In a first, the government on 30th August 2017 approved reforms within the Indian Army to enhance combat capability of the forces thereby rebalancing defence expenditure in a phased manner by December 2019 based on the recommendations of the 12 Members High Powered Expert Committee under the Chairmanship of Lt Gen Shekatkar (Retd). Signalling that the ministry is examining the military dimension seriously, the Shekatkar committee includes several military officers, such as Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (Retd), a former military operations chief who now heads the tri-service think tank, the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies.
The Shekatkar Committee had given 121 recommendations to the government in its report on December 2016, out of which CCS has approved the 99 and the Ministry of Defence decided to implement 65 in the first phase.
A second committee has been constituted under former petroleum secretary, Vivek Rae, to study “the setting up of a Defence Procurement Organisation in the Government of India.” The committee has suggested the functional mandate of the proposed procurement body, its organisation and staffing, and to suggest how autonomously it could function.
The first phase of the reforms involves redeployment and restructuring of approximately 57,000 posts of officers. The measures will be implemented in a gradual manner.
“Restructuring by the Indian Army is aimed at enhancing combat capability in a manner that the officers will be used for improving operational preparedness and civilians will be redeployed in different wings of the armed forces for improving efficiency,” stated in a release issued after the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Shekatkar Committee had given 121 recommendations to the government in its report on December 2016, out of which CCS has approved the 99 and the Ministry of Defence decided to implement 65 in the first phase.
“The net effect of this is, as to various, different functions in the Army, as per the changed environment of technology, economy, combat capability of the Army, how it is to be best utilised,” said Arun Jaitley, Minister of Finance, Defence and Corporate Affairs. The recommendations are based on the threat perception both from China and Pakistan.
Under this, the government will do away 39 military farms and several Army postal departments in peace locations. There will be optimisation of signals establishments to include Radio Monitoring Companies, Corps Air Support Signal Regiments, Air Formation Signal Regiments, Composite Signal Regiments and merger of Corps Operating and Engineering Signal Regiments.
The National Cadets Corps (NCC) will also undergo reforms to improve its efficiency…
There will also be “optimization” and “re-structuring” of ordnance and vehicle depots, signals establishments and base repair workshops, supply and transport echelons. The National Cadets Corps (NCC) will also undergo reforms to improve its efficiency, with re-employed ex-servicemen progressively replacing service personnel there.
Many more such measures are urgently required to improve the poor teeth-to-tail ratio (combatants to support personnel) of the Indian armed forces, the third largest in the world after China and the US. The Army, for instance, needs to fully raise its new 17 Mountain Strike Corps (90,274 soldiers), geared for high-altitude warfare with China, by 2021. “But around 31,000 of the 57,000 personnel to be redeployed are defence civilians,” said a source.
Apart from this, in the first phase, the government will also undertake restructuring of repair echelons in the Army to include base workshops, advance base workshops and station workshops in the field Army.
There will also be redeployment of ordnance echelons to include vehicle depots, ordnance depots and central ordnance depots apart from streamlining inventory control mechanisms.
The committee has said that if its recommendations are implemented over the next five years, the government can save up to ₹25,000 crore from the current expenditure. Most of the recommendations are measures to cut down flab in the Army to make it lean and agile and increase coordination among the three Services.
The report has asked for the threshold of the annual defence budget to be raised from current 1.7 per cent to 2.5-3 per cent of GDP.
The committee has recommended a performance audit of the role of non-combat organisations under the Defence Ministry. The organisations include those dealing with defence estates and accounts, the Director- General of Quality Assurance, the Ordnance Factory Board, the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
The reforms will also aim for better utilisation of supply and transport echelons and animal transport units. It will also seek to enhance the quality of clerical staff and drivers engaged with the Army.
The committee was given the mandate to recommend measures for enhancing Combat Capability and Rebalancing Defence Expenditure of the Armed Forces with an aim to increase “teeth to tail ratio”.
The Shekatkar committee has dismissed the idea of reducing the manpower of the 11.8 lakh-strong Army, stating that the Army’s task is in the mountains, both against China and against Pakistan. Asking the country to be prepared to fight “a two-and-a-half front war” — Pakistan, China and internal security — the report says that it has attempted to “refocus, reorient and realign” the armed forces. The report has asked for the threshold of the annual defence budget to be raised from current 1.7 per cent to 2.5-3 per cent of GDP.
One of the major recommendations of the committee is to review the definition of ‘Capital’ and ‘Revenue’ budget heads in the funds allocated to the three armed forces, particularly the Indian Army. The panel notes that the Indian Army—unlike the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force—will have to remain a manpower-intensive force because of its major deployment in the mountains against both its major adversaries, China and Pakistan. As a result the sustenance budget of the Indian Army will be higher than the other two services leaving very little money for capital acquisition. The panel has reportedly therefore recommended that a ‘roll on’ plan for fresh acquisitions be introduced so as to overcome the practice of ‘surrendering’ funds at the end of every financial year.
As for redeployment and rationalising of manpower, the Committee has recommended that the role of non-combat organisations paid for and sustained by the defence budget be subjected to a performance audit.
The panel has also suggested a review of the financial management system of the MoD in which the defence finance wing is seen to be more of an impediment in clearing projects and has recommended that the financial powers of all the three chiefs and vice chiefs be enhanced further to quicken the pace of acquisitions.
As for redeployment and rationalising of manpower, the Committee has recommended that the role of non-combat organisations paid for and sustained by the defence budget be subjected to a performance audit. Some of these organisations mentioned in the report are Defence Estates, Defence Accounts, DGQA, Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), and DRDO. Once a professional and objective review is carried out, the committee said, downsizing or rationalising the manpower in these organisations could achieve substantial savings.
The committee has also suggested the establishment of a Joint Services War College for training for middle level officers (the higher command course for instance), even as the three separate War Colleges—currently at Mhow, Secunderabad and Goa—for Army, Air Force and Navy could continue to train younger officers for their respective service. Similarly it has recommended that the Military Intelligence School at Pune be converted to a tri-service Intelligence training establishment.
Another aspect highlighted by the committee is the increasing reluctance on part of the state governments to renew lease of land for crucial firing ranges for the troops. Increasing urbanisation and pressure on land has meant that the armed forces have to battle political and bureaucratic pressure to retain the existing firing ranges. The panel has therefore suggested better coordination between the MoD and state governments to overcome this problem.
The Indian Army is apolitical which has been adequately proved over the years. The CCS is seeing ghosts (based on self aggrandised interests of the bureaucracy) when there are none.
However the Committee has also suggested that the armed forces ramp up the quantum of training on various simulators. The new recruits can do about 60 per cent of their firing training on simulators, resulting in substantial savings to the tune of Rs 20-25 crore per annum in expenditure of training ammunition, the committee has suggested.
The report argues that the four-star post, whether it is called the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (PC-COSC), is essential for smooth functioning of the armed forces in the prevailing security environment.This is not the first time a tri-Service chief has been proposed to provide single-point military advice to the government, usher in synergy among 3 Services, prioritise inter-Service procurements and manage the country’s nuclear arsenal.
After the 1999 Kargil conflict, the group of ministers’ report on reforming the national security system had strongly recommended a chief of defence staff (CDS) because it held the existing chiefs of staff committee (CoSC) had “serious weaknesses” in giving single-point advice. The Naresh Chandra Task force in 2012 had also recommended the post of a permanent chairman of the CoSC. The CCS has not taken a decision on CDS despite the recommendations of three committees. The false and fabricated propaganda of the bureaucracy that the Army will take over the country if CDS is appointed has taken precedence over the national security and integrity of the country. The Indian Army is apolitical which has been adequately proved over the years. The CCS is seeing ghosts (based on self aggrandised interests of the bureaucracy) when there are none.
The Axe Falls on Military Farms
The ball has already been set rolling with the decision to shut down the 39 military farms, spread over 20,000 acres and housing around 25,000 cattle in the country, in a time-bound manner. The closure of military farms, which will free land for training, operational and other purposes, has been pending for over three decades now, with the Army itself proposing the step in 2012-2013.
Sources said comprehensive reforms in the running of NCC could be rolled out over the next few years. Progressively, the NCC could be run by re-employed or on-contract ex-service personnel. The committee not clear if the NCC will be transferred out of the Defence Ministry to the HRD Ministry, as recommends it.
Chief of Defence Staff
According to sources, the report argues that the four-star post, whether it is called the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (PC-COSC), is essential for smooth functioning of the armed forces in the prevailing security environment but it cannot be based on the US model. Seeking more discussion on the need for integrated theatre commands, the expert committee says that while the US is an expeditionary power, India has to fight its wars on its own soil. India’s armed forces have to defend the nation and stabilise the neighbourhood, and their main priority, the report argues, is “to degrade the combat endurance, combat capability, combat potential and combat capacity” of Pakistan. The top four-star military chief, members of the committee is envisaged as a coordinator, a “Centre Point” which will not impinge on the three service chiefs in operational and administrative roles. This will have to be done as a part of the committee’s recommendation for full integration of service headquarters with the MoD.