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  He must look beyond enhanced annual allocations and focus on the strategic needs of the armed forces

- Pravin Sawhney

Arun Jaitley Since India aspires to become a leading power — which conducts its foreign policy based upon real rather than perceived strengths — it should, among other things, become a credible military power. For this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should appoint a political heavyweight as the full-time defence minister, who is able to cut through the entrenched bureaucracy (civil and military) to focus on five fundamental priorities. First, the minister should strive for constitutional ownership of the defence ministry. Under the 1961 Government of India Allocation of Business Rules and Transaction of Business Rules, the defence secretary, not the defence minister, is responsible for India’s defence. Given this, while the five departments of the defence ministry — department of defence, department of research and development, department of production and supplies, department of finance, and the integrated defence headquarters — and the three integrated headquarters of the three defence services report to the defence minister. His authority is more notional than real. The actual work depends upon how the defence bureaucracy views matters.

Second, the defence minister should direct the chiefs of staff committee (comprising the three defence services chiefs) to do a combined assessment of threats from Pakistan and China. This has never been done. The assessment of the two-front war, based upon which massive procurements and huge manpower expansions have been sought, was first done by the Army. Not to be left behind, the Air Force and the Navy came up with similar assessments and sought additional equipment, well beyond what the annual defence budgets can afford and the ill-equipped indigenous defence industry can deliver. Moreover, since fighting two-front nuclear-armed neighbours with potent conventional war capabilities is suicidal, what is the point of col lecting expensive war goodies which cannot neutralise threats? The way out would be provided by combined threat assessment and military reforms.

Third, the basic purpose of military reforms is to strengthen the operational or war-fighting level of conventional war. And the least this requires is not a military tri-service leader — whether a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or a Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee — on the top, or theatre commands, but an understanding by the defence services of their own and other services’ core competencies. The latter is essential for developing credible joint operations for a successful war. Since this takes years through staff and field postings at all levels within the services to master, the defence minister should order this. The Chinese military started such inter-services postings in 2008. It was only in 2015, as a part of its military reforms, the posts of Joint Staff Department (equivalent of CDS) and theatre commanders were created.

Arun Jaitley

Fourth, in order to strengthen the indigenous defence industry, the minister will need to look beyond the advice of the self-serving defence bureaucracy. For example, the bureaucracy — which will resist losing its control over the domestic industry — would make defining the “Strategic Partnership” clause of the new Defence Procurement Procedure unrealisable. Without this, Make in India would not happen, since the foreign company is required to tie up with an Indian strategic partner. Therefore, in order to strengthen the defence industry, the minister should press that both indigenous public and private defence industry be treated as national assets; that the DRDO implement reforms as suggested by the Rama Rao committee; that the public sector industry adhere to time and cost lines; that imported foreign technology is not passed off as indigenous; and that there is a technical review of long-struck projects in the DRDO, Ordnance factories and public sector units.

And fifth, the minister should focus on developing core technologies through wide-net partnerships between the DRDO and civilian scientific research institutes. Since core technologies are a nation’s strength and no one parts with it, it has to be painstakingly developed over decades. At present, Make in India is a vision which would take decades to fructify. Hence, a sincere beginning needs to be made. If the new defence minister looks at the Chinese military, which has grown from a tactical force to one capable of threatening the powerful United States’ military, he would realise that military power is much more than enhanced defence allocations.

(Story has been published in DNA newspaper)


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