Recent reports that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has been unable to spend almost 40% of its allocated amount for capital procurements once again brings forth the hollowness in the functioning of the ministry and its associated service headquarters. The military has been facing shortfalls in equipment and stores, thus impacting its effectiveness for operations. While it has been rightly said, that it is the man behind the gun which counts, but if there is no gun, nor sufficient ammunition, how would the man be able to perform.
The methodology of defence procurement has regularly been changing. While the previous government in its entire tenure, refused to process procurement plans due to fear of claims of kickbacks, the present government is slow on account of bureaucratic issues. Their concept of government to government deals did initially show a way forward, but lack of progress and slow pursuing has brought them to the stage of status quo with the previous governments. The defence procurement procedure is undergoing a change yet once again, with guidelines yet to be released.
The mandarins of South Block should realize that unless they arm the military, the nation is never secure. An unsecure nation would never be able to develop and grow to its complete potential. Even the knuckle rapping by the Standing Committee on Defence last year has had no effect on the snail pace moving ministry. The military is woefully short of the needed capabilities essential to ensure security. At the same time it is even short on basic essentials required for normal functioning and training.
Shortfalls in capabilities come to the fore, when there is a requirement to project force as a means to deter enemy misadventures, whether they be proxy attacks by state sponsored terrorist groups or enhanced firing along already turbulent borders or protecting own interests overseas. The military has based its capability requirement on the ability to face a two front offensive.
The air force, which has for a long time been banking on the Rafale Fighters, now realizes that it is still years away from becoming a reality. The home manufactured Tejas, yet to come into production with requisite modifications, has pushed the air force way behind in the desired squadrons essential for national security. The Indian Ocean has seen an increased Chinese submarine presence and with China developing port facilities in Gwadar and Djibouti, the same would only increase. Tensions are affray in the South and East China seas. India’s submarine fleet is woefully inadequate, as also aging in service. The Pakistan navy is enhancing its submarine strength with Chinese assistance. The deal to hire a Russian nuclear submarine has fallen through, only adding to the shortfall. The plan to purchase the latest air defence equipment from Russia is still to see the light of day, as also is the ‘make in India’ helicopter deal.
The Government which has been talking across the nation on its respect for the soldier fraternity has been as slow as the previous governments in catering for their needs. The morale of the serving and retired community of the military is at an all-time low. The seventh pay commission has more anomalies than satisfaction, resulting in service chiefs approaching the minister for setting issues right. How much would be rectified, only time would show. The dilution of the OROP, as released by the government, has the retired community up in arms, with the promise of a continuing agitation. They have failed to realize, that every serving soldier of today is a potential veteran of tomorrow. Therefore morale with lack of equipment ails the military of the day.
While the blame for any such action goes to the concerned ministers, the reasons for the same are bureaucratic hurdles which the ministers at the helm have never been able to manage. The MOD has always considered itself to be superior to the service headquarters, whereas in reality, they should function hand in glove. The fault is not theirs alone. Even at the service headquarters, there are very few willing to take decisions. Most cases are simply referred to the MOD, automatically giving them the power which they claim at present. This only compounds delays in decision making.
For the bureaucracy, time has no meaning and a case can linger on till the cows come home, while delay in procurement can deny the desired capability essential for national security or enhance its cost to prohibitive levels. Since no bureaucrat has ever been held responsible for delay in processing and decision making, such actions would continue. The end result of such delays is what we see at present, surrender of funds. While some justification can be expected for the navy and air force, for the army, it is just callousness. The basic army requirement is to be capable of fighting in all- weather, all- terrain configuration. Thus night sights and bullet proof equipment are the basic essentials which however have yet to reach satisfactory levels.
Any nation seeking to be an economic giant and projecting its power on the diplomatic stage needs the backing of a powerful military, capable of deploying its force in its area of interest. By denying the military even the capability to react offensively to misadventures by a neighbour, is poor management of defence, for which the service headquarters and the ministry should equally share the blame. The defence minister and his team need to work overtime and push hard to ensure timely availability of capabilities within the allocated budget. The man behind the gun has always delivered, and would continue to do so, but please, give him the gun and the requisite ammunition.