Nir­mala Sithara­man: In­dia’s New De­fence Min­is­ter

SP's NavalForces - - FRONT PAGE - RAN­JIT KU­MAR

WitH OnLy 20 MOntHs left for the new de­fence min­is­ter to jus­tify her ap­point­ment, nir­mala sithara­man faces an up­hill task to meet the ex­pec­ta­tions of the de­fence com­mu­nity. On as­sum­ing charge on 7th septem­ber from Mr Arun Jait­ley, as the first full-time woman de­fence min­is­ter of the coun­try, she spelt out her pri­or­i­ties as mil­i­tary pre­pared­ness, sort­ing out long pend­ing is­sues, Make-inin­dia and wel­fare of fam­i­lies of sol­diers. sig­nif­i­cantly she said that she will be ad­dress­ing all pend­ing is­sues in con­sul­ta­tion with the Prime Min­is­ter and the cabi­net.

she has been given this job at a time when her rul­ing party will shortly go in elec­tion mode for the next par­lia­men­tary elec­tions hence her win­dow to per­form will be very nar­row. the in­te­grated Min­istry of De­fence Head­quar­ters, which she will be spear­head­ing till the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions, has mul­ti­far­i­ous jobs to com­plete. from armed forces mod­ern­iza­tion to the re­form in Higher De­fence Man­age­ment and from struc­tural re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the three ser­vices es­pe­cially the Army to strength­en­ing bor­der se­cu­rity, nir­mala sithara­man will be fac­ing chal­leng­ing days ahead. With her im­age as a tough ne­go­tia­tor and ef­fi­cient ad­min­is­tra­tor in the In­dus­try and com­merce min­istry, the De­fence cir­cle is buzz with ex­pec­ta­tions.

The first full-time De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar un­der the Modi gov­ern­ment was more fo­cused on his home state Goa, where he ul­ti­mately landed, and the sec­ond part-time de­fence min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley had the oner­ous task of look­ing af­ter an­other heavy­weight fi­nance min­istry. Hence, the de­ci­sion mak­ing process in the MOD moved at snailÕs pace, though ma­jor pol­icy de­ci­sions were fi­nal­ized dur­ing the last three years, like the strate­gic Part­ner­ship model for big ticket de­fence projects im­ple­men­ta­tion un­der ÔMake in in­diaÕ pro­gramme of the Modi Gov­ern­ment. How­ever, be­cause of this, ma­jor ac­qui­si­tion de­ci­sions were kept pend­ing and the com­bat ca­pa­bil­ity of the armed forces suf­fered heav­ily.

though the war clouds on eastern front have dis­si­pated a week be­fore her as­sump­tion of charge, she can­not af­ford to rest. As the threat per­cep­tion from both the fronts re­main high, she will have to in­dulge in su­per-fast de­ci­sion mak­ing in the days ahead to equip the armed forces to en­able them to si­mul­ta­ne­ously thwart any co­or­di­nated evil de­signs on both the bor­ders. if the then UPA gov­ern­ment had gone ahead with the MMrcA ten­der for the Air force, which rec­om­mended the french rafale in fe­bru­ary 2012, the IAF would def­i­nitely have started in­duct­ing them by now. the nDA gov­ern­ment also dithered on the de­ci­sion left pend­ing by the UPA. sidestep­ping the then De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar, the Prime Min­is­ter per­son­ally in­ter­vened and re­quested the French Pres­i­dent to or­der 36 rafale to the man­u­fac­turer Das­sault, which the iAf will start re­ceiv­ing from mid­dle of 2019. But the IAF is not sat­is­fied with only 36 Rafales as its squadron strength has gone down steeply to 32, whereas the sanc­tioned re­quire­ment is for 45 squadrons.

sim­i­larly the in­dian navy, with gi­gan­tic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to safe­guard in­di­aÕs mari- time in­ter­ests in the huge in­dian Ocean, is left with only 13 diesel sub­marines. the in­dian navy has sought six ad­di­tional sub­marines, which the gov­ern­ment has de­cided to be in­dia made un­der the strate­gic Part­ner­ship model. the new De­fence Min­is­ter will have to act fast to award the con­tract for the ÔMade in in­di­aÕ­sub­marines.

Fill­ing the yawn­ing gaps in the fighter air­crafts and sub­marines re­quire­ments are only the tip of the ice­berg. the armed forces suf­fer from de­fi­cien­cies in many crit­i­cal ar­eas, for which the De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion coun­cil has been grad­u­ally re­leas­ing clear­ances, but these projects are yet to see any ac­tion on ground, with­out which the three Ser­vices do not feel con­fi­dent. to get go­ing all the projects on the ground, un­der the strate­gic Part­ner­ship model, within a span of 20 months will be a dif­fi­cult task to ex­e­cute for the new de­fence min­is­ter. By the time these de­ci­sions reach their fi­nal­ity, the gov­ern­ment may feel re­luc­tant to give fi­nal go ahead in view of elec­tion re­lated controversies. the sP model is vul­ner­a­ble to ju­di­cial in­ter­ven­tion as there are many as­pects of the model which will give suf­fi­cient ground to the par­ties not win­ning the tenders to de­rail the projects from ex­e­cu­tion. the Over­seas equip­ment Man­u­fac­tur­ers (OeM) have also ex­pressed doubts and con­cerns re­lat­ing to the 49 per­cent limit on the for­eign eq­uity par­tic­i­pa­tion.

nir­mala sithara­manÕs acu­men will be tested on the plat­form of the sP model on which the fu­ture of ma­jor Make in in­dia projects like the fighters and sub­marines hinges. the armed forces want these plat­forms im­me­di­ately. for them it does not mat­ter, where from those sys­tems will be de­liv­ered to them. the new De­fence min­is­ter will have to en­sure that the armed forces does not face Kargil like sit­u­a­tion once again, when the ser­vices head­quar­ters had to run from pil­lar to post to ac­quire crit­i­cal spare parts. Prob­a­bly in this back­drop she as­serted that the in­dian Armed forces re­ceived all at­ten­tion in terms of giv­ing them ev­ery nec­es­sary en­dow­ment and equip­ment to per­form their duty.

nir­mala sithara­man re­alises the sig­nif­i­cance of indigenous de­fence ca­pa­bil­ity “so that we ben­e­fit and also send these to the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. We will en­sure that Make-in-in­dia is given full play for de­fence pro­duc­tion.Ó Achiev­ing self suf­fi­ciency in de­fence equip­ments has been a goal of all the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments, but lack of po­lit­i­cal will, suf­fi­cient fi­nan­cial back­ing and ad­min­is­tra­tive ef­fi­ciency has de­railed all the in­di­geni­sa­tion plans. the pro­posed strate­gic Part­ner­ship and ÔMake in in­di­aÕ­plans of the nDA gov­ern­ment have been wel­comed by the in­dus­try but have asked for ma­jor pol­icy changes. nir­mala sithara­man will have to use her ex­per­tise and wis­dom gained from the in­dus­try and com­merce min­istry to make the sP and ÔMake in in­diaÕ pol­icy more ra­tio­nal and at­trac­tive for the Over­seas equip­ment Man­u­fac­tur­ers.

the mod­erni­sa­tion of in­dian armed forces has been made to wait for the ÔMake in in­di­aÕand strate­gic Part­ner­ship pol­icy for long and it is high time that the new De­fence Min­is­ter acts fast to give ef­fect to her pri­or­ity of mil­i­tary pre­pared­ness.

Ran­jit Ku­mar

PHO­TO­GRAPH: @De­fenceMinIn­dia

Ad­mi­ral Su­nil Lanba, Chief of the Naval Staff and Chair­man of the Chiefs of Staff Com­mit­tee, with De­fence Min­siter Nir­mala Sithara­man

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