An IDC Analysis 


New Delhi, 14 May 2004

Our prediction that the NDA Government would hobble back was proved wrong and the Congress is the single largest party. The silent but vibrant electorate of India voted the BJP and its partners out for forgetting the rural population. We could learn some lessons from China where the Communist Government gave villages electricity and small pumps to pull water for a productive living. China did it with small plants and diesel generators with countrywide transmission. India made big plants for cities and bigger ones to make money for politicians e.g. ENRON lying idle.

The need of the hour is to analyse the challenges before the next Defence Minister. George Fernandes did some good for himself and the services but he failed to produce JOINTNESS the call of the day. He was autocratic and even banned a book on Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat and scared the senior officers. We hope the next Defence Minister has a long-term outlook, as Defence does not need daily running help.

The three Indian Armed Forces are individually stronger today and yet when one looks dispassionately for major changes in the realms of interoperability, command and control, logistics, training, administration, partnership with industry and transparency in procurement in the last five years, the answer may be wanting. We therefore attempt to prepare the next Defence Minister and his team for the challenges that possibly lie ahead and to evince debate and introspection.

Our intention is not to create ruffled feathers. There had been many good intentions and utterances by those in high offices to effect changes, especially after India went nuclear and lessons were learnt from the Kargil war in 1999, and when the Tehelkha and coffin scandals erupted. The Phukan report is still to be tabled on Tehelkha, to make a final assessment, and some officials await it, as their fate is dependant on it.

Some of the issues that should engage the new Defence Minister’s attention:


The stentorian cry is that we live in an age of change, and jointness of the Armed Forces is the credo for every thinking serviceman. The war scenario of the future will be vastly different from that of the past, requiring a revolution in military thinking and introduction of new technology. Service doctrines and operations would need to be Programme based, to ensure that the bucks are spent for the most value to the country’s defence –– irrespective of whether the money is spent on the Army, Navy or Air Force.

Strategic Command & Control 

On nuclear issues a Strategic Command and policy is in place to provide deterrence and for prosecuting nuclear war if shove come to push. Admittedly paper exercises have been conducted, but its sinews are yet to be revealed to the military, which will be expected to exercise the arsenal, and the Parliamentary Committee on Defence was not allowed to look in to it.

Transparency in Procurement

The Kargil war did see many procurement powers for maintenance of stocks being devolved to the services, but the speed of implementation and transparency of other large and small new procurements has not changed for a variety of reasons. Defence Agents are permitted, but the procedure is cumbersome and none have been announced, and yet one sees consultants galore in the field as the gap between military systems and civilian equivalents has narrowed.

Coordination between Armed Forces and Paramilitary Forces

The Home ministry is also a big consumer of weapon systems and has handsome budgets and easier procedures as Homeland and internal defence is almost a co-runner with national defence in this age of terrorism, calling for greater coordination between the Home and Defence ministries.

Coordination Among Intelligence Agencies 

The steps for gearing up intelligence resulted in formation of a Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the RAW was broken up to provide a better snooping agency –– National Technical Facilities Organisation (NTFO) –– akin to the National Security Agency ((NSA) of USA. These agencies will take time to deliver, unless the sharing of information issues are streamlined and analysis methods improved. Independence of intelligence agencies without a Czar, save the PMO and its National Security Adviser may have to be looked into and the position of the powerful National Security Adviser codified. At present the National Security secretariat services the PMO well and the CCS carries out most decision making on PMO’s call.

Integration of Service HQ with the MOD

George Fernandes, the brilliant pyjama wearing former labour leader will go down in history as one of India’s longest serving Defence Ministers, who had a clear run of MOD, as his subordinate Ministers seldom contributed. He also had the full confidence of the Prime Minister who could not travel much to military institutions or functions. Only time will depict his balance sheet of his contributions as the Defence Minister who tried to modernize and streamline the Defence Forces. Notably a few months before the elections he swiftly sanctioned the import of four big ticket items worth $4 billion and made provision for a $5 billion non lapsable modernization fund making it easier for his successor to ensure modernization. He made history by over three dozen visits to Siachen, where he made life easier for the troops, but the challenge of the elements will continue to take their toll, and the solution to Siachen will continue to challenge the leadership and the Army –– now that fake killings are in the air!

In 1998 when George Fernandes summarily sacked CNS Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat he had promised to swiftly integrate services headquarters with the Defence Ministry. In 2004, on paper the Services have begun calling themselves Integrated HQ of MOD –– but even now two parallel files are maintained by the MOD and service HQs on the same subject. These have to be merged for the services to know what goes on. Only then progress will finally have been made –– this will surely be the first challenge for the next Defence Minster.

Common Defence Doctrine

In the last few weeks the Armed Forces have issued statements on individual service doctrines but the Government will have to give military and national objectives a common doctrine. Hence the next Defence minister may look at the following points culled from UK and other countries edicts to their Armed Forces. In USA the Congress had to put in place the Nichols Goldman, a law to make the Joint Chiefs acquiesce and UK has an unwritten constitution to force for Jointness. Unfortunately India’s founding fathers while drafting the Constitution had little experience of war, and hence inked no military directives in to it save Article 72 which is common to all ministries in respect of Cabinet Control, and made the President the Supreme Commander in Article 52 but bound him not to apply his mind on any matter. The Constitution also gave no powers to the President –– however, change is a constant and Indian defence planners will have to look into the Constitution especially Art 311 which was used by George Fernandes to sack Admiral Bhagwat. The elections have shown India’s strength as a democracy.

Appointment of a CDS 

There has been a disguised showdown between the three Service Chiefs, bureaucracy and the political leaders, all of whom have not been able to agree on the appointment of a CDS. In the past too, Indira Gandhi’s had proposed to make Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw the CDS. The reactions of then CNS Admiral S M Nanda on tour in Mumbai Dockyard who agreed was, “you can give anyone any number of extra stars, as long as you do not remove any of mine” However, the late Air Chief Marshal Lal vehemently objected and tabled a note of dissent.

The fruits of the joint planning and operations Manekshaw imposed in the 1971 war as the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, need to be revisited by the Prime Minster as Mrs Gandhi had realised the need for it. Her support to Maekshaw to act as a single advisor led to a victory with least anxiety to her in cohesive decision making. Manekshaw also supported the Navy’s plan to hit Karachi in an opening blow with missiles and on that fateful morning on 4th December four Hunters of the IAF also cooperated. The lack of a CDS was badly felt when the Army asked for air power support in Kargil in the early days of Pakistan’s incursion into Kargil in early June 1999, which came only in late June when the PM finally took the decision as events now recorded in retrospect show. The future battle space will require swift decisions and three equal Chiefs may not have the authority or cohesion in spite of their best intentions.

Joint Operations and Training

Success in modern warfare depends on joint teamwork. Battles and wars are won by maritime, ground and air forces operating effectively together in support of shared military objectives. Joint operations are not new and India’s Armed Forces have a proud record of successful cooperation in many cases. In the geo political situation India is placed in with nuclear neighbors it could face complex and unexpected situations, which will require a swift and flexible response, the importance of a joint approach is more critical than ever.

Individual units depend for their fighting capability on the training, discipline and ethos generated by their parent service. But success for the force as a whole requires effective orchestration of its individual components. This also encompasses the Para Military forces which strength has risen to 800,000.

To achieve these goals a single joint commander is needed, supported by a unified command structure. The joint commander must be able to draw upon and direct the entire range of front-line forces committed to the operation, together with supporting units and personnel (both military and civilian).

Joint teamwork does not just happen. It requires a shared understanding of the roles each participant is required to play. It also needs mutual confidence, built up from extensive practical experience of operating together, that everyone will deliver his or her contribution effectively. All have to ensure that a joint approach forms a central part of the way defence activity is carried out. This means closer integration in day-to-day training, in operations, and in the way defence is organised, supported and managed at all levels.

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