Need for a full-time Min­is­ter of De­fence

While the ap­point­ment of Manohar Par­rikar as the Goa Chief Min­is­ter has been dic­tated by po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency, this move has im­pli­ca­tions for the In­dian armed forces

SP's MAI - - MILITARY VIEWPOINT - The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the author.

While the na­tion was com­ing to terms with the some­what stun­ning but not en­tirely un­ex­pected re­sults of the elec­tions in five states, the In­dian armed forces are yet to ap­pre­ci­ate the reper­cus­sions of the change in the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship as Min­is­ter of De­fence, Manohar Par­rikar, moved to Goa to don the man­tle of the Chief Min­is­ter, a po­si­tion he had held be­fore mov­ing to Delhi in 2015. He has now been re­placed by Arun Jait­ley, the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance, who is hold­ing the post of Min­is­ter of De­fence as ‘Ad­di­tional Charge’.

While the ap­point­ment of Par­rikar as the Chief Min­is­ter of Goa at this junc­ture has been dic­tated by con­sid­er­a­tions of po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency for the party in power, this some­what sud­den move has im­pli­ca­tions for the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) and in turn for the In­dian armed forces. Af­ter a decade of deep slum­ber, in 2015, the Min­istry of De­fence un­der the NDA govern­ment with Manohar Par­rikar as the Min­is­ter of De­fence, em­barked upon a num­ber of re­forms in the de­fence sec­tor. At the out­set, the NDA govern­ment is look­ing to turn the In­dian Army into one of the finest fight­ing forces in the world with in­fra­struc­ture and man­power to match rhetoric with ac­tion and cope with the emerg­ing chal­lenges. The Shekatkhar Com­mit­tee report on the ma­jor re­forms re­quired has been sub­mit­ted to the MoD and its rec­om­men­da­tions are yet to be im­ple­mented.

While Par­rikar had un­veiled the re­struc­tured De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure (DPP) at the De­f­expo in Goa in 2016, the doc­u­ment did not con­tain the chapter on Strate­gic Part­ner­ship with the pri­vate sec­tor for the in­dige­nous pro­duc­tion of mil­i­tary hard­ware. This com­po­nent of the DPP 2016 which Par­rikar had promised to in­clude at a later date, con­tin­ues to re­main as an un­fin­ished agenda. This is a crit­i­cal re­quire­ment in the con­text of the ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme of the NDA govern­ment as with­out it, in­dige­nous pro­duc­tion in the regime of aerospace and de­fence will not gather any mo­men­tum. In­clu­sion of this chapter has ac­quired ur­gency espe­cially with ma­jor pro­grammes for the man­u­fac­ture in In­dia with for­eign col­lab­o­ra­tion of com­bat plat­forms such as the Lock­heed Martin F-16 fight­ing Fal­con or the Gripen JAS 39E from Saab of Swe­den for the In­dian Air Force (IAF) and pos­si­bly Boe­ing F/A-18 Su­per Hor­net for the In­dian Navy.

An­other ma­jor task on his agenda was to in­tro­duce re­forms in the regime of higher de­fence man­age­ment through the cre­ation of the post of Chief of De­fence Staff (CDS) of the In­dian armed forces. This was rec­om­mended in 2001 by a Group of Min­is­ters set up in 2000 to re­view the man­age­ment of the na­tional se­cu­rity sys­tem in the af­ter­math of the Kargil War in 1999. The pro­posal to ap­point a CDS that was crafted to bring about bet­ter or­gan­i­sa­tional co­or­di­na­tion and in­te­gra­tion of the three wings of the In­dian armed forces has been pend­ing for the last 16 years. Par­rikar was plan­ning to see this pro­posal through in the next few months. Linked with this pro­posal also are plans to bring about sig­nif­i­cant or­gan­i­sa­tional changes through the es­tab­lish­ment of The­atre Com­mands, a con­cept that ap­pears to be in a nascent stage.

But per­haps the most ur­gent task be­fore Par­rikar was to ad­dress the glar­ing short­ages of weapons, am­mu­ni­tion and other items of mil­i­tary hard­ware the In­dian Army is cur­rently fac­ing. The sit­u­a­tion in the IAF with re­gard to the strength of its com­bat fleet is even more dis­tress­ing as the num­ber of squadrons equipped with fighter air­craft has dwin­dled to 32 as against the autho­rised level of 39.5 and is des­tined to go down fur­ther. Par­rikar was em­barked on ad­dress­ing the prob­lem through for­eign col­lab­o­ra­tion un­der the ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme as also by ramp­ing up pro­duc­tion of the light com­bat air­craft Te­jas by the Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited from the present ca­pac­ity of eight plat­forms per year to 16.

Clearly, keep­ing the na­tion se­cure is an oner­ous re­spon­si­bil­ity that the Min­is­ter of De­fence must carry. This task is un­doubt­edly hu­mon­gous and will re­quire to­tal and ded­i­cated in­volve­ment of the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship in its ex­e­cu­tion. It goes with­out say­ing that the as­pi­ra­tions of the na­tion are un­likely to be ful­filled with a ‘Part-Time Min­is­ter of De­fence’ at the helm. Hope­fully, the govern­ment will ad­dress this is­sue with­out any fur­ther de­lay.

De­fence Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley with the Min­is­ter of State for De­fence, Dr Sub­hash Bhamre on March 14, 2017


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