Historic decisions to be made in defence reform - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 5 June 2014

Historic decisions to be made in defence reform

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th June 14

The military’s worrying equipment shortage presents an immediate problem for the BJP-led government. There is an urgent need to expedite the stalled procurement of equipment that is essential for the military’s combat effectiveness. The army desperately needs artillery guns, light helicopters and ammunition reserves; the navy must immediately have torpedoes, towed array sonar, anti-missile systems and submarines; while the air force urgently requires mid-air refuelling aircraft, airborne early warning and control systems, and Tejas light fighters to replace the MiG-21s and MiG-27s that must be retired.

But the defence ministry must make haste slowly, carefully considering what procurements are genuinely urgent. The need to appear purposeful on defence must not allow the ill-considered procurement of weaponry that is higher on cost than on benefit. Even if the new government were to significantly raise the defence budget from the current level of 1.74% of gross domestic product, the pay-out for extremely costly platforms in the pipeline --- like the Rafale medium fighter, for example --- would be so high as to starve other less talked about, but more urgently needed, systems.

In prioritising acquisitions, the defence ministry would find that every service --- the army, navy and air force --- provides compelling reasons why its equipment is utterly vital. In truth much of it is, but the ministry is ill equipped to make these procurement choices. In any country serious about defence, an apex tri-service commander would make these choices and present a final proposal. The government should immediately appoint such a commander, thereby easing its dilemmas, signalling seriousness about defence reform and, crucially for long-range planning, creating a single-point commander who would tailor requirements to budgets. This would also fulfil a key promise made by the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, in its election manifesto.

The government must realize that a strong defence is structured, not bought, and that our military requires multiple reforms. Like elsewhere in the economy, defence planning involves trade-offs. A larger force means greater expenditure on salaries, pensions, cantonments, medical benefits, travel and administrative expenses. Whittling down the force progressively will leave more for firepower, which is cheaper and more effective than men with bayonets. Integrated, tri-service structures cost less than redundant single-service structures and create greater synergies in fields like training, communications, early warning and in battlefield functions like air defence.

The BJP’s election manifesto will provide limited help in deciding the next steps on defence. The document is largely a charge sheet that accuses the UPA of allowing border intrusions by China, Maoist attacks, the presence of “Pakistan backed terror groups”, illegal immigration from Bangladesh, a shortage of air force fighters and multiple accidents involving naval warships. There are populist promises --- greater benefits to veterans and a national war memorial. The BJP manifesto promised both to “increase the R&D in defence, with a goal of developing indigenous defence technologies”, as well as the “fast tracking of defence purchases.” Emerging defence economies like South Korea, Brazil and Turkey have realised that these two are contradictory. Every weapon system that is purchased leaves one less for indigenous industry to develop. Even the weapons that one buys should be contracted with one eye on a role for indigenous industry --- in building sub-systems, maintenance, repair and overhaul. If that requires liberalising the foreign direct investment rules for defence industries, subject to a maximum of 49 per cent, the government should move quickly on that path. It must realise that procurement and reform choices it makes this year will reverberate for at least a decade. 


  1. india... always been invaded by... we hadn't had the weapons... millenniums after millenniums... generals... bureaucrats... ministers and politicians... pocket kickbacks... which continues even today... hyena's survive... soldiers and citizens... perish...

  2. It is time to up our defence spending to 3.5%. Considering how much money we need and our lack of knowledge in key sectors, it is not a bad decision to allow 100% Fdi. what we know more than USA? We could make a special case for protecting our missile technology. Instead of buying Rafale, we could buy Gripen NG for half the cost. Also the operating cost of Gripen NG is just 3700$, whereas for Rafale it is 14000$. Total life cycle cost is also very low for Gripen. I dont see any other way to get the money we need.

  3. Excellent analysis and way forward for us.

  4. The Genrals can have no satisfaction even if they get all they want. the import lobby must be working overtime to convert the new bosses.Every one knows Antony was not corrupt whatever his other faults may be.Hope Jaitley gets feed back from antony on various issues and then takes his own call.

  5. 1) Tejas must be inducted immediately. Invite Tata, Godrej, Reliance or whoever to ramp up production numbers to 40+ a year.

    2) DO NOT raise the FDI cap. This is because foreign companies will lord over their junior Indian partner. Forget parting with their most precious IP to their Indian partner, they'll strangle DRDO and other Indian private industries to entrench themselves in the Indian market.

    If 100% FDI is allowed, it won't be long before India becomes another banana republic like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. Thus, FDI in defence will in fact KILL the indigenous industry (private as well as DRDO).

    3) Open up Indian private sector to partner with R&D labs like DRDO.


    DRDO's brains + Indian private efficiency = Defence independence

    If armed forces can buy weaponry from foreign private companies, what's the harm in allowing Indian private companies also to manufacture DRDO's products ??

  6. Are we not catching the wrong end of the stick? Defence acquisition should be contingent on our war fighting philosophy. However, as on date we don not have a doctrine which is as per the threat we are facing. At the most, from the time we have got independence till now, all we have done is either borrow the philosophies of other nations or merely reacted to every unique situation which we have 'theoretically' faced from either Pakistan or China.

    We have the opportunity to define ourselves now. This opportunity has not arisen because the 'Modi Sarkar' has come into power but because this is the first time that our present and the now next Chief including the Chiefs of the Air Force and the Navy do not have any baggage of fighting a conventional war. And if we discount Kargil then NO ONE in our armed forces have ever fought a conventional war. So we can safely reject any bias which would otherwise have been there and then develop our own philosophies - in terms of land warfare, naval and air warfare doctrines and then our staffing and equipping philosophies.

  7. This whole arms dealers and black listing. Can you please write how many ex-armed forces officers are involved ? Why should not the army recommend stopping of pension , striping of ranks or even court martialling them in cases where complaints are received ?

  8. Dear Shukla ji

    We just cannot REDUCE the size and numbers in our Army

    At a time when Pakistan is ADDING
    MILLIONS of Jihadis ; Both Afghan
    and Pakistani Jihadis ; we also
    need LARGE Number of Troops

    Technology; Fire power and Money cannot make up for Numbers as we have seen
    HOW USA could not sustain its
    campaign in Afghanistan and Iraq

    If we REDUCE OUR NUMBERS this is
    what will happen

    Pakistan has to JUST provide an AK 47 and an RPG and Millions of useless unemployed Jihadis will
    be READY to STORM the LOC

  9. Dear Shukla ji

    India DOES NOT have the Concept
    of Armed Civilians like Pakistan

    It is ONLY the INDIAN ARMY which
    stands between Millions of Pakistani Jihadis and the Unarmed and Untrained Civilian Population of India

    And if suppose Indian Army is about to loose then China and Bangladesh will ALSO INVADE INDIA

    Therefore WE DO NEED A Large Army
    and Paramilitary Force

    As far as Defence Spending is Concerned ; RUPEE Expenditure is NOT a problem we can always
    arrange for the Rupee expenditure

    It is the scarcity of Dollars that
    creates a problem

    Still we have survived the Decades
    of Eighties and Nineties when Dollar Availability and Supply was still far less

    Therefore More Indigenisation is a must

    Our Ordnance factories and Private Sector can supply us with many useful and necessary equipment

    Also more FDI will help us in reducing imports

  10. Kashmir will heat up, no doubt about it. Pak army and mullahs have let it be know that jihad in Pakistan is forbidden now that USA is leaving Afghanistan. Most of the fighters of the Talibhan just want to go home and are going, even handing in weapons. Also for the first time Pak army attacked them out right in NW and guess what half the groups and elders want to make peace. The focus will turn to Kashmir. Everytime a Kashmiri student is beaten, a woman raped or an encounter staged by the Indian Army, it is front page news in Pak and a recruitment Sargent for jehidi's. Can the indian army reduce numbers? --> NO.


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