Brigadier (Retd) Gurmeet Kan­wal on Helm­ing the MoD

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Viewpoint -

De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar, has been sent back to Goa in the party’s in­ter­est to take over as the Chief Min­is­ter once again. His de­par­ture has cre­ated a void at a crit­i­cal time when the state of de­fence pre­pared­ness and slow pace of mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion need the gov­ern­ment’s ur­gent at­ten­tion. Ma­jor op­er­a­tional voids in the war es­tab­lish­ment of the three Ser­vices need to be made up early in or­der to en­hance com­bat readi­ness.

It is only in the last six months that Mr Par­rikar had launched a con­certed drive to make up the ex­ist­ing de­fi­cien­cies by in­vok­ing emer­gency fi­nan­cial pow­ers of the gov­ern­ment. The gov­ern­ment had at long last be­gun to ad­dress the ‘crit­i­cal hol­low­ness’ plagu­ing de­fence pre­pared­ness – a term used by Gen­eral VK Singh. He had also ini­ti­ated re­forms in the pro­ce­dures for the ac­qui­si­tion and in­dige­nous man­u­fac­ture of weapons and equip­ment. A new min­is­ter will take time to set­tle down and learn the ropes of de­fence pro­cure­ment.

Large-scale de­fi­cien­cies in am­mu­ni­tion and im­por­tant items of equip­ment con­tinue to ad­versely af­fect In­dia’s readi­ness for war and the abil­ity to sus­tain mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions over 20 to 30 days. Ac­cord­ing to a CAG re­port, the Army is re­ported to have some va­ri­eties of am­mu­ni­tion for barely ten days of con­flict and it will cost over Rs 20,000 crore to re­plen­ish stocks. It will be re­called that dur­ing the Kargil con­flict in 1999, about 50,000 rounds of ar­tillery am­mu­ni­tion had to be im­ported from South Africa. The oc­cur­rence of such a sit­u­a­tion dur­ing a time of cri­sis must be avoided through a pru­dent re­plen­ish­ment and stock­ing pol­icy.

The gov­ern­ment has signed con­tracts with Rus­sian man­u­fac­tur­ers to pro­cure am­mu­ni­tion and spares worth Rs 5,800 crore for the Army and Rs 9,200 crore for the Air Force. Sim­i­lar deals are be­ing ne­go­ti­ated with French and Is­raeli com­pa­nies. How­ever, it has been re­ported that the tra­di­tional norms of stock­ing am­mu­ni­tion at in­tense rates for 30 days of fight­ing and nor­mal rates for 30 days are be­ing wa­tered down. If this is true, it would be a ret­ro­grade step.

Mod­erni­sa­tion of the armed forces has been pro­ceed­ing at a slow pace due to

the in­ad­e­quacy of funds, rigid pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dures, fre­quent changes in the qual­i­ta­tive re­quire­ments, the black- list­ing of sev­eral de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ers and bu­reau­cratic red tape. Mr Par­rikar had ap­pointed a com­mit­tee led by Dhiren­dra Singh, former Home Sec­re­tary, to re­view the De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure ( DPP). Sev­eral prag­matic amend­ments were ap­proved by the De­fence min­is­ter and DPP 2016 was is­sued in early-April 2016.

Weapons and equip­ment pur­chase projects worth over Rs 1,50,000 crore have been ac­corded ‘ ac­cep­tance of ne­ces­sity’ (AON) by the De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion Coun­cil (DAC) chaired by the De­fence Min­is­ter since he took charge in late 2014. Con­tracts have been signed for ac­qui­si­tions worth ap­prox­i­mately Rs 90,000 crore. How­ever, it will take three to five years be­fore de­liv­er­ies be­gin.

In the Army, ar­tillery mod­erni­sa­tion is yet to be­gin. There is an ur­gent need to ac­quire ap­prox­i­mately 3,000 155 mm/ 52-cal­i­bre guns to re­place ob­so­les­cent guns and how­itzers. So far a con­tract has been signed only for 145 M777 155 mm/45cal­i­bre how­itzers from the US. Air de­fence and Army Avi­a­tion units are also equipped with ob­so­lete equip­ment that has de­graded their readi­ness for com­bat and cre­ated vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties.

Mod­ern wars are fought mostly dur­ing the hours of dark­ness, but most of the ar­moured fight­ing ve­hi­cles – tanks and in­fantry com­bat ve­hi­cles – are still ‘night blind’. Only about 650 T- 90S tanks of Rus­sian ori­gin have gen­uine night fight­ing ca­pa­bil­ity. The in­fantry bat­tal­ions need over 30,000 third gen­er­a­tion night vi­sion de­vices. Other re­quire­ments for in­fantry bat­tal­ions in­clude 66,000 as­sault ri­fles, a sol­dier’s ba­sic weapon, car­bines for close quar­ter bat­tle, gen­eral pur­pose ma­chine guns, light-weight anti-ma­teriel ri­fles, mine pro­tected ve­hi­cles, 390,000 bal­lis­tic hel­mets, and 180,000 light­weight bul­let proof jack­ets. Ac­tion to ac­quire these items has been ini­ti­ated and needs to be con­stantly mon­i­tored by the min­is­ter him­self.

The Navy is in the process of build­ing an air de­fence ship at Kochi to re­place the air­craft car­rier INS Vikrant, six Scor­pene sub­marines at Mazagon Docks and 22 de­stroy­ers, frigates, corvettes and other ships such as fast at­tack craft, land­ing ships and sup­port ships. How­ever, In­dia’s mar­itime se­cu­rity chal­lenges are grow­ing and the Navy not only needs to mod­ernise but also ex­pand its foot­print in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion.

Mod­erni­sa­tion plans of the Air Force are pro­ceed­ing ahead, but at a snail’s pace. The M- MRCA project to ac­quire 126 fighter air­craft to re­place ob­so­lete MiG21s ap­pears to have been shelved, ex­cept for the gov­ern­ment’s plans to pur­chase 36 Rafale fight­ers from France for which a con­tract has been signed. Mean­while, Lock­heed Martin (F-16) and Boe­ing (F-18), both of the US, and Saab of Swe­den with their Gripen fighter are re­ported to have jumped into the fray again with of­fers to pro­duce their air­craft lo­cally with trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy (ToT).

The IAF also re­quires two more AWACS early warn­ing air­craft, six tankers, 56 medium trans­port air­craft, 20 ad­vanced jet train­ers, 38 ba­sic tur­bo­prop train­ers, 48 medium- lift he­li­copters, re­con­nais­sance and sur­veil­lance he­li­copters, sur­face-to-air mis­sile sys­tems and elec­tronic war­fare suites. All three Ser­vices need to up­grade their C4I2SR ca­pa­bil­i­ties to pre­pare for ef­fects­based op­er­a­tions in a net­work- cen­tric en­vi­ron­ment and to match ever in­creas­ing Chi­nese ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The ser­vice­abil­ity state of warfight­ing equip­ment needs sub­stan­tial im­prove­ment. Many front­line equip­ment are ‘ out of ac­tion’ for want of spares. It is sus­pected that the de­lay in chang­ing the old bat­ter­ies of INS Sind­hu­ratna could have been the cause of the ac­ci­dent that re­sulted in the death of two of­fi­cers, in­juries to seven sailors and ir­repara­ble dam­age to the sub­ma­rine. The ser­vice­abil­ity state of the SU-30MKI fighter-bomber fleet is re­ported to be just about 50 per cent. Nu­mer­ous ve­hi­cles in the Army are ‘off road’ for want of tyres, tubes, bat­ter­ies and items likes spark plugs.

Fi­nan­cial man­age­ment too needs a ma­jor over­haul. All of the re­quired ac­qui­si­tions are cap­i­tal in­ten­sive and the present de­fence bud­get can­not sup­port many of them. The de­fence bud­get for FY 2017-18 has dipped to 1.62 per cent of the coun­try’s GDP – the low­est level since the dis­as­trous 1962 War with China. Par­lia­ment’s Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on De­fence and the armed forces have re­peat­edly rec­om­mended that it should be raised pro­gres­sively to 3.0 per cent of the GDP if In­dia is to build the de­fence ca­pa­bil­i­ties that it needs to meet fu­ture threats and chal­lenges and dis­charge its grow­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a re­gional power in South­ern Asia.

The bud­getary al­lo­ca­tions ear­marked on the cap­i­tal ac­count for the mod­erni­sa­tion of the armed forces will con­tinue to be sur­ren­dered un­less the gov­ern­ment sets up a rolling, non­lapsable de­fence mod­erni­sa­tion fund of ap­prox­i­mately Rs 50,000 crore un­der the Con­sol­i­dated Fund of In­dia. Cut­ting down on waste­ful sub­si­dies from which the peo­ple do not re­ally ben­e­fit in a mean­ing­ful man­ner would be one way to spare more funds for na­tional se­cu­rity.

The armed forces are now in the fifth and fi­nal year – in­deed the fi­nal month – of the 12thDe­fence Plan ( 2012- 17). This was never for­mally ap­proved with full fi­nan­cial back­ing by the Cab­i­net Com­mit­tee on Se­cu­rity ( CCS) ! The gov­ern­ment also has not for­mally ap­proved 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 be­ing based on duly pri­ori­tised long- term plans that are de­signed to sys­tem­at­i­cally 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.

Struc­tural re­forms need to be im­ple­mented in an early time frame to im­prove na­tional se­cu­rity de­ci­sion mak­ing and syn­er­gise de­fence plan­ning. The most im­por­tant is­sue that has been pend­ing for long is the ap­point­ment of a Chief of De­fence Staff (CDS). This was first rec­om­mended by the Arun Singh Com­mit­tee on De­fence Ex­pen­di­ture in the early 1990s and then by a Group of Min­is­ters led by Deputy Prime Min­is­ter LK Ad­vani. Though the CCS had ap­proved the ap­point­ment of CDS, no one has been ap­pointed as yet. It is time for the Modi-led NDA-2 gov­ern­ment to im­ple­ment the de­ci­sion of the Va­j­payee-led NDA-1.The new min­is­ter will have a lot on his plate and will need to put in many months of hard labour to come to grips with the com­plex­i­ties of de­fence pre­pared­ness and mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion in the pre­vail­ing re­gional en­vi­ron­ment.

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