Which side is the enemy? - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 17 December 2007

Which side is the enemy?

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 18th December 2007

The Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) announcement earlier this month scrapping the proposed purchase of 197 light helicopters from European consortium, Eurocopter, provides an excellent mirror for India to examine its strategic fibre. Comment and public attention has largely centred around the procedure of the trials, the personalities and relationships involved, and whose footfalls trod more heavily in the corridors of South Block: Eurocopter’s or its arch rival Bell Helicopter’s.

But the twenty-odd jawans, clinging through winter onto Sonam Post, perched on a knife-edged ridge in the Northern Siachen Glacier, haven’t yet heard about this decision. They will learn about it one of these days, via a three-weeks-old newspaper that will be delivered to them in a 1960s vintage Cheetah helicopter, flown by an Army Aviation pilot who flies the world’s most hazardous missions to earn 20,000 rupees a month.

For those jawans, and for tens of thousands others like them who have already been cut off by the snows, this decision means a clear reduction in chances of survival. Between now and May, Indian jawans in these posts will die of illness, accidents and high-altitude sickness, because a helicopter could not evacuate them to a hospital. The arrival of either the Eurocopter or the Bell --- newer, more powerful and capable helicopters --- would have quickly translated into saved lives.

But saving soldiers’ lives played no role in the decision. What did was a corrosive melange of political influence, bureaucratic risk-aversion and convoluted procedure, which now unacceptably smothers every major defence decision. The cancelled purchase from Eurocopter had taken six years to fructify. Whether another selection procedure will end in a perfectly objective decision is already well known: it will not. Military procurement decisions cannot be reduced to a mathematical matrix; they involve subjective considerations that cannot be disregarded.

But for ministers, parliamentarians and bureaucrats, with little idea or experience of the issues attending defence, the one guiding principle is: play it safe. Bureaucrats will confide, over a scotch and soda at the Gymkhana Club, that not one of them has been hauled up for a decision not taken; but too many good men have fallen victim to valid decisions that went against them. George Fernandes, whilst serving as defence minister, bemoaned the perpetual paralysis of South Block’s babus.

Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), MK Kaul, has publicly excoriated MoD officials for avoiding risk by using rulebooks to delay defence purchases. The CAG told an international seminar on 15th Dec 06, “The emphasis seems to be on technical compliance through a multitude of detailed rules and regulations rather than on creating a new organisational culture, which focuses on results.”

Fernandes was wrong in blaming the paralysis on the three “Cs” --- the Central Vigilance Commission, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). The rot runs deeper than the mere inability to provide for defence. It has incapacitated the fundamental process of even planning for it.

India is the only major country that plans its defence one year at a time. The MoD theoretically has a 15-year Long Term Integrated Procurement Plan (LTIPP), the basis for all defence procurement, modernisation, and indigenous development of equipment. From the LTIPP, which was to cover the period 2002-2017, were to flow the 10th, 11th and 12th defence 5-year plans, covering the same period. The astonishing reality is that these plans do not exist.

The CAG’s Report No 4 of 2007 reveals that the LTIPP 2002-2017 was only finalised in 2006, four years after it was supposed to have commenced. By then, since it was the last year of the 10th defence plan, it was decided to prepare a revised LTIPP, covering the period till 2022, all the way to the end of the 13th defence plan, which is to run from 2018-2022. 

Now that is facing further delays as the MoD reworks everything. The MoD has told the 14th Lok Sabha Standing Committee on Defence (in writing), that the new LTIPP would now be finalised only in 2009. The 16th report of the Standing Committee carries the MoD’s reply.

The MoD submits that, “The revised LTIPP (2007-22) is being prepared following a deliberate and integrated ‘Top Down’ approach by articulating National Security Strategy, National Military Strategy, National Military Objectives/Capitality (sic) and so on. Such an exercise has been undertaken for the first time and is an extremely involved process with inputs from the three Services, MoD, NSA and various other agencies. The document is expected to be ready by December 2009.” 

So the revised LTIPP (2007-22) is already late by two years and, going by track record, will be delayed even further. Medium-term planning is doing no better. The CAG’s Report No 4 points out that the 11th Defence Plan, which covers the period 2007-2012, and which commenced on April 2007, still awaits formal approval.

The MoD bureaucrats are blaming their counterparts in the Finance Ministry, who are apparently sitting on the file. But the bottom line is that no long-term or medium-term defence plan is in place, no targets are set for bureaucrats to procure desperately needed equipment, and little can be hoped for from the large and inefficient government-owned defence industry.

If those jawans on Sonam Post were not from the Indian Army, they might well be wondering which side is the enemy.


  1. Ajai:

    Well said. The problems are aplenty; solutions in sight -- one.

  2. Excellent Article..
    I really feel that the country especially the defence personnel are being let down by these bureaucrats..
    I want to help them on my part,but wat can i do??

  3. I think that the Defence procurement should be an independent vigilant body like the SEBI, TRAI, Election Commission, or the RBI. It is because defence procurement is a very important, prolonged, and impactive activity.

    The present and earlier Defence ministers, Mr. A. K Antony and Mr. George Fernandes respectively, have backgounds in labour union politics and are ill-qualified to handle matters of National Defence, regardless of the Constitutional rights bestowed upon them as elected representatives. Politicians only collaborate with a lobby group (like arms dealers, builders, or exporters).

    Beginning from Bofors, to Scorpene, Barak and Spyder missile scams, a nexus between politicians and arms middlemen has always been unearthed. This time also, such a scam was being suspected. Morally and politically Mr. Antony's actions seem correct; however, this may well be a "charade". He has not acted against the Scorpene submarine accused and disallowed Bofors from competing despite Bofors guns proving far superior in tests than that of Soltam and Denel. He is "rushing ahead" with a plan to jointly develop (read: purchase licence rights) the PAK-FA, which his immediate predecessor had staunchly opposed in front of the visiting Russian delegation last year on the grounds of zero Indian inputs in it.

    Thus, this action of cancelling Eurocopter's winning tender should not be viewed as an act of his so-called "honest image". It must have some unrevealed reasons.

    Thank you.

  4. Dear Abhiman,

    Tell us more about Pranab Mukherjee's opposition to the FGFA proposal plz.



  5. Mr. Shukla, a news report by Mr. Shiv Aroor, dated Aug 4 2006, was dedicated to this issue, a day after a presentation by the Sukhoi corp in Delhi. Though not directly mentioning Mr. Mukherjee, it stated that South Block had told Moscow (obviously through the delegates) that if Indian funding is needed, India should've been equal partners in the FGFA since the start of the project, which had progressed substantially without consulting India.

    But after Antony became DM in 2006, the Russian delegation visiting onn Republic Day in 2007 was given full public support over the FGFA. All previous concerns, and valid ones at that, were never even mentioned and how exactly there were cleared or a compromise reached.

    Mr. Mukherjee actually even mentioned MCA in Parliament--a "feat" in itself---though adding about foreign collaboration. This is probably the only time that any top South Block or IAF official spoke about the MCA.

    Since his leaving the defence ministry, the IAF and the MoD have been very careful not to even mention, refer or even hint to it publicly ostensibly to erase it from memory and consideration at the outset.

    Reference :-

    1) Reoprt by Shiv Aroor :

    2) On Mr. Shiv Aroor's blog, please refer to his excellent article, "Farce Generation Fighter Aircraft".

  6. Mr Shukla, I may add that the idea of suspecting Mr. Antony's motives is also that of Mr. Aroor, from his article (and TV news report on HT), titled, "What's the deal Mr. Antony ?"


    Reference :


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