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March 7, 2011

Correcting years of neglect

South Asia is the second most unstable region in the world, and may even overtake West Asia to reach the first place. Among the world’s major democracies, India faces complex threats and challenges, spanning the full spectrum from nuclear to sub-conventional conflicts. Unresolved territorial disputes with China and Pakistan, insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern states, the rising tide of left wing extremism (LWE) and the growing spectre of urban terrorism have vitiated India’s security environment. Yet, despite the prolonged exposure that the security establishment has had in dealing with these multifarious challenges, India’s national security continues to be poorly managed.

The first and foremost requirement for improving the management of national security is for the government to formulate a comprehensive National Security Strategy (NSS), which includes internal security. The NSS should be formulated after carrying out an inter-departmental, inter-agency, multi-disciplinary strategic defence review. Such a review must take the public into confidence—and not be conducted behind closed doors. Only then will the various stakeholders be compelled to take ownership of the strategy and work to achieve its objectives.

Priority Measures

  • Formulate a comprehensive National Security Strategic (NSS), after undertaking a strategic defence review.
  • Approve LTIPP 2007-22, the long-term integrated perspective plan of the armed forces, and the ongoing Defence Plan 2007-12.
  • The defence budget must be enhanced to 3 per cent of the GDP.
  • Implementation of defence procurement plans such as artillery modernisation must be hastened.
  • Modernisation plans of the central paramilitary and police forces must also be given their due attention.
  • The government must immediately appoint a Chief of Defence Staff to head the defence planning function and provide single point military advice to the Cabinet Committee on Security.
  • Anomalies created by the Sixth Pay Commission must be redressed, including acceptance of the one rank-one pension scheme.
  • A national War Memorial must be constructed in New Delhi to honour those who have sacrificed their lives in the service of the country.

The armed forces are now in the fourth year of the 11th Defence Plan (2007-12), which has not yet been formally approved by the government. The government also has yet to approve the long-term integrated perspective plan (LTIPP 2007-22) formulated by HQ Integrated Defence Staff. Without these essential approvals, defence procurement is being undertaken through ad hoc annual procurement plans, rather than through long term plans designed to enhance India’s combat potential. These are serious lacunae as effective defence planning cannot be undertaken in a policy void. The government must commit itself to supporting long term defence plans—if not, defence modernisation will continue to lag, and the present quantitative military gap with China’s People’s Liberation Army will become a qualitative gap as well in 10 to 15 years. This can be done only by making the dormant National Security Council a pro-active policy formulation body. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) deals with current and near-term threats and challenges and reacts to emergent situations.

The defence procurement process must be speeded up. The army lacks towed and self-propelled 155mm howitzers for the plains and mountains, and urgently needs to acquire weapons and equipment for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. The navy has been waiting for far too long for the INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) aircraft carrier, which is being refurbished in a Russian shipyard at an exorbitant cost. Construction of the indigenous air defence ship is lagging behind schedule, while the air force’s plans to acquire 126 multi-mission, medium-range combat aircraft in order to maintain its edge over regional air forces are stuck in the procurement quagmire. All three Services need a large number of light helicopters. India’s nuclear forces require the Agni-III missile and nuclear powered submarines with suitable ballistic missiles to acquire genuine deterrent capability. The armed forces do not have a truly integrated C4I2SR system for network-centric warfare, which will allow them to optimise their individual capabilities.

All of these high-priority acquisitions will require extensive budgetary support. With the defence budget languishing at less than two per cent of India’s GDP—compared with China’s 3.5 per cent and Pakistan’s 4.5 per cent (plus US military aid)—it will not be possible for the armed forces to undertake any meaningful modernisation in the foreseeable future. The funds available on the capital account at present are inadequate to cover even the replacement of obsolete weapons systems and equipment that are still in service well beyond their useful life cycles. The central police and para-military forces (CPMFs) also need to be modernised as they are facing qualitatively greater threats while being equipped with obsolescent weapons.

The government must also immediately appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee to provide single-point advice to the CCS on military matters. Any further dithering on this key structural reform in higher defence management due to lack of political consensus and the inability of the armed forces to agree on the issue will be detrimental to India’s interests in the light of the geo-political developments taking place in the country’s vicinity. Logically, the next step would be to constitute tri-Service integrated theatre commands to synergise the capabilities of individual Services. International experience shows that such reform has to be imposed top-down, and would never work if the government expects it to come the bottom-up.

The softer issues that do not impinge immediately on planning and preparation to meet national security challenges must not be ignored, as these can have adverse implications on the morale of the men in uniform. The numerous anomalies created by the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission report must be resolved. In fact, the ham-handed handling of this issue has led to a dangerous “them versus us” civil-military divide, and the government must work to bridge this gap quickly.

The ex-Servicemen have had a raw deal, and have resorted to surrendering their medals and holding fasts for justice to get justice for their legitimate demand of “one rank-one pension”. One rank-one pension is an idea that must be implemented without further delay—and without having to appoint any more committees of bureaucrats to look into the issue. While a Department of Ex-servicemen’s Welfare has been created in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in keeping with the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme, there wasn’t a single ex-Serviceman in it until recently. Such measures do not generate confidence among serving soldiers and retired veterans in the civilian leadership.

Finally—rather unbelievably—India does not have a National War Memorial to date. Need we say more?


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