking was another criterion given that net-centric Air Force is the need of the future. A chief’s tenure is about two years. In two years,nothing happens. The average time for acquisition is about eight years. So sometimes what somebody else started finishes in your time and you get the credit. What I have started probably might not finish even in Charlie Browne’s tenure and the next chief will get the credit for that. What I can say is that I managed to get a lot of things in pipeline.
Sunanda Mehta: In the recent past,Army has been associated with various scams. It is not so with IAF.
I do not know why. Probably,we have managed to run the Air Force fairly well. When I took over,I gave three things – mission,integrity and excellence. Army has been involved with civilians’ lives closely. If anything happens,the Army is called in. That could probably..(be the reason)
Sunanda Mehta: Have the scams led to demoralisation of troops?
I do not think so. When I was a pilot officer,my maximum reach was the station commander whom I would see once in seven days or so and I am not bothered what the generals do. So I do not think that demoralisation has spread there as much as due to the pay commission. That demoralisation is across the board. Some 40-odd anomalies are still pending. They are discussing about the Armed Forces and there is no representation from the Armed Forces. The same is about the pay commission. So we keep banging our heads hoping that something happens. But because you are in uniform and there is democracy,you are bound to serve the present government. You cannot go beyond.
Sunanda Mehta: Do you think there is a need to improve civil-military relations?
Definitely. We recently had a discussion at the Pune Shramik Patrakar Sangh on the subject. One of the things that emerged was the relation between the Armed Forces and the media. The Armed Forces want to keep things secret. And newspapers have to report it. But my opinion is that both of them must work in close liaison. Second aspect of the relationship is lack of knowledge in the media about Armed Forces. People do not even know the rank structure. It is easy for us to talk on politics,civic amenities,policing because they are a part of our day-to-day life. Defence involves a lifetime of specialisation. But the media is not bothered to learn about defence.
Pranav Kulkarni: It looks like the MoD and the Forces are always on two opposite poles. The Naresh Chandra Task Force has suggested a cross integration between the two.
There was one issue which I was taking up with the Defence Ministry and others. We had something called Military Service Pay under the Sixth Pay Commission and which was a good thing. It was not given to the Non Combatants (NCs). The NCs are as much a part of the Air Force as everybody else. I took up the matter with the Defence Minister and the Finance Minister. I also went to the PM… He asked me why don’t you give me a non-paper as to what are the things that are likely to raise the morale of the Armed Forces. I called the other two chiefs and we made out (the non-paper). At the top of the agenda was integration between the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces. That is one of the issues that the Naresh Chandra Committee has now addressed. Relationship between the MoD and the Armed Forces is bad. The Armed Forces have no representation in decision-making process. Some bureaucrat is taking decisions about what a soldier needs. This was the first recommendation I had made. You do not need to start at a major general rank. Start as a Group Captain as a director level on civilian side equivalent. Let our guys work there,let their guys work at the service headquarters. The Armed Forces are an attached office. They are not a part of the Ministry. Today,the person responsible for the Defence of India is the Defence Secretary. This needs to change and this is the first thing on the agenda.
Manoj More: But how responsive and accessible is the PMO?
Firstly,let me tell you about Defence Minister A K Antony. He is one of the finest persons I have had the privilege of serving with. Anything to do with any scandal,he will not budge and throw it to the CVC. The PM is a balanced individual and a renowned economist. He has a tremendous equation with many world leaders by virtue of his demeanour and the way he carries himself at international forums. Here,he has been projected as a silent spectator for a different set of reasons which I would not like to go into. Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram are intelligent people. So that would restore my faith in democracy. Some people there at least know what is happening. But vote is the final word.
Sunanda Mehta: Do you feel the service chiefs have enough powers?
Anything to do with my service has to be cleared from the top. Transfer beyond a certain rank has to be cleared by them. It is painful. My basic submission to the ministry is – please feel involved. If an aircraft is delayed in acquisition,why should only IAF be involved? The person who is dealing with it should be involved and accountable – which is not there.
Pranav Kulkarni: You have opposed the concept of a CDS in its present form. The Naresh Chandra Task Force has suggested a permanent chairman COSC. Is this more feasible?
Chief of Defence Staff is a concept we have borrowed from the west. Almost all the countries have a joint forces commander or a CDS. All those countries are fighting wars outside their territory- thousands of miles away. I do not envisage our country fighting a war away from our mainland for a long time to come. There,they have a theatre command. They report to the President. We have a parliamentary system. Our present geographical location is large. So a single man controlling war within far off locations within country or say Andaman- Nicobar is difficult even technologically. Some countries have CDS who looks after the operations. The three chiefs look after training. In some case,he is in-charge of training,budgeting and acquisition for the three services. So we need to debate on the type of CDS. Having a central decision making body where the buck stops is good but we need a debate before arriving at a conclusion.
Manoj More: And what about civilian control? Do you advocate an Armed Forces Commission?
Civilian control is required but it should not be bureaucratic control. Civilian is the government. Civilians direct,for example in war,only till this point. Leave it to the Forces and we will fight. Bureaucratic control is painful. Leave it to the chiefs as they are competent enough.
Sunanda Mehta: Do we deserve the democracy that we have got?
We got it too early. Unless we ourselves become responsible citizens,there is no hope for our country. We have to have governance. Economy and others areas will take care of themselves. The whole thing has to change. Poverty elimination,education is another important aspect. We have enough rules,but their implementation is not proper.
Sunanda Mehta: Do you think the Army has undergone liberalisation within the organisation?
There is no liberalisation as far as the rules are concerned. There is more financial delegation. Now,there is more freedom to express our opinion. Now,men are becoming more and more educated,so they have to be reasoned. This was always there in the Air Force. Army is facing the problem because the jawans are getting more educated. So you have to give legal orders. Only when the level of education rises,there is hope for democracy.
Pranav Kulkarni: The Army and the Navy have their domains,land and sea respectively. If not a tactical force,what are IAF aspirations?
My mission is to protect the country from threats that arise from air and space. Army- land and Navy- sea. I should be able to meet the aspirations of our country. As the country keeps advancing,aspirations of my country keep increasing. Plus,what is the sort of an Air Force one wants. What is your zone of influence? As per the PM,the zone of influence of IAF extends from the Strait of Hormuz to the Strait of Malacca and beyond besides Russia and east European countries on the north. I should have the reach,the lethality and the capacity to project air power over this zone of influence. So I build my capabilities to see,reach,hit and protect — these are the four pillars.
Sunanda Mehta: Are you happy with the quality of recruits in the Armed Forces?
Quality of recruits is a matter of concern. This generation,in particular,is after quick money and it is not there in the Armed Forces. The number of people coming in has reduced. But if you see the selection boards,there are thousands who want to get in. Selection process remains the same- stringent. We need to increase our intake.
Sunanda Mehta: When a number of youngsters from rural areas are joining the Forces,officers’ children seem to be opting for corporate jobs.
After the Sixth Pay Commission,things have improved. Plus,the corporate world is down.
Debjani Paul: Do you advocate compulsory military training for youngsters?
I think one needs discipline when young so that you can become a disciplined citizen. When you look at people insulting women,one feels that our basic instincts as citizens are not good. I think each one of us needs to improve.
Pranav Kulkarni: Your comments on the recent recruitment scam in the NDA.
That is a sad story. All the five fingers are not the same. As far as cadets are concerned,they are busy training and do not get affected much.
Pranav Kulkarni: Your comments on reverse engineering.
I am all for reverse engineering. National interest is the most important thing. Your country must go forward,whichever way you do it.
Pranav Kulkarni: So why are we not doing it? LCA Tejas has not taken off yet and Kaveri engine has failed.
Tejas did not take off because we did not do reverse engineering. We were re-inventing the wheel. There are four stages of development and it takes a long time. Democracy and bureaucracy take time. In China,decision making is fast because it is not a democracy.
Nisha Nambiar: Is the budgetary allocation for Defence enough?
Budget is more than adequate. There is no shortage of funds. Procedures are such that it takes eight years for things to materialise. We have a major issue of offsets. Our industry itself is not capable of handing offsets because they do not have the volume. Over 10 years,we are going to spend US$235 bn on Defence. Regarding 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA),I remember on July 31,2010,I was abroad and had instructed my deputy chief that you must give the proposal to the Defence Ministry by July 31 as I had promised so. On July 31,2010,our executive report shortlisting Eurofighter and Rafale was on the Defence Secretary’s table. But the contract has not yet been signed.
Pranav Kulkarni: When do you see the IAF reaching full squadron strength?
The fleet will continue to deplete as Mig-29s,Bisons,Mig-27s go out. This will continue till we get LCA Tejas and then the MMRCA and FGFA. Unless these come in,we will keep going down. But I see them coming,may be not on time. But they have to come in by 2029,I would say we will have 45 squadrons.
Manoj More: Is China a threat?
China and India are emerging power centres. We are in the same geographical neighbourhood. All our friends are the same. At some point,interests may clash. But I have a funny feeling that wars are a thing of the past. I don’t think any country can afford a war. And the moment you start preparing,everyone will come to know. While Pakistan has chosen terrorism,China keeps the Arunachal issue burning. As energy flow,water become more and more important aspects,the presence in the Indian Ocean will increase. Right now it is only USA,but China will soon come. The action is going to be in Asia in future.