Red tape binds our arms

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Commentary -

“It is eas­ier for a tank to pass through the eye of a nee­dle than it is for In­dia’s de­fence min­istry to buy or man­u­fac­ture a weapon”. A num­ber of analy­ses show that de­spite many ag­gres­sive state­ments of in­tent, the present govern­ment has been as un­suc­cess­ful as its pre­de­ces­sor in mak­ing a dent in the min­istry’s thicket of red tape and brown files.

The first prob­lem is ad­min­is­tra­tive. An in­ter­nal min­istry study re­port­edly de­scribes a pro­cure­ment process that is so slow that, in the past three years, less than 10% of pro­posed arms deals have met their time­lines. Just the ini­tial ten­der­ing stage takes an av­er­age six times longer than it should. The sec­ond prob­lem is fi­nan­cial. An In­sti­tute of De­fence Stud­ies and Anal­y­sis re­port has shown the in­evitable fall­out of mea­sures like one rank, one pen­sion and a mil­i­tary bu­reau­cracy over­flow­ing with clerks. Pay­roll and pen­sion costs have risen dra­mat­i­cally. By 2018-19 they will con­sti­tute 56% of de­fence ex­pen­di­ture, 12 per­cent­age points higher than seven years ago. In­evitably, this has come at the cost of weapons. Ex­pen­di­ture on de­fence moderni­sa­tion will fall from 26% to 18% over the time span. The third prob­lem is flawed in­di­geni­sa­tion. Ev­ery govern­ment has touted its in­ten­tion to re­duce In­dia’s de­pen­dence on arms im­ports. All have failed. There has been an un­will­ing­ness to dras­ti­cally re­form the state-owned de­fence firms which largely assem­ble im­ported kits or make sub­stan­dard weapons.

At the heart of all this has been a ten­dency to im­pose ide­o­log­i­cal goals on the coun­try’s de­fence pol­icy, which ul­ti­mately should be about se­cu­rity. In­stead, de­fence has be­come a place to pos­ture po­lit­i­cally, a lab­o­ra­tory for eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism and af­fected by short-sighted woo­ing of for­eign gov­ern­ments. A care­fully worked out plan for in­di­geni­sa­tion that en­cour­ages the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the pri­vate sec­tor and which recog­nises (that) In­dia must learn to walk be­fore it can run would be the re­al­is­tic path for the govern­ment. In­dia con­tin­ues to re­mains the only ma­jor coun­try lack­ing a reg­u­lar na­tional se­cu­rity doc­trine. Un­sur­pris­ingly, ma­jor arms buys have be­come sud­den, govern­ment to govern­ment deals driven by des­per­a­tion rather than any real thought.

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