A full-time job in South Block - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 10 November 2014

A full-time job in South Block

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Nov 14

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken five months to appoint a full-time defence minister. Now Manohar Parrikar will oversee the defence of India, dealing with a potential “two-and-a-half front” challenge from Pakistan, China and several internal insurgencies. He will be constrained by limited funds since the government’s primary ambition to boost the economy allows for only modest increments to defence spending. Nor can Mr Parrikar, a newcomer to defence, draw upon any existing vision for transformative change. All he has to guide him are slogans from a myopic strategic community, which apparently believes that military readiness consists of bluster, threats, backward shuffles and the unhindered disbursement of vast sums to international arms vendors.

On the plus side, the new defence minister will have a full day to devote to his charge, unlike his predecessor, Arun Jaitley, who was unfairly saddled with this job in addition to his own full-time assignment as finance minister. Mr Parrikar, furthermore, is a metallurgist from the Indian Institute of Technology, an outstanding qualification for a man who will be expected to boost indigenous defence research and development (R&D) and manufacture. As chief minister of Goa, he has proven his ability to administer and govern. Finally, he is reputed to be honest, a rare enough quality today to rate a mention. One hopes that, like his Congress Party predecessor, AK Antony, he is not both honest and indecisive.

The new defence minister could choose to function like most of his predecessors. This would involve ceding to the army, navy and air force chiefs the unfettered right to run their services as they deem fit; while the ministry controls the money and procures military equipment. This operating style --- if so this abdication of ministerial responsibility can be termed --- would be justifiable only in a security emergency so imminent that there is no place for long-term planning. This is clearly not so for India. Yet, our paranoid public narrative of dire external threat, along with the crashing unfamiliarity of the political class with military matters, warps the higher management of defence. There is no explicit enunciation or discussion of outcomes that the military must ensure, and no evaluation of its readiness to achieve those goals. Instead, military preparedness is evaluated mainly in the currency of arms purchases. Mr Antony was never criticised when his service chiefs expressed their inability to retaliate militarily against Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai blasts. Ironically, criticism centred on his failure to spend his ministry’s capital budgets.

Mr Parrikar must start by reminding his military that they exist as an instrument of deterrence and that they must have plans pre-prepared to discharge that role. As the army chief in 1999, General VP Malik, famously said before the Kargil conflict, “We will fight with what we have got.” Even when full-scale war is not feasible or desirable in response to, say, a major terrorist attack launched from foreign soil, or ingress into Indian territory, the defence minister must ensure that clear, pre-determined deterrent capability is in place for various eventualities and that the military is trained and equipped for those. If, in the face of dire provocation, the military chiefs merely look down at their shoes, this abject failure is the responsibility of the defence minister.

If Mr Parrikar goes by the “BJP Election Manifesto 2014” that was released in April, he will only feel confused. Congress-like, the BJP has viewed security in holistic terms --- maintaining “social cohesion and harmony” as a component of national security along with “military security; economic security; cyber security; energy, food and water and health security.” The promise to “revise and update” India's nuclear doctrine will presumably create more deterrence, placing less reliance on an unaffordable conventional build up. Another part of the Manifesto inverts cause and effect, by promising to “Modernize armed forces, and increase the R&D in defence, with a goal of developing indigenous defence technologies and fast tracking of defence purchases.”

Instead, Mr Parrikar should start afresh, read extensively, consult independently and think far outside the box because all those who would brief him are deeply invested in the status quo. While fast-tracking procurement sounds good in a manifesto, the embarrassing truth is that our pockets are empty. Of this year’s capital allocation of Rs 94,588 crore, over 90 per cent is pre-committed towards instalments for contracts concluded in previous years. Instead of grandstanding over unaffordable purchases like the $20 billion Rafale fighter, Mr Parrikar should initiate a project to increase the operational availability of the Sukhoi-30MKI fleet from the current 50 per cent, to a more respectable 80 per cent. That alone will put 80 Su-30MKIs into the sky, dramatically eroding the argument for the Rafale. Simultaneously, a strategic decision to promote the indigenous Tejas fighter would implement the “Make in India” directive, while also making up fleet numbers with cheap, utility fighters. Just as rejuvenating the Indian Railways network comes before expensive bullet train lines, existing weapons systems should be revitalised rather than buying expensive new kit.

The new defence minister will surely ask how the army hopes to be a modern warfighting force while spending just one rupee out of five on equipment. With 82 per cent of the army’s Rs 113,334 crore budget going on revenue expenditure, of which Rs 65,808 crore goes on the payroll of 12 lakh soldiers, just Rs 20,665 crore is left for equipment modernisation. This is becoming even more lopsided with 80,000 more soldiers sanctioned for a new mountain strike corps, and the 7th Pay Commission already considering wage enhancements. Contrast this with China, where 17 lakh soldiers were demobilised to free up funds for modern equipment.

Raising new divisions lets peacetime governments appear muscular and defence oriented. Only during war --- as in 1962 --- does the folly of ill-equipped soldiers translate painfully into national humiliation. For too long, defence ministers and generals have served out their time, keeping their fingers crossed that the music does not stop while they are holding the parcel. Mr Parrikar has the opportunity to scorn populism and drive the fundamental restructuring that Indian defence needs.


  1. thaimur... sacking of delhi... subsequent massacre... what it takes to be an army... ???...

  2. ajay ..well Said .. i hope Modi and Parikar consider the same and go for long term vision. Air Force as a small kid will always love new and shiny toys..let the Raksha mantra remind them of the pocket. the 1962 is perfect example.. and Made India can be win win situation with our own indian boeing,lockheed martin or northrop grumman

  3. Demobilise Army and buy more tanks - Is that your argument..

    Old habits die hard !!

    Sikh Army had more than 500 artillery pieces and still they lost because they infantry was peasant levy !!

  4. Well written!

    Would Gen. V K Singh make a better defence minister because of his background and experience?

  5. For a country of our 8 lakhs soldiers is more than enough. 2.5 front or 5 front 1 lakh horse warriors are not going to win against a nuclear missile. This is stupidity from India.

  6. sir kindly make sure we have thermonucler test asap.erlier was dud

  7. An excellent take on heigher Defense management. Army brass use the think tanks mostly western funded indirectly who advocate Arms purchases as end all of Defense for India. The very fact India is looking at Japan and USA as counter weight to China stifles its ambition to be a power in its own right which is respected. The Sri Lankan submarine vistis arre explained as if it is the fault of Tamil parties while not knowing the history of Sri Lankan antagonism from the time of its independence which showed up in 1971 war overtly and now we are seeing the same. Sri Lankans know the Brahmin lobby in tamilnaud will not allow connection between arabian sea and bay of bengal which is a strategic necessity now. So also strenghtening our border infrastructure in Ladakh and arunachal pradesh.Training of our Army where one sees lot of indiscipline should be the first step.

  8. I completely empathize with the author about the need for Revolution in Military Affairs, the need to develop multiple Strike Packages in addition to war Plans, Improving the teeth to tail Ratio of all the three services, solid steps in joint ops i.e. development of Unified combatant commands and Expeditionary units, fully arming existing military formations rather than developing more of them.

    BUT, to even hope this "Rennisance" to come from a new political appointee or by the Joint Secretary and his MOD Bureaucrats is not only naive but extremely (with all due respect) unwitting.

    Until we dont treat Military matters as a science and practice it like a sport and shamelessly rely on the "fighting spirit of our troops and young officers" to bail India out of trouble almost everytime, we will remain "second to some".

    If there is to be such above described "higher management rethink" it has to come from senior military leadership, most notably from Thinking institutions Such CABS,War College,Staff College,Army Training Command. Military Secretaries would need to pool in veteran and fist hand combat experiences among its rank and file and retirees. That would be fused with Junior or Mid level officers who would advise on current capabilities and also give an edge of ingenuity which the beaten down Senior officers lack or have too low a morale to contribute to anything.

    One major factor in the increased wear and tear of the morale of military men as they continue in service is their diminishing authority and entitlements in the civilian world. This is not a question of pay or vehicles but simple things such as Clear indication authority in Civil Service and Police. Military men by nature of their service qualify,endure, perform and sacrifice more than the counterparts in the IPS and IAS. Not only in officers but in NCO and JCO levels as well. Empowering a personnel increases his morale. Of course these powers must be with checks and balances.

    With the Morale in place military men in mid service will be more inclined to focus on professional tasks and over a generation when they reach higher ranks they will promote such qualities rather than base beautifying projects administration projects.

    Training Institutions - There needs to be a massive revamp of the SSB, whose DIPR questionnaires from the seventies need to be thrown out and lie detector tests must be in place. SSB Coaching classes need to be outlawed as they teach young aspirants to fool the system and once in their true colors come out once they rise in rank and have authority.

    Finally, when this new breed of military men (and women) reach higher management they must be allowed a more direct approach to the Political leader on Military/especially operational matters.

    India's National Security council does not have a Uniformed military man as a permanent member to provide military advise, but has two IAS bureaucrats as NSA, and Secretary. Its sad that the defence of India lies in the hands of Joint Secretary of India who is neither accountable to the Public (Def Min) nor to the Supreme Commander (Armed Forces Chiefs). These bureaucrats spend most of their lives in administration, diplomacy, rarely in law enforcement and very rarely in Intelligence.

    NONE of our MOD BABUS have any Military experience/service, none have war fighting experience nor Military acumen to dispense advise to or supervise a military. In other nations many of the political and Bureaucrats come from military backgrounds or have some military service.

    If there is to be improvement in the Armed Forces,it has to be done by the Armed forces itself. While only the political leaders must ask for options and demand results. The Bureaucracy must be an organization that gets tasks that are not critical and must remain under contractual obligation by the Military and Political leaders.

    Thats when we will have a military that the Author talks about in the article above.

  9. I think he will be the best defense minister we ever had and thanks to the prime minister in choosing him as a defence minister, I have heard he is a no nonsense guy, best of luck sir

  10. Well, I hope Mr. Parrikar does not open up Indian shores for foreign manufacturers to come and set shop. If that happens, we can bid indigenous industry goodbye.

    No nation in the world has ever become a military power by importing weaponry. And before FDI supporters shout "FDI", it must be emphasized that FDI is as good as an import !

    Consider the following:

    a) There are Indian private manufacturers, who like their PSU counterparts like HAL and OFB, can copy-paste any design under license.

    So far, state-enforced monopolies have ensured only HAL to license foreign aircraft (like Migs) and OFB to license foreign weaponry (like T-90s).

    b) There are Indian labs like DRDO, with products like Akash, Tejas, Arihant, Arjun, Nag etc.

    c) Then there are foreign companies like Raytheon, IAI, Irkut and BAe with products like Javelin, Meteor, Barak, Typhoon and the like.

    Mr. Parrikar must ensure that a) ties-up with b) and not c). If a) ties up with b), Indigenus industry will flourish. If instead, a) ties up with c), Indian industry will be killed.

  11. Defense Minister Antony was not indecisive. He was just trying to give indigenous defense a chance to break through. Were it not for his "indecisiveness", neither Tejas or Arjun would have made it.


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