Time right for defence reforms:
- National security was accorded unusual prominence during the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign.
- The alliance that won the elections made national security central part of their campaign and won a decisive mandate.
- This means that the government now has enormous political capital to bring about far-reaching reforms in defence, reforms that cannot be put off.
- The government faces many difficult challenges from reforming the security architecture and structuring the armed forces to strengthening the defence industrial base and military readiness.
Well recognized issues:
- Need for a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS):
- One of the reforms needed is the creation of the post of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as a single-point military adviser to the political leadership.
- The post of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was first recommended almost 20 years by the Kargil Review Committee, as part of recommendations for national security reforms.
- It was broadly endorsed by a subsequent Group of Ministers and revisited by another committee in 2011.
- Not everyone in favour of the post:
- The idea had met with resistance both from within the armed forces, with especially the Air Force not being keen.
- Some political leaders were also averse to concentrating military authority in a single office.
Integrated theatre commands as a first step:
- The problem lay in ensuring that the CDS was linked with meaningful jointness among the three services.
- In fact, the importance of creating integrated theatre commands had been emphasised all along.
- As a starting point, it was felt that supply and logistics functions could be integrated.
- But the previous government failed to make any headway, partly owing to resistance from within the armed forces.
Need to move ahead despite opposition to it:
- The defence reforms of this scale have been pushed through in other democracies even in the face of from the military.
- Even the choice of the first CDS or equivalent has often been unpalatable to the services and their leadership.
- However, it is time the government moved decisively to create a fully-empowered CDS with a clear road map for integration of commands.
- Defence manufacturing:
- The strategic imperative of creating a solid defence industrial base is also well recognised.
- Speaking in 2015, the Prime Minister said that defence manufacturing was at the heart of the Make in India programme and that the country should aim to manufacture 70% of military equipment domestically in the next five years.
- Yet, till 2019, the proposed defence manufacturing ecosystem had barely advanced.
Needs a push:
- This is a good and opportunity to revive and push ahead the plans for a defence manufacturing base that includes private sector as well as public sector undertakings.
- If there is one area where industrial policy can work, it is defence.
- Emphasising this domain could fit well with the country’s larger requirements of economic renewal.
- The fiscal challenge:
Shrinking resources for military modernisation:
- The next priority for defence policy is to deal with the shrinking resources for military modernisation.
- Following the grant of one-rank-one-pension and the implementation of the 7th Pay Commission, manpower costs of salary and pension now account for over 70% of the defence budget.
- In the budget of 2018-19, the allocation for pensions grew at 27% over the previous year, while capital expenditure rose by only 9%.
- Given the real constraints on increasing the overall allocation for defence, capital expenditure for military modernisation is unlikely to increase in line with the requirements.
Need for structural change in the armed forces:
- This fiscal challenge also provides an opportunity to rethink the fundamental structure of our armed forces, especially the balance between long-service and short-service components as well as manpower and technology.
- The services are reportedly considering how to reduce manpower.
- This should be part of a broader exercise that ideally should be led by a CDS.
- Military Readiness:
- Much of the discussion around this issue tends to focus on critical shortages of equipment and spares.
- But the real, long-term problem lies in professional military education, especially for officers.
Officer education has narrow focus:
- Our training establishments impart narrow professional skills.
- They focus on preparing officers to command companies, battalions and brigades, or perform staff duties at various levels.
- There is almost no attempt to give the officers a sense of the larger contexts — strategic, political and international — in which the armed forces function.
- It is only at the highest training establishment, the National Defence College, that senior one-star officers get exposed to some of these issues. This is too little and too late.
- This outmoded approach to training affects the quality of human capital at all levels in the services.
Education needs to be broader:
- The neglect in this crucial area has to end.
- The Indian National Defence University must be brought up and running as early as possible.
- The strong mandate gives the current government an opportunity to place defence policy in the top tier of its priorities.
- It should seize this rare opportunity.
GS Paper III: Security Issues