Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Enemy within or without

By Neeraj Mahajan

Forget any enemy or its capabilities- India is and shall remain unprepared for any proxy or conventional war – not because of anyone else’s doing but its own attitude towards defense preparedness. Indians it seems do not need enemies – they are capable of damaging and destroying their armed forces more than any enemy ever can. Defense planning – is a neglected issue in India. It’s a system where the service chiefs' remain silent when their financial powers are tripled from Rs 50-Rs 150 crore, even while their respective services are starved of funds for operational requirements? This is killing India.

The Indian Army has not purchased a single gun since the Bofors scam 27 years ago and is finding itself cramped due to shortage of critical anti-tank weapons and ammunition. Similarly a 50% deficiency of anti-tank guided missiles is threatening to weaken its operational punch. The Indian Airforce is critically short of fighters, Indian navy literally forgotten how to dive—without any new submarine being inducted in its fleet in the last 15 years. That is despite the approval to induct 24 new submarines in 1999. It is well known that a lead-time of 15-20 years is required to plan, train manpower and induct a new weapon system but moving from scam to scam, India has failed to evolve a fool proof system.

Time-cost overruns, corruption, scandals and scams – are just a few symptoms of the larger governance failure affecting Indian defense planning and National security which requires long-term vision, clear cut goal, training and perspective planning taking into account various political, social, economic, technological and strategic aspects. Cumbersome procedures delay the process of buying weapons and equipment. Tenders are floated and withdrawn. But in the meanwhile prices change or there aren't enough funds left after paying the installments for the purchases made in the previous years. Overriding economic compulsions over strategic considerations, fuzzy vision, unclear national security perspectives, unplanned ad-hoc decision making, are the reasons why Indian defense preparedness is at an all time low and modernization of the Indian Armed Forces is a big farce.

Arbitrary cancellation of orders, blacklisting of suppliers and delays in acquisition of vital systems is the reason why the three services are forced to nurse -obsolete equipment like Vijayanta tanks, MiG-21s and IL-38 maritime reconnaissance aircraft -- many years after expiry of their life cycle – even though they cannot be maintained in a cost effective manner.

One of the stumbling blocks in Defense planning is the urge to spend the capital budget by the end of the financial year as the unspent amount has to be surrendered.  

The Group of Ministers (GoM) and Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) the Kargil conflict in 1999 had strong recommended creation of Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) for integrated planning and coordination of tri-service operations. But till date this post is lying vacant. In the absence of a unified command and control apparatus - Army is spending 42.4 Billion, Air force 24.8 billion and Navy 12.8 billion US dollars– based on arbitrary projection as there is no single authority to decide what each of the three services want or should get. The government-appointed Naresh Chandra committee on Defense reforms in India had also criticized the casual manner of treating national security and failure to commit funds for modernization. The Naresh Chandra committee report was not even made public.  

Many weapons acquisition programs are languishing for want of funds including a deal to purchase 145 M777 light guns from BAE Systems to equip a new mountain strike corps on the Himalayan borders. BAE Systems kept waiting for the order before dismantling its M777 assembly line in the US. As a result the contract cost rose from $647 million to $885 million. Even though the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security had approved the creation of a new mountain strike corps of nearly 40,000 troops along the disputed China border by 2016, the urgency is lacking. Despite aggressive Chinese patrolling and attempts to increase its military presence along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) Indian security planners have coolly decided to spread raising the mountain strike corps over eight instead of five years as originally planned at a cost of Rs 64,700-crore. Isn’t this compromising national security is all about?
Most five-year Defense plans have failed to make any long term impact on the ground situation. Both the 10th and 11th Defense Five Year Plan, were delayed and ended up promoting adhoc, unplanned decisions regardless of long-term impact and overall requirements.

Penny wise; pound foolish– this phrase captures the mindset of Indian defense administrators. Recently INS Airawat--a 6000 ton assault ship ran aground in the harbor at Vizag because the Financial Advisor in MoD disallowed dredging of the channel. The sands deposits due to ocean tides were making the channel unsafe for shipping. But the bureaucrats in the Defense ministry kept rejecting the Navy’s proposal. The outcome is that while INS Airawat needs major propeller repairs, other submarines and ships are facing similar tribulations.  

Another dimension of the problem is that both MOD and Ministry of Finance (MOF) decide on the defense expenditure based on political instead of strategic considerations. The armed forces have a limited role to play in the decision making process in the civilian MOD. The defense ministry procedures are so complicated that it takes least 18 departments within the defense ministry to sign before a deal goes through. Each stage adds to the delay as a result either the requirements change or the price goes up.