In a significant defence policy reform notified on April 18, 2018, the government has revamped the existing defence planning system by establishing a Defence Planning Committee (DPC) under the chairmanship of the National Security Adviser (NSA). This new institutional mechanism, set up as a permanent body, is intended to “facilitate a comprehensive and integrated planning for defence matters” – a vital ingredient in defence preparedness, which was conspicuously missing in the mechanism set up in the early 2000s in the wake of the Kargil conflict. The new measure, arguably the boldest defence reform in decades, is likely to have a far reaching consequence on the way defence planning is undertaken and on defence preparedness.
Salient Features of the New Mechanism
The heart of the new institutional mechanism is the all-powerful DPC with the NSA at the helm. The Committee has a cross-section of members drawn from the higher echelons of the civil and military services including the three service chiefs (one of whom is the Chief of Staff Committee, COSC), the Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, and Secretary (Expenditure) of the Ministry of Finance (MoF), with the chief of Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS) performing the task of member secretary. Besides, the NSA is empowered to co-opt other members as and when required.
The charter of duties of the DPC is of two fold. One, it is tasked to ‘analyse and evaluate all relevant inputs relating to defence planning”, which includes, among others, the “national defence and security priorities, foreign policy imperatives, operational directives and associated requirements, relevant strategic and security-related doctrines, defence acquisition and infrastructure development plans, including the 15-year Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP), defence technology and development of the Indian defence industry and global technological advancement.”
Second, the DPC is tasked to prepare at least five different sets of drafts including: “national security strategy, strategic defence review and doctrines; international defence engagement strategy; roadmap to build defence manufacturing eco-system; strategy to boost defence exports; and prioritised capability development plans for the armed forces over different time-frames in consonance with the overall priorities, strategies and likely resource flows.”
HQ IDS, which was established in October 2001 consequent to the decision of the Group of Ministers (GoM) based on the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) Report is to function as the Secretariat for the DPC, in addition to performing its usual secretariat function for the Chief of Staff Committee. In order to assist the functioning of the DPC, the new mechanism provides for four sub-committees, one each on Policy and Strategy, Plans and Capability Development, Defence Diplomacy, and Defence Manufacturing Eco-System. The reports of the DPC are to be submitted to the Defence Minister and further approval are to be taken as required.
Towards Credible Defence Preparedness
The formation of the DPC is likely to bridge a key gap in the existing defence planning mechanism, which, for long, was thought would be met through the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as the ultimate arbitrator of all requirements of the armed forces including the planning aspects. With the CDS not finding favour with successive political dispensations, the existing system of HQ IDS-led planning is perceived to have given way to the parochial interests of various stakeholders. This has had an adverse impact not only on how security threats were perceived by various security organs, but also on how scarce resources are distributed among the services and within the various branches of each service. Equally importantly, the existing planning process has had very little control on such aspects as true indigenisation and self-reliance in defence procurement matters, which are being vigorously pursued through the ‘Make in India’ programme.
Overall, the extant system of defence planning resulted in: the provision of less than adequate resources to meet numerous security challenges; chasing goals that were not of immediate priority; duplication and wastage of scarce resources; giving less than required focus on new technological advancements while pursuing manpower driven military modernisation; and, a defence R&D and manufacturing base losing its sight on self-reliance.
With the powerful DPC in place and the NSA assuming the role of de facto CDS for all practical purposes other than in operational matters, the defence planning process is expected to become more rational as well as provide a much needed boost to defence preparedness. The realistic enough expectation is that the DPC would clearly articulate the key national security/ defence/ military goals as well as prioritise defence and security requirements as per the likely available resources while at the same time providing adequate focus on emerging security challenges, technological advancements, and establishing a strong indigenous defence manufacturing base.