In a significant defence reform, a new integrated institutional mechanism called the Defence Planning Committee has been set up under chairmanship of the national security adviser. It is tasked with preparing a national military and security strategy, assessing external security risks and defining security priorities. It will have on board the principal secretary to the prime minister, chairman chiefs of staff committee, service chiefs, defence secretary, foreign secretary and secretary (expenditure) in the finance ministry. The composition of the committee reflects its goal of bringing both military and civilian components of defence planning on one platform. This is absolutely vital for a modern defence strategy that is nimble and adaptable to changing security realities.
At present defence planning in India is very disjointed, with lopsided emphasis on acquisitions. There is little coordination between ministries, while the bureaucracy and the military are often not on the same page. This leads to situations as witnessed recently where the military submitted to the parliamentary standing committee on defence that this year’s defence budget barely made room for modernisation. There’s a yawning gap between the expectations of the armed forces and the diplomatic priorities and financial capacity of government. The new committee is expected to bridge these various needs, and refine recommendations for defence procurement by taking a long-term view of security.
Functionally, the committee will be aided by sub-committees on policy and strategy, plans and capability development, defence diplomacy and defence manufacturing ecosystem – so that defence planning isn’t confined to silos. At a time when India’s security environment is fast changing with an assertive China increasingly flexing its muscle in India’s geo-strategic domain, integration ought to be the buzzword within the defence establishment. This is the only way procurement can be streamlined and decisions implemented in a timely fashion.