IN a major step meant to reform the process of higher defence planning, the government on Wednesday formed a new integrated institutional mechanism, called the Defence Planning Committee (DPC) under the chairmanship of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
The committee, which will be a permanent body, will prepare a draft national security strategy besides undertaking a strategic defence review and formulating an international defence engagement strategy.
Sources told The Indian Express that the idea to create an institutional mechanism which could undertake comprehensive and integrated planning of higher defence matters had been on the table for some time but was not gaining traction. The idea got a push in recent months, particularly after the last budget, with the three service chiefs and defence ministry officials working together to get it implemented.
Given the complex security environment and the volume of expenditure on national defence, sources said that it was imperative to have a strong defence planning mechanism. The present system was found insufficient to provide the rigour necessary for the planning process, which led to creation of this new institutional mechanism.
As per the government order issued on Wednesday, DPC will consist of the Chairman Chiefs of the Staff Committee (COSC), service chiefs, Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Secretary (expenditure) in the Finance Ministry.
The committee will operate through four sub-committees: on Policy and Strategy, Plans and Capability Development, Defence Diplomacy, and Defence Manufacturing Ecosystem. The membership and the terms of reference of the sub-committees will be finalized separately.
By bringing the Foreign Secretary and Expenditure Secretary into the formal planning process of the Defence Ministry, the government has attempted to overcome the problems of coordination between various ministries on matters of national security. It has often been alleged that the defence planning process and the requirements of the armed forces have been cut off from the diplomatic priorities and financial capacity of the government.
To overcome this lacuna, the DPC has been tasked to undertake external security risk assessment and define national defence and security priorities. It will also formulate the national military strategy, a strategic defence review and a draft national security strategy.
To accomplish these requirements, DPC will identify the “means” and “ways” across ministries, obtain CCS approval for a capability development plan and provide guidance for budgetary support.
The DPC will also prepare a roadmap to build a defence manufacturing ecosystem, a strategy to boost defence exports and prioritized capability plans for the armed forces in consonance with the overall priorities, strategies and likely resource flows. It will submit all its reports to the defence minister.
The previous attempt at an equivalent reform in higher defence planning was in the 1970s when an Apex Group was established in 1974 under the Planning Minister, to bring defence planning within the broader purview of the national planning. In 1977, the government set up a Committee for Defence Planning (CDP) under the Cabinet Secretary, with Principal Secretary to Prime Minister, Defence Secretary, Secretary Defence Production and Supplies, Secretary R&D, Finance Secretary, Secretary Planning Commission, Secretary (R) in the Cabinet Secretariat and the three Service Chiefs as its members. It was tasked to allocate resources among the defence services and “undertake regular assessments relevant to defence planning in the light of all factors having a bearing on national security and defence.”
This committee did not achieve desired results and the 2001 report of the Group of Ministers on “Reforming the National Security System,” under the previous NDA government had noted: “The defence planning process is greatly handicapped by the absence of a national security doctrine, and commitment of funds beyond the financial year. It also suffers from a lack of inter-service prioritization, as well as the requisite flexibility. It is of prime importance that the process is optimally managed to produce the most effective force structure based on a carefully worked out long term plan, in the most cost effective manner.”
The GoM had recommended the formation of a Chief of Defence Staff to achieve that goal but that has still not seen the light of the day.