The chal­lenges fac­ing the new De­fence Min­is­ter


In her first mes­sage af­ter tak­ing charge as De­fence Min­is­ter, Nir­mala Sithara­man has fo­cused on four is­sues: first, Armed Forces be en­dowed with and equipped to per­form their du­ties with best avail­able equip­ment; two, ma­jor role for ‘Make in In­dia’, In­dia be­ing ma­jor de­fence pro­curer; three, wel­fare of sol­diers and fam­i­lies en­sur­ing sol­diers in tough­est bor­ders and chal­leng­ing zones re­main as­sured their in­ter­ests are be­ing taken care of, and; four, ad­dress all long-pend­ing is­sues in con­cert with the Prime Min­is­ter and Cabi­net Com­mit­tee on Se­cu­rity. Ear­lier, Sithara­man hold­ing in­de­pen­dent charge of Min­istry of Com­merce & In­dus­try had overview of the pa­thetic state of equip­ping of the mil­i­tary; the chapter on de­fence on of­fi­cial web­site of Min­istry of Com­merce & In­dus­try in 2014 read­ing 50 per cent of equip­ment held by the our mil­i­tary ob­so­lete and 33 per cent pro­vided by the De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) sub­stan­dard. With de­fence ne­glected past decade plus, the De­fence

Min­is­ter has mul­ti­ple chal­lenges, some of which are high­lighted in suc­ceed­ing para­graphs.

Start Point – NSS and CDR

The start point for plan­ning and or­gan­i­sa­tion of de­fence must be the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Strat­egy (NSS) and Com­pre­hen­sive De­fence Re­view (CDR), both pe­ri­od­i­cally re­viewed. In ab­sence of these, pro­cure­ments and de­vel­op­ment re­main patchy. On two dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions, two dif­fer­ent NSA’s dur­ing UPA II were briefed at HQ In­te­grated De­fence Staff (IDS) how mil­i­tary can as­sist in defin­ing the NSS, but were met with crass in­dif­fer­ence. The De­fence Min­is­ter would do well to ini­ti­ate this process, es­pe­cially when with­out the NSS, even task­ing of in­tel­li­gence agen­cies can hardly be holis­tic.

Higher De­fence Or­gan­i­sa­tions

The re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of Higher De­fence Or­gan­i­sa­tions (HDO) in­clud­ing the MoD are long over­due. With­out ad­e­quate mil­i­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tion, gaps in strate­gic pol­icy for­mu­la­tion and mat­ters mil­i­tary will per­sist. Cur­rently, some 20 mid­dle-level ap­point­ments in MoD are be­ing iden­ti­fied for man­ning by mil­i­tary of­fi­cers. Con­cur­rently, Cabi­net has ap­proved cre­ation of seven posts of Prin­ci­pal Direc­tors (PDs) and 36 posts of Di­rec­tor on reg­u­lar ba­sis of in the AFHQ Civil Ser­vice, MoD. Un­less there is 50 per cent mil­i­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tion ‘at all lev­els’ in MoD, noth­ing will likely change. The so­lu­tion is merg­ing HQ In­te­grated De­fence Staff (IDS) with MoD which was the premise on which lat­ter was raised but stymied by bureaucracy. Par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Ser­vice Chief in the CCS and se­lected mil­i­tary of­fi­cers in NSCS, NSAB, SPD, MoD too are need of the hour, in ad­di­tion to the De­fence Min­is­ter meet­ing Ser­vice Chiefs in­di­vid­u­ally ev­ery month.


The CDS rec­om­mended by the Kargil Re­view Com­mit­tee and fol­low up Group of Min­is­ters, ap­pears shelved even now. Be­sides, the CCS note on which HQ IDS was raised reads, “As and when the CDS is es­tab­lished, he will have equal vot­ing rights as the Ser­vice Chiefs, and if two Ser­vice Chiefs dis­agree, MoD will ar­bi­trate”, im­ply­ing the CDS can hardly speak as one voice to the gov­ern­ment. The CDS is re­quired more to en­sure mil­i­tary syn­ergy and over­see the much needs Revo­lu­tion in Mil­i­tary Af­fairs (hor­i­zon­tally and ver­ti­cally) un­der di­rec­tions of the po­lit­i­cal author­ity.

De­fence Al­lo­ca­tions

Erst­while De­fence Min­ster Jait­ley re­cently said mil­i­tary power is key to a na­tion’s rise to su­per power sta­tus, but mil­i­tary power can­not be built on ‘neg­a­tive’ de­fence bud­gets; the cur­rent and pre­vi­ous one be­ing in that cat­e­gory. Be­sides NSS and CDR that would en­sure al­lo­ca­tions based on op­er­a­tional needs, we need to re­view pre-bud­get pro­ce­dure bringig the Par­lia­men­tary Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on De­fence in the loop, sim­i­lar to the US; let mil­i­tary present bud­getary re­quire­ments to the Com­mit­tee based on present and re­quired op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity, and let the Com­mit­tee project re­quire­ments to the gov­ern­ment/Par­lia­ment. Where the US Pres­i­dent goes to the Se­nate for funds, why should we con­tinue with the de­fence bud­get based on ar­bi­trary cuts by the Fi­nance Min­istry? Ad­hoc mea­sures like al­lot­ting ` 20,000 crore for mak­ing up part am­mu­ni­tion de­fi­ciency in face of Dok­lam stand­off, and en­hanc­ing fi­nan­cial pow­ers to chiefs, vice chiefs with over­all ‘neg­a­tive’ de­fence bud­get don’t mean much.

Re­spon­si­bil­ity for De­fence of In­dia

Un­der ex­ist­ing Gov­ern­ment of In­dia AOB and TOB Rules 1961, the re­spon­si­bil­ity of de­fence off In­dia is with the De­fence Sec­re­tary, not the De­fence Min­is­ter. Also the Ser­vices HQ are of­fi­cially “At­tached Of­fices”, as in Bri­tish era, which has been re­sult­ing in author­ity with­out ac­count­abil­ity on part of the MoD. This must change.

Mil­i­tary Re­or­gan­i­sa­tion

The re­cent mea­sures ap­proved for as ‘army re­or­gan­i­sa­tion’ in­clud­ing shut­ting down 39 Mil­i­tary Farms and re­de­ploy­ing 57,000 per­sonel in­clud­ing 31,000 civil­ian-de­fence em­ploy­ees can at best be termed knee jerk. Com­bat­is­ing civil­ian-de­fence em­ploy­ees would ac­tu­ally cost the gov­ern­ment less and im­prove func­tion­ing. Per­for­mance au­dit of non-com­bat or­gan­i­sa­tions un­der MoD and mak­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions like De­fence Es­tates, De­fence Ac­counts, DGQA, Ord­nance Fac­tory Board (OFB), DRDO ac­count­able is in­her­ent re­spon­si­bil­ity of MoD, and can­not be clas­si­fied re­forms. Sim­i­larly, ‘Roll On’ plan for fresh ac­qui­si­tions to over­come ‘sur­ren­der­ing’ funds at the end of ev­ery FY is mis­nomer, as it still leaves loop­holes. The re­quire­ment is for ‘unutilised’ de­fence bud­get to be car­ried for­ward to next FY. This is hap­pen­ing be­cause at ev­ery stage, we re­sort to rein­vent­ing the wheel. Even if there was need to or­der a fresh study, the start part should be the most re­cent study done by the mil­i­tary on the is­sue. Sim­i­larly, five com­pre­hen­sive stud­ies on Theatre Com­mands are gath­er­ing dust in HQ IDS. With cen­tre of grav­ity of con­flict veer­ing to­wards to the In­dian Ocean Re­gion, there is also need to re­view the case for a Marine Brigade buried in MoD past 20 years. The mil­i­tary needs syn­er­gised re­or­gan­i­sa­tion hor­i­zon­tally and ver­ti­cally, tak­ing into ac­count threats to na­tional se­cu­rity and suit­ing hy­brid war­fare re­quire­ments. The De­fence Min­is­ter may also se­ri­ously con­sider com­bat­is­ing civil­ian-de­fence em­ploy­ees, en­hanc­ing mil­i­tary syn­ergy and re­duc­ing civil-mil­i­tary ac­ri­mony.

Man Be­hind the Ma­chine

The De­fence Min­is­ter has al­ready laid em­pha­sis on ‘Make in In­dia’. How­ever, as far as pro­cure­ments go, the em­pha­sis all along is on big-ticket weapon sys­tems. But, at the cut­ting edge where daily bat­tles are be­ing fought daily, the soldier is com­pletely ne­glected - ill-armed and un­der equipped, down­graded in pay and al­lowances, even hu­mil­i­ated in­di­rectly to cer­tain ex­tent. This must be cor­rected.

The start point for plan­ning and or­gan­i­sa­tion of de­fence must be the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Strat­egy (NSS) and Com­pre­hen­sive De­fence Re­view (CDR), both pe­ri­od­i­cally re­viewed. In ab­sence of these, pro­cure­ments and de­vel­op­ment re­main patchy.

De­fence-In­dus­trial Com­plex

De­spite Joint Sec­re­taries on all the boards of DRDO-DPSUs-OF, their out­put has been far from sat­is­fac­tory – leav­ing aside patchy bright spots like the re­cent ATAGS (Ad­vanced Towed Ar­tillery Gun Sys­tem). One ma­jor rea­son for this is that the user (the mil­i­tary) does not have rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the plan­ning, de­sign and de­ci­sion mak­ing lev­els in these or­gan­i­sa­tions. This needs to be looked into by the De­fence Min­is­ter.


The RMA is needed across the board and the ‘hol­low­ness’ in de­fence needs to be made up on pri­or­ity. This should in­clude re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of the higher de­fence step and the MoD, syn­er­gis­ing the mil­i­tary, op­ti­mis­ing cy­ber, space, in­for­ma­tion war­fare, elec­tro­mag­netic, mod­ern sys­tems us­ing state-of-the-art-tech­nolo­gies,

robotics, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, stealth, pre­ci­sion fire, and abil­ity to hit the ad­ver­sary deep in­side its ter­ri­tory through the en­tire spec­trum of con­flict, in­clud­ing the sub-con­ven­tional. It is im­per­a­tive that the mil­i­tary be closely in­te­grated into the na­tional space and cy­ber pro­grams, not kept aside as is the case presently.

Armed Forces Tri­bunal

The Armed Forces Tri­bunal (AFT) have re­cently been put un­der MoD, con­tra­ven­ing a Con­sti­tu­tional Bench judg­ment of the Supreme Court which di­rected the place­ment of tri­bunals un­der the Law Min­istry. Can there be any­thing more ab­surd when MoD is the one against which most or­ders of the AFT are to be passed. The De­fence Min­is­ter needs to re­view this, as it is di­rectly linked to jus­tice for the pe­ti­tion­ers.


The De­fence Min­is­ter has dwelt on wel­fare of the sol­diers and fam­i­lies. Mil­i­tary vet­er­ans must not be left out de­spite ac­ri­mony due to OROP protests. On Septem­ber 3, De­fence Min­is­ter men­tioned to me­dia she had in­tense ex­change of views with her brother-in-law (Navy vet­eran) dur­ing OROP protests. Be­ing a lady, the De­fence Min­is­ter would un­der­stand the deep scars left on psy­che of the sol­diers watch­ing live the po­lice ba­ton charge on ‘peacefully protest­ing’ vet­er­ans at Jan­tar Man­tar wear­ing reg­i­men­tal caps and medals – many hav­ing wards serv­ing in mil­i­tary. Un­for­tu­nately there was no re­sponse from the gov­ern­ment be­yond send­ing a Delhi Po­lice rep­re­sen­ta­tive to apol­o­gize later. Iron­i­cally, a del­e­ga­tion of vet­er­ans meet­ing then De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Pari­ikar was told that they would not get their dues till the time they held a gun to his head. But with 60,000 mil­i­tary per­son­nel re­tir­ing an­nu­ally, is it right for the gov­ern­ment to pe­nalise the en­tire vet­eran fra­ter­nity be­cause some protest at Jan­tar Man­tar? Fi­nance Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley’s con­tention OROP can­not be re­viewed an­nu­ally is laugh­able in this com­put­ing age, es­pe­cially when this is be­ing done for oth­ers. Some other is­sues that need at­ten­tion by the De­fence Min­is­ter are:

• All Zila Sainik Wel­fare Of­fices need to be dig­i­tally linked up with the MoD and Ser­vices HQ, with cases taken up by sol­diers and fam­i­lies on the web por­tal, and progress re­ports made manda­tory; as be­ing done by Po­lice for FIRs.

• When Army voted in the UP State elec­tions dur­ing 2007, a spe­cial cell was opened by civil ad­min­is­tra­tion within the DC Of­fice in Mathura (where the Strike Corps HQ is lo­cated) to look at griev­ances of sol­diers and fam­i­lies. The De­fence Min­is­ter may con­sider the fol­low­ing: one, make vot­ing com­pul­sory for all serv­ing sol­diers – al­ready au­tho­rised in their place of post­ing by the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, and; two, take up case for open­ing spe­cial cells look­ing into griev­ances of sol­diers and fam­i­lies at dis­trict level in all states.

• The anom­alies of the 5th, 6th and 7th CPC need to be ad­dressed speed­ily. 7th CPC is a case of crass in­jus­tice to the mil­i­tary. When an­nounced, all three Ser­vice Chiefs rep­re­sented it should be im­ple­mented only af­ter the anom­alies are ad­dressed. So MoD waited for them to re­tire and then is­sued ‘spe­cial in­struc­tions’ for im­ple­ment­ing 7th CPC which was the pre­rog­a­tive of the Army, Navy, Air Force.

• The Depart­ment of Ex-Ser­vice­men Wel­fare (DESW) has no vet­eran rep­re­sen­ta­tion and is the big­gest hur­dle to wel­fare – com­pelling war wid­ows, war wounded and dis­abled sol­diers into pro­longed lit­i­ga­tion. The case of No. 29611361 Se­poy Chat­tar Singh, who is fully hand­i­capped, bed-rid­den and blind, de­nied ‘war dis­abil­ity’ by the gov­ern­ment de­spite Court or­ders – with de­tails on so­cial me­dia is na­tional shame.

The mil­i­tary needs syn­er­gised re­or­gan­i­sa­tion hor­i­zon­tally and ver­ti­cally, tak­ing into ac­count threats to na­tional se­cu­rity and suit­ing hy­brid war­fare re­quire­ments. The De­fence Min­is­ter may also se­ri­ously con­sider com­bat­is­ing civil­ian-de­fence em­ploy­ees, en­hanc­ing mil­i­tary syn­ergy and re­duc­ing civil-mil­i­tary ac­ri­mony.


It can be seen from the above that the De­fence Min­is­ter faces mul­ti­ple chal­lenges. But be­ing a sea­soned politi­cian and given the prag­ma­tism dis­played by her in han­dling the Min­istry of Com­merce & In­dus­try, there is no rea­son that her han­dling of the de­fence should not show sys­temic progress of above is­sues.

Tak­ing Charge: Nir­mala Sithara­man is In­dia’s new De­fence Min­is­ter


Hands On: (Left) De­fence Min­is­ter in Naliya Air Base, Gujarat and (right) in the cock­pit of a Mi­rage fighter at Air Force Sta­tion in Gwalior.

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