Accelerating Indian Defence Reforms

Towards this end Modi 3.0 has the advantage of building up on the legacy of past 10 years incumbency thus having a degree of ownership and avoiding the necessity for reinventing the wheel.

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Agniveer Notification 2022 under Agnipath scheme has been released by the Indian Army. [ Photo: Special Arrangement]

India’s armed forces are a critical factor in determining the status of the nation in the global pecking order.

While the Indian armed forces have made a mark in the region as a, ‘net security provider,’ the challenges that demonstrated this capability were mainly in the soft sphere of anti-piracy, maritime crime and security of the sea lines of communication.

Faced with a rapidly modernising and expeditionary People’s Liberation Army [PLA] Navy and Air Force, the generation of hard power for deterrence would necessitate a fifth-generation force in terms of organisation, weapons and equipment, generation of combat power and logistics.

Collusive China Pakistan threat necessitates accelerating reforms for modernisation of the armed forces at a rapid pace in the next five years of Modi 3.0. This collusive threat assumes significance as active diplomacy which can contain the threat remains an oxymoron.

Deterrence by denial remains the option ahead as India cannot afford to rely on the punitive form given the wider impact it has on national security, fiscal resources and national morale.

For deterrence by denial demonstrative all round capabilities will have to be build up.

The aim should be to take forward the reforms undertaken so far to a logical conclusion with a view to build up synergised capabilities and establishing an institutionalised process for the purpose.

Towards this end Modi 3.0 has the advantage of building up on the legacy of past 10 years incumbency thus having a degree of ownership and avoiding the necessity for reinventing the wheel.

Some of the essentials to achieve these goals would entail the following:-

National Security and Integrated Defence Strategy

Despite the scepticism in the Indian strategic community most recently expressed by the Chief of the Defence Staff General Anil Chauhan there is an urgent need for a National Security Strategy [NSS].

In the absence of which as there is lack of political and military will to work on the well defined ends, ways and means approach that such a strategy entails a revised joint defence strategy which is approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) should show the light.

It is believed that a revision of the 2017 Joint defence strategy is already underway which should be a partial recompense for the NSS.

Organisational Transformation

At the strategic level the process of integrated theatre commands and cojoining cyber, space, land, air, and sea capabilities is expected to be underway with a proposal that is finalised by the Department of Military Affairs  and is expected to be a multidecade plan extending up to 2047 Given the commitment in the BJP election manifesto unrolling of the plan could well be expected in the coming months.

Conversion of the gigantic army formations into integrated battle groups (IBGs) is an operational reform that needs government approval which is one of the steps that can also be anticipated given the success of the test beds established by the Army.

Higher Defence Management

Higher defence management will necessitate institutionalisation of the process for nomination of the Chief of Defence Staff [CDS]. Helicoptering veteran generals howsoever competent they may be is not the answer as this may only create discord in the highest echelons of military command even in the best of times.

The extension granted to Army Chief General Manoj Pande may be linked to the ongoing process however there has to be a degree of transparency in the selection of higher defence appointments which is well known to the service environment thus inuring the same from extraneous pressures.

Agnipath

A review of Agnipath scheme is expected to be a military cum political necessity. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JDU which is a key component of the NDA had sought review of the Agniveer scheme. An ANI video showed JDU leader Mr Tyagi saying that: “A section of voters has been upset over the Agniveer scheme. Our party wants those shortcomings which have been questioned by the public to be discussed in detail and removed.”

Such a review could be underway at the military level with a study and survey by the Indian Army and visits by Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to training establishments for Agniveer  of the three services.

Defence Acquisition and Positive List

Defence acquisitions through indigenisation needs to facilitate faster procurement of for procurement, upgradation and replacement of weapons systems in multiple categories.

While the ministry of defence has been focused on Defence exports and defence indigenisaiton, acquisition for capacity building needs the focus ahead. While schemes like Innovation for Defence Excellence (iDEX), Acing Development of Innovative Technologies with iDEX (ADITI) and India US Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X) have value these are not a substitute for acceleration of the core acquisition process with a long term time frame and not adhoc emergency purchases. Some of the most urgent capability deficits can be made up in good time by taking prompt decisions on say 75 (I) submarine project, ATAGS artillery guns and multiple air defence systems for the army amongst others.

Activation of programmes such as the Advanced Multi Combat Aircraft is essential to keep pace with the fifth generation rapidisation of say the PLA Air Force.

R & D

The government has extended tenure of Samir V Kamat as secretary of department of defence R&D & DRDO chairman till May 31 next year, amid the move to transform the organisation based on recommendations of a high-powered expert committee, headed by former principal scientific advisor to govt, K Vijay Raghavan, which submitted its report in Jan as per the Times of India.  The process has to be taken to a logical conclusion for a more effective research to design to prototype cycle which can contribute to sustainable indigenisation.

Transition Foreign Dependency

India defence dependency is in a process of transition from the excessive influence of Russian manufactured and imported systems. While indigenisation is the way ahead, achieving a purely indigenous pathway of acquisitions is unrealistic in the medium term. The NSS would have dictated the way ahead but in the absence of the same it is apparent that adhocism will be a bane that has to be borne with.

Conclusion

Broadly speaking these are some of the major areas where reforms are essential and need to be undertaken by the government with the objective of completion in the next five years and beyond.

Each of these requires detailed deliberation and supplementary added for implementation for India to carry a big stick in international affairs and not merely rely on the narrative. For if the balloon goes up, the narrative may fall flat.

While allocation of budgetary resources are important, unless the acquisition process is reformed, mere additional funds are not likely to generate capabilities.

Rahul K Bhonsle

Brigadier (Retired) Rahul K Bhonsle, MSc, MPhil, MBA is an Indian army military veteran with 30 years active field experience in counter militancy and terrorism operations. He is presently Director of Sasia Security-Risks.com, a South Asian security risk and knowledge management consultancy which specializes in future scenarios, military capacity building and conflict trends in South Asia.

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