In May last year the government appointed a Task Force lead by Naresh Chandra and composed of 14 members to go into the recommendations and reassess the reforms required for improving the national security system. Over a decade back Kargil Review Committee had made many recommendations regarding defence reforms, revamping of India’s intelligence set up, internal security and border management. A large number of recommendations have been implemented over the years. However, some of the key recommendations like creating a Chief of Defence Staff have not been implemented; other recommendations like integrating Service HQs with the Ministry of Defence have only been paid a lip service to. The impetus for the defence reforms and some other reforms connected with intelligence and internal security had petered out when another strategic shock in the shape of Mumbai terror attacks of 26/11 was delivered. The Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence (SCD) in their report of February 2009 had lamented upon the lack of unified concept of command and lack of integration of intelligence effort besides making a host of other observations.
It also needs to be noted that the government has as yet not declassified the Naresh Chandra report. However, brief details of some of the recommendations made by the panel have appeared in the media.
Is Permanent Chairman of COSC an optimal Solution?
The Naresh Chandra panel has recommended a permanent chairman for the Chiefs of Staff Committee which is expected to bring a certain degree of stability to this post as the senior most chief used to be in the chair with, on many occasions, a limited tenure in his job. The post is to be staffed by a four star general for two years. This recommendation is definitely a climb down from the earlier GOM recommendation of the Chief of Defence Staff. The UPA government has been mentioning that a political consensus is being obtained after having written to all the political parties regarding instituting the post of CDS. The SCD of 15th Lok Sabha in their second report (2009-2010) had again dwelt upon the need for CDS. Some relevant excerpts from the report are given below:
“ In the light of the fact that the Chairman of the COSC has no command and control authority over the Services other than his own, the Committee had expressed doubts over the efficacy of the system in emergent situations by ensuring quick response and coordinated action…. The Committee had recommended to take timely and appropriate steps to revise the composition of the COSC by creating a post of CDS to act as Chairman of COSC by evolving consensus on the issue. .. The Committee had also recommended to give appropriate authority to the Chairman COSC in the present set up to command and control the resources of the Defence Services whenever the situation so demands till such time the post of CDS is created.”
Therefore, it is quite evident that Naresh Chandra report’s recommendation should be treated only as an interim recommendation as the ultimate goal as suggested by SCD and earlier GOM report is to install a CDS. On the other hand there is also a view that due to lack of political consensus the recommendation for CDS can not be implemented in times to come and a permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee would be an optimal solution. However, as the Naresh Chandra report is not in the open domain and it is not clear as to what powers would be entrusted to the incumbent of the new post. Unless the permanent Chairman has appropriate budgetary and certain other command, control and coordination powers, giving a fixed tenure of two years may not serve much purpose. Further, the SCD had also observed that merely writing of letters by the Defence Minister to political parties was not enough; the issue could also be deliberated in the Parliament through various mechanisms available under the rules.
Integration of Services with the MOD merely Cosmetic
The Naresh Chandra Committee (NRC) has also recommended deputation of Army, Navy and Air Force officers to the MOD. This is by no means a new suggestion; this suggestion was given by the GOM Report and has been time and again pushed by the SCD. However, the record for the implementation such a recommendation has been less than satisfactory. For instance, the SCD of 14th Lok Sabha (currently it is 15th Lok Sabha) had ‘strongly’’ recommended the change in MOD staffing patterns to ensure armed forces were ‘‘intrinsically involved in national security management and apex decision-making process’’.
Further, even the new SCD (of 15th Lok Sabha) in its first report of December 2009 (after the current UPA government had taken over) had passed strictures against the non-representative nature of the cross-staffing pattern in the structure of HQ IDS which too is non-represented from Department of Defence (DoD), DRDO and MEA.
The staffing pattern in the MOD was recommended to be suitably modified so that the Armed Forces personnel of requisite expertise at the level of Joint Secretary/ Additional Secretary could be appointed. This was to ensure so that the Service HQs become intimately involved in national security management at the apex decision making processes. Thus NC report has merely repeated what has been earlier recommended many times. The moot point is whether the ‘babudom’ would implement this recommendation in letter and spirit. It also needs to be noted that a MOD official deposing before the SCD had categorically remarked that “Renaming of Army and Naval Headquarters as Integrated Headquarters is merely cosmetic, in the absence of posting of DoD cadre officers to Service Headquarters and vice versa, for participation in policy formulation.”
The NC panel has also stressed on the need for IAS and other officers running the MoD, the National Security Council and other departments responsible for internal and external security being specially trained for the purpose. The practice of generalist officers running everything under the sun needs to be stopped. This recommendation is full of merit and needs to be seriously put into practice.
Defence Planning; the Problems Persist
The NCR has made a number of recommendations regarding defence procurement, defence preparedness and connected issues, however most of the details of such suggestions have not been revealed to the public as yet. In April 2012, the Defence Acquisition Council headed by the Defence Minister, for the first time had approved the 12th Services Capital Acquisition Plan (SCAP) and 15 years Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTTIP, 2012-2027) for the modernization of the armed forces. It needs to be noted that 10th and 11thFYDP had lapsed without being approved and the LTIPP approvals were also not forthcoming. Since the previous Army Chief brought to notice the lack of defence preparedness to include deficiencies in equipment and ammunition, the government shifted gear and embarked on plan approvals and has planned for fast track acquisitions of artillery guns, helicopters and other equipment and ammunition. The pressure on the government was also felt in the Parliament when both the Opposition Leader and ruling party leaders expressed similar views on the need for shoring up the national security and defence acquisitions.
However, the above measures do not absolve the government/MOD from the charge of resorting to ad hocism in defence planning. The SCD in its report of August 2011 had expressed its unhappiness over the adhocism in the whole planning process in Defence Ministry; the Committee had strongly recommended that LTIPP should be finalized without any further delay.
Further, the Defence Minister and MOD had averred that a National Security Strategy document would be made from which would flow out Defence Guidance and thereafter a National Military Strategy would be formulated that would be reflected in our defence plans. But this promise remains only on the paper; the SCD of 14th Lok Sabha had deliberated on the issue however, now even the current SCD of 15th Lok Sabha has gone silent on it.
Another issue which has not been paid attention to is the question of an ‘integrated’ perspective plan as it is well known that LTIPP is not an integrated plan but merely an aggregation of different services’ plans. Integration would mean sacrificing one service’s budget perhaps for the other service which cannot really happen given the current organizational structures. That is why a CDS with suitable authority has been talked about. As mentioned earlier, even the NC report’s recommendation of permanent COSC could be useful if he was given appropriate budgetary and coordination powers. For instance, a proposal for raising a Mountain Strike Corps in the North East by the Army has been recently sent back (after one year of consideration at the MOD/government level) for reappraisal by the COSC so that requirements of other services can also be taken into account. Under the present system there is bound to cause further delay and again delay would be further compounded by the fact that there is no common view on NSS and threat perceptions; every service considers its own media to be important and it is only in some rare case that there could be some via media or agreement.
Defence Procurement: Bedevilled by Delays
Our defence procurement system which has been modified and improved many times without resulting into any appreciable improvements on the ground. Our procurement system, organisations, procedures and mechanisms have not been able to fast track the acquisitions which the armed forces need to narrow the capability gap which exists with our potential adversaries. Last year, Comptroller and Auditor General castigated the entire arms procurement process and cited several incidents of inordinate delays. There have been unacceptable delays in obtaining critical air defence equipment and spares for damaged Israeli aerostat radars; the weapon packages for MIG-29Ks meant for our aircraft carrier were not finalised as a result they were delivered without weapon systems and because of poor monitoring and inadequate attention to contracts clauses additional problems arose in acquisition of Low-Level Transportable Radars.
As mentioned above the SCAP and LTIPP have been approved in April this year along with enhancing of financial powers of acquisition authorities in order to inject speed and flexibility in the procurement process. Defence Minister has also stated on the floor of Parliament that functionaries at Service HQ level have been delegated with financial powers to process procurement cases upto Rs.50 crore, Capital Cases above Rs.50 crore and upto Rs.75 crore are approved by Defence Secretary. There is a proposal also to increase the amount further
It is yet to be seen how the above proposals will fast track the proposed acquisitions.
However, in one of the controversial recommendations by the Naresh Chandra Committee it was proposed that the practice of blacklisting firms of suppliers should be discontinued. It has also suggested that the Prevention of Corruption Act be modified to give a certain degree of protection to officers dealing in defence purchases as there are possibilities of making 'an error of judgement'. This flies in the face of the procurement procedures which are based on the principles of probity, integrity and transparency and so on. Without doubt there is a need to streamline the procedures but including the above provisions would only add to more flaws and possibilities of wrong doing in the defence purchases.
NC Task Force has also recommended that situation where we need to import 70 percent of our military hardware needs to be rectified. These include a greater role in indigenous production of the private sector. The Defence Research and Development Organisation should work in closer cooperation with the armed forces than is the case at present. Not that these are original recommendations but nevertheless being a report to the government reiteration of such requirements possibly would motivate the decision makers earmark funds and efforts for achieving such long term goals.
Special Operations Command
Naresh Chandra panel has also recommended forming of a Special Operations Command to take under its wing the special forces of Army, Navy and Air Force. The objective is to have a synergetic application of forces for strategic tasks by bringing them together in a unified command and control structure; the SOC would be placed under the COSC. NC panel is of the view that India needs to enhance its unconventional and special warfare capabilities to execute poitico-military and connected operations to meet unconventional challenges. According to the report the full potential of the Special Forces is not being utilised, there fore the need for bringing them together and employing them for effective covert operations including counter-terror tasks. After the raid by the American Navy Seals on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout some of our military leaders had mentioned that similar raid could be carried out by our Special Forces. Perhaps with better training, technical and special equipment, weapon systems and ISR support our forces would be in a position to carry out such tasks.
Revamp of Intelligence and Cyber Space Protection
Coordination of intelligence and presenting one joint intelligence picture to the to the apex decision makers has been the bane of our intelligence processes, procedures and organizations. Naresh Chandra report has recommended a post of intelligence adviser to assist the National security Adviser; in addition it has recommended a National Intelligence Board (NIB) for coordination of intelligence. It needs to be noted that erstwhile Joint Intelligence Committee had been merged with the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS). The moot point is how would the functioning of new NIB be different from the existing set up in the NSCS?
Another issue which is acquiring alarming proportions is the question of cyber security with our critical infrastructure and other systems having already faced many cyber attacks over the last one year or so. The National Technical Research Organisation, Defence Intelligence Agency and Computer Emergency Response Teams at various levels need to be strengthened to face the challenges of Cyber War which goes on even during peace time. Cyber Jihad launched by some of the Pakistani based militant and terror groups in July-August 2012 to spread hate campaign against the people of North-East working in rest of India created panic and turmoil. Our response was slow and limited. While the need for a Cyber Command (on the similar lines to that of U.S. Cyber Command) to look after the military aspects of Cyber warfare has been felt there is also a requirement of a central entity/organization to coordinate the civilian efforts to protect the cyber space. At present there are over a dozen entities/organizations like Ministry for Home Affairs, Ministry of Communications and information Technology, the National Disaster Management Authority, National Information Board and Computer Emergency Response Teams at various levels besides some other have been tasked with looking after cyber security. They are inadequately staffed and insufficiently funded; needless to say there are turf battles and their mandate is inadequately defined. Thus, coordination of their efforts would lead to efficient management of and timely response to challenges in the cyber space.
Other Recommendations by Naresh Chandra TF
The report recommends many other measures to be taken to improve the internal security mechanisms. For counter terrorism it has recommended a National Counter Terrorism Centre (already recommended by the MHA), a National Intelligence Grid, strengthening of policing and distributed deployment of NSG.
The TF has emphasized on early setting up of much delayed project of establishing India’s National Defence University (INDU) and creation of a separate think-tank for internal security. Kargil Review Committee and GOM Report had also made similar recommendations for INDU; despite allotment of funds and land for the project nothing substantive seems to have been achieved so far even after lapse of over a decade.
Largely the Naresh Chandra Committee has made recommendations which have already been made by either the KRC or GOM or by the Standing Committee on Defence. Possibly there are other recommendations which are new but as the report is not in the public domain it would be difficult to evaluate the new aspects included in the report. However, the record of implementation of the recommendations by the government has been mixed. The report does serve the purpose of bringing into focus once again the inadequacies in our national defence and security system and thus the imperatives to rectify them. At the geo-political and geo-strategic level it does talk about challenges being posed by China and Pakistan on the military and security front and thus the need to be fully prepared to meet such challenges and threats arising from that direction. Periodical review of our defence preparedness and formulating our National security Strategy, Defence Planning Guidance and National Military Strategy in a formalized manner along with reappraisal of all the processes, structures and associated aspects is a must. Strengthening our military capabilities and internal security efforts are intricately linked with our broader political and economic objectives. If India has to survive as a modern and progressive nation that wishes to achieve its long-cherished goal of strategic autonomy, defence and security reforms have to be ushered in at a faster pace than hitherto before.