Even one step by each stake-holder will make a big difference
India should have done better on strengthening national defence in 2012, especially when the traditional external threats have increased. China has become more belligerent; its announcement that it has only a 2,000km border with India has enhanced threat to Ladakh. Meanwhile, the induction of tactical nuclear weapons in Pakistan Army’s inventory is set to tip the conventional war balance between India and Pakistan in favour of General Headquarters, Rawalpindi.
While FORCE has consistently discussed these and other matters, I, at the beginning of 2013, wish to share my list of one important issue that each stakeholder in national security should do this year. I have picked the easiest issues, which do not require long deliberations and inter-ministerial consultations. These are both doable and will mark a difference towards improving national defence.
At the heart of my wish-list is the preparedness and modernisation of the armed forces, which are both about projectile and projector. A weapon platform like tank, gun, aircraft, and warship are projectors, while ammunition and missiles which finally impact on the target are projectiles. It is incorrectly assumed that modernisation implies only acquisition of state-of-art big ticket items. What good would they be without lethal missiles and ammunition? Thus, indigenisation of equipment and ammunition must happen together.
Here are the stake-holders and what they must do.
A.K. Antony: The defence minister would do yeomen’s service to national defence by removing the directorate general of quality assurance (DGQA) from under the office of secretary, defence production which is responsible for the Ordnance Factory Board and Defence Public Sector Units. There is a direct conflict of interest in the present situation which leads to inefficient use of budget funds, delays and missed deadlines on programmes. The DGQA should be brought under the office of the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), or better still the Army Headquarters.
General Bikram Singh: The chief of army staff (COAS) should review the present, about 80,000, strength of Rashtriya Rifles (RR) in counter-insurgency operations in J&K. Up to 50 per cent of RR should be pulled out progressively and used on the two disputed borders. On the one hand, this will strengthen conventional deterrence, and on the other hand, cases of indiscipline and fratricide within the army will decrease sharply.
Admiral D.K. Joshi: The chief of naval staff should make the office of the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Foreign Cooperation and Intelligence) visible as it was initially intended to be. The ACNS (FCI), a two-star rank officer, is both responsible for day to day interaction with the external affairs ministry on naval diplomacy, and with the media to explain what naval diplomacy is all about.
Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne: The chief of air staff who is also the current chairman, chiefs of staff committee (COSC), should in consultation with the other two service chiefs, press the government to appoint serving officers as heads of DPSUs. The Air Headquarters did recommend a serving air marshal rank officer to head Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to the defence ministry before the present incumbent took charge. This will not be an extraordinary move as precedence exists. Earlier, four air marshals, namely, L. Katre, P.C. Lal, O.P. Mehra and Aspy Engineer who headed HAL rose to become CAS. Two situations, however, should be avoided: recommending service officers towards the fag end of their careers, and the option of service officers continuing in the DPSU after retirement. The concerned officer must come back to the parent service after finishing a fixed tenure at the PSU. While naval PSUs have a tradition of retired officers heading them, replacement with serving officers will be a better option.
Manmohan Singh: As the buck regarding national security ultimately stops at the Prime Minister, he should in 2013 formalise his interaction with service chiefs. At present, service chiefs meet the Prime Minister on request, usually on pressing issues which the defence minister is either unable to resolve or recommends that it be brought to the notice of the higher-up. A regular meeting will beget three benefits: One, the two sides will get to understand each other’s perspective: the Prime Minister, a bit about operational matters, and the service chiefs, a peep into strategic thinking. For example, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had publicly said in 2005 that he desired Siachen to be converted into an area of peace to soon backtrack after the COAS, General Deepak Kapoor met and explained military compulsions to him. This national embarrassment was avoidable.
Two, regular interaction will necessitate the need for follow-up action by both sides. It is no good if the Prime Minister listens to a service chief with the latter never getting to know the outcome of the meeting. And three, the National Security Advisor, who would be in attendance at such interactions will benefit immensely; from the services’ perspective (the incumbent being an Indian Foreign Service officer), he will acquire a strategic perspective needed to understand our two adversaries, Pakistan and China, who give importance to military power as part of national power. This is not all. There could be an added advantage accruing from these interactions: New Delhi may feel confident to reach out to Pakistan COAS formally, a must for peace in the subcontinent.