A CHINK IN THE AR­MOUR

A de­fence bud­get squeeze leaves the In­dian Army with­out the means to re­build crit­i­cal ca­pac­i­ties and threat­ens its pre­pared­ness for a pos­si­ble two-front war

India Today - - INSIDE - BY SAN­DEEP UN­NITHAN

De­fence bud­get cuts and pend­ing re­forms put the army’s com­bat readi­ness un­der se­ri­ous ques­tion

SOME­TIME THIS YEAR, the Union min­is­ter for de­fence Nir­mala Sithara­man is to is­sue a fresh set of op­er­a­tional di­rec­tives to the armed forces. The slim, top se­cret doc­u­ment called the ‘Rak­sha Mantri’s Op­er­a­tional Di­rec­tives’, usu­ally up­dated once in a decade, asks the armed forces to pre­pare for the pos­si­bil­ity of a si­mul­ta­ne­ous war with both Pak­istan and China.

What the doc­u­ment doesn’t men­tion, how­ever, is the army’s glar­ing in­abil­ity to fight and win si­mul­ta­ne­ous wars with Pak­istan and China. “We presently have barely enough to hold both fronts,” a se­nior army of­fi­cial says. The gap be­tween mil­i­tary strat­egy and ca­pa­bil­ity emerged at army vice chief Lt Gen. Sarath Chand’s re­cent de­po­si­tion be­fore the par­lia­men­tary stand­ing com­mit­tee (PSC) on de­fence. In the re­port, which was tabled be­fore Par­lia­ment on March 13, the army vice chief said that 65 per cent of its arse­nal is ob­so­lete. The force lacks the ar­tillery, mis­siles and he­li­copters that will en­able it to fight on two fronts. Worse, even ex­ist­ing de­fi­cien­cies in the im­port of am­mu­ni­tion are yet to be met, part of what the army calls is its abil­ity to fight a ‘10 day in­tense’ or 10(I) war have not been met. An ‘in­tense’ war is pri­mar­ily re­lated to the con­sump­tion of am­mu­ni­tion where tanks and ar­tillery can fire up to three times the num­ber of shells and rock­ets than would be used in a ‘nor­mal’ con­flict.

The army’s angst re­lates to the short shrift it was given in this year’s bud­get, which it says is in­suf­fi­cient to stock up for this 10(I) sce­nario. The army had asked for Rs 37,121 crore to fund

125 schemes. In the end, it re­ceived Rs 21,338 crore in the Union bud­get pre­sented on Fe­bru­ary 1, a short­fall of Rs 15,783 crore.

All of the Rs 21,338 crore the army gets will be swal­lowed by pre-com­mit­ted li­a­bil­i­ties—the mil­i­tary equiv­a­lent of EMIs the army pays out for equip­ment it has bought over the past few years. This leaves a deficit of over Rs 15,000 crore and no money to fund 125 (pur­chase) schemes, as the vice chief said. Th­ese buys range from light util­ity he­li­copters to anti-tank mis­siles, am­mu­ni­tion and air de­fence mis­siles to small arms like as­sault ri­fles, light ma­chine guns and car­bines, re­quire­ments worth over Rs 43,000 crore that have been in the pipe­line for a decade and are now close to con­clu­sion (see Hard­ware Squeeze).

THIS MEANS ONE OF two things—the army sim­ply puts off the buy­ing un­til the next year or goes back to the fi­nance min­istry, hat in hand, ask­ing for a fi­nan­cial bailout. In ei­ther case, it is no-win sit­u­a­tion. The com­mit­ted li­a­bil­i­ties it is un­able to pay for in 2017 get passed on to 2018, in­creas­ing its fi­nan­cial bur­den. And the fi­nance min­istry rarely al­lows for out-of-bud­get fund­ing. Even the post-sur­gi­cal strike fast-track pur­chases of 19 con­tracts for Rs 11,739 crore, the ser­vices dis­cov­ered to their hor­ror, were de­ducted from the mil­i­tary bud­get, not as an ad­di­tional sanc­tion.

A fis­cal freeze has al­ready set in at the South Block, with of­fi­cials say­ing money is not be­ing re­leased even for re­cently ini­tialled con­tracts, stalling ap­proved projects. An­nounce­ments are plenty but con­tracts be­ing signed few. Even the gov­ern­ment’s pet Make in In­dia con­tracts have suf­fered—a Rs 670 crore con­tract to up­grade 468 of the army’s Zu-23 anti-air­craft guns by pri­vate firm Punj Lloyd has been stuck at the de­fence min­istry since late last year.

“The pos­si­bil­ity of a two-front war is a re­al­ity,” the vice chief told the stand­ing com­mit­tee early this year. “It is im­por­tant that we are con­scious of the is­sue and pay at­ten­tion to our mod­erni­sa­tion and fill up our de­fi­cien­cies… how­ever, the cur­rent bud­get does lit­tle to con­trib­ute to this re­quire­ment.” The two-front war, mean­while, threat­ens to be­come a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy. The 760 km Line of Con­trol with Pak­istan is at its most vi­o­lent since a 2003 cease­fire, with al­most daily in­ci­dents of fir­ing. The 4,000 km Line of Ac­tual Con­trol with China saw a war-like sit­u­a­tion dur­ing the 72-day stand­off at Dok­lam in Bhutan last year, with In­dia rush­ing tanks and troops to the bor­der and the Eastern Army Com­mand go­ing on alert. The im­passe was diplo­mat­i­cally re­solved on Au­gust 28, 2017, but not be­fore it alerted the army to crit­i­cal gaps in pre­pared-

Our de­fence spend­ing as a per­cent­age of GDP now stands at just 1.6%, the low­est since the 1962 war with China

ness, par­tic­u­larly the un­fin­ished roads and bridges in the moun­tains even as the bel­li­cose state-owned Chi­nese me­dia threat­ened war.

In­dia’s cur­rent de­fence spend as a per­cent­age of the GDP is just 1.6 per cent (not count­ing pen­sions), the low­est since the 1962 war, as mil­i­tary an­a­lysts omi­nously draw par­al­lels with the sce­nario when a poorly equipped army was routed by the Chi­nese army. China’s $175 bil­lion mil­i­tary spend is three times that of In­dia’s $45 bil­lion.

Last year, In­dia’s armed forces asked the gov­ern­ment to sanc­tion $400 bil­lion un­der the 13th fiveyear plan be­tween 2017 and 2022 to mod­ernise the three armed forces. In­di­cat­ing a hike of well over 2 per cent of the bud­get, it ap­pears un­likely given the ex­ist­ing pat­tern of stag­nant de­fence al­lot­ment. “The aim of our mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion is to de­ter con­flict,” a se­nior mil­i­tary plan­ner says. “By de­grad­ing our de­ter­rence and weak­en­ing our­selves, we ac­tu­ally make our­selves vul­ner­a­ble be­cause we al­low the other side to con­tem­plate mil­i­tary ac­tion re­sult­ing in us hav­ing to fight on two fronts.”

NOT CRY­ING WOLF

De­fi­cien­cies and short­ages in the mil­i­tary, par­tic­u­larly the army, which ac­counts for 50 per cent of the $45 bil­lion de­fence bud­get, might have

“The pos­si­bil­ity of a two-front war is a re­al­ity. It is im­por­tant that we are con­scious of the is­sue and pay at­ten­tion to our mod­erni­sa­tion and fill­ing up our de­fi­cien­cies. How­ever, the cur­rent bud­get does lit­tle to con­trib­ute to this re­quire­ment” Lt Gen­eral Sarath Chand, Vice-chief of Army Staff

a fa­mil­iar, sev­eral decades-old ring to it. The chan­nels for the armed forces to di­rectly com­mu­ni­cate th­ese short­ages to the po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive are nar­row­ing. Some years ago, the an­nual state-ofthe-forces pre­sen­ta­tions made by ser­vice chiefs was con­verted into a let­ter-writ­ing ex­er­cise. In 2012, when one such let­ter from then army chief Gen­eral V.K. Singh, com­plain­ing of his force hav­ing been hol­lowed by ne­glect—tanks with­out am­mu­ni­tion, air de­fence bat­ter­ies with­out mis­siles and the in­fantry with­out anti-tank mis­siles—leaked out to the me­dia, even this ex­er­cise was scrapped. Since then, pre­sen­ta­tions be­fore the PSC on de­fence are the only plat­form for the army to talk of de­fi­cien­cies. Th­ese pre­sen­ta­tions are left to the vice chief, who is re­spon­si­ble for the plan­ning and ac­qui­si­tion wings that steer the army’s bat­tle pre­pared­ness. The pic­ture they have painted—of a mil­i­tary ma­chine in de­cay and of sus­tained bud­getary ne­glect by the gov­ern­ment—is an alarm­ing one. In 2015, army vice chief Lt Gen. Philip Cam­pose told the PSC that nearly 50 per cent of the mil­i­tary ma­chine was ob­so­lete. Four years later, that fig­ure has jumped fur­ther to 65 per cent, as Lt Gen. Sarath Chand said.

ABROKEN INDIGE­NOUS mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex in­ca­pable of meet­ing all its de­fence needs means In­dia has be­come the world’s largest arms im­porter, even for am­mu­ni­tion.

Stock­ing im­ported am­mu­ni­tion, es­pe­cially for spe­cialised front­line weapons to fight a 10-day in­ten­sive war, is ex­pen­sive. A few years ago, the army dras­ti­cally scaled down its pro­jec­tions for fight­ing a 40(I)war down to fight­ing a 10(I) war. Even this goal re­mains beyond reach. The army needs over Rs 2,000 crore just to buy 3,744 rock­ets for all 42 launch­ers of the Rus­sian-made ‘Smerch’ 300 mm rocket launch­ers for a 10(I) war.

The de­fence min­is­ter dis­missed con­cerns over the army’s bud­getary short­falls. “Our fo­cus has been to pri-

ori­tise what we have. We are en­sur­ing max­i­mum util­i­sa­tion of funds. Things are hap­pen­ing in the de­fence min­istry,” she told the me­dia at the in­au­gu­ral ses­sion of the bi-an­nual De­f­expo-2018 in Chen­nai on April 11.

A week later, on April 18, the gov­ern­ment an­nounced the set­ting up of a De­fence Plan­ning Com­mit­tee (DPC) headed by Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor Ajit Do­val to out­line a de­fence plan­ning roadmap, set up strate­gic and se­cu­rity-re­lated doc­trines, in­clud­ing the draft na­tional se­cu­rity strat­egy, the in­ter­na­tional de­fence en­gage­ment strat­egy and ca­pa­bil­ity devel­op­ment plans for the armed forces.

Sithara­man’s ‘pri­ori­ti­sa­tion’ mantra, mean­while, to fo­cus on ur­gently-needed hard­ware and then push through with de­ci­sion-mak­ing within the fi­nan­cial year, has been con­veyed to the armed forces. It ap­par­ently flows from twin re­al­i­sa­tions within the min­istry—ma­jor hikes in de­fence spend­ing are un­likely, par­tic­u­larly with the gov­ern­ment em­pha­sis on in­fra­struc­ture. This year’s bud­get, for in­stance, al­lo­cated Rs 5.97 lakh crore to in­fra­struc­ture, more than three times what was al­lo­cated in 2014-15.

The de­fence min­istry, as is com­monly known, has a hard time even ef­fec­tively spend­ing avail­able allocation­s to buy hard­ware. An in­ter­nal study pre­sented be­fore the Prime Min­is­ter's Of­fice in late Novem­ber by the min­is­ter of state for de­fence Sub­hash Bhamre was scathing about the min­istry’s func­tion­ing. A study by the Head­quar­ters In­te­grated De­fence Staff found that 144 schemes con­tracted be­tween 2014 and 2017 took an av­er­age of 52 months to con­clude, more than twice the stip­u­lated 16 to 22-month pe­riod. To blame were ‘mul­ti­ple and dif­fused struc­tures with no sin­gle-point ac­count­abil­ity, mul­ti­ple de­ci­sion-mak­ing heads, du­pli­ca­tion of pro­cesses—avoid­able re­dun­dant lay­ers do­ing the same thing over and over again, de­layed com­ments, de­layed de­ci­sion, de­layed ex­e­cu­tion, no real-time mon­i­tor­ing, no pro­gramme/pro­ject­based ap­proach, ten­dency to fault-find rather than to fa­cil­i­tate’.

MEN OVER MA­CHINES

A shrink­ing cap­i­tal bud­get af­fects all three ser­vices, par­tic­u­larly the hard­ware-de­pen­dent air force and the navy which have their own two-front contin­gen­cies. Last month, the IAF’s largest ex­er­cise in three decades, Ga­gan­shakti 2018, which saw Su-30 MKI fighter jets fly­ing from As­sam to the Ara­bian Sea over 4,000 km away, pro­jected re­quire­ments for 110 new com­bat jets worth an es­ti­mated $18 bil­lion. The navy, which car­ried out twin ma­noeu­vres along its eastern and western coasts this year, wor­ries whether it can af­ford crit­i­cally needed force mul­ti­pli­ers such as new he­li­copters and sub­marines. Manpower costs have been grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially— from 44 per cent in 2010-11 to 56 per cent this year. Cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture has de­clined in the same pe­riod from 26 to 18 per cent. A com­bi­na­tion of GST and sales tax on de­fence im­ports (they were ear­lier ex­empt) have added 15 per cent costs to an al­ready shrink­ing cap­i­tal ac­qui­si­tion pie.

Yet, this bud­getary im­bal­ance af­fects the world’s third largest army the most. It ac­counts for 85 per cent of the uni­formed ser­vices but only 55 per cent of the de­fence bud­get. The army’s predica­ment is ac­tu­ally the re­sult of a

“Our only hope: one day, an ‘en­light­ened’ politi­cian will see the writ­ing on the wall and en­force re­form” Ad­mi­ral Arun Prakash, for­mer navy chief

slow con­ver­gence of mul­ti­ple mal­adies: it is grow­ing by adding on costly manpower, its mil­i­tary ma­chine is head­ing towards ob­so­les­cence and sus­tained bud­getary ne­glect has con­stricted re­place­ment of its equip­ment.

In­dia spends close to $15 bil­lion on pen­sions for its nearly 3 mil­lion re­tirees, nearly dou­ble Pak­istan’s en­tire mil­i­tary bud­get of $9.6 bil­lion. Pen­sions come out of the MoD bud­get, not the de­fence bud­get, yet the fi­nance min­istry con­sid­ers them part of the over­all de­fence ex­pen­di­ture. The army presently spends 83 per cent of its bud­get on rev­enue ex­pen­di­ture, pay­ing salaries and for main­te­nance of equip­ment and fa­cil­i­ties. “Trends in­di­cate that this rev­enue to cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture ra­tio could go down to an ex­tremely un­healthy 90:10 in the com­ing years, against an ideal of 60:40,” says Lax­man Be­hera who tracks mil­i­tary bud­gets at the MoD think-tank In­sti­tute of De­fence Stud­ies and Analy­ses (IDSA).

THE ARMY IS pro­gres­sively adding on 88,000 sol­diers to staff a new Moun­tain Strike Corps. (The Bri­tish army has a to­tal of 80,000 sol­diers.) The ad­di­tional cost of th­ese troops is pegged at Rs 64,000 crore. Two di­vi­sions, 56 and 71, have al­ready been raised for the Pana­garh-based 17 Corps, two more di­vi­sions are to be raised. While this strike corps—meant to launch lim­ited of­fen­sives into Chi­nese ter­ri­tory in the event of a bor­der war—was swiftly sanc­tioned by the UPA in 2014, it did not pro­vide for the nearly Rs 10,000 crore an­nu­ally it would take to equip this for­ma­tion. The bud­getary ne­glect which has con­tin­ued un­der the NDA gov­ern­ment has seen the army can­ni­bal­is­ing its war wastage re­serves—the crit­i­cal weapons and am­mu­ni­tion it sets aside to be used in con­flict—to equip the strike corps. The in­tended ca­pac­ity of the strike corps— land a swift con­ven­tional punch against China—has now turned into a gi­ant ana­conda, slowly squeez­ing the life out of the army’s mod­erni­sa­tion bud­gets.

It is not that the army did not fore­see the im­pli­ca­tions of adding more men. A draft re­port ti­tled ‘Re­bal­ance and Re­struc­tur­ing’ that sits within the files of the army’s Per­spec­tive Plan­ning direc­torate had warned of this sce­nario. This study was com­mis­sioned by the then army chief Gen. Bikram Singh in 2012 at around the time the army had ac­cel­er­ated its push for the Moun­tain Strike Corps. The study ex­plored the costs of ad­di­tional manpower on the army in the light of two vec­tors—the Sev­enth Pay Com­mis­sion, which would hike salaries and pen­sions, and the rais­ing of the new strike corps. The re­port threw up alarm­ing fig­ures—each ad­di­tional sol­dier would cost the army over Rs 12 lakh a year. It also sug­gested a way out—for the army to thin out ex­ist­ing for­ma­tions to build up the strike corps, thus not hav­ing to re­cruit more sol­diers. The army pulled the plug on this study be­cause it feared that the bu­reau­cracy would use it to deny manpower. Army of­fi­cials say there is one very im­por­tant rea­son for their mis-

“Pol­i­cy­mak­ers need to re­mem­ber that a po­tent, re­spon­sive and ready mil­i­tary is a sine qua non to our be­com­ing a global power” Gen­eral Bikram Singh, for­mer army chief

trust—manpower sav­ings are never ploughed back into the mil­i­tary but go in­stead to the Con­sol­i­dated Fund of In­dia. This is pri­mar­ily be­cause while ex­pen­di­ture on manpower is met from the rev­enue bud­get, cap­i­tal ac­qui­si­tions are funded from the cap­i­tal out­lay. “Even within the rev­enue bud­get, money al­lo­cated for pay and al­lowances can­not be di­verted for other pur­poses. But this can be done by the fi­nance min­istry and in­deed there have been in­stances in the past where this was done,” says Amit Cow­shish, for­mer fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor (ac­qui­si­tion) in the MoD.

“The only way the short­fall, pri­mar­ily in the com­mit­ted li­a­bil­i­ties, can be bridged is by in­ter­nal reap­pro­pri­a­tion ei­ther within the army’s bud­get heads or by trans­fer­ring money from other ser­vices/ de­part­ments within the over­all cap­i­tal out­lay,” Cow­shish says. An­other op­tion is for the MoD to ask for ad­di­tional funds dur­ing the year or at the re­vised es­ti­mate stage from the fi­nance min­istry.

The last at­tempt at ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion was made 20 years ago in 1998 when Gen­eral V.P. Ma­lik or­dered the ‘sup­pres­sion’ of 50,000 per­son­nel from non-field forces with the as­sur­ance that the money saved would be given for pur­chas­ing mil­i­tary hard­ware. The MoD didn’t fol­low on this as­sur­ance and the Kargil war which broke out the fol­low­ing year saw the army shelv­ing this pro­posal.

STAR­ING AT MAS­SIVE short­falls in am­mu­ni­tion, es­pe­cially for the 155 mm Bofors how­itzers which fi­nally turned the tide of the war, Gen. Ma­lik made the fa­mous state­ment that the army would ‘fight with what it had’. This phi­los­o­phy seems to have been em­braced by his suc­ces­sor Gen. Bipin Rawat, nearly two decades on. The army has now snapped up the gov­ern­ment’s pri­ori­ti­sa­tion mantra.

“It is pos­si­ble to repri­ori­tise and read­just the bud­get within the ex­ist­ing money avail­able, by giv­ing the op­er­a­tional pre­pared­ness a higher pri­or­ity,” Gen. Rawat said on March 28. “This is not to say that ac­com­mo­da­tion for fam­i­lies is not needed, but they can take some time. We are bal­anc­ing the bud­get to fo­cus on op­er­a­tional pre­pared­ness.”

In his open­ing re­marks at the bian­nual army com­man­ders’ con­fer­ence in New Delhi be­tween April 16 and 21, Gen. Rawat stressed the need to ‘ ju­di­ciously lay down pri­or­i­ties to en­sure that the al­lo­cated re­sources are utilised op­ti­mally and the force mod­erni­sa­tion be car­ried out un­abated’. The army also made the un­prece­dented move of mak­ing public its de­fi­cien­cies, say­ing it was re­signed to hold­ing less than 10-day stocks for tank am­mu­ni­tion, anti-tank mis­siles and, yes, Smerch rock­ets.

A long-stand­ing premise guid­ing In­dia’s mil­i­tary pre­pared­ness is that ‘China might not join an In­dia-Pak­istan war, but Pak­istan will cer­tainly join an Indo-China war’.

The In­dian army and air force are de­ployed on two fronts, a north­ern one against China, and a western one

“The struc­ture and pro­cesses of the de­fence min­istry are out­dated and in­ef­fi­cient and need a se­ri­ous re­view” G. Parthasara­thy, for­mer In­dian high com­mis­sioner to Pak­istan

against Pak­istan. When it has to fight on one front, it can trans­fer all troops, fighter air­craft and re­sources from the other front to notch a de­ci­sive vic­tory. A two-front war means such in­ter-front re­source switchover is not pos­si­ble. Each front has to be ad­dressed with the avail­able re­sources, im­ped­ing a de­ci­sive win.

The two-front war, some­times en­larged into a two-and-a-half-front war (the half be­ing in­sur­gen­cies in Kash­mir and the North­east) is a covenant, an ar­ti­cle of faith from which there is no turn­ing back and the sin­gle­minded fo­cus to ob­tain a greater share of mil­i­tary bud­get in the fore­see­able fu­ture. There is no de­bate, de­spite some of the army com­man­ders who are ac­tu­ally meant to fight this war pub­licly ques­tion­ing it. The western army com­man­der, Lt Gen. Surinder Singh, who, in a sem­i­nar in Chandigarh on March 1, said it was ‘not a smart idea’ to be fight­ing on two fronts, is be­lieved to have been pulled up for air­ing his views pub­licly.

HALF-HEARTED RE­FORM

The In­dian mil­i­tary’s malaise is far deeper than it seems. Th­ese are not is­sues which can be solved merely by throw­ing more money at them. Pos­si­bly ev­ery sin­gle prob­lem, in­clud­ing those of a fund-starved army and tardy mod­erni­sa­tion, can be traced back to In­dia’s dys­func­tional higher de­fence man­age­ment. Ef­fi­cient de­fence man­age­ment would har­monise re­sources and al­lo­cate them based on pri­or­ity. The US na­tional se­cu­rity strat­egy, for in­stance, dic­tates a na­tional de­fense strat­egy from which, in turn, flows a na­tional mil­i­tary strat­egy which the joint forces ad­here to. The armed forces are tightly in­te­grated un­der joint forces com­mands.

All five coun­tries sit­ting on the high ta­ble of the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, a seat In­dia as­pires to, have one thing in com­mon. They have a mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex that en­sures they are not de­pen­dent on im­ports and closely in­te­grated mil­i­taries that are be­ing mod­ernised for fu­ture chal­lenges.

While the gov­ern­ment has pri­ori­tised indige­nous de­fence man­u­fac­ture un­der Make in In­dia, it has been slow to move on higher mil­i­tary re­form and long-term plan­ning. It has, for in­stance, no na­tional se­cu­rity strat­egy, the RM’s Op Di­rec­tives be­ing the clos­est In­dia gets to one, and even those are based on in­puts pro­vided by the

armed forces. A gen­eral terms the lack of a na­tional se­cu­rity strat­egy as akin to play­ing a foot­ball match with­out goal­posts. Se­cu­rity an­a­lysts dis­missed the 2017 Joint Doc­trine of the Armed Forces as a joke sim­ply be­cause there are no syn­er­gies in ei­ther plan­ning, pro­cure­ment or op­er­a­tions. Piqued by the lack of syn­ergy among the ser­vices, the navy in 2016 took back the strate­gic An­daman & Ni­co­bar com­mand it had once of­fered to be held in ro­ta­tion by the army and the air force.

IN A SEM­I­NAL 2017 pa­per for the army think-tank Cen­tre for Land War­fare Stud­ies, Lt Gen. Cam­pose out­lined what hap­pens in the ab­sence of an in­te­grated mil­i­tary. ‘The In­dian army plans to go ahead and fight its land wars in­de­pen­dently, the air force fo­cuses on the air war, the navy on the sea war, with in­suf­fi­cient shar­ing of re­sources and op­er­a­tional syn­ergy be­tween them.’

Two suc­ces­sive com­mit­tees, the Group of Min­is­ters headed by then home min­is­ter L.K. Ad­vani in 2001, and an­other one by Lt Gen­eral D.B. Shekatkar in De­cem­ber 2016, rec­om­mended the cre­ation of a Chief of De­fence Staff (CDS), a po­si­tion to be manned by a four-star of­fi­cer from one of the ser­vices, who can not only act as a sin­gle-point mil­i­tary ad­viser to the gov­ern­ment, but also foster joint­ness and repri­ori­tise armed forces’ bud­gets towards spe­cific needs. The gov­ern­ment is yet to act on ap­point­ing the CDS who could, for in­stance, ques­tion ex­trav­a­gances such as the army’s pur­chase of six ex­pen­sive Apache he­li­copter gun­ships for $650 mil­lion last year when the IAF is al­ready buy­ing 22 of the same ma­chines.

The ne­glect is glar­ing be­cause the gov­ern­ment clearly does not be­lieve a two-front war could be a re­al­ity. A se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial calls the whole de­bate ‘mis­placed’, de­cry­ing the fu­til­ity of pre­par­ing for the worst-case sce­nario. “We should talk about prob­a­bil­ity and not pos­si­bil­ity. The pos­si­bil­ity of such a sce­nario ex­ists, not the prob­a­bil­ity,” he says.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s in­for­mal sum­mit with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in Wuhan was part of an at­tempt to re­duce ten­sions along the bor­der. It will buy the In­dian mil­i­tary time to pre­pare them­selves be­cause, as the armed forces ar­gue, in­ten­tions change overnight, mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties need decades to build.

One of Xi’s first goals af­ter tak­ing over in 2012 was to down­size the 2.3 mil­lion-strong Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army by a mil­lion (see The New Red Army) and, more re­cently, push for a leaner, agile, tech­no­log­i­cally-driven force by 2035.

In­dia’s po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship has been wary of the armed forces’ manpower binge. In a rare ar­tic­u­la­tion of its dis­com­fort, PM Modi, at a com­bined com­man­ders’ con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber 2015, said, “When ma­jor pow­ers are re­duc­ing their forces and re­ly­ing more on tech­nol­ogy, we are still seek­ing to ex­pand the size of our forces. Mod­erni­sa­tion and ex­pan­sion of the forces at the same time is a dif­fi­cult, and un­nec­es­sary goal.”

Lit­tle, how­ever, has been done to sug­gest a repri­ori­ti­sa­tion of mil­i­tary re­sources away from con­cepts like a twofront war or put in place re­forms that can en­sure big­ger sav­ings or set goals for a modern, agile, tech­nol­ogy-cen­tric mil­i­tary. Th­ese re­forms could now hope­fully take off with the set­ting up of the DPC headed by NSA Do­val. It is an­other step where many oth­ers have failed.

Graphics by TANMOY CHAKRABORT­Y

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