A wasted year in defence - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

Home Top Ad


Monday 11 May 2015

A wasted year in defence

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th May 2015

High amongst the reasons why almost a third of India voted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power a year ago was the carefully presented image of a party that would safeguard national defence and pay attention to a long-neglected military. After years of decision paralysis under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) defence minister, AK Antony, the BJP promised a robust revival, with its election manifesto promising dramatic changes to invigorate the military. “BJP recognizes the importance of identifying a clear roadmap to address the issue head-on, with radical systemic changes”, declared the party’s manifesto.

Yet, little has changed during the BJP’s year at the helm. Were the military to go to war today, it would still be hamstrung by a dysfunctional and divided command structure that inhibits tri-service cooperation. While fighting as single services rather than an integrated whole, the army, navy and air force would face familiar shortages of equipment, including artillery guns, helicopters, night vision devices, fighter aircraft, anti-submarine capability and even army jawans’ personal equipment. Despite sloganeering about “Make in India”, there are no actual policy changes that might erode our uneviable status as the world’s biggest arms buyer. Alongside lip service to indigenization, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar sacked the well-respected head of the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), leaving this crucial engine of domestic production headless for over three months now. Meanwhile the long wait continues for policies that bring private Indian defence companies at least on par with foreign companies --- repeatedly promised but not yet delivered by Mr Parrikar. A worrying shortage of junior officers still blunts the combat capability of all three services, especially the army. The many soldiers who could die as a consequence would continue to have their names engraved on a war memorial that pre-dates independent India. There is growing resentment within the reliable BJP constituency of ex-servicemen, with the long-standing demand for One Rank One Pension (OROP) still undelivered, despite repeated promises.

On the positive side, the defence ministry is gradually realising what this column has long argued --- that India’s limited defence budget has no place for grandiose schemes like adding a mountain strike corps (MSC) to an already bloated army, or buying 126 Rafale fighters for a budget-busting Rs 90,000 crore. Mr Parrikar has also accepted the need for a tri-service chief to coordinate between the army, navy and air force, which would eliminate the wasteful duplication of capabilities and synergise combat power. Also welcome is his announcement that the Indian Air Force (IAF) would buy 10-12 squadrons of Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) to replace the MiG-21, something Broadsword has recommended for years.

Still, the defence minister has adopted half measures instead of moving decisively. Instead of scrapping the MSC entirely, or keeping it intact by scrapping one of the three mechanised plains corps, Mr Parrikar has inexplicably cut down the MSC to one-third of its size. This is like economising on scissors by buying just one blade. A mountain corps with just one infantry division cannot generate the combat momentum needed for making deep inroads into enemy territory and would, therefore, lack a strategic rationale. The same logic would apply if the tri-service chief turns out to be a compromise solution --- the four-star first-amongst-equals that the Naresh Chandra Committee recommended, rather than an authoritative five-star chief of defence staff recommended in 2001 by a group of ministers. Responsible for long-range planning but lacking operational authority, a four-star defence chief would constantly run up against the fact that the two go hand-in-hand.

Perhaps the most damaging compromise solution of this year (in fairness, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision, not Mr Parrikar’s) was the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from Dassault, apparently to compensate the French aerospace company for cancelling the tender for 126 fighters, which Dassault was poised to bag. Having earlier said on Doordarshan that 126 Rafales would have cost about Rs 90,000 crore, Mr Parrikar has now told The Economic Times that buying just 36 Rafale fighters has saved India Rs 60,000-65,000 crore. That means the Indian Air Force (IAF) is paying Rs 25,000-30,000 crore for 36 Rafale fighters bought in “flyaway condition”, or Rs 700-830 crore per aircraft. This is no cheaper than what India would have paid for the 126-fighter purchase, even though the latter would have come with manufacturing in India, and significant technology transfer. Mr Parrikar has justified this by pointing to a 50 per cent offset that Dassault would be liable for, which he says would benefit India’s defence industry. In fact, since Dassault would have been liable for offsets even in the 126-fighter contract, India has paid as much for off-the-shelf Rafales, without the benefit of “Make in India”.

To put in perspective the staggering price India will pay for the Rafale, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is charging the IAF Rs 358 crore for the Nashik-built Sukhoi-30MKI fighter, less than half the cost of the Rafale. It is supplying the Tejas LCA Mark I for Rs 160 crore apiece, which means each Rafale will cost as much as 4-5 Tejas fighters.

Another loss of this wasted year has been the combined failure of two defence ministers --- Arun Jaitley and Mr Parrikar --- to put in place policies that would enable private defence firms to take up the slack in equipping India’s military, and reducing import dependence. On the day that Mr Parrikar first occupied the defence minister’s chair last November, it took him no more than five minutes to declare that swift decision-making was his “specialty”, a reminder he has served up several times since then. He has repeatedly promised a new defence procurement policy (DPP) that would expedite acquisitions, and a new blacklisting policy that would not scupper India’s procurement options by banning numerous vendors. In Goa, on December 27, he promised private defence firms a new “Make” procedure by end-January, which would subsidise the development of defence equipment by Indian companies. He has boldly declared that he would allow arms companies to appoint agents in India, subject to regulation. Yet, none of these policies have seen the light of day.

It may well be that Mr Parrikar is held back by a moribund bureaucracy  and by a military so mired in internal squabbles that it has forgotten how to think strategically. Even so, he has just four more years to demonstrate leadership and deliver the kind of operational readiness that lakhs of crores spent annually should buy. Otherwise the charges of “policy paralysis” that the BJP has rightly levelled at the Congress could fly in the opposite direction in the run-up to 2019.


  1. yes,the other day RM stated that OFBs are unable to produce bullet proof vests because there are no high velocity ammunition in the country to test these jackets ! Instead of cribbing,cant we import those ammunition ! Or cant we get the prototype jackets tested abroad on commercial terms ! Finally did anyone check if the MOD has gone overboard in laying down the Specs ! How could the learned RM fall for the stupid arguments of bureaucrats ?

  2. how beautiful a mango is from outside... only know the sourness... nearer to its seed... anybody can talk... like nda RMs...

  3. This Government is almost as good as ( or as bad as ) the last one. Few examples.
    1) Tejas : Serial production is in doldrums ! Only one plane ( SP 1) is produced so far. CAG. is also very unsatisfied on Tejas's shortcomings. There is no plan to clear up the mess!
    2) Private participation in making of towed and self propelled 155 MM Howitzer : No improvement. Not a single gun is ordered.
    3 ) Private participation in replacing AVRO. : No improvement. Single vendor situation. Another important project in doldrums ! If no body else is available then why not single vendor if they are competent. Go for Government to Government contract.
    4) Headless DRDO : It shows how-much importance this Government gives to DRDO. Budget is increased but same management is same !!
    5) No fresh blood in DRDO : Have heard that there are many posts of junior Scientists are vacant ! Why can't they employ young ME. or PHD. holders from IIsc. IITs. and NITs. or from good institutions like Jadavpur university, Anna University, Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology Delhi etc.
    6) HAL : HAL is as incompetent as ever. Not only that they are stumbling block in private participation in AVRO. replacement. They do not want competition at the same time they are not willing to improve. Government is clueless as ever.
    Examples are plenty. MOD. is sanctioning money but after that they are clueless on implementation. Money sanctioned is also not properly utilized. last year only 87% of the sanctioned budgeted allocation is utilized. Absolutely same situation like before !

  4. A very one sided article based on probably only your own perception. The performance of this government has been very good if not excellent. In 11 months the DAC has cleared over 100000 crores of purchase, The govt. has shown maturity in finding a creative solution to buy 36 Refale to satisfy an arguably stupidly sulking IAF. Parikar has shown that he can do in 7 months what the UPA could not in 10 years.It is for the DRDO to deliver on LCA MKII etc. If we lack technical competence it cannot be blamed on the present NDA govt!!Coming to the issue of private defence companies these guys must do more to demonstrate that they truly believe in the concept in indigenous R&D and demonstrate it. Most of them are interested in getting the 20% licensed production margin rather that any higher ideas of making the country self reliant. The industrialists of today are not a Walchand or a Jamshedji Tata, they are very much the get rich quick variety interested in making only profits.If they are truly nationalistic they can hire international talent in defence hardware design rather than hiring from abroad to run retail chains. Other than the Indian Navy the other two services have shown very little vision in terms of self reliance. The IAF is the biggest culprit with the ego of senior officers being a greater overriding consideration than national interest.

  5. I do not understand how you can attribute the purchase of the 36 Rafales as a mistake of the government. It is very clear that the RM had a great problem to satisfy a sulking IAF which was behaving like a child throwing a tantrum for a lollipop! Several people have pointed out that inducting more Sukhois and LCAs in larger nos. could have offset the lack of Rafales. It is the IAF which as not risen to the task and presented a suitable tactical strategy to the government with a positive 'can do' attitude. I remember in the late 80s and early 90s the Navy was blamed for shortage of ships and poor planning. They Navy has shown the vision and gumption to stick to an indigenous programme and come out very successful. If this is progressed India can have a very successful warship export industry.The IAF is clearly responsible for the complete absence of an indigenous programme in aircraft building.

  6. Beautifully worded, I hope people understand the context of this article and do not call it biased against the current government.

    But then again, I am not going to hold my breath.

  7. How long will you harbour your pipedream of India appointing a FIVE STAR Chief of Defence Staff?

    Has no one told you that all Chairmen and CDS appointees, all over the world, are only FOUR STAR Officers?? How many stars American, Chinese, French or anyone else's CDS has?

    What India needs urgently is a Chief Military Advisor (CMA), a FOUR STAR officer who will outrank everyone in the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He will look after planning, strategy and integration related issues and minimize turf war between three services.

    India will NEVER appoint a CDS who is FIVE STAR and has operational responsibilities. India wants to maintain its democratic form of government and has no willingness to go Paki way !!

  8. Five Star CDS ASAP in India ??? Which other CDS is five star in the world?

    What are you smoking and why are you not sharing that magical stuff ??

  9. Dear Shukla,

    We the readers of your blog very well know by now if not much earlier that you are hell bent to join the band wagon of Congress .. perhaps a sinking ship. Those who know you well might also be knowing the reasons.

    It is alright to have political choice and views but when it comes to journalism, your readers look forward to a reasoned analysis rather than Op eds.

    The present government I thing has embarked upon things which the Saint and other not so saints could not do for last more than ten years. In fact there is ample credence to the theory of "sabotage" on their part including our lovely MMS. You are comparing this one year lost against decades lost. That indeed is not fair to your readers like me who have no intellect and do not even know correct spellings. By mistake in the Army unlike many of your ilk..

    Go a little slow..still four more years to go .. may be something will happen for the good of the country... May be with the kicks of the honourable Supreme Court..

  10. A mountain corps with just one infantry division cannot generate the combat momentum needed for making deep inroads into enemy territory and would, therefore, lack a strategic rationale.

    you were parochially after that MSC from the beginning so that the ratio and vacancies for Infantry does not increase rather than for any weighty reason known to us. you recall advocating raising of more Scouts form Arunchal where there is hardly any population !!

    However the MSC can still be two to three Infantry / mountain division force if resources are to be regrouped and reorganised. There are plenty lying around held hostage by others. And people would not seek your opinion on that, I am sure. Of course the expenditure on raising aviation, armour and support assets can not be avoided.

  11. Shuklaji

    You are complete CONGRESS MAN

    Why dont you openly Join the Congress Party

    With BJP ; we can be sure that they will NOT allow India's defence preparedness to SUFFER
    As Mr Antony and former PM Man Mohan Singh Deliberately weakened India

    If LCA and other domestic projects are suffering ; it is Not BJP's fault ; it is DRDO's fault and weakness

    Rafale cost escalation has happened because of TIME WASTING by BJP

    Why dont you write something about
    the HARM done to India by Antony and Manmohan Singh
    just to appease Pakistan

  12. First of all Mr Ajai you must under stand that Rome was not built in a day. A proper foundation needs to be laid for any building to last for a long time. That foundation was unfortunate not what the present government got to build on. Give this government some time before writing it off. Accountability and regular follow up of strategically important projects with DRDO was one thing that was missing from the UPA. At least you will agree with me on this that thanks to the new government this has changed.

  13. Clearly see a biased commentary these days especially after the sacking of the DRDO chief. Is that something that you are hanging on to still?

  14. Mr shukla you do realize that Parikkar is not a military man don't you ? How do you expect him or any other politician to magically solve critical defense issues that will have lasting impact singlehandedly ? It the reason for a bureaucracy and military staff officers - the offer solutions. The RM is only as good as the service chiefs and bureaucracy.

    Or would you prefer if VK Singh was assigned to the MoD since he is the only minister who knows the inside workings of the RM ?

    Things like LCA Tejas etc are beyond the RMs control - the DRDO / HAL have to deliver or we scrap the entire thing.

    Further considering that in 9 months on the most intractable tenders was done away with - the Su-30MKI availability rate was drastically improved, the entire tender and agent process was revamped, the Defense FDI rate was increased and the Indian vetran has seen some of the largest pension increases in decades shows the MASSIVE work that has already been done.

    You mention none of these things and that is a shame. Being a military journalist doesn't imply being a harping critic - it means giving the layman perspective and unfortunately you seem inexplicably pessimistic.

    Things like CDS etc will impact this nation for decades perhaps centuries - it is hardly one RM who can decide such issues without taking into confidence the entire country and beyond that the entire political class and judiciary.

  15. Shukla,
    It is a disaster for a defence journalist to be identified as a political journalist ... a la Joshi and many others ..

    but perhaps you realise that there a political outfit which needs cronies and lickers.. outright liars ... who are adapt at singing raag Darbari...

  16. Shuklaji you are to much Fascinated by Harry Potter Series of Movies

    kindly put your feet on earth and that also in India. Kindly do not degrade your credentials you are not crowd which come to attain Rally of any Congressmen for the sake of Rs. 200 or 500 and hold the placard even if the comment written on it is anti National

    we religiously follow your blog to analyze military affair of country but this this time you are definitely off course

  17. The blame for this mess should also be attributed to the IA,IN and IAF. There is no consensus between them itself. No consensus on CDS and so many other issues.

    The staff Requirements for weapons keeps changing. There is no strategic thinking about building capabilities.

    Compounding this is the fight among commanders for postings.

  18. I would really appreciate(and its probably much required), an article on The recent CAG report on the Tejas.

  19. I've been reading your blog for years though I have never commented before as I didn't feel the need to do so. This article hits the nail on the head which is that this government is worse than the previous one. The previous one did not take any decisions,this one specialises in bad decisions! (Then again I wouldn't expect more from a lawyer and a IIT Metallurgy graduate who seemingly know nothing about defence).

    Col. Shukla, you will ofcourse be called names, be accused of being biased etc. as that is what the Chaddi Gang specialises in (I'm calling them names this time as that is the only language they understand). They know they're frittered away a golden opportunity too turn things around and will throw mud at you at every instance.

    You've hit the nail on the head this time and keep up the good work.

  20. I dont know what is wrong with the supporters of this govt, If one tries to say anything which is even slightly critical of the governments functioning, they start abusing and trolling. If you dare to disagree with the BJP then you are anti India .

    The story is very well written and presents an insight which no other authors are doing.

  21. Absolutely lopsided article. How can you compare 10 years of hibernation, with one year where a number of decisive actions have been taken.

  22. If by the end of the next year also, this situation does not improves drastically for better then I will also start believing this article. Till then I do not believe this.

  23. @Manpreet 11:34 -

    I think its partly due to the integration of the voters perceives his religious identity and political identity as one.

    It common among hardline goverments everywhere where religion and political identities are mixed.

    Republican Conservatives in the US Bible belt behave the same way.

    So do Russia's supporters of Putin as he has reinstated the orthodox church a neo political status.

    One does not need to look to deep in the middle east of how intermingled religion is with Politics.

    In India the majority felt threatened under the UPA rule, add to that the UPA's poor PR resulted in the BJP's rise.

    So the average voter automatically considers criticism to govt is criticism to the BJP which is criticism to his religion.

    However, nonsensical it sounds its the truth. Its also true that a lot of money has been pumped by the BJP for an online campaign to maintain its image and malign those who disagree. This was evident in the few months before the election.

    Its also partly that the rich in particular the rich of Gujarat and Gujarati diaspora have a lot of money invested in this government and its like protecting an investment. The government cannot be perceived as wrong.

    The flip side to this is that the government remains immune to policy paralysis which can be done by way of media and social media often controlled by opposing vested interest groups.

    with the above said, We must criticize and we must support the government as well. Criticism should be constructive and support must be impartial.

    In the 21st century where media is forcing its influence on us, our greatest fight is not to side with an entity but strive to remain neutral and objective in all situations.

    Liberalism and extremism are two faces of the same coin.

  24. "Another loss of this wasted year has been the combined failure of two defence ministers --- Arun Jaitley and Mr Parrikar --- to put in place policies that would enable private defence firms to take up the slack in equipping India’s military, and reducing import dependence" ....

    What strain of pot have you been smoking Col. ? Muh-tod jawaab aaj mil gaya na ?

    (i) 56 Nos (potentially 100+) Airbus C-295 approved - private player Tata to build in India.
    (ii) 145 Nos, M-177 approved - to be built by private player ( L&T, MAH or Tata).
    (iii) 200 Nos, Ka-126 to be manufactured in India

    More coming soon ....

    Yaar, ab to retire ho jao aap; nehin to Congress ka ticket le lo aur Rahul ka Chamcha ban jao !

  25. A mod manned by civil services central and afhq cadres is a moribund defunct outdated and incompetant file carrying , rentseeking organisation and needs to be disbanded fast . The 18000 employees sitting in dirty dark corridors of south block , and hutments including attached offices need to be cleaned of the muck and vrs , forced retirements cutting the manpower to a few hundred manned with scientists from space , atomic energy , finance bankers armed forces officers and ranks and civilan specialists from business houses with value for time money and commitment need to be made to sit in mod . The days of civil service are over . The faster the defence and finance minster doit and disband it the better for India and armed forces . A mod spending thousands of crores on itself is a drain on taxpayers money .

  26. NonMineralWater13 May 2015 at 19:43

    Well its good to see your critique on the present govt which has completed a year in power. However we missed "Wasted five years and a Legacy of inadequacies" from you on the previous govt. This govt. brought in the private sector into military aerospace for the first time with the C295. Think you should have your judgement calls sometime at the end of five year term.. I suspect you would have the same words for the RM then..

  27. It is just six months and you have started the blame game. I feel I would give him two more years and then make a comment.

  28. @Parthasarathi

    What competence Tatas have in aviation sector? What is the logic of keeping a state owned company away from this AVRO replacement to enrich a shady Private company with no experience or expertise in aviation?

  29. Well written article. This Govt is working solely for Gujarat connected business houses. Congress in order to launder kickbacks from defense cooked up a scheme to rope in corrupt Pvt Companies with their fingers in every pie to enter into defense production in "JV" with foreign OEM. Now one needs to ask what is the rationale for such move when we've a humongous state owned setup to do the job at almost no profit no loss basis? Answer is DPSUs can't pay kickbacks to our babus netas and military top brass.
    This deal for C295 aircrafts have been passed in most arbitrary manner just like the 36 Rafale deal where the loser is Indian taxpayers and winner is foreign and Indian Pvt Cos.
    BJP is basically a baniya party and will work for it's benefactors and not for the nation. All it's decisions have been anti people and pro corporate.
    Modi himself is hardly ever present in India. He is perpetually travelling abroad more comfortable with NRI crowd in Madison than in Mathura.
    The citizens of this country actually are facing a Hobson's choice when it comes to political parties... today it is not a question of which is the better of the two but rather which is lesser evil than the two.

  30. Great article Shukla. It is fun to see all the name calling from supporters of this useless govt. Then again, they cannot make an argument so they resort to calling names.

    Incidentally these same people jumped up and down in glee when you criticized the previous government many times - sometimes unfairly I have to admit but one needs to be man/woman enough to take criticism.

    Non performance is non performance and one has to have the guts to call a spade a spade which you do and this does rankle all the bhakts as they cannot stomach the fact that all the big talk and promises have resulted in underperformance.

    Jean Luc Picard's comments are spot on as are yours in the article itself. Keep doing what you do as a proud armyman!

    1. I think ajai shukla wrote a comment dor himself

  31. Read this you hypo****

  32. the last decade has gone a waste. first the nda govt didnt opt for the mirage 2000s in 2002-03 andlater they could have complemented the iaf fleet with rafales. mmrca evaluation took five years and nothing came out of the entire process. now lca mk 1 is not upto iaf's expectations. barring 36 rafales and 60-70 odd sukhoi 30s which are yet to be produced what else we are getting.even if the govt selects the gripen as a make in india initiative it wont be before 2020-21 that we get first of those E versions. every defence acquisition has been behind schedule and delays courtesy antony group.

  33. Looks like the comments indicated with expected criticism abot this article seems to have posted by Ajai Shukla himself.


Recent Posts

Page 1 of 10412345...104Next >>Last