Defence planning should be rooted in the present
Defence preparedness entails a lot more than just having the latest armaments and technologies. Ideally, defence preparedness should be the shared responsibility of the military and the polity. The military’s responsibility is the physical defence of the nation, while the polity’s is to aid the military’s ability to do so.
A term that is repeated in the Joint Doctrine as well as the individual doctrines of the army, navy and air force is ‘strong, well-structured combat capability’. This is a succinct definition of the primary responsibility of the armed forces. Combat capability can be developed and improved when both military and civilian policies are geared towards it. With this in mind, equipping the armed forces is the foremost priority of the current administration.
Equipping the forces is secondary to the planning required for the same. Planning for the future is best done by focusing on the present and a good start has been made in this direction with the reforms in defence procurement and production policies. Decision-making continues to be conventional and is rooted more in the past than in the present. Established institutions and processes are not subject to review and reforms are very slow in the making. Even if convention and hierarchy are accepted as integral to the defence establishment in India, economic calculations are conspicuously absent from all decision-making processes.
The debate over integrated planning, coordination and even hybrid warfare has raged on for quite some time now. Since the introduction of the revolution in military affairs (RMA) concept, the focus has shifted from the present to the future of warfare. This encompasses a change in both outlook and practice where warfare is no longer merely human, but informational. This is owing to the accelerated pace of developments in technology. While all three services acknowledge the need to prepare for future warfare which requires ‘harmonious and synergistic application of land, sea and air forces’, communication does not seem to be a strong suit. This is evident in the push and pull between prioritising the acquisition of new fighter aircraft for the air force, new carbines for the army and construction of new aircraft carriers and submarines for the navy. Bureaucrats and civilian personnel rely heavily on the inputs of defence service personnel for planning. The defence personnel of the three services work in silos and inter-service cooperation is limited to conferences and coordinated exercises. Coordinated planning while omnipresent in discourse is absent in action.
There is no doubt that planning for the future is crucial. However, this cannot be at the expense of the present, and more importantly, cannot be done without conducting a pragmatic review of the economic resources available. An important aspect of RMA is military transformation. The four characteristics that are studied under this are force structure, modernisation, readiness and sustainability. The Indian military is undergoing some transformation, especially with regard to modernisation and readiness. A lot has been written about force structure and restructuring of the Indian military by those best equipped to comment on them. The focus of this article is the economic considerations that need to become an integral part of decision-making processes in defence.
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