Progress in the defence sector in the past one year
It is high time that the nation carried out a fresh review of our defence capability in light of the changed global and regional environment and ‘nuclearisation’ of the region to decide on the overall strength of the armed forces which are even now organi
The present NDA Government was sworn in on May 26, 2014. To appreciate the actions of the government in the past one year in the defence sector we have to go back to check the reality that existed in May 2014 as far as the operational capability of the armed forces is concerned and then assess the policy changes/action taken. Let us start with the Army’s operational readiness profile.
It was reported in the media that the former COAS, General V.K. Singh (Retd), had written to the Prime Minister on March 12, 2012, regarding the glaring deficiencies in the army. When the Generals age related controversy was raging this letter was deliberately leaked to the media. However the positive effect was that it revealed the apathy in the then UPA Government and the Ministry of Defence led by an indecisive Defence Minister. It highlighted that the mission reliability of mechanised vehicles was poor, the artillery was obsolete and inadequate, air defence was antiquated, armour was unreliable due to regular barrel accidents caused by mismatch between indigenous barrels and ammunition, nightfighting devices were insufficient, aviation corps helicopters needed urgent replacements, and holdings of all types of missiles, anti-tank and specialised ammunition was critically low. As if this was not enough, we may now add the lack of suitable assault rifles and carbines for the infantry and bullet-proof jackets. The overall list is too long to be counted here but suffice it to say that former Defence Minister Antony’s ‘lost decade’ has left gaping holes in India’s defence preparedness.
Similarly the Indian Air Force (IAF) is down to 34 squadrons against 42 authorised. This would dip to 30 squadrons by the end of this decade, as nine squadrons of MiG-21 and MiG-27s retire. Under the circumstances, the IAF is extending the life of many of its older generation fighters.
The state of the Indian Navy is equally dismal as far as their submarine fleet is concerned. With Pakistan acquiring modern submarines, and Chinese submarine strength increasing in overwhelming numbers, expanding India’s submarine fleet became an obvious national priority.
While much discussion ensued, as it usually happens in India, the UPA Government did not fully wake up from its slumber. The way we treat our operational preparedness can be seen by the recent CAG report of 2015 on Ammunition Management covering the period 2008-09 to 2012-13 which was tabled in the Parliament on May 6, 2015. It said that Army units were presently managing with just the ‘Bottom Line’ or ‘Minimum Acceptable Risk Level’ (MARL) requirements which averaged to 20 days instead of 40.
In light of the above inheritance what actions has the Modi Government taken to ameliorate the equipment situation in the armed forces? These are given in the succeeding paragraphs.
Re-energising the Ministry of Defence
Prioritisation. Prioritisation of projects was the first step. The Defence Minister found that the bureaucracy in the ministry — both civil and military — was sitting on some 400-odd big and small projects that were critical to the three armed forces. A thorough review revealed that nearly one-third of the 400-odd projects were now irrelevant. So they were discarded. About 50 projects were accelerated since they were of critical importance.
The Minister with his close aids identified critical schemes across the three services that needed immediate funding and implementation. These were put on fast track. The purchase of 50,000 bullet- proof jackets, for instance, was sanctioned on a fast-track basis similarly supply of Extreme High Altitude Clothing (for soldiers posted in Siachen and similar terrain) stuck for more than two years was also sanctioned. The Minister personally intervened and resolved the issue.
Committee for Revising the Defence Procurement Procedure. A 10-member Committee of Experts to suggest amendments to the existing DPP and formulate a new policy framework for defence acquisition has been instituted.
The terms of reference for the committee are interesting: It is mandated to (a) evolve a policy framework to facilitate ‘Make in India’ in Defence Manufacturing and align the policy evolved with the DPP 2013 and (b) to suggest requisite amendments to DPP 2013 to remove the bottlenecks in the procurement process and also simplify/rationalise various aspects of defence procurements. The Committee, made up of eight non-government and retired government officials and two serving bureaucrats from the Defence Ministry, has been asked to submit
LT GENERAL V.K. KAPOOR (RETD)