Military & Aerospace

Defence Preparedness: An unforgiving opportunity
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 30 Jul , 2014

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!

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col Anil Athale

Former infantry soldier who was head of War History division, Min of Def, Research fellowships including Fulbright, Kennedy Centre, IDSA, USI and Philosophical Society. 30 years research of conflicts in Kashmir, NE, Ireland, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Author of 7 books on military history.

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8 thoughts on “Defence Preparedness: An unforgiving opportunity

  1. India needs a thorough re examination and re engineering of “defense”. Primarily, India has remained a navel gazing nation without a clue about what happens elsewhere. India’s defence and foreign policy remains frozen, doggedly, in time. If India was to fight in the Second World War (Bangla Desh was a similar theater), India might do very well with brute manpower enhanced with slightly more contemporary field arms. India has not surfaced an effective threat perception from which to derive a lean and mean fighting machine model towards which to move. Instead of re-engineering, it is growing organically with most of its investments, costs, and ballasts in maintaining the ornamental and the absurd of yester years. The teeth to tail ratio has under gone a terrible degradation where India is almost all tail. India created, under the home ministry, further ballast of large numbers of para military forces ostensibly to man the borders, wage war on malcontent Indian citizens and so on. The main motive though was the “Nehruvian” inferiority complex driven suspicion of the military which was, in his day, led by British educated and trained King’s Commissioned Officers who were far superior to his pitiful Civil Servants and politicians like himself. The para military, the Politican-Bureaucrat Nexus hoped, would provide them a bulwark against the Indian Armed Forces. Today, the Para Military are woefully unfit for purpose and it is the Indian Armed Forces that are called in to perform their duties, whether it be quelling rebellion, protecting the borders or disaster relief, rendering them even more unfit for purpose. India’s Armed Forces have been rendered into an unfit for purpose para military equivalent, largely ornamental, and expected to frighten away predatory neighbours like a scarecrow placed to frighten away a swarm of locusts. Consider how India squanders money on ornamental, obsolete carcinogenic air craft carriers instead of building bases on its archipelagos.

  2. Defence preparedness requires acquisition of means to match the capability of perceived adversaries apart from will power. The means includes fighting forces, their skills, weapons, equipment and other supplies required for operation in theater of war. Modern warfare is highly technology intensive, so major challenge before armed forces are acquisition of weapons and equipment with adequately high degree of technology matching that of the perceived adversaries. Now country has provided adequate budget allocations for acquisition of weapon, but the same is not utilized due to non availability of adequate indigenous sources of supplies on account of poor performance of DRDO and DPSUs, and importation of the same sink into quagmire of corruption in many cases and this delays acquisition. There is need to develop defence R & D as well as production facilities in private sector as US does. Indigenous private players in defence production has to be assured of load on sustainable basis and government need to support them in getting market abroad. For achieving this, there should be a rationality in choice of specification and quality requirements of weapon and long term perspective plan needs to be shared also with the local manufacturer of weapons and equipment in private sector , so that they could gear up themselves to meeting requirements of defence forces.


  4. Are there structured courses and recruitment channels for “project managers” and the like? This seems to be the problem anywhere and everywhere, and sometimes such analysis and thesis as done in the article just sound out of the box and wishful and not so practical. I would love to just believe whats being suggested.

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