Talking to the media and news channels Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has said that he has now set the stage for far-reaching defence reforms from a chief of defence staff (CDS) and unified commands to slashing non-operational military flab—held up since the 1999 Kargil conflict. This is welcome news after the decade plus of stagnation in defence during AK Anthony’s rein as the defence minister.
Our MoD has the advantage that the military with its ethos and discipline cannot go to the media and should even a service chief say something which may not be palatable to the ruling bureaucracy exercising ‘civilian control’…
Defence Minister Parrikar has emphasized that military modernization was poised to take off in a major way, adding that “the impact will be seen next year” which could include the inking of the Rs 59,500 crore deal for 36 French Rafale fighters by June end.
The Defence Minister’s response to what changes have been ushered by him in MoD can be summarized as: major change attitude (more openness, more trust, more confidence) and the mindset to deliver: delivery of OROP; faster handling of veteran grievances; exercise to improve teeth to tail ratio of armed forces; DPP 2016, under which acquisition proposals have already begun, and; deal for 36 Rafale aircraft will likely be cleared in June itself. On the question of CDS, Defence Minister Parrikar said that CDS, jointness and reforms in basic structures are all inter-linked, which are being worked upon seriously – a CDS without jointness has no meaning. He added that this required a proper action plan for implementation over seven-eight years, it can’t be done overnight, and if these issues were not resolved for 16 years, he thought he could take a few more months. All this is good news but needs close examination.
Our MoD has the advantage that the military with its ethos and discipline cannot go to the media and should even a service chief say something which may not be palatable to the ruling bureaucracy exercising ‘civilian control’ then the bandicoots cry blue murder; the term ‘bandicoots’ should ring a bell from the past. So the MoD can gleefully give any brief to the Defence Minister without fear of recourse. Take for instance the above statement by the Defence Minister that there can be no CDS without jointness; doesn’t this denote lack of clarity on the issue, perhaps induced by the bureaucracy? The reverse is actually true; it is the CDS who will usher in jointness in the armed forces, not jointness ushering in the CDS. It is yet unclear whether the government will go in for a bureaucrat-orchestrated Permanent Chairman COSC or a CDS.
In the first place, the Modi government should have questioned the Naresh Chandra Committee how did this unheard term of Permanent Chairman COSC cropped up under the UPA regime when the Kargil Review Committee categorically recommended early establishment of CDS, which was duly endorsed by the Group of Ministers (GoP) headed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister LK Advani.
…in June 2015, Defence Minister Parrikar had promised to send his proposal on the issue (CDS or Permanent Chairman COSC?) to the National Security Council. One year has elapsed…
It should be apparent even to the naïve that the liberation of Bangladesh and the stupendous feat of taking 94,000 prisoners of war (the largest surrender after World War II) were possible because then Army Chief General (later Field Marshal) Sam Manekshaw was virtually performing as the de-facto CDS. However, this was because of his personal equation with the then Prime Minister. The bureaucratic mafia ensured this was never institutionalized later and managed to use an off-the-cuff remark of Sam Manekshaw in early hours of the morning to sidetrack him rather than making him the Defence Minister to put the defence of India on the right track. At a public meeting in June 2015, Defence Minister Parrikar had promised to send his proposal on the issue (CDS or Permanent Chairman COSC?) to the National Security Council. One year has elapsed since but then 16 years have passed since the GoM Committee Report too.
But looking at what Defence Minister Parrikar has told the media, are we talking of systemic defence reforms or is it that we are initiating an assortment of sundry measures and call them defence reforms? Issues mentioned by the Defence Minister amount to some parts of what may be termed the cart of defence reforms. But where is the horse to pull these defence reforms – the national security strategy (NSS) and the comprehensive defence review (CDR)? The government is aware of admission in Parliament during the erstwhile UPA regime that what we call NSS is actually a set of miscellaneous policy letters lying in different places. Surely, initiation of the NSS and CDR should have been the first priority of the Modi government to set the right course for India’s defence. This initiative should have been the first also for Defence Minister Parrikar, which certainly shouldn’t be stymied with the argument that if this did not happen past 69 years, what is the hurry now.
In fact the argument should be in reverse especially given the reason that the NSS and CDR need to be worked out in deliberate fashion, not in quick time. Initiating what is being termed defence reforms without the NSS and CDR amount to placing the cart before the horse. Similarly, jointness before CDS too follows the same hypothesis, which could well be on behest of the bureaucracy by design.
…is there a time plan and a road map for indigenous defence products meeting the military requirements (including at ground level) as is the case in China?
The Defence Minister during the Janta Party regime happened to gift four INMARSATs to the troops deployed in the Siachen area during his visit in 1997. Next morning headlines in the media screamed “communication problems in Siachen resolved”. Similar media hysteria will probably happen when finalization of the Rafale deal eventually takes place, which has lingered on for years and physical induction of these aircraft into IAF are yet few years away after the deal is inked. Certainly, these aircraft would contribute to part modernization of the IAF but by no measure can they be clubbed into ‘defence reforms’.
As for indigenous production, much is being publicized about the achievements of the DRDO, but what should be seriously examined by the Defence Minister is that what percentage and to what extent do their products meet the requirements, especially the critical requirements of the armed forces even if they don’t match up with commercially off the shelf products available globally. More importantly, is there a time plan and a road map for indigenous defence products meeting the military requirements (including at ground level) as is the case in China?
Sept 2013 saw formalizing of the Defence Trade &Technology Initiative (DTTI) with the US and the first meeting was held with the nodal agency DRDO (ill-equipped to handle this) in 2015 and is generally running cold or at best luke warm. Why has the critical shortage of bullet proof jackets in the Army exceeded 3,50,000 and the 2014 promise of Defence Minister Parrikar of emergent procurement of 50,000 still not materialized, even as private Indian companies are exporting bullet proof jackets to militaries and security forces in some 200 countries. Why could the elephantine DRDO not meet this basic requirement? Yes, there will be plenty media hype when the promised 50,000 emergent bullet proof jackets arrive (hopefully this year) but what about the balance critical void of over 3,00,000? Then, there is much in the air about cutting down defence expenditure but what about stuff like mosquito repellent produced by DRDO and lakhs of rupees spent on advertizing such feats in the media for the sole purpose of self aggrandizement?
The Defence Minister actively needs to look into bringing down such litigation against disabled soldiers, and go for an effective and implementable mechanism to resolve disputes so that aggrieved soldiers are not forced to approach courts.
DPP 2016 has been issued despite several months of examination and discussions post submission of the Dhirendra Singh Committee Report, but it is an incomplete document. The Defence Minister admits that the issue of selection of strategic partners would take another two-three months, so the most important ingredient of the new DPP linked with private sector participation is still missing despite the Dhirendra Singh Committee report defining guidelines for choosing strategic partners. The private industry waits with baited breath to see the manner in which this is implemented since any loopholes could be used to the advantage of some.
The minuses of the partial DPP 2016 issued besides the void of benchmarking strategic partners include: whether wholly-owned subsidiaries of foreign companies qualify as Indian Offset Partners (IOPs) is not addressed; detailed offset guidelines not notified; no changes mentioned to the Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap (TPCR) in vogue past decade and a half which hasn’t helped much; no worthwhile changes in other procedures including the Fast Track Procedure (FTP); and chapter containing the revised standard contract document as well as various annexure and appendices not released, without which DPP 2016 is quite incomplete.
Claims and controversy of full or partial OROP notwithstanding, the Defence Minister may have initiated measures towards the welfare of veterans but the implementation on ground tells a different story. The mere fact that an independent Member of Parliament is hosting a panel discussion at Delhi’s Constitution Club on June 3 to address Increasing instances of litigation and appeals in matters pertaining to disability pensions and benefits speaks volumes.
The Defence Minister actively needs to look into bringing down such litigation against disabled soldiers, and go for an effective and implementable mechanism to resolve disputes so that aggrieved soldiers are not forced to approach courts. Mere issue of policy without implementation is exercise in futility. The Defence Minister has remarked about outsourcing barbers in the military as part of adjusting the teeth to tail ratio but what about downsizing the gigantic governmental defence industrial complex.
The status of the military’s C4I2SR is nowhere near the required. Even the mapping requirements are decades behind schedule.
While the Defence Minister remarks about outsourcing barbers in military, what about downsizing the 5,85,000 civilians in the MoD and spending Rs 1000 crores annually on pay, allowances and establishment of MoD (Finance). Why the latter are not paid by Ministry of Finance and why are they part of MoD when budget expenditures go for clearance of Ministry of Finance anyway. Why is it that civilian defence employees under MoD are eating up 37% of overall defence pension budget outlay, which will shoot up exponentially with the 7th CPC?
The Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) under the Ministry of Science & Technology has come out with ‘Technology Vision 2035,’ identifying the challenges ahead and how they can be dealt with through technological interventions while realizing the dream of a developed India by the year 2035. This takes us to the ‘Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap (TPCR) issued in April 2013 by HQ IDS with a forward by the then Defence Minister AK Anthony. Considering that the TPCR commenced 2012, what is the progress that is made in the last five years, if at all? The fact is that presently the military does not even have common data structures, symbology and interoperable protocols; true ‘system of systems’ approach appears decades away. The status of the military’s C4I2SR is nowhere near the required. Even the mapping requirements are decades behind schedule.
The Defence Minister would do well to fix the horses first before deciding on what the defence reform cart should comprise; the NSS and CDR need to be initiated and the CDS appointed to execute the defence reforms under directions of the political authority.