No Indian government has the gumption to reform defense
India’s latest move to establish a Defense Planning Committee (DPC) under the Prime Minister’s Office as an apex body for defense modernization is doomed to fail without restructuring disjointed higher defense structures, as argued earlier.
There are a slew of measures that could be taken to fix the problem. But it seems no government, whether current or past, has had the guts to carry out meaningful change and reforms in the system.
In 2005 and 2009, Headquarters (HQ) Integrated Defense Staff (IDS), a joint military body set up after the Kargil war in 1999, briefed national security advisers (NSAs) on how the military can help draft a National Security Strategy (NSS). But these suggestions were snubbed because drafting an NSS leads to accountability for the Ministry of Defense (MoD).
Ironically, the present government has also shied away from this. Incidentally, the forum for the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) was the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), which should have been the forum for the DPC as well. Nominating HQ IDS instead is shirking responsibility while enjoying total authority.
This is the attitude toward India’s defense. There is no NSS or a Strategic Defense Review (SDR), which means any defense procurement planning is done without an NSS-SDR.
Military representation is short in higher defense structures and the MoD lacks military professionals. The Services HQs are termed as “attached offices,” a legacy of the British.
The defense secretary (and not the defense minister) is charged with the country’s defense; nearly 70% of the defense equipment has been imported in past decades despite more than 50 Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) labs, nine Defense Public Sector Undertakings, 42 Ordnance Factories, all with an overall manpower of 180,044. There is little military representation in DRDO-DPSUs-OF despite being the users.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has repeatedly pointed to corruption and nepotism in DRDO, which is directly under the MoD. A government-appointed expert committee recommended shutting down DRDO laboratories and a major DRDO overhaul, going for privatization. But DRDO is a golden goose for the MoD. It took 15 years to produce a rifle while forcing the military to buy combat uniforms at three times the price charged by civilian shops.
A former ambassador who first joined the Indian Administrative Service and was posted to MoD says his first brief was to forget everything else and just concentrate on what equipment is in the pipeline and how much money can be made.
Arguably, no defense deal is without kickbacks, although in a country like China, money goes to the party, not individuals. But this is one reason the military is kept away from the MoD and DRDO in India. The second reason is politicians banking on bureaucrats, with the latter lacking professional knowledge of matters military.
The KRC recommendations for restructuring defense, endorsed by a Group of Ministers headed by then-deputy prime minister L K Advani, included establishment of a Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) and HQ IDS that was to be part of MoD to provide requisite military expertise. The deployment of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) on India’s borders was recommended to augment the army, but not placed under command of the latter. But the deep state didn’t permit the HQ IDS-MoD merger and establishment of CDS despite then-defense minister Pranab Mukherjee saying in 2005 that the government had decided who the CDS would be.
Manohar Parrikar, when he was defense minister under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, stated in 2015 that the CDS would be appointed soon. But even then, the CAPF deployment, even in sensitive border areas, wasn’t placed under the army.
The bogey of the military lacking consensus on appointing a CDS was negated at the above-mentioned conference chaired by Mukherjee in 2005. The spurious scare of a military coup is raised sometimes knowing full well that the military is too disciplined for such a thing. Other nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom have similar structures with no threat to their democratic polity. But stories are cooked up by the deep state of troop movements from faraway Agra-Hisar to carry out an alleged “coup,” even though enough army troops are stationed in Delhi.
Another excuse for not appointing the CDS is the lack of political consensus. But the Modi government shut down the Planning Commission without discussion, replacing it with Niti Aayog, and more recently amended the Foreign Contribution Regulations Act arbitrarily, opening the floodgates of donations to political parties, which can’t be questioned. So why can’t the MoD be replaced by a Department of Defense, manned in majority by military professionals?
Instead of ad hoc measures like a DPC, India needs the following: Define an NSS and order an SDR; revise the Allocation of Business and Transaction of Business Rules Act 1961, making the defense minister responsible for Defense and Services HQ integral to MoD; merge the MoD and HQ IDS completely; appoint a CDS to synergize the military and usher in true RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs) under directions of a political authority; service chiefs as members of the Cabinet Committee on Security; deputy NSA(s) from the military; military representation in the Strategic Policy Group, NSCS and National Security Advisory Board and military advisers in the Ministries of External Affairs and Home Affairs; military representation at policy, design and decision-making levels in the governmental defense-industrial complex; and placing the responsibility of guarding the country’s land borders under the military or at least the MoD, just as the entire sea coast is.
These are the bare minimum essentials – imperative to meet emerging threat scenarios and modernize India’s defunct military. Aside from defining the NSS, the NSA needs to focus on optimizing India’s considerable Special Forces potential in all areas of strategic interests, rather than use them for limited “surgical strikes.” Whether the Modi government has the gumption to pick up the gauntlet remains to be seen.