When talking to uniformed officers in higher military training institutions and forums, I try to emphasise the perils of an industrial age military. The country has far to go to get anywhere near the technologically-efficient, cyber-savvy, 21st century modern armed forces of the world. By this measure the United States military, on a scale of one to ten, scores 10. The next most proficient armed services in terms of being operationally networked with modern weapons is the British military, scoring seven. The Indian armed services, by this reckoning, rate a miserable two or less.
We are lucky the minor foe the Indian military considers its chief adversary and is most prepared to fight — Pakistan — has armed forces on par with our own, quality-wise. It is the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), however, that in bulk may resemble its Indian counterpart, but is undergoing transformation. Because anything the Chinese undertake to do they do with thoroughness, strategic foresight and speed, the PLA, with rapid modernisation underway, expects to get near enough to the U.S. standard of military proficiency by 2035, give or take five years. The danger is real, in the event, that the Indian military will be left so far behind that inside of 15 years it may be reduced to near impotence in hostilities involving the PLA.
That the country is stuck with a military that apparently cannot think straight is in part because there is so little meaningful strategic thinking being done by the uniformed brass when making force planning and acquisition decisions. Modernising, for example, is just another word for a series of programmes to replace one-for-one weapon systems already in the employ of the various combat arms.
This sad state of affairs persists because there is no single officer in the military tasked with the responsibility for creating an integrated force. Thus, the three Armed Services are on different wave-lengths and time-tables to achieve intra-service connectivity, for instance, without any regard to connecting with each other. Hence, the Air Force claims it will be on a comprehensive communications grid by 2015, the Navy is almost there, while the Army still has far to go.
The Task Force on National Security has submitted its report to the government. Cleverly, it has recommended the appointment of a fourth four-star rank officer as chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CCOS), with the three service chiefs as members along side. This gets around the tricky problem of a five-star rank officer as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), out-ranking and, therefore, lording it over the services’ Chiefs of Staff. In theory, the Service Chiefs would be free to disagree with the chairman but, with the Integrated Defence Staff and the Strategic Forces Command, with nuclear weapons under its control, reporting to CCOS, what the military will, in effect, have is a CDS by another name. Together with recommendations to establish a desperately needed Special Forces Command controlling the Army paratroopers and para-commando, the Navy’s marine commando, and the IAF’s Garud detachments, a genuine integration of the acquisition process, and commonality of all logistics structures across the three services — except for the operational logistics arms that will stay with the Services, and which reform is, presumably, a precursor to a separate and unified Logistics Command — some organizational transformation may finally get underway.
Actually the Task Force has had a wide scope. It has, for instance, suggested separating the posts of head of DRDO and Science Adviser to defence minister to avoid a conflict of interests. After all, one of the reasons for DRDO getting its way all these years without delivering performance commensurate with financial investments in its projects is because the same person overseeing DRDO projects also tells the defence minister about the indigenous projects to prioritise and fund. What is proposed, instead, is a National Technology Council chaired by the Defence Minister that will include a representative of not just the Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) but also of the budding private sector defence industry. This will even out the playing field somewhat, depending on whether the defence minister prevents the combined megaphone of DPSUs and the Department of Defence Production from drowning out the voice of the private sector.
Also mooted is a scheme for cross-postings of military officers in the Ministry of External Affairs at many levels, including as Joint Secretaries, the creation of a Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, endowing the Vice Chiefs of Staff of the three Armed Services with financial powers akin to that of the Defence Secretary, and posting of a Major General-rank officer or equivalent from Navy or Air Force as additional secretary in the Ministry of Defence (MOD). Further, the Task Force has advised drafting a National Security Doctrine (NSD), and for each of the Services to configure their separate service doctrines in line with the NSD.
But the government in its wisdom made the Task Force’s report and recommendations run the gauntlet of inter-ministerial process of consultation. A decade ago the recommendation for a CDS by the Committee on Higher Defence Organisation chaired by K.C. Pant had been killed by a similar process. This time around though, the inter-ministerial process is sought to be constrained and time-bound. The concerned ministries whose reactions are being elicited – with the response of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) carrying the most weight – are required to furnish detailed explanations for opposing any of the Task Force’s recommendations. And all the reactions are to be submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office within three months. The Cabinet Committee on Security will then be convened to weigh the Task Force’s recommendations in the light of MOD’s formal reactions, should these differ, and approve, amend, or turn down each recommendation in turn. With Cabinet approval in hand, the recommendations are expected to be swiftly implemented.
The fact that the consultative process is not an open-ended, time wasting, bureaucratic obstacle race, and that no individual Armed Service or Ministry can veto the Task Force’s recommendations, is at once the main innovation and a relief this time around.
[Published Aug 2, 2012 in the 'Ásian Age' at www.asianage.com/columnists/streamlining-defence-991 and in the 'Deccan Chronicle' at www.deccanchronicle.com/columnists/bharat-karnad/streamlining-defence ]