Friday, October 25, 2013

Urgent Defence Reforms including CDS Need of the Hour

Brig (Retd) Vinod Anand, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

Higher defence management has continued to remain the focus of the politico-military establishment for last several years without much progress having been made in the key areas of defence reforms that have been underway since the Kargil conflict. A 14-member Naresh Chandra Task Force (NCTF) had reviewed the gaps in defence reforms and submitted a report to the government in August 2012.

In early April 2013, the National Security Council chaired by the Prime Minister discussed the recommendations by the NCTF on National Security. However, some of the contentious proposals were referred to yet another body for further scrutiny. The government instructed the Strategic Policy Group (SPG), chaired by National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon and Cabinet Secretary, to examine the contentious proposals, including those connected to the defence ministry and armed forces. They were expected to take a view on a host of proposals ranging from a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), cross- posting of Service officers to MOD, and the creation of Advanced Projects Agency (APA) to undertake futuristic military R&D and review of the practice of blacklisting armament companies.

The Ministry of Defence while reviewing the NCTF’s recommendations has stuck to its old narrative and has not been in favour of even creating a permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee which is a much diluted version of the Chief of Defence Staff recommended by the Group of Ministers’ Report of 2001 which was again based on inputs provided by Kargil Review Committee.

The MOD, true to its bureaucratic traditions has not approved of many of the other recommendations like cross-posting of officers and some other suggestions of the Task Force on defence reforms. Jaswant Singh, a former Defence Minister in his book ‘Defending India’(Bangalore: Macmillan India, 1999,p.109) had remarked that "-the Defence Ministry, in effect becomes the principal destroyer of the cutting edge of the military's morale; ironic considering that very reverse of it is their responsibility. The sword arm of the State gets blunted by the state itself." In July 2013, the MOD in its recommendations to the National Security Council Secretariat cited several reasons for its negative views on NCTF proposals.

MOD Rejects ‘Permanent Chairman of COSC’ Proposal

The 2001 GOM Report’s main recommendations regarding management of defence included creation of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) with a designated defence staff with a view to establish synergy and promote jointness among the armed forces. It is also true that the concept of CDS however does not evoke an unequivocal and positive response from the three Services. The apprehension from smaller Services being that their interests may be disregarded and perhaps the status of single Services Chiefs lowered. Though, these apprehensions need to be allayed by a providing careful balance on vesting centralised responsibility and power to CDS, the absence of CDS on the other hand leaves the field open to the civil servant to become the 'decider' instead of a uniformed person for inter-Service issues. Recommendation for CDS based on GOM Report 2001 could not be realized because the government threw in a googly in the shape of obtaining political consensus from respective political parties; little or no efforts were made to obtain consensus. A letter to the political parties was written and that was the end of it.

While negating the NCTF proposal for a permanent Chairman of COSC, the MOD in its recommendations to the NSCS has given the reasons in June this year as lack of consensus amongst the three services on the issue. According to the MOD submissions to the NSCS, only the Navy supports the proposal for permanent Chairman COSC, the Army is against the proposal and the Air Force’s concurrence is conditional. Further, the MOD says that the present system of the three Service chiefs and the collegiate COSC briefing the Defence Minister has been functioning well.

And to ward off further criticism of MOD’s attitude, the stock reply given is that in any case the Government has as yet not decided on the issue since the NCTF proposals would be considered by the Cabinet Committee on Security. It appears that the government would continue to stall the issue in keeping with its erstwhile policy on the matter. Apparently, there was also some pressure on the members of the NCTF to not to give such a recommendation. However, wisdom prevailed and the proposal was included in the report.

However, turf battles between services have been part and parcel of even the militaries of advanced nations like the U.S. before their services were forced to move towards integration and jointness through legislative measures. The U.S. forces were brought together under one umbrella through Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986. When the need for creating the institution of CDS/Permanent Chairman COSC has been felt and approved by expert groups consisting of strategists, politicians and bureaucrats and endorsed many times by Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, it is only political will that would be instrumental in fructification of this vital reform.

Not only this, a simple measure like cross-posting of officers between the MOD and Service HQs to bridge the civil-military disconnect has also been rejected for some flimsy reasons. Cross-posting of officers would have generated synergies in functioning of the MOD and without this the integration would remain ‘cosmetic’ even while the MOD claims that the present system has been functioning well. Many reports of the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence have been urging the MOD to implement this recommendation of the GOM Report and the same has been endorsed by the NCTF but the bureaucrats have been adamant on not executing an already approved recommendation.

Unless there is a CDS with some degree of authority vested in him to promote interoperability, jointness and integration, the armed forces would not be able to efficiently pursue their missions in the wars of knowledge age. CDS is also necessary for commanding eventually the Integrated Theatre Commands which are inescapable for adopting a unified approach in envisaged theatre of military operations. Differences in the respective services on their approaches to a single point military advisor for the government have also enabled the bureaucrats to stymie the unification and integration of the defence services. Further, in our despondency on the government’s approach to the institution of CDS, we should not accept the half-baked idea of the permanent Chairman, COSC.

Defence Planning

HQ IDS has prepared Technology Perspective Capability Roadmap 2013 which is somewhat of a modified version of TPCR-2010. This document identifies the military technologies needed by the armed forces in consonance with its 15 Years Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP). This is an unclassified document that provides information to the defence industry (both private and public sector undertakings) as to what kind of capabilities armed forces would be looking for in the next 15 years period. According to the Defence Minister Mr. AK Antony, the objective is “to establish a level playing field for the Indian defence industry, both public sector and private sector.” Regular interaction between the defence industry and the MOD would help in developing ‘contemporary and future technologies as well productionising equipment required by the armed forces’.

As is well known, a major modernisation programme of the armed forces is under way and it is expected that a capital budget of 150 billion US dollars is expected to be spent over the next decade or so. The question remains whether our Defence Procurement Procedures are up to the mark despite many upgrades. And what can our indigenous defence industry offer us?

Firstly, the problem of perspective plans remaining an amalgam of the individual service plans has not been overcome as yet. This is mainly because there is no CDS or permanent Chairman, COS with the necessary mandate (i.e. budgetary control) to ensure that Five Year Defence Plans (FYPD) and consequently 15 years LTIPP are in fact not integrated.

Secondly, it is rare that FYPD and LTIPP are approved by the government in time. While the Defence Acquisition Council headed by the Defence Minister approved the 12th FYDP (2012-2017) in April 2012, the same continues to await approval by the Ministry of Finance and CCS. The LTIPP (2012-2027) was also approved in principle by the MOD but continues to await the government’s nod. The approval of the two vital documents by the MOD is of no consequence unless the same are approved by the government. Thus, even after introduction of the defence reforms in 2001, the defence planning process continues to suffer from inadequacies which can be surmounted if there is a political will.

Problems of defence preparedness are further compounded by the defence acquisition woes. While the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) has undergone a series of modifications and iterations, the evidence on the ground does not indicate that the acquisition process has acquired any momentum. The latest version is of 2013 vintage which is said to be based on experience gained on DPP of 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011. The saga of acquisition of 126 Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft still continues without any aircraft being inducted so far; the defence budget is also facing cuts again in the financial year 2013-2014 due to the economic downtrend. Similarly, though a deal for import of 145 Ultra-Light 155mm was concluded with the U.S. through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route some years ago, it has not fructified. Meanwhile, not only the U.S. has revised its prices for the guns, the Rupee has also depreciated against the dollar thus further compounding our budgetary problems. But then these are recurring problems which our politico-bureaucratic decision-makers have been unable to address.

Another factor which needs to be paid attention is the fast rate of obsolescence of technology which has made the operational life cycle of equipment shorter. The technology upgradations would be required in 10 years or so compared with much longer period in the earlier years. It is also being said that India has already missed two technology cycles and in the bargain two acquisition cycles. And therefore, the critical gaps in our armed forces’ capabilities are widening which needs urgent attention.

Thus, the much required institution of CDS that was diluted by the NCTF to the concept of permanent Chairman COSC has also not found acceptability with our MOD mandarins. But then as mentioned earlier, there is no point in accepting any watered down version of the CDS. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence which had been a strong votary of the concept of CDS has omitted to take any views on the subject in the last few reports submitted to the government. Given the trend and views of politico-bureaucratic class it would be no surprise if the Naresh Chandra Task Force proposal is finally rejected by the CCS. The adhocism in our defence planning process and its concomitant adverse impact on the modernization programme of the Armed Forces continues. This has been so despite the cautions given by the previous and current Army chiefs as also by the Air Force and Naval Chiefs. The critical hollowness and gaps in our capabilities are widening tempting our known adversaries to take advantage of our vulnerabilities. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has been pointing out to the various ills connected with our defence planning and procurement processes and mechanisms without the same being addressed meaningfully by the government.

There are many useful recommendations made by the NCTF but they are likely to meet the same fate as earlier reports. Further, optimal utilization of resources cannot be achieved unless greater emphasis and attention is given to the process of budget formulation and implementation including forecasting, monitoring and control of defence planning processes. While Technology Capability Perspective Roadmap 2013 has been made yet there are many imponderables attached with it. Our politico-bureaucratic and military leadership needs to move fast in ushering in the recommended defence reforms to meet the security challenges from our assertive adversaries.

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