Is the Indian military more sovereign than the Indian government?

Image result for defence minister sitharaman at the 2018 defence expo, chennai javascript:void(0)ai -- pictures

[Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at the Defence Expo, Chennai, April 11, 2018]

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is proving to be a one-person wrecking crew for India’s aspirations to emerge as a significant designer-producer of military goods, including capital weapons platforms (combat aircraft, warships, artillery and armour).

Public figures, especially politicians, should be warned that it is safer to be perceived a fool than open one’s mouth and prove it.  Sitharaman who is careening from one self-made disaster to another has done just that, opened her mouth. Recall that recently she had appointed a so-called Defence Advisory Council or Board or something, to counsel her on technical matters related to her brief, which initiative blew up in her face when it was pointed out that two of the eminences she had sought to place in it were US citizens! I had warned in a blog at the time of her appointment as defence minister  about her past employment with Price WaterhouseCooper and BBC, and hinted at what this may portend for such decisions as she would be called upon to make in MOD. In which context, may be this was not all that great a slip after all considering what she said in Chennai yesterday at the 2018 Indian Defence Expo.

The amateurish minister, apparently bent on dishonouring the office she holds and plunging the Modi government into still hotter political waters than it is already in owing to just about everything in the country that can go wrong, going wrong for it, asserted that the armed services were free to source their requirements from anywhere in the world and that the government was not in any position to compel them to buy Indian.

Here’s her quote in extenso for readers to judge: “When I am promoting Indian exports, Indian manufacturing, I am also telling the forces to procure domestically as much as possible. I would want to draw  a thin line between the government’s enthusiasm to make sure the production capabilities are such that they meet international standards and are export-worthy and the other side of the line where the Army, Navy, or Air Force make their decision on what they want, what combination of equipment they want and in that that combination if an India produced item fits in well. I can only go that far and not further, just as they can only go that far and not further without compromising each other’s interests. I can’t imagine prevailing upon them. We will only want them to give space to local manufacturers and buy indigenous products.” (For the quote see “Can’t force ‘Made in India’ arms on military: Nirmala”, Times of India, April 12, 2018)

Astonishingly, what the defence minister thus  proclaimed was that the Indian military was more sovereign than the Indian government, that the armed services are entirely free to decide the armament they want, write up the specifications — derived from brochures of Western arms companies, such as to fit foreign weapon systems, and go ahead and indent for them, forcing the government to buy it for them, while completely ignoring the government’s policy aim of achieving arms self-sufficiency for the country and undermining the investments in thousands of crores of rupees in building up India’s defence industrial wherewithal and design-to-delivery capability in the public and private sectors.

Did Sitharaman clear this quite extraordinary policy pronouncement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi? If she did, it means that Modi has signed off on this line of thinking, and that India’s status as an arms dependency is now formally cemented, with the message telegraphed clearly to foreign countries and their arms industries that India will hereafter buy anything military as long as its armed services can be prevailed on to first ask for it from the government. And how easy is that to arrange? You can bet the services headquarters will be racing with each other to dust up their wish lists for presentation to the Defence Minister, hoisting Sitharaman with her own petard. And the foreign arms companies will be just as quick off the blocks to find their marks among the senior officer cadre in the three Indian armed services who will favour this or that armament and induce their services to demand them as “urgent requirement” of course, as minister Sitharaman has advised.

What then of the Modi initiative to train Indian defence attaches and task them to sell India-made military goods to countries they are posted in? How’s this to work then? Which demented developing state will buy military equipment made in India that the Indian military turns up its nose at? Conversely, won’t the biggest selling point for a genuinely India-designed and made weapon systems be that the Indian armed forces — one of the largest in the world — are using them in vast numbers? But so basic an aspect of the arms trade has escaped Modi, billed as a “prime marketeer”. He may as well close up the Indian defence industry shop.

Sitharaman’s “thin line”, moreover, is more confusion confounded because all that the three services need to ensure when articulating their armament demands identifying the items and the sources from where these are to be procured, she said, is that they not “compromise” each other’s interests, the larger national interest of incentivising an indigenous defence industry to grow and flourish by first selling its wares to the Indian military  be damned!

This is the denouement ‘Make in India’ was headed towards and was so predicted in my writings and in my posts on this blog. But even a professional skeptic such as I didn’t foresee the brazen-ness with which this government means to drive the nascent Indian defence industry into the ground with not even the proverbial fig leaf for cover.

Or, Sitharaman believes in magic! How else to explain why she believes that the Indian defence industry does not need the massive orders from the Indian military channeled deliberately by the government to it in order for it to first set itself up as a viable and going concern that can thereafter as effectively and efficiently meet the Indian armed services’ requirements as service an export market? Or, does she believe that the Indian defence industry is already on par with the US, Russian, French, British and Israeli defence industries, and needs no help whatsoever from the government? Even if she believed this was the case, this invitation to foreign arms suppliers for an open season in India is absolutely incomprehensible, considering that even the US does not permit its military to source its armaments from wherever it may choose; it has to meet exacting Congressional standards that insist on preference be accorded American defence majors. Apparently, the muddle-headed Sitharam thinks India is more advanced than the US, or at least far richer to be able to afford her/Modi governemnt’s follies.

This is a devastating development, one that the ignorant and security-wise iliterate  Indian media and commentariat will not pay sufficient attention to. But it is certain it will growingly be a political issue that the opposition parties will gladly prepare as a noose to tie around the BJP government’s neck.

If the usual clarification is not forthcoming from  MOD, it means the above is a fair reading of  Sitharaman’s pronouncement, and that a new, infinitely more regressive, arms procurement metric is being established as the norm. It bodes very ill for the country (but is harbinger of goodies for defence and MOD personnel in the defence procurement loop because they will now be courted by foreign countries as never before).

Sitharaman and Modi will go down in history for all the wrong reasons as ultimately dim-witted leaders without the strategic mind or wit to do the right thing by the country.  If this is not to happen, the Prime Minister will be well advised to disavow Sitharaman’s statement, pronto, and — if she has to be retained to save face — to shunt her out to some nondescript ministry where if she can’t help, she can do no harm either.



About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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22 Responses to Is the Indian military more sovereign than the Indian government?

  1. AKHIL says:

    On your point of “won’t the biggest selling point for a genuinely India-designed and made weapon systems be that the Indian armed forces — one of the largest in the world”.

    INSAS is a case in point(Even the Nepalis and the Omani’s have dumped it) , so is HAL Dhruv(The Ecuadorians had a harrowing experience with it, so does Maldives)
    What about India enthusiastically inducting Brahmos when the Russians haven’t?
    Wouldn’t it be it fair to conclude that at the end of the day the product performance is the ultimate determining factor?

    Coming to Mrs.Sitaraman’s statement i hope it is mere lip service aimed at “foreign companies” to keep them on the hook.Which is a clever move.
    Because Indian cronys are no better than foreign ones.

    Would any of this going to make a difference if “babus and Generals” continue to get away with corruption? Isn’t that the Achilles heel?

  2. Kya says:

    Modi’s govt. Sided with liar british in scripal case where russia simply wanted infeoendent enquiry of the so called poison gas with no victim picture or progrrss.
    Modi will lick british boot in next week in commonweth inviti g english parasites to enter india and loot again.

  3. Shaurya says:

    SH coming!!!

  4. Rupam Das says:

    Does the normal public have any way to influence decisions related to defense whatsoever, even the slightest?

  5. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Regards-“Prime Minister will be well advised to disavow Sitharaman’s statement, pronto”

    This is what Modi said in Defexpo 2018:
    “have also initiated a new process to procure 110 fighter aircraft.”
    And only after that announcement were the SH plans for HAL and Boeing and Mahindra, announced.

    The media management suggests, whatever vow whoever had thought useful, has already been taken and they are going ahead with their vows. Dead birds flying, is not possible in the life, the gods gave us.

    And replicating LCA Tejas assembly lines is merely a matter of X-multiples of intent. Jaise teen bante hain waise hi terah bhi bante hain.

  6. Swaraj Roy says:

    As an ex-serviceman I totally agree with what the RM said. The forces don’t have to be loaded with sub-standard equipment just because its made it India. Indian industry – be it in the pvt sector or the PSUs need to pull up their socks. The pvt sector has done it to a large extent – its a compunction in order to survive. Where as the PSUs/Ordnace Factories Board need to re-invent them selves and shake of the lethargy brought on by years of Union rule and political Interference. Her statement also can be seen as an indicator that the forces will have more independance in selecting their equipment.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      You’d be surprised at the number of sub-standard non-Indian and non-Russian/Soviet stuff the services have joyfully put up with. Unfortunately, being a serviceman (serving or ex) no longer carries a Badge of Integrity with it,

      • Swaraj Roy says:

        I know a lot of “sub-standard non-Indian and non-Russian/Soviet stuff the services have joyfully put up with” – and who was responsible for that? And regarding the badge of integrity – its not required – but I at least put my name here.

      • &^%$#@! says:

        That’s your choice.

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        Re. &^%$#@! says: “sub-standard non-Indian and non-Russian/Soviet stuff the services have joyfully put up with”

        Well then you should be willing to sign the CISMOA or COMCASA etc.

        Hey peace! that was in half jest.

      • as someone here mentioned about CISMOA, the P8Is which we have purchased from umrika bahadur does not have any US Avionics onboard,why ? Because as per the DOD Directives it is reserved for the US THEATER COMMAND ?? LEMOA ,CISMOA also requires some PRE-POSITIONING in terms of infrastructure, if we can develop our own cryogenic engine,after a sanctioned Russia from the UN denied us the technology, we can develop our own Jet Engine as well,then & only then we will be able to push forward our own Tejas MkII ,AMCA & Tejas LCA variant in full hog, look our IRBMs are world class,do you think it is not an achievement of our scientists ? So we can do that in Hypersonic Technology Transitioning also

  7. Venkat says:

    I agree with her comments 100%. She must have meant not all stuff can be made in india.
    The writer has gone bonkers calling names to one and all without offering solutions.

    All armed forces have been inducting indian made stuff every possible, something you forget .

    What you need to hammer is inability of indian manufacturing to scale up.

    Look at HAL, LCA first flew in 2001, they did not work with ADA to get manufacturing right. Still struggling, why is the gun not fired from LCA even after so many years ? You may say IAF agreed, do,they have a choice ? Does ADA or HAL give commitment on time line ?
    Again luckily this govt (of dim witted people ! ) signed 36 Rafales. Great decision. This, idiots like you criticise.
    Same with IJT! IAF ordered , where is it ?
    LCH , both IA and IAF ordered where is it ?
    Do you know how many trainee pilots were killed by the HAL made HPT-32 ? HAL could NOT solve the issues, but want to make a new plane , nuts. Was the defence minister designer of HPT-32 ? what prevented HAL from solving issues in a plane it had designed ? Again, the govt made emergency purchase of Pilatus else IAF would be sending pilots to pakistan for training !

    Same with rifles, they work fine in tests. Manufacturing quality is a big issue. See experiences of not only indian army, but also Nepal .
    Artillery, every tom dick and Harry played with its RFQ/RFI last 15 years, you have not condemned the games played then at all. Luckily this Govt (of dim wits as you say) signed 2 agreements . So light and self propelled will start getting delivered now .
    Same with submarines , why the delays in building 6 subs ? MDL should have delivers this years ago right ? Is Nirmala seetharaman responsible for the mess ?

    You say Nirmala seetharaman should be shunted, are you even qualified to comment on defence matters ? Unfortunately living on this earth for decades does not mean you know anything more than writing in English, certainly do not merit a badge of expertise in defence ! ( I repeat what an alien has stated above)

    I think you should retire or volunteer to run MoD .Choose one

    • &^%$#@! says:

      @Venkat, contrary to what you have erroneously stated, the GSh-23 cannon was ground tested on the Tejas years ago:

    • Venkat@ — You are absolutely free to discuss, debate, disagree with and contest my views, including solutions I have touted to GOI since my time in 1st NSAB, all of which are detailed in my various books. If w/o reading my books or knowing much of my work you are calling me names, etc. you are crossing that “thin line” separating vigorous and civil debate from name-calling, which will not be entertained. So far have left your contributions undisturbed. But not if you continue with your name calling, not on this blog.

    • The first flight of Rafale was in 1986 it was inducted in French airforce on 2006. That’s 20 years, inspite of Dassault having experience of designing 4gen fighter planes already.

      If you don’t get indigenous platforms now then when will you start?

  8. Shaurya says:

    You fight with the weapons you have. If Indian forces have no vested interest in who provides these weapons then they are and will be fighting with the weapons they can purchase from a third party. In such a scenario, the selling entity and its controlling organs will determine how well do our forces fight.

    I am surprised despite political freedom our minds remain colonized. It is this colonized mind which fails to see the dire straits we are in to keep our forces fighting with imported wares.
    Even if we magically get such an edict the realities will dictate, we would still be importing for decades to come. But, if no start is made now, we would still be critically dependent for another century!!

    Independence without the ability to wield one’s arms to protect its maximum interests for a country like India is just plain hollow and this deficiency will and does show up to restrict not just our military but all other dimensions of power including economic and geopolitical.

    Efficiencies of our current organs to deliver is an entirely different story. Bharat has been referring to the cleanups needed there in many of his writings but where is the Hercules
    (Sithraman?) to clean up these Augean Stables?

  9. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Republic of Thales to have 3000 headcount in India Pvt. Ltd. in 2-3 years.
    “India is among the top three priority countries for Thales … And that is not a surprise when we look at size of Indian economy, the market and dynamism of the country,” Thales Chairman and CEO Patrice Caine
    “It is an ambition that we have to make it happen and clearly it demonstrates that we do believe in India. In terms of market, also in terms of level of education and engineers in India, it is really good…definitely India ticks the boxes on all of those,” he added.
    “PM Modi has put forward important reforms and vision to accelerate the level of technology mastered by India. We are convinced that we can bring to India, things that are unique in terms of technology and participate to this vision,” Caine said.

    Thales Executive Vice President, Secure Communications and Information systems, Marc Darmon, said pervasiveness of software… adoption of cloud and Internet of Things ….multi-pronged strategies to ward-off targeted cyber attacks….Businesses will have to put in place strategies that not only help detect threats early but actively prevent attacks…. becoming even more critical in the backdrop of “game-changers” in the digital world.

  10. sanman says:

    Another useful question worth asking – if some in America’s Deep State are intent on reviving the Cold War antagonism with Moscow, then could the Non-Aligned Movement become relevant again?

  11. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Look, there is nothing wrong with India. Only the establishment is naked and blind and dishonest about their own nakedness.

    If Chinese can make their own aircrafts ground up then there is no conceivable reason why we Indians could not have. And if our establishment has reasons to support F-18 or F-35 in the year 2018 then there is no reason they will not find another one in 2050. A new, improved, advanced, more messianic foreign technical solution to ‘protect India’ from China and Pakistan. And its not like this is limited only to aircrafts.

    Case in point is the often repeated query that if Russians are not inducting Brahmos then why should ……waghera waghera.

    Sir ji, Russians were silent on that query for a number of years. Russians could have seeded defence forums and blogs and defence journalists with all kind of technical sounding arguments about why Brahmos only is the best choice for India like the way F-18 is today. Russians could have decided not to do anything for all the years the above query was raised and they too like the Indian establishment have simply produced a pea after all these years. But instead they kept quite and then they produced Kinzhal, something that cannot be competed against by Brahmos level technology. Mach 3 vs. Mach 10 – that one difference is a sufficient answer.

    When will India have the patience to keep silent and then develop something to its own advantage? It was the choice of Indian establishment to not let anything worthwhile develop and then to meekly weaponize Brahmos only when the world is moving to Mach 10 projectiles.

    Just to prove that serviceability is not the issue they had to wait till Gaganshakti 2018. They let the query fester the Indian wound for years together so they could promote one or the other foreign aircraft. That, they thought was defence-diplomacy which they thought was important to establish India as great and rising power. Chinese too during their like development phase could have taken up defence-diplomacy. But they did not and that is why they can today launch the BRI and CPEC which is economic diplomacy with defence implications that can make great and rising powers shiver in fear.

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