Red tape binds our arms
“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.