At Rs. 2.29 lakh crore, Defence expenditure is the largest component of the national budget. But true to Parkinson Law, when the figures are astronomical and beyond the grasp of human mind, the discussion/debate is minimal while smaller items will be hotly debated by our parliamentarians. This author recalls sitting in official’s gallery during the defence debate (possibly in 1989) when there was no quorum and only a handful of MPs were present!
The 1991 reforms totally bypassed the defence sector and it continues to wallow in the inefficiencies of the ‘licence Permit Raj’.
Many things may have changed in India but the apathy/ignorance on matters of defence seems to be a constant factor. The 1991 reforms totally bypassed the defence sector and it continues to wallow in the inefficiencies of the ‘licence Permit Raj’. If India is to develop and reach its full potential reform of defence sector is the need of the hour.
But first the political amnesia of most of our citizens! It seems that the fact that this is first ever clear mandate to a single party (more importantly one individual) in 30 years has still not sunk in. The various organs of the state from judiciary to media are behaving as they did when we had the spectacle of a 12 member party having its Prime Minister! We seem to have got so used to a weak executive that all and sundry, including free lance adventurers, ‘shouty uncle’ of TV and judiciary, are guarding their acquired turf.
One may dare say that the realisation of what a clear mandate means has still not sunk in even in the ruling party. What this does is that like Nehru or Indira Gandhi in early years, PM Narendra Modi, is free to bring in individuals based on competence and not political compulsion/calculation. It is due to this that the reform of defence apparatus ought to be a high priority. The changes in defence sector can have positive cascading effect on the national economy and power.
It is true that a large part of defence expenditure is revenue expense mainly dealing with salary and maintenance requirements of the armed forces. There is not much scope for economy in some of these aspects. Although, rationalisation of logistics and integration of maintenance services, can effect major saving without compromising on effectiveness. To some extent this has indeed been done.
…while the Govt has been making large allotments year after year and thanks to slow decision making, every year the defence ministry returns huge funds unspent. Over the years finance ministers have used this as a ‘trick’ to curb expenditure…
But the real crux of the matter is Rs. 89,587 crore that the defence ministry intends to spend on new acquisitions and modernisation. Once the details are out, it would become clear if the acquisition of the ‘Rafale’ is a part of this.
There is a point of view that is opposed to this huge deal, worth Rs. 60,000 crore, and instead feels that India should develop the ‘Tejas’ light combat aircraft for this purpose. This author does not claim expertise to comment on this issue, but in general terms; it seems that the whole gamut of force levels and threat perception has not been adequately debated.
Essentially the security threats to India are at three different spectrums. At the two extremes are a nuclear war and sub-conventional proxy wars/insurgencies and sponsored terrorism. In the middle is the 1971 style large land/air force battling out each other. If we look at the recent history, the last such conflict with Pakistan was in 1971 and with China in 1962. The 1999 Kargil intrusion was quite similar to the 1965 infiltration by Pakistan. Yet, thanks to the nuclear deterrent in place, Kargil remained a highly localised conflict that did not spread even to other sectors of the LOC (Line of Control). Yet look at the bulk of defence expenditure, it is devoted to the building of military to fight the least likely ‘middle Spectrum’.
India’s defence posture is one of the most inefficient and resource wasting sector of the economy. Fundamentally the defence apparatus is still stuck in the British days model of ‘Garrison Army and expeditionary force ‘. Defence planning left to the armed forces alone has become a collection of ‘worst case scenarios’ and its aggregation. Modernisation has come to mean junior officers in WE (War Establishment) directorate leafing through glossy defence magazines and forwarding the demands for import of the latest weapons! The scenario is completed with DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) becoming a giant state within state with import substitution passing for research and indigenisation of components masquerading as development.
India badly needs an Indian version of Robert MCnamara, who moved in as Defence Secretary from his job as successful manager of Ford Motors. In the 1960’s when Kennedy became President of the US, the Americans faced similar dilemma as India faces today. Kennedy drafted a brilliant technocrat and manager Mr. Robert MCnamara as his defence minister. McNamara’s instituted of systems analysis as a basis for making key decisions on force requirements, weapon systems, and other matters. MCnamara introduced system analysis and subjected critical defence decisions in as broad a context as possible. Exactly opposite of what we have in India whereby many decisions are purely one service oriented.
MCnamara died in 2009… But the reforms he brought about in the US military endure and put the US on a path to becoming a pre-eminent military power.
MCnamara introduced civilian analysts for force planning so that the military advice could be analysed from an independent point of view. He brought in the concept of 5 year defence plan to take a long term view of the military force requirements. A measure adopted by India as well. But in a retrograde step, the UPA Govt reverted to annual budget plans and lapsing of unspent funds thus overturning a sensible NDA govt decision to stick to roll over of previous year budget. What this has meant in effect is that while the
Govt has been making large allotments year after year and thanks to slow decision making, every year the defence ministry returns huge funds unspent. Over the years finance ministers have used this as a ‘trick’ to curb expenditure and show lower budget deficit.
MCnamara also began the practice of the Development Concept Paper. This examined performance, schedule, cost estimates, and technical risks to provide a basis for determining whether to begin or continue a research and development program. McNamara relied on systems analysis to cancel the B-70 bomber, as a replacement for the B-52. He stated that it was neither cost-effective nor needed. He expressed publicly his belief that the manned bomber as a strategic weapon had no long-run future; the intercontinental ballistic missile was faster, less vulnerable, and less costly.
It is a tribute to MCnamara’s farsighted vision that the ancient B-52 continues to serve in the US Air Force and the US has not built a new bomber since last 50 years. He also cancelled the Skybolt, air launched ballistic missile programme as un-necessary and instead backed the development of F-111 fighter bomber that again is still the mainstay of the US airpower in 21st century. He faced a lot of criticism and resistance from Air Force lobbies but stuck to his guns.
McNamara accomplishments include containment of inter service rivalry; curtailment of duplication and waste in weapon development; institution of systems analysis; application of computer technology; elimination of obsolescent military posts and facilities; and introduction of a flexible strategy, which among other things improved U.S. capacity to wage conventional and limited wars.
A major reform and restructuring of defence will not only make country more secure but will also effect major savings in defence expenditure.
MCnamara died in 2009 and in his later years accepted his role and failure in Vietnam. But the reforms he brought about in the US military endure and put the US on a path to becoming a pre-eminent military power.
India is sorely in need of a fresh broom in Defence Ministry. Thankfully, the PM has a total mandate and no ‘coalition compulsions’ to appoint dead wood in crucial positions. A technocrat with sound managerial capacity as a defence minister is the need of the hour. A major reform and restructuring of defence will not only make country more secure but will also effect major savings in defence expenditure.
For starters we must have an informed debate in India on merits of Rs. 60,000 crore deal on import of fighter aircraft vs indigenous aircraft or missiles as alternatives! Let us hope the govt does not get hustled into a deal that we regret later at leisure!