Friday, August 3, 2012

Streamlining defence-Bharat Karnad

August 2, 2012

When talking to uniformed officers in higher military training institutions and 
orums, I try to emphasise the perils of an industrial age military. The country has far 
to go to get anywhere near the technologically-efficient, cyber-savvy, 21st-century 
modern armed forces of the world. By this measure the United States military, on a 
scale of one to 10, scores 10. The next most proficient armed services in terms of 
being operationally networked with modern weapons is the British military, scoring 
seven. The Indian armed services, by this reckoning, rate a miserable two or less.

We are lucky that the minor foe the Indian military considers its chief
adversary and is most prepared to fight — Pakistan — has armed
forces on par with our own, quality-wise. It is the Chinese People’s
Liberation Army (PLA), however, that in bulk may resemble its Indian 
counterpart, but is undergoing transformation. Because anything the
Chinese undertake to do they do with thoroughness, strategic
foresight and speed. The PLA, with rapid modernisation underway,
expects to get near enough to the US’ standard of military proficiency
by 2035, give or take five years. The danger is real, in the event, that the 
Indian military will be left so far behind, that inside of 15 years it  may 
be reduced to near impotence in hostilities involving the PLA.
That the country is stuck with a military that apparently cannot think
straight is in part because there is so little meaningful strategic
thinking being done by the uniformed brass when making force
planning and acquisition decisions. Modernising, for example, is just
another word for a series of programmes to replace one-for-one
weapon systems already in the employ of the various combat arms.
This sad state of affairs persists because there is no single officer in
the military tasked with the responsibility for creating an integrated
force. Thus, the three armed services are on different wavelengths
and time-tables to achieve intra-service connectivity, for instance,
without any regard to connecting with each other. Hence, the Air
Force claims it will be on a comprehensive communications grid by
2015, the Navy is almost there, while the Army still has far to go.

The Task Force on National Security has submitted its report to the
government. Cleverly, it has recommended the appointment of a
fourth four-star officer as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee
(CCOS), with the three service chiefs as members alongside. This
gets around the tricky problem of a five-star rank officer as Chief of
Defence Staff (CDS), out-ranking, and, therefore, lording it over the
three services chiefs. In theory, the service chiefs would be free to
disagree with the chairman, but, with the Integrated Defence Staff
and the Strategic Forces Command, with nuclear weapons under its
control, reporting to CCOS, what the military will, in effect, have is a
CDS by another name.

Also mooted is a scheme for cross-postings of military officers in the
MEA at many levels, including as joint secretaries, the creation of a
bureau of political-military affairs, endowing the Vice-Chiefs of Staff
of the three armed services with financial powers akin to that of the
defence secretary, and posting of a Major-General-rank officer or
equivalent from Navy or Air Force as additional secretary in the
ministry of defence (MoD). Further, the Task Force has advised
drafting a National Security Doctrine (NSD), and for each of the
services to configure their separate service doctrines in line with 
the NSD.

But the government in its wisdom made the Task Force’s report 
and recommendations run the gauntlet of inter-ministerial process of
consultation. A decade ago the recommendation for a CDS by the
Committee on Higher Defence Organisation chaired by K.C. Pant
was killed by a similar process. This time around though, the
inter-ministerial process is sought to be constrained and time-bound.
The Cabinet Committee on Security will then be convened to weigh
the Task Force’s recommendations in the light of MoD’s formal
reactions, should these differ, and approve, amend, or turn down
each recommendation in turn. With Cabinet approval in hand, the 
recommendations are expected to be swiftly implemented.
The fact that the consultative process is not an open-ended, time
wasting, bureaucratic obstacle race, and that no individual armed
service or ministry can veto the Task Force’s recommendations, is
at once the main innovation and a relief this time around.
The writer is a professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New

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